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Leslie Levison's
"Crazy Quilt Patchwork Block" Online Class

Part I

We are pleased to present, this month's online class teacher, Leslie Levison, "Crazy Quilter Extraordinaire", who has been active in the New York City quilting scene for 20 years, involved in the Manhattan Quilters Guild for 15 years, and a pioneer founding member of the Empire Quilters Guild in 1982. Leslie has always been a collector, starting with seashells, and moving on to beads and fabrics in high school. During her career in the textile field, Ms. Levison has seen the quilting industry grow from a small venture to the major force it is today. Being a crazy quilt enthusiast, as well as teacher, she is very pleased to see that major exhibitions are finally being devoted exclusively to "Crazy Quilts". The needlework and fabric industries have joined forces to present the best products available to quilters and needleworkers, and Crazy Quilters are one of the beneficiaries of this new collaboration and expansion. In addition to her interest in fabrics, beads, fibers and threads, Ms. Levison also enjoys cooking, traveling, and the roar of a Harley-Davidson on the open road. She lives in a walk-up apartment in Manhattan, which she currently does not share with any cats.

Even if you never tried Crazy Quilting, this beatifully instructed class will get you hooked! The following Online Class presents an introduction to developing a "Crazy Quilt Patchwork Block", step by step, from start to finish; and for really adventurous needleworkers, even beyond. Leslie teaches at "Sew Brooklyn" in Park Slope, Brooklyn and at "City Quilter" in New York City. She will also be teaching at the "Crazy Quilt Symposium" in Omaha, Nebraska this summer.

For additional information, please e- mail her at Tatmermaid@aol.com

This lesson introduces you to the art of making Crazy Quilts (CQ's). CQ's originally appeared in the mid 1880's and have made a great resurgence 100 years later.


Materials Needed

  • One yard of muslin, washed and ironed. Washing and tumble drying the muslin softens it up and makes it easier to needle.
  • Fabric scraps including cotton, silk, satin, rayon velvet, laces, silk-like polyester, taffeta, etc.
  • Avoid heavy fabrics such as cotton velveteen, upholstery weight tapestries, wide wale corduroy, and very heavily waxed batiks.
  • Needles: #1, #3, and #9 embroidery needles, #9 sharps (sewing needles), #10 beading or #12 sharps, #3 milliner, and a #18 Chenille. Whenever possible, try to buy needles that come one size to a package, such as John James or Colonial. These are generally a better quality needle and truer to size than a multi pack.
  • Sewing thread, any color.
  • A few silk pins (I prefer this type of straight pin)
  • Embroidery threads: One skein each of Waterlilies, Watercolours, Impressions, Wildflowers, one of the Rachels, and Snow.
  • Size "D" Nymo thread (use single strand) or size "0" (use double strand) for adding seed and bugle beads.


Getting Started

If you've done patchwork or counted thread embroidery, throw most of what you know in the corner for now. There are no rules here, only creative flaws. It doesn't matter what the back of your block looks like, and it's ok if your stitches aren't all the same size or going in the same direction. No Inhibitions!

First we will construct a crazy quilt block on which to embroider. Make a little cut every 12" along one selvage of your muslin. Rip along the crosswise grain, giving you three strips each 12" wide by about 44" long. Now rip the selvages off of the strips. Measure 12" intervals along the long edge of the strips, cut and rip. This will yield you 9 12" x12" squares of muslin (plus some left over pieces) all ripped on the straight of grain. Iron one block to start with, mark one side with the measurement of your block ­ 12"­ and now you are ready to begin. (You'll have to read to the end to find out why we mark the blocks!)

Figure 1 (a-c)

There are two methods commonly used to construct a CQ (crazy patch) block. The first is known as sew & flip. Begin by placing a fabric scrap somewhere on your muslin, right side up. Cut a piece of another fabric and place wrong side down over the first fabric, lining up one edge. The fabric pieces do not have to be the same size or shape, just have one common edge. Sew along this one edge, about a 1/4", through both fabric layers and the muslin. Now flip the top fabric over to its' right side. Cut a third piece of fabric with one edge long enough to cover the first two pieces, lay it right side down, sew, and flip. Continue until you have covered the whole muslin. Sew and flip can be done by machine or hand.

Figure 2 (a-b)

The second method I call mosaic. I feel this gives a more old-fashioned and intriguing look to your quilt. Begin by placing a scrap on the muslin, face up. Cut a second fabric with a curved or shaped edge. Place it right side up along one edge of the first fabric, covering one raw edge of the first piece with the second piece. Finger press the shaped edge of the second piece and baste in place. ( I know this sounds like the Marx Bros.' "Sanity Claus" routine). Continue covering the muslin in this manner.

