Note how the corners of patches "spill" onto adjoining patches. Silk
patches, threads, ribbons. Detail of the "Rebus Quilt," shown in the book,
"Motifs for Crazy Quilting."
Curved edges are easy to do while hand patching, adding a softening touch.
Silk fabrics and threads. Detail of the "Dragon Shawl," shown in the book,
"Motifs for Crazy Quilting."
Fanciful fans can be created and added where you like while hand patching a
crazy quilt. Silk fabrics, threads, ribbons, and assorted embellishments.
Detail of "Ladies and Fans," shown in the book, "The Magic of Crazy
Quilting, editions 1 and 2.
The patches are a very important part of a crazy quilt. They determine
the color scheme for the quilt or project. They set up the background for
embellishments and embroidery, and show up through those additions either in
a blending or a contrastive way. This makes the patches crucial to the
finished appearance of the quilt or project, and so should be treated as
such. It may seem tempting to rush this part of the process, but giving it
some thought and a little extra time can pay off in delightful results.
Hand patching lends a softer and a more relaxed appearance than patches
sewn by machine. Working by hand also offers more creative options in making
and placing patches, and is a more fitting background to hand worked
embroidery and embellishments.
When patches are machine sewn onto a foundation, too often the result is
an effect that resembles a tunneling into, or a spiraling out of the center
of a block. This vortex effect is fine if that is your objective. In
addition, a "hard-edge" look results from seams sewn all in straight lines.
If all of your patching has been machine sewn, try patching by hand and
see if this adds a different quality to your work. Following are some
reasons to patch a crazy quilt by hand. Brief instructions for patching by
hand follow this article.
1. It is possible to have unlimited variety in the shapes of patches.
The most compelling reason to hand patch a crazy quilt or project is
variety. Use creative patching to set a mood or create a background for
a theme piece. Make patches with rounded edges. Vary the sizes of
patches. Create a landscape effect in which patches become smaller in
the distance. Patching by hand lets you shape them how you want without
worrying about patching yourself into a corner.
2. Hand patching is conducive to creating the patches themselves.
In "The Magic of Crazy Quilting," I show how a patch is created on a
foundation by weaving ribbons to make a solid piece. In another example
a patch is placed that is too large for the space, and then is
"scrunched" to fit by sewing on beads or adding embroidery stitches.
Make some pieced fans and use them as patches, laying them randomly
wherever you want on the foundation. Such methods are invaluable in
adding interest and surface texture to a quilt top.
3. Reworking areas or replacing single patches is easy to do.
Up to the basting stage, patches are pinned in place. If for any
reason you don't like a patch or a patched area, take out the pins and
re-work it. This makes it easy to "try out" colors to find what works
best. You can try out laces and trims the same way before anything is
fastened down. Even after the basting stage it is easy to make changes.
It's much easier to take out basting than to rip out and re-do
4. The work stays in one place.
Hand patching takes place on a flat surface. The foundation stays
flat until after the basting stage. This is unlike machine work in which
the piece is picked up to be sewn and then moved again for pressing. You
may find it easier to work on a composition if it stays in one place. I
know I do. To me it feels like I'm an artist with a canvas in front of
5. Things can be distributed easily over the quilt top.
There is no need to work continuously from one area to another. Let's
say your foundation is the size of a small quilt and you have a
quarter-yard of a beautiful silk/rayon brocade. Cut the brocade into
patch-size pieces and then arrange and pin the pieces so they are evenly
distributed over the quilt top. The next fabric is treated much the
same. Eventually you will rearrange some patches so they fit together,
and add some additional patches to completely cover the foundation.
6. There is a softer look to hand patched edges than if they were sewn by
In the most beautiful of antique crazy quilts you may notice this
effect. Part of it may be because patch edges are rounded or not
perfectly straight. But it is also because the patches are not machine
sewn along their edges. Machine sewing has a flattening effect, and
without it the patches appear softer, even after lots of embroidery and
7. Silk fabrics are easy to use in combination with hand patching.
Many silk types will not easily cooperate with machine sewing. The
reverse is true with hand patching. There is no need to pre-stiffen
lightweight fabrics. Creating a silk crazy quilt is in itself a great
reason to do hand patching. I can't say enough about the wonders of
working with silk fabrics, ribbons, and threads.
8. Hand patching makes it easy to observe the composition evolve because
it stays lying flat.
You can step back and see how your quilt or project is coming along
at intervals. And, you can plan, or design the composition as you patch,
making the patches appear rhythmic or flowing across the quilt top. Hand
patching is more likely than machine patching to set up attractive
'flow" patterns. You can see if the colors are "working." It's easiest
to work with the color scheme if colors are gotten right in the patching
stage, rather than trying to correct them with later additions.
9. Creativity is perhaps the biggest reason to patch by hand.
Earlier in this article you've noticed that patches can be
re-arranged easily. You can watch your composition evolve as it stays
flat on the work surface, and it is possible to have much greater
variety in the shapes of patches. Patching by hand can add a creative
and personal touch to your crazy quilt or project, going far in creating
a unique and artful piece.
How to Patch by Hand:
1. Work on an ironing board or a padded surface that can take the
heat of an iron. Cut an initial patch about an inch larger all around
than the desired shape and size and lay it in place on the foundation
fabric. Pin each patch as it is laid.
2. Cut a second patch and overlap it about an inch onto the first.
Continue, making patches the shapes and sizes of your choice, and
fitting them so they are overlapped onto neighboring patches. Cover the
foundation completely, or work an area of the foundation if it is large.
3. One patch at a time, press the overlapping edge or edges under
about 1/2". Add any laces or trims that will be secured under patch
4. Hand baste the patches in place, and baste around the outer edges
after the foundation is covered. Embroider and embellish.
For more information on patching methods, and complete embroidery and
embellishment instructions, see the book, "The Magic of Crazy Quilting, 2nd