Seam Driven Motifs

Allison Aller © 2009

Home - Articles  - Readers' Showcase  - Novices - Search-
Classic crazy quilting has a recognizable set of design elements. These include the use of many kinds of fabrics in one block, random piecing of those fabric patches within the block; the seams between those patches being embroidered and/or embellished, and the creation of “stand alone” designs, or motifs, within some (or all) of the patches.

These traditional elements give a distinctive “look” to a crazy quilt, and it is one we all know and dearly love. But because of my many decades long background making “sane” bed quilts, and then art wall quilts (particularly landscapes), some of that experience has rubbed off on my crazy quilting. I’ve been experimenting in “mixing up” those design elements in my recent crazy quilt work, and have been evolving what is to me a new concept: seam driven motifs.

What I mean by this is that the seam lines in my crazy piecing have become less random, and instead I design them so that when they are covered with stitching, the seams themselves can help form a motif. This way the motif can incorporate several patches, not just stay within one.

Let me show you what I mean. The first time this “happened” was accidental. No surprise there. Crazy quilting is full of happy accidents; this we all know!

This block was created for a group healing quilt. We were given the color scheme and the theme of butterflies. As usual, I just started piecing my block without any real plan, but after I was finished the dominant two seam lines suggested plant stems to me. I decided to embellish them as if they were two fern fronds, covering the smaller seams with “normal” crazy quilt seam treatments. I found I liked how the two kinds of seam treatments combined.

So I decided to try it again, but this time to be a little more deliberate in my piecing from the beginning. I wanted to suggest tree branches, but still use random fabrics. I would then cover enough of the seams with “branch like” yarn to evoke the tree. These yarns were actually felted on with my machine embellisher.

I wanted to see if in my tree branch project I could blend an abstract “CQ” aesthetic with a representational landscape one. I appliquéd some leaves onto my blocks. Also, I embroidered some finer branches into some of my patches, going “off road” or off any seams to do so.

The final stage was to embellish my appliquéd leaves, and then cover the remaining seams in traditional crazy quilt stitching.

I found this to be a pretty strange hybrid between crazy quilting and landscape quilting. But I liked it, so now this is something I am continuing to explore in long term projects in my studio work. I’ve carried the theme of trees even further, using photographs of trees printed on fabric in my piecing.

For this article, I wanted to illustrate how to use this concept of using seams to create motifs in a small and quick project, a pin keeper like those described by Cindy Thury-Smith in CQMagOnline’s October 2008 issue ( This time, I did sketch out my block ahead of time. I don’t believe a finished block drawing is necessarily required, but it is a good idea to know the basic shapes you’ll want to develop into your motif. In this example, I knew I wanted to create a few sprays of flowers.

This circle block is the size of a CD.

As you can see, the seams form stems, but I added more stems within the patches too. I think this gives a nice integrated look to my little pinkeeper.

I am sure many of you have happened upon this same idea, and I’ve seen it employed in a few vintage crazy quilts, too (although rarely). If you haven’t tried this new way to create motifs, it might be a fun departure for you.

Home - Articles  - Readers' Showcase  - Novices - Search-

Copyright © 2002 - 2011, All Rights Reserved
Editor: Published by: Pretty Impressive Stuff