Fun, colorful, and full of texture, these crunchy crazy quilts came about from two unrelated events. A few years ago, I was commissioned to make a crazy quilt. Since I had never made one before, I purchased Judith Montano’s, The Crazy Quilt Handbook. With it as a reference, I completed the commission and thought I would never make another crazy quilt.
Then I took a fabric dyeing class taught by Ann Johnston and began experimenting with fabric dyeing and painting, sometimes more successfully than others. My experiments left me with a stack of dyed and painted fabric pieces that I couldn’t bring myself to discard.
As I sorted through those fabrics, I could see interesting colors and designs in each one, but I wasn’t sure what style of quilt would allow me to capitalize on their good points while minimizing the bad. Finally the light bulb went on. I decided that the crazy quilt style of patching would give me the freedom to use a variety of different sized scraps and to adjust the fabric pieces easily while creating the quilt. I also decided to add texture and control other aspects of less than perfect fabric pieces by crunching the fabric. You can do it too!
Step 1 – Start by pulling out those dyed or purchased fabrics with too much color, not enough color, or those you just don’t know how to use. You’ll need a variety of colors from lights to darks.
But it takes more than color to make an interesting quilt. With all the color in the fabrics, I decided not to add the usual thread embellishments traditional to a crazy quilt. I wanted to do something a little different and thought about adding more texture through the fabric itself. To experiment with different ways to add texture, I started by cutting rectangular pieces of fabric in different sizes.
Step 2 – Cut rectangular pieces of fabric from your stash. Don’t cut them too small. I found that pieces less than 7″ or 8″ on a side were too small once the crunching process began. My standard size was around 9″ x 14″.
Looking at the fabric pieces, I could see areas with no color that I wanted to cover up or some color flow that I wanted to highlight. Crunching pieces of fabric and setting the created folds with an iron let me accomplish those goals.
Step 3 – To crunch the fabric either twirl the center of the fabric like a pinwheel or push the sides toward the middle. Once you get the pattern you want, press an iron straight down over the fabric. Don’t worry about how flat the iron makes the folds. You can decide when doing your stitching in Step 4 how flat or rigid you want each piece to be. Anything not sewn down will pop up later.
To help hold the folds in place while you patch the pieces to the foundation, use basting stitches or any stitching embellishment techniques on your crunched rectangle of fabric. I am not adverse to basting when I have to, but will go to great lengths to avoid extra work. For me decorative stitching not only added interest to the quilt but also helped hold the folds in place. I like a straight stitch with brightly colored rayon thread, and I like to vary the stitch length.
Step 4 – Run your crunched fabric under the sewing machine. You can use large basting stitches with easy-to-see thread for later removal, or you might also try some type of embellishment that will stay in the quilt. The more you sew down the folds, the flatter it will be, and the easier it will be to handle when doing the patching. Make sure the folds are secured enough so they won’t shift when other pieces are sewn around them.
I sewed from edge to edge of the rectangles with random spacing and angles. If there was a fold I didn’t want to flatten, I would sew up to it, knot off the thread, and then start again on the other side.
Step 5 – As you create your crunched fabric pieces, arrange them on your design board. This allows you to see what additional pieces you need to create.
To assemble my quilt tops, I used the traditional foundation piecing method of crazy quilting. Foundation patching makes it easy to keep the crunches in place. Since I was creating wallhangings, I used a heavy interfacing for the foundation rather than muslin. While it was harder to prevent the foundation from tearing, as the piece got larger, it was lighter and gave the piece a stiffer feel.
There is freedom in crazy quilt patching! I really enjoy being able to audition my fabric pieces and use pieces of all sizes and shapes. Working to highlight the patterns of texture, I machine quilt across the entire surface of the quilt. I’m pleased with the results and my finished quilts are full of color with peaks and valleys of texture. ■
Sandra Blank of Midland, Michigan, has been creating art quilts for 10 years. A strong interest in the use of color in quilts prompted her to begin dyeing and painting fabrics for better color selection.
This article first appeared in American Quilter magazine Spring 2002.
Watercolor techniques have added excitement to quiltmaking since their debut in the 1980s. Like most quilters, I collected fabric for years, adding even more to my stash after seeing Deidre Amstead’s first watercolor work, a quilt which inspired me to design my own creations. As my collection grew, I began cutting the appropriate fabrics into 2″ squares and strips, storing them away neatly in a shoebox on a shelf.
