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“Patchwork,” Ensign, May 1971, 67


From time immemorial women have been interested in all forms of stitchery, at times because of necessity, at other times as an expression of their creative talents and their love of things beautiful. Perhaps needlework is the one art form women can claim as their own. In bygone days every household, whether rich or poor, required that its womenfolk learn to sew. This training was an important facet of every young girl’s education.

Quilting is one of the oldest forms of needlework. History verifies that it was popular in Europe as early as the eleventh century. As an admirer of needlework, I was fascinated by the beautiful examples of quilting and other articles of handiwork I saw in British and European museums. I often found it difficult to realize the work was centuries old.

Quilting was brought to America by Dutch and English colonists. It played an important role in the lives of the early settlers, economically, aesthetically, and socially. Since women had few opportunities for self-expression and little diversion from their workaday world, they expressed their creativity and ingenuity through their handiwork, particularly the making of quilts. Their socials for the purpose of quilting, called quilting bees, held special significance in their lives and became events of some importance to every member of the household. The story of patchwork quilting is closely related to the history of women in America and to the expansion and growth of the country.

Crazy patchwork is believed to be the earliest needlework produced in America; however, many patchwork-quilt makers prefer to design their own patterns of patches, usually in blocks. Through the years these blocks have become works of art, intricate and precise in detail, interesting and lovely in design. Some priceless collections contain as many as a thousand different patterns, each with a descriptive name. All are tributes to the patience and the creativity of women. Though most forms of quilting come from other lands, patchwork had its beginnings in America and is indigenous to American culture.

Since crazy patchwork was the easiest form of quilting, it had divergent uses. Quilts served not only as bedcovers, but also as window or door hangings to keep out the sun or inclement weather. Patchwork became a familiar sight in most homes, especially where economy was a necessity. The patches were made of scraps of material that otherwise would have had no use. Thrifty homemakers found great satisfaction in creating something pretty as well as useful from “a little piece of this and a little piece of that” found in the scrap bag.

Through the years patchwork has had many revivals. The late 1800s found it in popular use in a more elegant fashion, using silk and velvet as well as calico and cotton. Embroidery stitches and designs were added for interest and beauty.

Once again, in our day, patchwork has captured the fancy and creativity of women and designers and has become a flourishing art. In the twentieth century, we look upon patchwork designs as modern in structure and symbolic of our times. Patchwork is no longer limited to quilts and throws; it is used in any room in the house and in many articles of clothing.

Patchwork is defined as the art of piecing together fabrics of various kinds and colors. With a flair for creativity, making one’s own designs is a gratifying experience. Whether crazy patchwork or symmetrically designed patchwork is used, something lovely can be made within the bounds of a limited budget. Real joy comes in sharing ideas and fabric scraps and in knowing that just about everyone can do something interesting and lovely with patchwork at little or no cost. We have more to work with than the pioneers in this art. While their materials were often drab and colorless with little variety in texture, today our fabrics and colors are bright and beautiful and exciting—a sheer delight with which to work.

In crazy patchwork, material pieces of any size or shape may be used. Bizarre patterns sometimes make the charm of patchwork. The dictionary says that bizarre means “handsome, bold, incongruous in size, shape, and design,” a perfect description of interesting crazy patchwork. Choose colors to harmonize and match, or mix unmatched colors freely. Nature runs the full gamut of color in her creations, so why don’t you? If you hesitate to place two bright or garish colors together, place a restful one, such as green, brown, or even black, between them.

The pieces may be applied and stitched together in several ways. The type of fabric, the size of the patches, and the article to be made will be a decisive factor. True crazy patchwork requires a ground or backing on which to apply the pieces of fabric. Unbleached muslin, used sheeting, or nylon tricot serve very well.

A simple method is to start in one corner. Tack the first piece securely. Take the next piece and turn in the edge that is to overlap the first piece one-fourth inch from the edge and baste it in place. Continue the same procedure until the area is covered.

Ideas for the use of crazy or symmetrical patchwork seem almost limitless. Small TV quilts, bedspreads, sleeping bags, children’s play clothes and pajamas, slacks, knitting bags, knitted afghans from yarn scraps, even elegant evening dresses are being made. Try your hand at patchwork. It will bring excitement, pleasure, and satisfaction.

Ann Maughan fashioned bolero from satin, brocade, velvet, Thai silk scraps, and a few pieces of treasured ribbon loomed in France. A pattern was cut from unbleached muslin, to which the pieces of fabrics were fitted and stitched. Each block was outlined with featherstitch and embroidered flowers were added.

Charming patchwork pictures are made by June Croft. Designs were copied from a child’s coloring book. Material was cut and basted on backing, then stitched.

Practical and warm poncho was made from woolen scraps, as was the afghan. A simple crochet stitch holds the afghan squares together. The place mats and cushion were made from cotton material.

This elegant tablecloth, made of silk pieces, graces the home of Mayola Miltenberger.

OnaDell Williams is making crazy patchwork robe of polyester knit scraps. Each piece is basted to the pattern outline, then stitched in place with zigzag stitch. The robe will be lined with 40-denier nylon.

Margaret Arnold’s elegant Mandarin-style robe was a trousseau item. Satin, taffeta, and velvet scraps are outlined in featherstitch.

Pink cotton pieces were applied to a muslin skirt pattern. Six-inch blocks were sewn together horizontally before being stitched to muslin. Front and back of the skirt were sewn together, with a waistband and zipper added. Each block was featherstitched and appliqued flowers were added to some blocks.

Attractive wrap-around skirts have patchwork blocks measuring six to seven inches square. An average skirt requires six to eight blocks in length and about nine blocks in width, depending on the length desired. Skirts, which may be lined, are usually gathered at the sides for better fit. Double grosgrain ribbon forms the waistband and ties. A buttonhole placed in the left side of the waistband permits the right side tie to pass through, to be joined by the left side tie to fasten the skirt. It may tie in back or in front.