Easy Ways to Enlarge Your Crazy Quilts

Cindy Thury Smith © 2009

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Have you ever wanted to make a bed-sized crazy quilt but cringed at the thought of making fifty plus crazy pieced blocks? I don’t blame you; making that many blocks would be a serious time commitment. But there are several ways to increase the size of your end project without making (and embellishing) all those blocks.

You can easily increase the size of your crazy pieced project three ways:

  1. by adding sashing between the blocks and
  2. by changing the setting of your blocks and
  3. by adding borders along the outer edges.

Most of you are aware that simply inserting sashing between your blocks will add to the width and length of your piece. Sashing can frame and highlight each individual block, helps square up the rows, can provide another area for embellishing and can provide an unobtrusive area for stabilizing the whole quilt top.

For instance, if you have nine 12” crazy pieced blocks and you put them together in a straight setting of three blocks in three rows, you have a 36” square piece. If you insert 2” sashing strips between the blocks and around the outer edge, you now have a 44” square baby quilt top.

How wide should you cut your sashing if you are using just plain strips? To keep the focus on your pieced blocks your sashing strips should be proportioned to be secondary in size to the block size. A general guideline used in traditional quilts is that sashing strips should be one fourth or less the size of the blocks.

BUT not all sashing is plain strips. You can add a small contrasting block where the strips intersect between the pieced blocks; this is called a cornerstone block. It can be a fancy fabric, an embroidered square, or be embellished in some way to stand out from the sashing strips.

Another sashing variation is adding piecing to the sashing. Pieced sashing adds a secondary pattern, evenly spaced over the quilt top. An example is shown below in an old crazy quilt of mine: Crazy for Minnesota Wildflowers.

Because I’ve added stars in the sashing, the sashing strips are slightly wider than I would normally use. Also, to complete the stars around the edge of the quilt you need to add some extra strips. The stars are formed by simply adding sew and flip triangles to the ends of the sashing strips and using a square of the star fabric as a cornerstone square. I kept the stars uniform in color and fabric so they compete less with the pieced blocks. You have some design options here: imagine how these stars would look if you decided to add some embroidery to the center square, some beading, or a three-dimensional folded flower?

Another option for sashing would be using two fabrics for your sashing. Imagine taking half of your 12” crazy pieced blocks and sewing a 1” frame of strips around them in, say, a solid color such as black. Take the other half of the blocks and sew a 1” frame around them in another solid color. I would choose another neutral color such as a dark gray or a black on black stripe.

If you choose a bright color, such as red, then those strips will “jump out at you” when you view the quilt. By choosing another subdued color you will keep the visual focus on your blocks. When you sew the blocks together alternate blocks from each subgroup; and you will automatically get a two-toned sashing with a little more pizzazz.

Let’s go back to our group of 12” crazy pieced blocks. Let’s say you don’t like the look of a lot of sashing between your blocks and you are willing to piece a few more blocks. If you assemble nine blocks without sashing in three rows of three blocks, you can use this as your center design unit. Surround this with a wide border, 4-6”. This piece now measures 44-48”, depending upon how wide you made the border. This 4-6” border frames the center nine blocks and gives you another area to embellish if you wish.

Next add on another twenty 12” crazy pieced blocks around the edge, and then repeat the same sized (4-6”) border. Your quilt top now measures 76-84” square. Yes, you have pieced 29 blocks but you have a double bed sized crazy quilt.

Let’s see how different settings can greatly increase the size of your crazy quilt.

Take your nine blocks and sew them together edge to edge, in three rows of three blocks. I have tried to draw this using Quilt Pro in the image below. If you set this 9 block unit on point and you add four triangles to the corners, you now have a 51” square piece.

If you had added a contrasting border (say a 1 ½” border) to surround the 36” center, and then turned this on point and added corner triangles, you would now have a 55” square piece. Adding this contrasting border would also stabilize the nine block unit and when you sew on the corner triangles the bias edges of the triangles would be sewn onto the straight grain of the border.

Let’s go back and look at the image above where you’ve added four corner triangles. If you cut your corner triangles to exactly fit and sew them on perfectly square, you will get the figure above and the resulting unit will be square. I admit it: I don’t always sew perfect, so I like to give myself a little “fudge” room. I always cut my corner triangles at least 2” larger than I need to; if I don’t sew and press each seam perfectly I will have enough fabric so I can trim. By backing the points of the center nine block unit off a bit, it will seem to float on your background fabric as shown below.

