Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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What You Can Learn from a Crazy Quilt Square


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It’s been a while since I’ve featured some embroidery from you, so today, let’s look at someone else’s embroidery project!

Sarah Aldrich recently finished this fantastic crazy quilt square, made from a combination of red fabrics, with embroidery done entirely in white. The result is striking!

Let’s have a look – and let’s see what good lessons Sarah’s red crazy quilt square can teach us.

(You can click on the photos below for larger versions…)

Red Crazy Quilt Square

I’m a huge fan of the color red, so right off the bat, Sarah’s crazy quilt square caught my eye. But I think I would have liked it in any color scheme that allows for a strong contrast, because that’s what this square is all about.

Mostly, when we see crazy quilt squares, they’re practically encrusted with all kinds of threads and colors, stitches, textures, fibers. Sarah’s approach was simpler – she used two weights of thread only, in one color only, working on various intensities of red.

And this was done on purpose, so that she could concentrate solely on the balance of the piece.

Red Crazy Quilt Square

When embroidery choices – especially thread and color choice – are minimized, the embroidery itself becomes important and noticeable.

Red Crazy Quilt Square

These letters are less than 1/4″ high – tiny, but very clear!

Red Crazy Quilt Square

The spider’s made from two tiny doilies, crocheted with fine thread and a tiny hook. The legs are bugle beads. Brilliant idea!

Red Crazy Quilt Square

With the embroidery options minimized, precision in stitching really stands out!

Spacing, stitch angle, length, and height – if there were serious flaws in these areas, they’d be really noticeable. This is a great way to show off individual stitches.

Red Crazy Quilt Square

Sarah used two weights of YLI silk on the square, and here you can see both weights put to use – the heavier twist in the line stitch, and the delicate floss in the tiny, airy flowers.

Red Crazy Quilt Square

And yet another lesson: when the embroidery choices in color, thread, and stitch are minimized, the choice of fabric becomes more important.

The fabric here is not just a ground onto which a lot of embroidery can be worked. It’s a visual element, necessary to the piece. The framing of the fish in the center of the square works well to create a definite and noticeable focal point.

Red Crazy Quilt Square

Another lesson: there’s no rule that says you have to use a crazy quilt square on a quilt! This looks great framed.

And what an impact! Walk into the room and see this on the wall, and you’ll be captivated. The more you look, the more you see – like any good crazy quilt square, it draws the eye around the square and makes us move on to discover the next delightful scene.

Lovely, isn’t it? I’d imagine that this was a super-fun project to work on!

That’s another thing about crazy quilting – there are no real rules to it, so you can embellish to your heart’s content. There’s no opportunity to get bored with it! You have to admit, that seams fun, doesn’t it?

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your crazy quilt square! It’s a gem, with lots of good lessons to learn from it, not least of which is this final lesson: sometimes, less is more!

Over to You…

What are your impressions? Does this square teach you anything in particular about stitching, color, contrast, and so forth? Feel free to chime in below!


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(61) Comments

  1. I am so glad to see this piece as it represents what I always thought crazy quilting was all about (sorry about ending the sentence with a preposition). I am following another blogger who is doing a crazy quilt and there is so much “stuff” on the quilt that the fabric seems to get lost rather than enhanced the way this piece is enhanced. This piece is beautiful and I would like to do something like this.

  2. Phenomenal work! Sarah’s sense of balance is most impressive to me (aside from choosing unorthodox RED for the square). I love looking at crazies for inspiration but this one really stands out for choice of fabric and the insect embellishments. Wonder how long it took, start to finish?

    1. It took three years of on and off work. I am self employed and stitching time is sometimes limited, however about a year ago I started meeting with a crafting group once a week. The regular meetings helped keep me on track.

  3. This is beautiful but there is so much place for the full crazy patch too. My motto tends to be if it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing and I do just that when I get going on a piece of crazy patch.

  4. IM-PRE-SIO-NAN-TE!!!! It´s been a long time without seeing something so espectacular! I´m impressed. Really, Thanks for shareing. This was amazing!!
    Best wishes, Paula.

