Embroidery & Embellishment

Surface decoration is a major characteristic of the Crazy quilt, the patchwork forming a canvas for a range of embroidery stitches.

The edges of each patch were covered either with a vast range of increasingly complicated combinations of decorative flat stitches or with just one or two types, herringbone and featherstitch being firm favorites. In the United Kingdom, the latter were frequently stitched in a yellow thread, probably used to imitate gold thread.1 It is uncertain when or why this move towards simplicity occurred, or whether both types of work were being made concurrently.

French knots were a favorite, either on their own or in combination with flat stitches providing interesting surface texture.

The centers of the patches were frequently filled with an embroidered motif: often a figure executed in stem or outline stitch, or a naturalistic floral motif executed in crewel-stitch (an irregularly worked stem stitch) or Kensington stitch, as it was known in the United States. Many designs for outline work were taken from the illustrations of Kate Greenaway, whose work was also much copied.

Silk was a popular thread choice, but chenille yarn, with its rich velvety texture, was also often used for embroidered borders and for some of the floral motifs and appliqués. This added a further layer of luxury to the finished item. Ribbon was used for motifs, too, adding a three-dimensional quality.

Sometimes, floral motifs were painted onto the center of patches. The craft technique of painting directly onto silk and velvet was popular in Victorian fancy-work on both sides of the Atlantic.

Periodicals and needlework books were quick to respond to the interest in Crazy work, especially in the United States, and published numerous instructions on stitch techniques and combinations and patterns for motifs. Makers not only used the new patterns but also adapted those offered in magazines for other types of needlework and fancywork projects. The patterns could be be traced directly onto the fabric, or the design transferred using a technique known as "prick and pounce."

1 Joanna Banham, Encyclopedia of Interior Design, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers (1997), p. 337.