You have also created a small channel around the points that connects the entire background fabric; so if you wanted to do some continuous embellishing, you can curve your embellishments completely around the center unit.

You could also do some embellishing along the outer edges (such as inserting small prairie points made from tie fabrics all along the edge of the background fabric) and not be lopping off the four corner points.

The four large corner triangles give you more design options:

  1. You can cut the large triangles from one fabric, such as a fancy fabric you have used in the pieced blocks. Sometimes you come across a fabric that is just too pretty to cut up much. If you added a plain border around the center nine block unit, you would visually separate the center pieced blocks from your fancy fabric and both would have good visual impact.
  2. You can cut the large triangles from a background type fabric and do larger embellishments than would fit in the pieced blocks. I came across an antique crazy quilt once that had this floating setting; the quilter had pieced fan blocks into the corners of the large triangles. Between the fan blocks and center nine block unit, the quilter had done very subtle, small stitching (tacking) so the quilt top was very stable and both the crazy pieced blocks and the fan blocks were highlighted.

Another setting you might want to consider is the Bars setting. A Bars setting is simply vertical columns (your 12” crazy pieced blocks) interspersed with vertical strips of sashing (no horizontal sashing). So, for instance, if you had fifteen 12” crazy pieced blocks you could sew three vertical columns of five blocks each. Between these columns you would place two vertical strips (the Bars) of 6” each (again these would be secondary in size to the size of your crazy pieced blocks). You now have a quilt top measuring 48” X 60”. If you added a 3” outer border all around you would have a 54”x 66” lap quilt (shown below). Think of the embroidery you could do in those tall thin bars!

I like to keep my eyes open for settings in sane quilts that can be used for crazy quilts. The setting image below was from an appliqué sampler quilt that uses MANY different sized rectangles separated by narrow sashing. This setting would be great for crazy piecing because it does have so many different sized rectangles (you could combine many leftover crazy pieced units in such a setting!)

If you look closely at it, this quilt setting above could be put together in sections: there are two rows on the bottom, plus an upper left quadrant and an upper right quadrant. Each section could be sewn together, embellished, stabilized through all the layers, and then assembled with the other sections. The above drawing is drawn to scale in case you want to enlarge it and use it as a guide.

If you would like to see many more examples of this composite style setting, visit Bodil Gardner’s website at www.bodilgardner.dk.

Finally, we will consider outer edge borders for enlarging our crazy quilts. Many of us spend so much time embellishing the blocks that when we get the blocks done we don’t want to do any more piecing. I’m going to let you decide how effective a wide pieced outer edge border is by showing you a few photos.

The photo above is from the collection of the Edina Historical Society, in Edina, Minnesota. Detailed instructions (plus pattern templates) to make this fan border will be coming in a future issue of CQMagOnline.

The photo above is from the collection of Michigan State University.

The quilt above was made by Jennie C. Furguson between1870 and 1880 and is in the collection of the Nebraska Historical Society.

As you can see from these quilts, crazy piecing is so visually strong you can put a wide, intricate border on it which will not only extend the size of the quilt but increase its appeal.

So the question becomes how wide a border (what proportion) can you put on a crazy quilt and have it look good? Again, I’ll let you decide from the illustrations below.

This first illustration shows a 36” crazy pieced block with a 2” inner (black) border and a 4” edge border.

This second illustration shows the same piece with a 6” edge border.

This third illustration shows the same block with an 8” edge border.

In my opinion, it appears that your total border width (add left border width and right border width) should be definitely secondary in size. The 8” border (8” + 8” = 16”) is close to half the size of the 36” crazy pieced area) seems out of proportion to me. Would this hold true on a larger crazy quilt? Let’s see.

The illustration below shows an inner crazy pieced area of 60” square (three 20” blocks) bordered with a 2” inner border and a 4” edge border.

The photo below shows an inner crazy pieced area of 60” square bordered with a 2” inner border and a 6” edge border.

The photo below shows an inner crazy piece area of 60” square bordered with a 2” inner border and an 8” edge border. This is beginning to look a little out of proportion to me.

But what if you have a pattern for a drop dead gorgeous border and it’s an 8” border (and you don’t want to shrink it)? Look what happens if you reduce the inner (black) border from 2” down to 1”.

That’s a little better. You can play with the proportions of your borders by drawing on graph paper until you get something that you like. Don’t be afraid to play on paper before sewing.

There are hundreds of patterns for pieced borders online and CQMagOnline has articles in their archives. 

Hopefully these three methods of enlarging your crazy quilts will encourage you to try making a large crazy quilt.


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