  5. Dear Mary

    Like you I love red and white on red really shows up the stitching a really lovely piece of embroidery and something to be proud of and it looks lovely framed. My favourite is the lace and buttons a lovely idea and well done Sarah I’m sure you are proud of this well done beautiful work. Thanks Mary for sharing with us other peoples’s embroidery pieces so generous of you.

    Regards Anita

  6. I am so inspired! I keep looking for the perfect sampler type project in order to learn to use more stitches and that I could possible create myself!!!! It’s a lofty dream but this will stick in my mind as something I want to do. And thank you Mary for your insight and commentary, loved that!

  7. Oh, Mrs. Corbet! “seams fun” *chuckle*.

    Great work, Miss Aldrich! (Hey, you have the same first name as me :)) Your crazy quilt square is very interesting – so many things to look at! I adore the colour red, and I also really like white-on-red embroidery. I love that you used so many different printed fabrics and yet, they still all go together quite nicely. Well done, well done. Very nice!


  8. Charming! A good example of a more “vintage” approach to CQ–simple seams & easily identifiable vignettes within the block. The tiny doilies for the spider are a CQ dream! For all who crochet, your CQ friends would be thrilled to receive a Christmas packet of miniature crochet motifs (or tatting for that matter!). The graduated buttons make a great dragonfly body! Thanks for sharing Sarah’s block.

  9. The reason I love crazy quilts is because there is so much to see. You can look at a perfectly made quilt block and it is beautiful, but look at a Crazy quilt block and you can look for a long time! This block is no exception. It looks very complex and yet all of her stitches are easy ones to learn. I love all the beautiful red fabrics. It is simple, and yet complex. A true work of art.

  10. I’m Sarah’s daughter and the very lucky recipient of this piece (You can see my husband’s and my initials and wedding date in the lower left corner). It’s red because my living room is decorated in red, black and white and my mother has graciously taken it upon herself to decorate the place.

    It’s been extraordinary watching this piece morph and transform over the last few years into the final iteration. I’m delighted to have a piece of art like this hanging in my home.

    1. You’re a lucky duck, Sarah’s daughter! It’s beautiful! I was wondering about the initials in the heart. A perfect touch! This will be stunning on your living room wall – and I bet it’ll be a conversation piece for years to come!

    2. It’s so nice that you gave us more personal information about this piece. It will be a wonderful heirloom to pass down through the generations. I hope it has a label describing it’s history or at least written on archival paper and slipped in the frame with it. What a treasure.

  11. WOWIE!

    Sarah has done a stellar job on this!

    It has come at the right time for me. I am in the process of knitting a vest with leftover Lopi Lite yarn. I have done the back in a crazy quilt pattern (much like the Artie stitch – do any of you remember this?). I am planning on adding embroidery when the vest is finished.
    Thank you Sarah. I will get out my magnifying glasses and study your work for some ideas. It certainly will not be as fine as yours – probably Appleton Crewel yarn is called for here.

    Good work.

    Sharon in Manitoba

  12. Hi Mary. Love getting your e-mail daily. I am an avid crazy quilter & have been doing for past 15 yrs. so agree with center block. I always try to create my center with a darker piece. Loved Sarah’s idea of the one color of thread but two weight. I truly have so much fun with color hues I wouldn’t know what to pick. My favorite are underwater colors. I am still learning everyday! I have also taught ribbon embroidery & beading along with the crazy quilting to beginners & to watch their progress is the best!! Have a great day & thanks u for u do!!

  13. My goodness Sarah – what a beautiful piece! I love the simple one color fabric/two color thread combo you have there. And I love your choices in fabric for the piece. I love the stitches you used….. oh heck — I just love the whole thing. And framing it is a really good idea. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long long time — you have inspired me! Well done, and thanks for sharing Mary.

  14. This is really inspiring. I am learning to quilt and also hand embroider, what a lovely way to combine them and practice lots of new stitches. Thank you so much for sharing.