Figure 3

  • You will most likely end up using both methods in your block.
  • As you work on your block, trim seam allowances and any excess fabrics away.
  • Trim away any fabric that hangs over the edge of your muslin.
  • If you are working with velvets, or very slippery fabrics, baste across the patches themselves with big stitches, as though you were preparing a quilt to be quilted.
  • If you have ended up with a small piece of muslin showing where two fabrics didn't quite meet, don't worry; you'll sew a button over it!
  • You don't need to use a hoop; the muslin gives you a sturdy enough foundation.
  • Embroidery (this is the fun part)

    Each seam is covered with stitches in a crazy quilt. I want to emphasize that this is not an exact science. Your stitches reflect your personality, how agile your fingers are, and generally what kind of a day you've had. I thrive in chaos and my stitches reflect that. Yours may be neat and ordered; whatever you do, do what pleases you. Experimentation is an important part of making your crazy quilt.

    As you can see, I stitch far better than I draw. Some needles are drawn extra heavy to emphasize where the thread is in relation to the needle. In most stitches, the working thread is under the needle.

    With Watercolours, Impressions, and Wildflowers, use the #1 or #3 embroidery needle. If you are using 2-3 strands of Waterlilies, use the #9 embroidery needle. To add Rachel, use the #18 Chenille.

    Try the stitches with various threads to get the feel for different effects you can achieve. Below are a few stitches you can begin experimenting with. Come back next month for Part II for more stitch diagrams plus instructions on how to make a full size quilt.

    The Stitches

    Note: Since so many of the stitches begin with "come up at A, down at B, up at C" I will use A-B-C as a standard instruction where applicable.

    Chain Stitch

    A-B-C. Needle is over the thread. Pull the needle through until you have formed a chain link. The longer the distance between B and C, the narrower your stitch will be. About 1/8" is ideal. To continue, insert the needle inside the chain, as shown, and make second stitch. Do a chain stitch in 2 strands of Wildflowers, and then in 1 strand of Waterlilies to see the difference the size of a thread makes.

    Buttonhole (or Blanket) Stitch

    A-B-C. Needle is over the thread. Spacing from A to B is about 3/8" diagonally. I am right-handed so I mostly work from the left side of the seam toward the right side. If you are left handed, it may be easier to work in the opposite direction. To continue, repeat the first step. As a variation, alternate the size of the "legs" of the stitch. It is also pretty worked in a circle. The 3 buttonhole circles worked on the sample are two strands of Wildflowers.

    Up and Down Buttonhole Stitch

    A-B-C. Begin the same way as you did for the buttonhole. After you have pulled the needle all the way through at C, move the working thread so it lays above your stitches, as shown. Insert the needle at D, and come out at E. The needle is over the thread. As you pull the needle through, it is facing away from you. Once it is through, continue pulling the needle toward you. The thread will slide down the stitch to form a little loop around the bottom of the stitch. A swag effect is created along the bottom.

    Feather Stitch

    Here is one of the countless variations of featherstitch.

    A-B-C. This forms a U or V shape. Make another stitch, moving slightly to the right. The third stitch moves to the left. This will require you to turn your wrist. Be sure that your thread is always under your needle. As a variation, make multiple stitches in each direction. On the sample, featherstitch is worked in Watercolours and Waterlilies.

    Fern Stitch

    The fern stitch is nothing more than a series of straight stitches. A-B-C. Note that the stitch is worked from the top of a seam down; A to B is a backstitch. The center leg is always worked as a backstitch, then the side legs come back to the center (A). Once you've completed the D-A stitch, bring your needle up at E, and backstitch into the preceding stitch. The centers always connect, and the legs on either side fan out. This stitch can be worked straight on a seam, or meandered over a patch. On the sample, fern stitch is worked in a single strand of Waterlilies.

    Cick here for Part II of this class.

    For more information about Leslie Levison's classes (listed below) please contact her at: Tatmermaid@aol.com

    Dragonflies and Bellydancers - Introduction to Crazy Quilts, stitches and beadwork.

    When the Stitch Hits the Fan - Additional stitches, intro to ribbon flowers, beaded wire flowers, and Brazillian embroidery techniques.

    Patience is a Virtue - Concentrates on large embroidery and beadwork motifs.

    Step into My Parlor - Finishing techniques for Crazy Quilts

    The Tattooed Mermaid - 45-minute Trunk show featuring 15 Quilts and accompanying stories

    Time for a Garage Sale - What happens when your fabrics stop speaking to you? Features 3 crazy quilts and 10 sketches in patchwork.

    Leslie currently teaches regularly scheduled classes at the City Quilter in New York City, NY and at Sew Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY.

    COPYRIGHT NOTICE: No part of these instructions nor the included designs/charts can be reproduced or distributed in any form (including electronic) or used as a teaching tool without the prior written permission of Leslie Levison. One time reproduction privileges provided to our web site visitors for and limited to personal use only.

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