It is quite possible that crazy patchwork started out many centuries ago when people used patches from various sources to mend garments and bed coverings. As these became more and more colourful so the technique of crazy patchwork was born but it wasn't until Victorian times that it became the patchwork method that we know today. It was very popular in America as well and became a very creative and beautiful form of patchwork using embroidery silks, beads and motifs to produce works of art. Some of these early quilts are around today and are still quite beautiful and thought provoking. To begin with the ladies of fashion who had access to silk materials and all the embellishing equipment that was needed were the ones promoting this method of patchwork. Their work was not meant to be functional but was for show as lap quilts or throws in the parlour. Working class women did crazy patchwork as an economical way of mending quilts and garments invariably using cotton patchwork fabric and wool for warmth. There was rarely the heavy embellishment of the quilts that was a staple of the quilts made by the ladies of the upper classes. Occasionally the seams would be over sewn with feather stitch.
The picture on the left is of a piece of crazy patchwork from the 1930's made in cotton fabrics. The seams are stitched with plain running stitch as sewing machines were not common then. These quilts were meant to be used as bedcovers and would have been made from scraps left over from home dressmaking or mending. There was no artistic approach as there was with the silk creations of fashionable ladies.
The use of motifs, such as fans, storks, owls, spider's webs (which supposedly symbolised good luck), butterflies and flowers was common among the more picturesque quilts. These were either embroidered or charms were added to the work. The Victorians gave a lot of importance to the meanings of flowers and flowers were often used on crazy patchwork. Crazy quilts were frequently used as a remembrance of someone or of a place and important events were documented on the quilts by embroidering names and dates or using pieces of quilting fabric with emotional connotations such as scraps of a wedding or christening gown. These are known as 'memory quilts'.
Crazy patchwork became extremely popular and was advertised widely in magazines and journals. Even cigarette companies joined the in with the obsession by introducing 'cigarette silks' in packets of cigarettes. These small embroidered or printed silk pictures of flowers, butterflies, animals, flags and queens were used by ladies in their quilts. And they are still sought after today and swapped by aspiring crazy quilters. Victorian ladies used sumptuous fabrics such as silk, satin and velvet to patch their quilts and these were lavishly decorated with hand embroidery, beads, buttons, trinkets, silk flowers, ribbons and lace. Today's crazy patchworkers have the ability to choose from many different kinds of fabrics; from cotton fabric to sumptuous silk and velvet and plenty of silky type fabrics made from viscose or polyester.
Crazy Patchwork has been enjoying a revival since the end of the 20th century all over the world and especially in Britain, America and Australia. The sumptuous embroidery of the Victorian era isn't made as much today though embellishments are still abundant using beads, buttons, charms, motifs and lace. And a modern addition is the use of the punch needle which punches the embroidery thread through the quilting fabric from the wrong side leaving a textured finish on the right side of the fabric. Modern sewing machines with their ability to do embroidery stitches are also a boon for today's crazy patchworkers. Also the use of sewing machines to emulate embroidery stitches hastens the process and doing crazy patchwork today does not have to be the long winded process of yesteryear. However there are purists who believe that true crazy patchwork must be done by hand from start to finish!
Often crazy patchwork pieces have themes such as the sea, the countryside or a garden. This enables the sewer to work on her artistic skills to produce a piece of crazy patchwork which will lend itself to specific embellishment. Some of these pieces of crazy patchwork are often very elaborate and special. For example the piece on the right uses shells to add to the sea theme and has turned buttons into jelly fish by the addition of gauzy ribbon. There are fish embroidered on a patch and silky fabric has been used which has a design of boat steering wheels. Embroidery has been worked to represent seaweed and there is even a small crab embroidered in bullion knots at the bottom of the piece.
Bags, needle cases, pincushions and clothing such as waistcoats are also popular items to make in crazy patchwork. This small bag even incorporates limpet shells among the beads and embroidery. Ribbon embroidery is an art form in itself and is a very popular embellishment in crazy patchwork.
Christmas themes are extremely popular and cushions, table runners and Christmas stockings are regularly made in Crazy Patchwork.
Crazy patchwork is worked on a calico or light cotton background patchwork fabric. The patches are laid out onto the calico starting from a corner and working across the block. If making clothing such as waistcoats or jackets the pattern pieces are cut out in calico and then the crazy patchwork pieces are worked in the same way across the pattern. Raw edges are folded under and when it is completed they are hemstitched. Then the fun begins! Ric-rac and lace can be added to the patchwork along the seams. These should be added in at this stage so that ends can be tucked under seams. The use of previously embroidered pieces saves a lot of time when embellishing. When you are happy with your arrangement then the embroidery can be started. Work stitches such as chain stitch, feather stitch, herringbone, chevron and blanket stitch. Combine stitches for wider seam emphasis. Add beads and charms. Lace and cotton motifs can be used in the centre of patches. If working in blocks these can be joined together with sashing and made into a quilt or throw. For clothing the darts and shaping are done when the patchwork and embellishment is finished. Then the garment can be made up. Don't put beads or other hard objects on or near the seam lines or you will break your machine needle! These crazy patchwork pieces will become heirlooms so don't forget to add your name and the date somewhere!