  15. I love crazy quilt blocks, whether simple as this one is or more elaborate and heavily embellished. As you state, there are no hard and fast rules-it’s all up to the individual making it. I’m glad she included the spider because I always look for one in a cq block and I’m disappointed when it’s been left out. I think the mini doilies is very unique, first time I’ve seen a spider that way. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Also, I would probably never think of using all reds but would now. I took a beginners quilting class and the lady said think outside your normal color range and make it fun/different/exciting. I left behind my usual purple family and chose fabrics that had olive green, tomato red, orange and splashes of teal. Colors I would never think of putting together. It truly was fun to have something different and it stands out now.

  16. This is an amazing work of art. I am not always a fan of CQ, but Sarah has simplified the color choices then filled every bit of space with something fantastic. I love her graduated buttons, her many different stitches – the spider is inspired, as is the dragonfly, and all her delightful stitches. Lucky daughter to have this art work by her mother to enjoy!

  17. Thanks for the post. I am interesting in embellishing my quilts and I want to start a small crazy quilt project. I appreciate your comments on scale, color and restraint in the selection of embroidery colors. It is a gorgeous square and a great idea to frame it.

  18. Sarah what a wonderful piece. I to love the colour red. I love colour and this piece is just truly well thought out and really very well balanced. And it looks wonderful Framed. Would love to do a piece like this. Its truly a work of Art.
    Hope you put this into a Quilt show and I’m sure you would get a first place award.

  19. Love this! I think the minimal use of color and the simplification of the embroidery (from what you normally see in crazy quilts) makes this more modern. Well done!

  20. Stunning! So pleased to know it’s gone to a good home to be passed on to future generations. Maybe you could put a photo of Sarah on the back, so her future g-g-g-g- grandchildren can ‘see’ who did the work?

  21. I love it-! So very pretty. It is Victorian, right – ? Didn’t they use only one color thread?
    Inspiring – I may try that in mint green with light sage thread or Wedgewood Blue with cream…

  22. I have never made one but crazy quilts are a particular favorite of mine. All of the choices; fabric, embellishments, stitches; they’ve always overwhelmed me. This has opened my thought process. It doesn’t have to fit a bed that I’d never put it on because the cat would lay on it. I know what I’m doing during the Jan. Feb. doldrums. I may still, however, be overwhelmed with the stitch choices.Thank you Sarah and Mary for the inspiration.

  23. Sarah, this is gorgeous!!!! I have been collecting to start a CQ project of some sort. You have inspired me to move beyond just collectin. :). Thank you Mary for your thoughts and ideas on this as well. I love your posts and site. Thank you.

  24. Hi Mary, Thank you for sharing the lovely crazy patch embroidery. I just love crazy patch , it has been one of my favourite styles of embroidery. The piece you have shared with us is really inspiring. My crazy patch goes back nearly 25 years and I have a great collection of threads and embelishments and love to be able to fill my block of crazy without following any rules. Thank you again Barb.

  25. I am solely a quilter who uses embroidery in the quilting process. I am not a crazy quilter, but I really am enjoying this crazy quilt block. With such busy fabric, ONLY WHITE thread was an excellent choice. It accompanies the vibrant fabric. You see both: The quilting and the embroidery. One doesn’t overpower the other.

    It is a masterful job. I love it!

  26. I think that is stunning. I love red too and I have been noticing crazy quilt squares recently but hadn’t really engaged with them or why you would want to so them. To be honest some of them just seemed so crazy. I like this one as the reduced colours allows you to see the work rather than being bedazzled. I presume you start with machine stitching lots of bits of material together.

    1. Yes, I started by piecing all the red pieces on a muslin foundation. If you look carefully you can even find the places wher i used parts of all red four patch blocks.

  27. I’m a huge fan of crazy quilting for many reasons and it’s my favourite form of needlework to do. This piece was lovely to see and be able to study up close. Thank you!

