A Crazy Fabric Art Technique That Won't Make You Nuts

Back in the '70s when I was learning to sew (badly) and the fiber art traditions were experiencing a renaissance (the first time), I fancied that I would like to make a quilt.

modern crazy piecing fabric art
My first attempt at crazy piecing the modern way.

Specifically, I wanted to make a crazy quilt. In my naïve view, a crazy quilt would be easier to put together because there was no pattern. Hahaha. It was quickly pointed out to me by someone more knowledgeable that crazy quilting was actually harder to do than block piecing, expressly because there is no pattern.

So that was the end of my crazy quilting. I loved the look, but I don't do "hard." (Remember, this was before fusible web, rotary cutters, and other modern fabric art tools and techniques.)

But recently I've decided to give it another go. Not only am I surrounded (and inspired) by quilters, quilt technique articles and books, and piles of fabric, but the surge in modern improvisational pieces methods has me intrigued.

Armed with a digital download of the new book Quilting Modern: Techniques and Projects for Improvisational Quilts, I gathered my cutting mat, ruler, rotary cutter, and fabrics and gave crazy piecing a whirl.

Here are the basic piecing steps, as outlined by authors Jacquie Gering and Katie Pedersen.

1. Cut width-of-fabric strips from the fat quarters. Strips can vary in width from about 2" to 3½." (5 to 9 cm). Divide the 22" (56 cm) strips in half (if you cut folded fabric, divide strips by cutting at the fold). Strips may be cut straight or at a variety of angles (fig. 1).

2. When using scraps, choose four-sided scraps with at least one straight edge. Scraps should be at least 2½" (6.5 cm) square because seam allowances will make each piece smaller.

crazy patchwork piecing for fabric art
Step 1. Cut the fabric strips.

3. Determine a finished size for the crazy-pieced section before you begin. Use the lines on the cutting mat to measure the section as it grows.

4. Pair the strips. Consider color and value as you make the pairs so that there is some contrast between the strips in each pair. If using scraps, pair them in the same way.

5. Sew each pair of strips with right sides together, using a ¼" (6 mm) seam allowance. Press seams open; this is important when crazy piecing to reduce bulk so that pieced sections will lie flat.

6. Cut each strip set into sections as shown in fig. 2. Vary the size and angle of the cut sections.

7. To build larger sections, combine pairs to make four-piece blocks or add a scrap to make three-piece blocks. Offset the seams when joining pairs (fig. 3). These are the building blocks of crazy piecing.

crazy patchwork piecing for fabric art
Figures 2-5 for modern crazy piecing.

8. Continue building the crazy piecing by combining the 3- and 4-piece blocks. Join pieces at angles to create the "crazy" look. To do this, lay a section on a four-piece block at the desired angle, right sides together (fig. 4).

9. Align a ruler with the edge of the angled section and trim the excess. Sew as indicated using a ¼" (6 mm) seam. Press seam open. fig. 1

10. Notice in fig. 5 that identical fabrics meet along the seam line. Similar fabrics across the seam line trick the eye and camouflage where sections are joined; camouflage joins when possible.

11. Continue making three-piece and four-piece units and sewing these together to create a large section of crazy piecing. Remember to press seams open. In no time you'll have a large crazy-pieced unit that you can use whole or cut into smaller pieces to place in projects.

I'll be honest, I did pretty well through step 6, then I started to get confused. That's where the diagrams in the book became crucial. Also, it's really important to keep pressing open the seams; it's helpful if you have the sewing machine, cutting area, and ironing area set up close to each other.

Katie and Jacquie's hints and tips also helped a lot. For example, as I got further along I got frustrated with trying to fit the pieces together. Then I read, "If you get stuck and can't find a good place to make an addition, don't hesitate to make a cut, creating a new edge where you can add a section." Aha!

With Quilting Modern, I learned that crazy quilting doesn't have to make you crazy.  Just relax, breathe,  read the instructions, and make it fun. It's only fabric, after all.

P.S. Have you ever made a crazy quilt? What do you think of this modern piecing technique? Leave your comments below.


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