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Quilting Craziness: Crazy Quilt Inspired Projects Past and Present

According to the Adirondack Museum’s site Common Threads: 150 Years of Adirondack Quilts and Comforters, crazy quilts get their name from the fact that their intricate piecing resembles “crazing”, the fine cracks that sometimes appear in ceramic glaze once it’s been fired. They go on to say that common folklore claims that constructing one would make the creator “go crazy”. If you look at some of the intricately pieced and painstakingly embroidered creations that have been made—they were all the rage during Victorian times especially—it doesn’t seem far off from the truth.

Our previous trip to the Adirondacks included a visit to the museum, where they were showing the exhibit featured on the above site. The piece that had the most impact on me was Mary Church Holland’s crazy quilt—even before hearing the story behind it, I knew it was something special.

Mrs. Holland, whose first child had died in infancy, was told by her doctor that she needed to “keep busy” to be able to overcome her grief. Keep busy she did, spending the next year (1887-1888) creating this beautiful quilt. Featuring embroidery and painted patches of velvet, silk, satin, and brocade, it went on to win several prizes and was handed down by the family until a great-great granddaughter donated it to the museum, respecting the wishes of the creator. There is a wonderful Lake Placid News article here that mentions her story. I went home from that trip with a magnet showing this portion of her quilt (it doesn’t do it justice, but I knew it was something I’d want to remember) and an even greater respect for quilters of the past.

True crazy quilts, though, are one of my “someday” projects. For now I have made a few—and am working on one more—crazy quilt inspired projects. The first is a very early one that I made when we still lived in Texas—it was completed from start to finish while we lived in our first apartment, before we moved on base. I believe it was inspired by a quilt I saw on HGTV’s Simply Quilts show. It was a quilt-as-you-go project, and I used only fabrics and trims I already had on hand, most of it purchased when I was working at a chain craft store. (Read: before I was a fabric snob. All the better to be thrown up on though, right?) I quilted the individual blocks as they were constructed and then sewed them together, put on a backing, and tied the layers together. I was into quick gratification then and didn’t have the means or money to have it quilted. It’s not in the greatest shape now, having been on my bed through two kids and countless pets, but it’s still special to me as my first “sew with what you’ve got on hand” quilt–and it was finished in less than a month.

crazy quilt as you go

My next venture into crazy quilting was two quilts for my daughter, the animal lover of the house. For several years I’d been buying every cute dog and cat fabric I could find, and finally I decided it was time to do something with it all. She has a daybed with a trundle, and I had A LOT of cat and dog fabric by that time, so I made a quilt for each bed—the only extra fabric I had to purchase was that used for the sashing. I used a pattern in Karla Alexander’s Stack the Deck! Crazy Quilts in 4 Easy Steps to make giant 15″ blocks with six fabrics on each. I had a really cute dog border print that I’d gotten on clearance and used two of the strips to make my first mitered borders on the quilts. I fussy cut the smaller squares in the sashing to highlight individual cats and dogs. Both quilts were quilted with a meander pattern, and Mini Moe #2 couldn’t be happier with them. (Mini Moe #1 still wants to know where his quilt is, though. It’s coming. Soon. Ish. It would be a nice graduation present, yes?)

 I couldn’t fit the whole quilt in my camera frame—but here’s most of one:                     Cats and Dogs crazy quilt

Close up detail of a fussy cut square: Cats and Dogs fussy cut

…and a single block:  cats and dogs close up

Cats and Dogs mitered corner  …and a mitered corner. Not bad for a first attempt, huh?

My current crazy quilt-inspired project was also started in Texas, but I put it aside for a while and recently decided to start it up again. It was a serial pattern from the now-extinct foundation piecing magazine The Foundation Piecer (later Quilts with Style—either way, it’s still gone, unfortunately) that gave quilters two patterns per issue for six issues. The quilt was called “Crazy Traditions” because it uses paper piecing to make blocks that look like traditional ones from a distance but with crazy quilt-like elements up close. It is time consuming (why it was put aside) but looks really fantastic (why I’m determined to finish it). Unfortunately, between the time when I started this one and when I decided to give it a go again, I lost one of the magazines. I still had the pictures of the completed quilt from the magazines I do have, though, so one of my quilt night fellow quilters made two patterns for me using her autocad program. They look just as fabulous as the originals! (Two of the finished ones are Lisa-designed. I’m not even going to tell you which ones they are, but they’re below with the rest.) I’ve got ten blocks done and two to go.

All ten blocks…Foundation pieced crazy quilt

Detail of the all crazy-pieced green block… foundation pieced crazy green block foundation pieced crazy red block …and the red one. See the “crazy” bits? Awesome, right?

It’s not nearly as breathtaking as Mrs. Holland’s quilt, but I’m happy with it so far. Since I’ve got the final magazine’s patterns ready to go, my only stumbling block right now is what colors to make the last two blocks. The general consensus at quilt night this week was a peach one and a purple/magenta one, but I am having commitment issues. Anyone else want to cast a vote?

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