When I finally dove into my first watercolor project, I found the technique combined my love of needlework and painting in the same medium. I realized that each fabric square became a “dab of paint” on my artist’s palette and that I could create impressionistic quilts!
As a quilting teacher, I wanted to impart my newfound enthusiasm for watercolors to students whom, I discovered, also had their own fabric collections. After attempting to teach several classes in traditional watercolor quilt techniques, it became evident that, for most students, their greatest difficulty was in understanding the concept of value.
When P & B Textiles introduced their “Summer Bouquet” fabric line, I saw it as a wonderful jumpstart into the world of watercolor quilts – without having to maintain an enormous stash. Unlike traditional watercolor quilts, it offered watercolor quilting using primarily one fabric!
There are actually three design elements in any art form – color, value, and texture. In quiltmaking, texture is usually applied at the actual quilting stage, while color is that old nemesis over which we all agonize. However, the critical design element in watercolor quilts is value.
Value is simply the darkness or lightness of an object. In this case, the objects are fabric squares, and they become a palette for the quilt artist. The contrast between dark and light allows the viewer to see the image the artist envisions. This concept seems to offer major stumbling blocks to many people who somehow get value confused with color.
But value doesn’t have to be confusing. Simply reducing the number of fabrics used in your first watercolor quilt will allow you to concentrate on value placements within the design. Here is how it works:
The fabric selection is extremely important to the overall success of the project. Find a beautiful bouquet fabric with a lot of background spaced between the floral clusters. I call these fabrics “wallpaper fabrics” as they resemble many wallpaper patterns. When you are satisfied that you have chosen the best fabric, begin cutting. (In the event that more light values are needed after completing the next step, you may also need a companion background fabric, if it is available in the same collection from which you selected your bouquet fabric.)
Cutting and Sorting
Begin cutting your bouquet fabric at random into 2″ squares. Notice some of your squares will be filled with floral design and others will contain none. When you have finished cutting, sort the squares into five stacks, ranging from the least dense design, to the most dense. The least dense will become the light values, while the most dense designs will be the dark values.
Your first stack of squares will contain no floral design (0% design). These light value squares will be all background. The second stack of squares will have a small amount (25%) of the floral design and represent medium/light values. Continue sorting the squares into piles of 50% design for mediums, 75% design for medium/darks and, finally, 100% design for darks. On the pattern chart below, notice the concentration of dark values (100% design) that define the circle image. These become the basis of the wreath design.
Traditionally watercolor projects are worked on felt pinned to a design wall. However, several new fusible products are now available with pre-printed grid lines. Using gridded fusibles save time, allowing quiltmakers to go directly to sewing rows when their design work is completed. You can pin the fusible to the wall, but for best results I work on a heat resistant tabletop covered with a big, thick white towel under the fusible. Then, when it comes time to press, it isn’t necessary to transfer the design work to an ironing board. To obtain a distance perspective when working on your designs this way, I recommend viewing your work through a reducing lens available at most quilt shops, or some other device that visually reduces the pattern.
Arranging the Squares
Start laying out your wreath by defining the boundaries.
Cut a piece of gridded fusible equal to the size of your pattern. For the SPRING WREATH pattern shown here, you’ll need an 11″ x 11″ piece of gridded fusible.
Begin at the top of the grid, positioning the fabric squares from your sorted stacks onto the squares of the grid, matching the values indicated on the chart. Work quickly, without thinking about anything other than following the chart placement.
When all the squares are placed on the grid, step back, and using your distance viewing tool to help you see values, rearrange those squares that are not pleasing to the eye or that may distract from the shape of the wreath. Especially check for areas around the edges of the wreath that may form a hard line next to a background square. Create a blended look by making sure that pieces with background areas (the lights) touch other background areas to achieve a natural flow from one square to the next.
When satisfied with the arrangement, you’re ready to steam press and stitch.
Press the squares to the fusible according to package directions, and let your pressed project cool at least an hour before sewing.
Fold on a horizontal grid line with right sides of the squares together. Using a quarter inch seam, fold and sew across each horizontal row until all rows have been sewn in one direction.
Clip each seam to the intersection of the horizontal and vertical grid lines. This will allow you to press the seams in alternating directions before sewing the vertical rows.
Fold the first vertical row against the second with right sides together. Sew, being careful to maintain a ¼” seam.
After pressing the completed design, you are ready to add borders and finish your quilt by machine or hand quilting.
Watercolor designs are easy and one of this size can easily be completed in half a day. That leaves plenty of time to plan your next watercolor project. ■