CQ Engineering:
Construction Techniques for Finishing Your Crazy Quilt, Part One

Allison Aller 2007

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"This quilt top must weigh twenty pounds!"

How many of us have gazed at our heavily embellished crazy quilt tops and moaned at the thought of their splendor being ruined by gravity? Too often, finished crazy quilts sag on the wall, their embellishments pulling out over time due to lack of support; even the quilt's overall shape can become distorted by a lack of internal support for all of its surface "encrustation".

Over the years I have been lucky enough to receive some great guidance on how to avoid this problem, and I would love to share some of my tricks with you here. I would like to thank two people in particular, Vicki Day of Jerome, Arizona and Annie Whitsed, of Canberra, Australia, for the ideas they have shared.

Our goal as crazy quilters is to have our quilts hang straight and true, with the surface even and flat...we don't want wrinkles or sagging distracting the viewer from all the delights of our embellishment work, and we want those embellishments to stay put. There are two key strategies for achieving this: interfacing and employing a "false back" when constructing the finished quilt.


Let's begin with interfacing.

I use a lightweight, knit fusible kind, and buy it by the bolt! I start by interfacing each block after it has been pieced.

Placing your block face down on a towel, position the interfacing over the back, and then use some paper release paper (from wonder under or any fusible web) between your iron and the interfacing. You don't want to melt or distort the interfacing, and the paper prevents that.

This layer of interfacing does not interfere with any hand stitching, but does stabilize the block to make the stitching surface much less "wiggly".

After I have trimmed my finished blocks (please use sharp tools for this! It makes a huge difference) and sewn them together, I interface the entire back of the top. I like to use wide interfacing for this, so that I do not need to overlap sections of the interfacing as I iron it on...the overlapping causes no problem, but I prefer to just use one overall piece. You can buy interfacing in a 60" width.

It is good to have a large flat surface for this step, covered by a large towel. Lay out your quilt top face down, then the interfacing over the back of your top, position your release paper over the section you will be fusing, and begin to iron down the interfacing, smoothing it as you go to prevent bubbles or wrinkles. I like to start at the center of the quilt back and work my way outwards.

This step accomplishes two things: it "seals in" all the knots on the back, giving them just one more bit of support to keep them from pulling out over time, and even more importantly, it magically causes the quilt top to hang straight. It transforms the top into a single entity, you might say. You would be amazed at the difference this makes!

When it comes time to attach my "dressy back" (see below), I will interface that as well before attaching it to the quilt. So that makes three layers of interfacing hidden within my crazy quilt.

The False Back

None of us wants a lot of stitching to show on the back of our completed crazy quilts, but we still need more support than that provided by just tying the back, through our batting, to the front of our CQs. The solution is to employ a "false back". And about that batting: I have found drapery lining to be perfect for this. It comes in a 60" width, is all cotton and like a spongy flannel, but has a slightly loose weave. It is cheap, not at all puffy, but provides a perfect cushion for all the embellishments to "seat themselves" into as the quilt comes together.

Some standard quilting techniques are used when attaching the "false back":

Layer, face down, your CQ top, then your batting, which has been cut to size, then your false back of cotton batiste or lawn. Pin baste the layers together.   
Roll up your quilt and begin quilting the layers from the back, through the batting, and into the foundation fabric of your quilt top, checking with each stitch to make sure that nothing shows on the front. (This is a pain, but worth it.)   
Use a small basting stitch for this, perhaps an inch long. When you come to a seam between the blocks, pierce that seam with your basting stitch.   

Place your rows of "quilting" about 2 to 3 inches apart, covering the entire false back. Your CQ now has a fully supportive and hidden internal structure. If there is an area that has an especially heavy piece of embellishment on the front, you can add more quilting stitches around it from the back. Remember, these stitches are not going to show!

Now to attach the "dressy back". Because it is not necessary for this to add stability to the quilt, any fabric can be used. But it is a good idea to interface it first, especially if it has a loose weave or is that notoriously misbehaved fabric, silk velvet.

Simply lay the dressy back, cut to size, over the false back and attach it to the quilt with either ties, as in traditional crazy quilt technique, or sew buttons on the back at regular intervals, through all layers to the front but without any stitching showing, of course.

The look is clean, controlled, smooth, and beautiful!

I wish I had known these tricks when I first started crazy quilting. When I look at my earlier CQ's they just do not have the same professional results. I hope these ideas will prove of use to you, too.

In my next article I will explain the "French Facing" technique I prefer for finishing the edge of my crazy quilts. It gives a nice clean edge without the look of binding.

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