Nine Reasons to Hand Patch a Crazy Quilt

J. Marsha Michler 2007

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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 machine-sewn seams.

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 me.

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 machine.

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 additions.

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 edges.

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 Edition."

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