Calming, quirky quilts for Alzheimers patients

Making Crazy Touch Quilts

I call them crazy quilts. Some blocks are crazy, but some are pictures or toys. Many blocks are designed on paper first. They are quilt-as-you-go: they are quilted one block at a time and then the blocks are joined. Each quilt is made of nine such blocks, three rows of three eleven-(or twelve- or ten-) inch squares. Because they have a good deal of hand work on them they are not quick quilts. They are, however, fun to make and a good way of using small scraps of fabrics.

This quilt was made for a lady who had been a dressmaker before she became ill. I tried to include many fabrics that she might have handled as a seamstress and tailor. She keeps her glasses and hearing aid in the pocket (bottom centre square, see below for a detail of the pocket).

The photo at left is upside down from the photo above. The zipper is open and my finders are pulling the "flower" out of the pocket. The lady who recieved this quilt made the pocket "her storage place" for glasses and hearing aid.

This quilt was made for my daughter for warmth while reading or watching TV. She hangs it over a chair and I have noticed her grown sons pausing as they walk by to push around the beads in the centre square.

The following sections shows you how I make my blocks and how I put my blocks together. I do not know if this joining method is unique to me, or widely used. It does require hand sewing, so some think making these quilts is too much work. I have used this method of putting blocks together in other types of quilts -- log cabin and double-sided quilts -- so it is useful beyond making touch quilts. Crazy touch quilts must also be bound, another job that requires hand work. You can find instructions for binding in many quilting guides.

Designing crazy quilts

Crazy touch quilts are nine block quilts, three rows of three. The blocks are usually 11 inches square making a 33-inch square quilt. You can go up or down an inch --12-inch blocks to make a 36-inch quilt or 10-inches for a small 30-inch quilt. Instruction here are for 11-inch blocks.

Since the blocks are made independently of one another, you can use different backing fabric for each block or make a nine-patch design of the backs, as easily as making all backs the same fabric. Shown to the right is the back of my daughter’s quilt, a traditional nine-patch design.

I use batting in my crazy quilts, but flannelette can also be used. Quilting is as-you-go so the back/batt combination needs to be sturdy.

The tops use scraps. Many upholstery sample books are less than 8.5” x 8.5” -- these are still good for crazy quilts. Sometimes teddy bear makers give me their leftovers. Mostly, however, the touch fabric scraps are the ends and strips left over from cutting 8.5” blocks from larger pieces of fabric. For example, the top quilt on the first page has a four square patch in the centre. I loved the feel and look combining the pink plush and taupe linen upholstery samples. I tried to make two four-square blocks but by the time I finished the piecing they were scarcely eight inches, never mind 8.5. So they became candidates for my crazy quilts.

I sometimes design crazy blocks on paper. More often I start from a piece of fabric with a particular feel and add contrasting or subtly different fabrics around it. The important thing is, as always, texture and the change of texture as the fingers move from one fabric to another.

This quilt was not an ‘Alzheimer” quilt: it has buttons that would be cut off if given to a nursing home. It illustrates the considerations of texture that I talk about. The hand in the top left hand square is fake suede. It is appliqued on a heavy ‘wedding dress’ satin. The net of the maze also sits on the satin which compliments a soft, fuzzy fabric with bumps emphasized by the quilting. These fabrics were laid on the foundation and the raw edges covered with tape made from regular quilting fabric. It is a technique I often use when I have heavy fabrics to join and/or for covering raw edges as was done here with the top of the mesh.

In the top right square the blues are fake furs, the paler is not-quite-rough, the one with hearts is long and silky with the hearts slightly raised. The top right of the square is a minke and the one under the dragon is a very short plush.

In the square below that the brown is fake fur, quite like that of a child’s toy. The more intense colours are, tactilely, harsher than their pale reflections.

The centre square has strong textures: grey wool with a knobby crocheted piece and brown raised-plush stripes on canvas. The white centre is overlaid with harsh gold sort-of-knit stuff that feels like sandpaper.

The lower left square has a pocket under the gold and pink-flowered upholstery. The gold is satiny. The white is nylon taffeta that was commercially tucked into squares. It is peaked where the tucks cross, giving a stimulating feel to that area, which abuts a soft fuzzy fabric.

The central bottom square has three strong striped fabrics (a terry cloth, a chenille and the white sailcloth with black stitching). The fourth corner is minke and the centre is nubbly terry. These fabrics are laid on the back and the joints are hidden with tape made of regular quilting fabric. Only the tape around the centre is on-the-bias.

The lower right square is the other pink plush and taupe linen leftover with a dangle added. It is surrounded by three soft furry fabrics and one that was rather nubbly.

