Crazy quilt embroidery - easy stitches you can use to embellish your project

From its Victorian beginnings, the story of crazy quilt embroidery has been one of vibrant hand stitching, and delightful piecing of cotton, silk and velvet scraps.

Over time, this unique form of quilting captivated the hearts of stitchers, who created a magical world of modern day heirlooms.

Let's take a journey back in time and explore the dynamic history of crazy quilting and discover some of the stitches and motifs that have been used over the years.

Embroidery, quilting, and creativity all come together to create the amazing stories told within these works of art.

antique crazy quiltAntique crazy quilt using different stitches

Made for show, not practicality, crazy quilts showcased beauty rather than function.

The intricate designs and mismatched fabrics created timeless treasures that were passed down from generation to generation.

Traditionally the quilts were made from scraps of fabric or worn-out clothing, including the most delicate materials, stitched together with hand embroidered seams on a muslin backing cloth.

Crazy Quilt Seam Treatments

A variety of embroidery stitches were employed in crazy quilts. These included...

Whereas the seams in most needlework are hidden, in crazy quilt embroidery they are designed to be visible. This reminds me of the Japanese craft of Kintsugi where broken pottery is mended using a golden paste, emphasizing its imperfections and history.

Crazy quilt embroidered motifs

Exquisite motifs often adorned the open areas of the patches.

Some patterns include floral motifs such as daisies, roses and lilies. Other designs include animals and birds such as squirrels, cats and even spiders in “crazy” gardens.

Some designs were inspired by the Victorians' love of anything oriental, including pagodas, dragons, lotus flowers and fans. Sometimes the fans were pieced and then decorated. 

Crazy patchwork pieces broke free of the previous rigid squares, diamonds and hexagons. 

The crazy quilt is a symbol of passion and appreciation for all things beautiful. Some crazy quilters embraced the creative challenge of using even the tiniest fabric scraps to create beautiful designs.

The story of crazy quilting is interwoven with stories of family, friends and community, each one as unique as its creator.

Colour in Crazy Quilts

It didn't matter what color the fabric was either. Rich crimsons, mellow golds, spring greens, cornflower blues, were all mixed in together.  Dark colors filled in the gaps, enlivened by the crazy quilt embroidery stitches. 

Modern crazy quilt embroidery and embellishment

After the Victorian era, crazy quilting lost its popularity. Tastes were less extravagant and more restrained. 

A new generation of stitchers revived the craft in the 1980s. No longer restricted to bedcovers and throws, they created pillows, wall hangings, bags, purses, vests, needlecases and pincushions. 

Crazy quilts are now experiencing a revival, with quilters rediscovering their expression in scrap quilt making. Crazy quilters welcome the whimsical, the quirky and the unusual into their work while embracing the beauty of imperfection.

Crazy quilt embroidery is even more lavish than in the past, with blocks encrusted in stitchery and embellishments of all kinds, including buttons, beads, ribbons, braids, lace, tatting and charms. 

My first attempt at crazy quilt embroidery

You can see my first attempt, worked on cotton fabrics, in the photograph below.

blue-purple crazy quilt blockMy first piece of crazy quilt embroidery

It didn't take long for me to become addicted! 

The beauty is that you can indulge in all your favorite techniques at once. The craft lends itself to freestyle embroidery.

Cross stitch, worked over waste canvas, is also possible. Silk ribbon embroidery adds even more to your project. 

The difficulty is knowing when to stop!

But my job as an "enabler" is to get YOU started. So let's look at what you will need in your workbasket.

What do you need to start crazy quilt embroidery?

Fabrics for crazy quilt embroidery

If you have done regular patchwork, you will likely have plenty of scraps already. If not, other sources include...

  • Clothes your children have grown out of 
  • Stained silk ties (discard the stained areas)
  • Bridesmaids dresses
  • Old curtains
  • Evening dresses that have gone out of fashion

Note: Please keep in mind, that if you intend to wash your quilting in the future, all the fabrics used should be pre-washed. This is especially important if you mix scraps with new fabrics.

The following list gives examples of fabrics that you might like to include in your projects.

  • brocade
  • crepe de chine
  • damask
  • dress weight velvets
  • lace 
  • linen
  • organza
  • satin
  • silk
  • taffetta
  • velour
  • voile

You might prefer to stick to plain fabrics or those with a small print. Although it can be effective if you embroider over a large printed motif. 

Keen to get started straight away? Nip over to my page which describes how to piece your foundation block. 

Threads and fibers

Don't you just love embroidery threads?  Much of the fun in crazy quilt embroidery is trying them all out. 

Mix and match natural fibers with man-made options. Shiny with matt. Silk with wool. Fine threads with heavier ones. Flat with twisted. Metallics with rayons.  Don't forget silk ribbons!

Anything goes when it comes to thread. If it is too thick to pass through your fabric, then couch it down!=

Needles for crazy quilt embroidery

Useful needles include sharps, betweens, darners, crewel, embroidery, chenille, beading and even the good old tapestry needle.

Another one that is useful is a milliners or straw needle, which is the same thickness from tip to end, allowing bullion stitch, cast-on stitch or drizzle stitches to be executed.

Try to use the right size needle for the thread, so that it neither rubs at the eye or keeps slipping out of the needle.

Other embellishments

A tatted fish attached to a crazy quilt blockA tatted fish I used on a crazy quilt block

Other items that are great to have handy for embellishment are:

lace yardage and motifs, tatted or crochet edgings, buttons, metal findings and beads of various sizes, shapes and colors. If you enjoy other crafts, such as lacemaking or tatting, your crazy quilt blocks are the ideal opportunity to use your practice samples, or odd pieces that have never found a home.

Ready to have a go at crazy quilt embroidery? OK, go and collect your fabrics and threads, and meet me back at the piecing a crazy quilt block page.

Oh yes, you might want to bookmark this page so you can come back and get started. Or better still, subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of this page so we can keep in touch.

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