Sunday, 12 February 2012

Elephant No. 133: Crazy Quilting

A couple of weeks ago, one of my fibre arts guild confrères gave me a lovely upholstery sample featuring an Indian elephant. At first I thought I'd make a conventional, geometrical quilt block with it. Then I decided that, because I am probably one of the worst, most imprecise quilters in the world (just ask my sister), the sample would be perfect for a crazy-quilt block.

Crazy quilting is less a type of quilting—quilting being the pattern of stitching that binds the layers together—than a type of patchwork. Crazy quilts rarely have an internal layer of batting, and are perhaps more conventionally considered a type of textile art.

Framed crazy-quilt block by Janet Stauffacher.

In crazy quilting, various pieces of fabric are combined in a pattern that has less to do with a preset design, and more to do with creating something that is visually pleasing. Once the base fabrics are arranged and attached—either by hand, or with a sewing machine—the individual patches and seams are heavily embellished with embroidery, braid, buttons, beads, ribbon and anything else that takes the designer's fancy. This is what gives crazy quilting its charm.

Crazy quilting is thought to have been inspired in the United States by the Japanese Exhibit at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Intrigued by the asymmetrical Japanese art in the exhibit, women began experimenting with fabric placement in their quilts, and crazy quilting was born.

During the 1880s, crazy quilting became something of a, well, craze. Women's publications featured articles both for and against. Shops offered packages of random fabrics, and even pre-embellished pieces, for sale. For the first decade or so, crazy quilting usually featured fine fabrics such as silk, velvet and lace, and the quilts were heavily embellished. As time passed, women began making crazy quilts using everyday fabrics, and little or no embellishment was added. The benefit of crazy quilting for thrifty women was that it allowed them to use odd-shaped scraps of fabric left over from various sewing projects.

Today, crazy quilting has entered the realm of fine craft, and is often the subject of museum and gallery exhibitions. In addition, early crazy quilts have become highly collectible, and there are numerous books and websites devoted to both collecting and creating crazy quilts.

Crazy quilt from 1892–1893.

I've been thinking about making a crazy quilt for years, and have all kinds of scraps of fabrics such as silk, velvet, satin and lace waiting to be used. Because I'm so terrible at regular quilting, I suppose I've been a bit daunted by the idea of quilting anything, but since I have a bit of extra time today, I thought I'd give it a try.

For today's elephant, I'm using the sample given to me by Frances as my inspiration and starting point. The sample measures 24 x 17.5 cm (approx. 9.5 x 7 inches), with the main interest obviously being the elephant. But I also like the partial frame around the elephant, so I'm going to try to incorporate it somehow.

I decided to sew the fabrics together on a sewing machine, as I expected the embellishment to take a great deal of time. I wasn't planning on a huge block, as I only have a day to work on this, but I thought that about 30 x 30 cm (12 x 12 inches) would be a good size.

I dragged out my boxes of velvet and silk scraps, and started choosing colours that I thought worked well with the original sample. These are more or less what I chose, although I reserved the right to change my mind.

To start, I pinned on a strip of red dupioni silk, then stitched it, folded it right way out, and ironed it.

Next, I did the same with a strip of lime green silk.

After this, I just kept adding pieces of silk and velvet, until the elephant was surrounded.

Once the elephant was surrounded, it was time to finish the block. Since I wanted it to be 30 cm (12 inches) square when completed, I made it 33 cm (13 inches) square. This would leave me a seam allowance all the way around, in case I should ever decide to actually sew it to something.

To end up with a square, and to make sure the elephant was dead centre, I measured 16.5 cm (6.5 inches) from the centre to each side, and to the top and bottom. I needed to add fabric, so I pieced the edges together until I had more than enough. I then cut a muslin square measuring 33 x 33 cm (13 x 13 inches), and sewed it to the back of my pieced quilt block, making sure to centre it over the elephant. I then trimmed all the edges.

It was now ready for trims and whatever other embellishments took my fancy. I pulled out a bunch of ribbon, passementerie, sparkly things like sequins and beads, exotic embroidery threads, lace, and whatever else seemed to go with the patchwork block. I wasn't sure what I would end up using out of all this, but it was a place to start.

To begin the embellishment phase, I added a scrap of tasselled trim.

Next, I added some jaquard ribbon to one of the seams.

After this, I added ribbon to a few other seams, although I reserved some joins for embroidered embellishing. Pretty much anything goes when it comes to crazy quilting, so I added whatever appealed to me—from whatever I actually had on hand.

Next, because crazy quilting usually has embroidery on it, I began by embroidering a couple of seams. I'm woefully out of practice when it comes to embroidery, so it's not as extravagant or as neat as it could be.

I embroidered a few more seams, added a flower, added some beads, and then ran out of time.

I like the final result well enough, although it doesn't feel anywhere near finished yet. However, this took me most of the day, so finishing it will have to wait for another time.

If you had a lot of time, this would be a great way to use up scraps of fabric, bits of trim and so forth. But it's definitely more time-consuming than I expected it to be. And I think it would look a lot better in combination with other blocks to offset some of the, well, craziness.

Elephant Lore of the Day
It is generally accepted that elephants are among the most intelligent creatures on Earth—and apparently they sometimes have a sense of humour to match.

One of my favourite stories tells of a bull elephant named Charles, who was trying to push over a large tree in a Kenya reserve. A group of conservationists watched Charles for awhile, laughing at his frustration.

Perhaps realizing that he was the source of their amusement, Charles suddenly stopped what he was doing, walked over to the conservationists and knocked down a smaller tree, sending it crashing onto their landrover. Charles then tossed its head and walked off into the bush.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation 

No comments:

Post a Comment