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Hand Stitched Crazy Patchwork

If you are one of those people that creates things with your hands, you really are very lucky.

Apart from the calming effect that handwork has, using your hands to do meaningful tasks benefits both your physical and mental health. I know that it benefits me, curbs depression and boredom, gives me purpose. It definitely calms me and as I mellow with age it tends to make me so laid back that I am almost horizontal. Nothing wrong with that and I feel real sympathy for those that have not discovered the joy of handwork. We all know them – those that say that life is boring (how can you ever be bored I ask, with tears in my eyes), those that look for their kicks at the bottom of a bottle or those that spend their time mall-cruising munching on medication. Sad, really.

For those of us that have discovered handwork and, in particular, those of us that discovered it early in life, the chances are we’ve tried the lot. I have. From watercolours to miniatures, dressmaking to felting. And everything in between. The only thing I have never tried is pottery. The idea didn’t grab me, bit messy. But needlework, done with my hands, no machine involved? What can I say? In reality, I have devoted all of my spare time and much of my life to it.

I think it would not be unfair to say that most hand-stitchers have tried all of the different arts associated with their passion. Quilting, beadwork, lace making, embroidery, patchwork. They’ve probably also enjoyed crochet, knitting and tatting. But seldom do they combine these different arts.

Some years ago I started building a doll’s house. One twelfth scale, everything made with my own hands and a few simple tools. It gave me the opportunity to use every craft that I had ever learnt. From wood carving to gilding, stitching to moulding with polymer clay. I was in my element and, particularly because I was forced to be innovative. I was so pleased with myself when I worked out how to make a wooden floor that looked like the real thing, using a roll of oak strip that kitchen-builders use down the sides of cupboard doors and a carton of wood filler.

In my mind, crazy patchwork is the needlework equivalent of that doll’s house. It is an opportunity to use every kind of needle art that you have ever learnt.

When I stitch, I spend some of the time thinking up what I am going to do in the future. A few years ago I had this thought that I would like to embellish crazy patch in such a way that not one thing is bought and stitched on, nothing should come out of a stash and, definitely, nothing that decorates it should be a machine-made applique or strip of lace. Everything that forms the embellishment should be made with nothing more than a needle, a thread, some beads and my own imagination. I tucked the idea behind one of my ears for future consideration.

It was still sitting neatly behind my left ear when my fabulous publisher and I were sharing far too much French Red in Paris a few years ago. She asked me if I could write a book for quilters. I said no, I’m not an expert on quilting. Then suddenly, fuelled by Bordeaux and Beaujolais, this crazy patch thing came screaming out from behind said ear. And that was it. Or rather, this is it.

Two of the projects in the book include crazy patchwork panels that have been put together with a sewing machine but, other than that, everything has been made by hand with a needle. What you might call ‘crazy patch from scratch’.

That necessarily means that there are a lot of techniques’ galleries in the first half of the book. These include embroidery, bead embroidery, silk ribbon embroidery, beadwork, tatting, needle weaving and needle lace techniques’ galleries. That’s for the embellishment. There is a techniques’ gallery for crazy patching and also simple quilting techniques for finishing off. We decided to count the number of techniques the other day and it came to something in the region of 160, depending on how you count it. For that reason alone, we are hoping that the book will be of interest to all sorts of needle artists from quilters to embroiderers. Even if the actual projects are not necessarily something they would want to do.

However. I had such fun working up the projects. I was barely restricted by lines, I could use every technique that I had ever played with and I could invent different ways to use them.

Gussy Up

This is the first project in the book and is truly ‘crazy patch from scratch’. I drew a circle with a large soup plate, ruled some lines to resemble crazy patchwork and then had fun. I filled the blocks with either needle weaving or otherwise, crewel embroidery stitches that created a background that loosely resembled fabric. And then I embellished. No applique, but daisies embroidered with thread. No buttons, but three-dimensional flowers made one bead at a time with beautiful Miyuki beads and beading thread. No machine made lace, but needle lace techniques stitched through the fabric to resemble insertion lace, then threaded with Di van Niekerk’s hand painted silk ribbon. Silk ribbon roses, bead embroidery, tatting and even some simple beading techniques that are generally used to make necklaces or bracelets, rethought to resemble braid. Of all the designs in the book, I had the most fun with this one.


The embroidery in the middle, although resembling crewel work is largely done with needle weaving, needle lace and bead embroidery, with a few crewel stitches pulling the whole thing together. The outside border is, as with the previous project, crazy patch from scratch. Every block is a needle weaving technique and where the two parts of the design meet, the intersection is worked with a beadwork jewellery technique.

My friend Pat van Wyk took my line drawing, enlarged it and (being a hand quilter at heart) recreated it with applique and traditional crazy patch techniques. A photograph of the exquisite cushion that she made it into appears in the book.

Waiting For Santa

The cuff of this Christmas stocking is, like the previous two projects, worked from scratch. Just lines on the fabric to resemble crazy patch, then lots of fun filling in with once again, a selection of all of the techniques – embroidery, silk ribbon embroidery, beadwork, needle lace, needle weaving, tatting…….and the pattern to make up the stocking is in the book.

Rambling Vine

If you thought that I might have forgotten my readers who are embroiderers pure and simple, then the Rambling Vine design would put your mind at rest. It is a wall hanging (or whatever you would like to make it) that comprises an ornate Jacobean-style embroidered branch lying adjacent to a panel of traditionally-worked crazy patch, machine stitched with 15 different fabrics onto a natural-coloured linen/cotton blend base. And madly embellished, in line with the general style of this book.

There are of course, needle artists out there who don’t want to embroider and to show them that they don’t have to, my friend Margie Breetzke has worked the Jacobean panel using a combination of applique techniques, bead embroidery and simple embroidery stitches. A photograph of the stunning result is in the book.

Savannah Winter

The day before I started this project, I had driven back from Johannesburg through the dry Highveld, as we call it in South Africa. A long, straight, flat, rather boring drive, it was mid-winter and everything at first glance appeared to be dead, dry and frigid with frost. I was, however, in the right frame of mind, not ever having really noticed how splendid the colours were on previous drives at the same time of year. For the better part of six hours I watched the road through my windscreen, all the time marvelling at the colours that were there. The gold and khaki of the dry grass, the grey-blue of the winter sky, the purple of the mountains in the distance, the green of the few evergreen trees, the crystal of the frost on the ground and some pink. When I got to Harrismith, decided it was time for a break and took off my sunglasses, I realised there was no pink in the landscape. It was my rose-tinted spectacles. But, what the heck, it’s a nice addition to the palette and so it was included.

This project is machine-pieced crazy patchwork, the embellishment is of course, all hand worked using the same variety of techniques and I have made it into a lid for a covered basket.


Once again, Liezl Maree, Metz Press’s amazing book designer has taken my ramblings and turned them into a masterpiece. Between us all we think that we’ve caught all the errors and typos in the interminable proof reading process (if we haven’t, please forgive us – with the best will in the world, it’s an impossible task) and it goes off to print this week.

The publishers, the printers, the ship that brings it to us from Malaysia, the warehouses, the distributors and any other players that I may not have mentioned, are working to a schedule that will mean that it is available from the 15th of March 2016.

And where to get it?

If you want to pre-order you can do so at:

If you’re in South Africa, or indeed anywhere on the African continent, it’s not up there yet but you will be able to get if from:

  • this website;
  • Takealot, who have taken over and really do deliver. I know. I order from them all the time.

With this book I set out to show readers and needle artists that they can combine the needle arts. All it takes is imagination and many enjoyable, calming hours. I hope that my intention will be achieved.