  28. Fabulous crazy quilt square – looks like a great project for a different and fun type of hand work. Thanks.

  29. Sarah has already heard this – great job! Love that spider. I’m one of the lucky 4 who watched Sarah create the square at weekly Friday night craft nights at our local library. Can’t wait for her next crazy project.

  30. I really like crazy quilting which I prefer to call Victorian Patchwork. I use rich Victorian colours and fabric types(and include plain fabrics which seems to be a no-no). I embroider all the seams with two strands of the same colour (often a French Green)in feather stitch and then I have an exhilarating time just thinking and embroidering on each of the individual shapes and always including a spider. It is a beautiful form of art embroidery. Thank you for this lovely email.

  31. Thank you for sharing this Mary.
    I love to see other people’s work and I look forward to seeing this type of email pop into my inbox.
    I love the idea as crazy quilting but I haven’t attempted it as yet.
    I really like this peice because it’s so lovely to look at and so very well done.
    I find a lot of crazy quilts I’ve seen are just too overwhelming with colors and stitches and embellishments. It takes away from the beauty of them.
    Well done Sarah you did a fantastic job. Truly beautiful work.

  32. wow! What a beautiful piece of art! I love this kind of embellishment, and the solid color threads force us to view this work with an eye to detail. Thanks for sharing with us and congrats on a job well done!

  33. This is such an inspiring square! I love crazy quilting but my imagination is not what it could be ( my expertise lies in food first. I now have, thanks to Sarah, a totally different vision of what I want to do with crazy quilting. I am inspired and in awe of her work.
    If she has a blog on crazyquilting I’d love to visit it. Thanks so much for sharing your work. Deonia in Florida

  34. Hello! This a lovely, fact filled and instructive web site. This piece on crazy quilting and embroidery was fun to read and reminded me of the type of work my great grandmother and grandmother worked within 1870-1905. My grandmother’s quilt is so wonderful in that it represents a time without electric sewing machine, embroidery machines and fabric stores. The work is remarkable and the quilt was used up until my grandmother’s death in 1994. So the handwork and embroidery was well done. I am making a Netherlands country Cinderella doll using these techniques using my husband’s old ties for the basic outer skirt. The choices for color-depend always on the area of Dutch provinces-Brabant, The Netherlands. Blues, reds… depends on the area you choose for developing sewing work. Thanks, Mrs. ATK

  35. This is a lovely piece. I am sure we can all learn and get ideas from it.I love crazy patchwork – I choose a range of toning colours, then just go wherever the threads and other bits and pieces take me.

  36. Wow. Very nice. I love the dragon fly and spider designs. Great inspiration. I am learning to make stumpwork insects. These doily and button ones look so easy. Stumpwork is time consuming.

  37. G’day Mary,
    Ding doNG dING DOng, ok, I’ve chimed in! Now….
    I absolutely love this. While I appreciate the lavishly covered CQ I’m more of a ‘less is more’ CQ. Every part of this is gorgeous but it’s not overdone.
    This works so well as a whole that it’s surprising to see the detail in the different fabric patterns when zoomed in. Everything is beautifully balanced, the thickness, texture and direction of line, the tones, colours and patterns of the fabrics etc.
    Overall, to me it says ‘Kimono’ and that is another love factor.
    Thanks for sharing. Beaut.
    Cheers, Kath.

  38. There are two wonderful books that are great idea sources for this type of embroidery on a crazy quilt square. Both are by Brian Haggard. One is “Crazy-Quilted Memories” and the other is “Embroidered Memories.” Both are published by C&T Publishing. These books are rich sources of embroidery stitches and motifs. Brian even walks you through designing your own motifs. The embroidery in these books is done with a single color or two or three, mostly in neutral threads. Like the block discussed, the attractiveness comes from the intricacy of the stitching and the clever use of embellishing.

  39. This block is beautiful. There are so many details to enjoy. I noticed on looking at it again that the fish in the centre can be seen as forming the head of another fish.

    Congratulations, Sarah

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