How to Make the Crazy Quilt

Instructions are for a 33” square quilt. You can make your blocks an inch larger to make a 36” quilt or an inch smaller to make a 30” quilt. You will design your tops depending on your fabric, but here are two easy-to-make designs.

9 backs 11.5” x 11.5” 9 middles of batting or flannel 11.5” x 11.5” Have on hand lots of scraps of textured material - fake furs, plushes, upholstery material, burlap, etc, etc.

Foundations: Lay a back wrong side up and exactly over it lay a middle (i.e. batting). Make 2 pencil lines diagonally across the batting and hand baste these two fabrics together on the lines. This basting has two functions (a) it holds them together through the stresses of adding the crazy pieces in various directions and (b) it helps in positioning the top fabric. This is your foundation. Repeat for all nine blocks. Add a label to the back of one block now if you wish.

Now lay a four-sided piece of furry or other strong-textured fabric in the center of one foundation. The fabric illustrated is minke. This piece should be about 6.5”, should not be a true square, and should not have right angled-corners. Machine quilt it to the foundation from corner to diagonally opposite corner twice.

Lay a piece of fabric with contrasting texture (the blue fabric is burlap) over the centre piece so that the long edge of the centre is aligned with an edge of the covering fabric. This piece must be large enough so that when flipped it will fill the space between the centre piece and the corner. Sew along the common edge with a quarter inch seam. Bring the bobbin threads to the top.

Flip the added piece and trim so that the two sides adjacent to the sewn edge form a straight line with the sides of the centre piece. The other sides are trimmed to match the foundation. You may add some quilting to this piece now, or wait until all four side pieces are down.

Now add a second piece of fabric in the same manner to one edge of these two pieces. It must be large enough to fill the space between that edge and the corner. Sew with a quarter inch seam and bring bobbin threads to the top of the block. Flip and trim as before. The second piece here was a green upholstery piece.

Do the same thing at the third side of the central furry piece and the piece you just added. I have used a part of a handwoven placemat for my third side. The wool was well washed yet still very harsh and rough. Sew, bring bobbin threads to the top, flip and trim.

Repeat a fourth time on the fourth side, although here all your threads will end at the edge of the foundation and will not need to be brought up.

When the fourth side piece is in place and trimmed, you must quilt the blocks surrounding the centre. You may want to top stitch around close to the centre piece as well. On my rather plain fabrics I have used a fancy stitch provided on my sewing machine.

You should now have a block that is approximately 11.5” by 11.5”. Its edges will likely, however, be somewhat uneven and your backing may have become slightly off centre. Both the flip-and-sew and the quilting tend to change the foundation -- which is why one cuts it a bit large. Now trim your block carefully to 11’’ x 11’. Finally stay stitch around your block 1/8” from the edge. This step will make joining blocks much easier.

This block is doing a fan-shaped string, with the texture running from the rather harsh green wool, to softer and softer textures: the back of a tapestry, a loosely-woven upholstery with green chenille stripes, a soft fake suede and a plush. The first four were laid down by sew and flip. Then, because plush is thick I folded the suede under a quarter-inch and top-stitched it to the plush (rather than folding the plush). The fabrics were then trimmed and quilted.

I used a plush and canvass type upholstery fabric for the core, attached with a bias tape. Ideally that should have finished the block; but because my green striped fabric was too short, I had to fill a very tiny piece in the corner opposite the core. I try to avoid doing this: it makes more work and the tiny piece adds little to the tactile quality. Nevertheless.... The final trimmed, quilted and stay-stitched piece is rather bland in colour but has good tactile qualities.

Joining Pieces

Cut: To join two squares you will need two pieces of quilting fabric accurately cut 1” wide and 1/2+” longer that the sides of the squares. These are the top and back binding strips. They are cut on the straight of the fabric.

Sew: Lay the two strips along the edge of one of the squares, right sides towards the square (wrong sides away from the square). Pin carefully and sew through the five layers (two binding strips and three layers of the square) 1/4” from the edge.

Press the top binding strip open. Lay that square on the square it is to abut, right sides together, so that the edge of the second square is even with the outer edge of the top binding strip. Pin so that the pins do not catch either the first square (which is on top at this point) or the other (back) binding. Sew top binding strip to second square with 1/4” seam.

Open the two squares and press the front binding. Turn to the back and press the juncture between the two squares carefully so they are even and not overlapping. Fold 1/4” of the unsewn edge of the back binding over and press. Press the back binding over the joint between the squares. It should overlap the second square by 1/4”. By hand, sew the folded edge of the back binding to the back of the second square, covering the joint and stitching. Finally, I sew over the join with one of the fancy stitches that come with my machine, partly for looks and partly for security.

Join the third square in the row in the same way. Join the rows in the same way using 1” x 35” strips (i.e. 2” longer than the rows).

Copyright 2013 © Grace MacNab