Independence Day

Melanie McNeil:

Some of my thoughts. We are connected. We need each other. That is a feature, not a flaw. Happy Independence Day to all of you. Thank you as always for reading.

Originally posted on Our View From Iowa:

We all experience different levels of freedom in our lives. Obligations and commitments constrain most of us. Economic problems hold others back. Education and opportunity are not equal. We are not equally free.

It would do us well to remember that the Declaration of Independence was not an assertion of the individual’s right to freedom, but of the collective’s right. After describing the offenses of the king, it is declared:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the…

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June Review (Without Numbers)

My friend Jim Fetig suggested skipping the numerical analysis of my month, so here’s a go for June.

Good Things 
We enjoyed companionship of real people during the month, including time with a daughter and her family, wonderful nieces, and a friend we met online. There were other good experiences with real people, too.

I lined up some presentations for the fall and look forward to them.

I quilted a bunch. You’ve seen pictures of three some projects I worked on. And I worked on others, too. My sister and I are making a quilt for one of her granddaughters. I started it and have sent my start to her. She’ll add a border and send it back, round robin style. Here was my start.


Yesterday I took lots of quilts to a local shop, where they will be on display for the whole month of July.

Readin’ and Writin’
I wrote a bunch of blog posts last month. And I read a bunch, too.

Also I got a very complimentary rejection email. I’d submitted a book proposal to a publisher. Though they had positive things to say, they won’t be offering a contract. Having received similar feedback before, I’ve decided to look into self-publishing.

These days life feels like one experiment after another. The name of my newest project, Branching Out, describes my work and my life, as well as the project design itself.

Another experiment was writing this post without numbering, listing, or analyzing. Frankly I don’t think it was very effective… :)

As always, my life is full and I am very blessed.

Branching Out — The Finished Top

As I mentioned in the last post about this quilt, my local guild has an annual challenge. This year’s challenge, issued last September, is to create a quilt from all solids, using at least three colors.

I was uninspired to begin a project for the challenge until I saw a quilt in the photo below. Notice the quilt hanging on the left, obscured by the chandelier.

Look at the photo on the far left, behind the chandelier.

Though the quilt inspired me, I didn’t want to make someone else’s quilt. While I considered ideas for my own, I thought about some of the Native American designs, including some we saw in New Mexico last fall. As a third point of inspiration, it almost looked like a medallion quilt, but inside out. The “central” design on the quilt above is on the edges, while the “borders” were the diagonal stripes on the interior, and the broad section of flying geese through the middle.

Medallion quilt? No problem! I can do that!

I will admit, while I usually design my medallion quilts as I go, this one had to be designed before beginning. Of course, I did make a few changes while in process. That will always happen if only because real fabric isn’t the same as pixels. But the changes were minor.


Branching Out. Unquilted. 45″ x 54″.

This is the top, still to be quilted and bound. The July meeting is in two weeks, so barring misadventures, I have lots of time to finish it.



DeLight. 96″ square. Finished June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

(Click on the photo above to open it larger in a new tab.)

As noted (extensively) in the last post about this quilt, the center block is a variation of an old design called “Odd Fellow’s” block. I found the design in a book called One Block Says It All, by Toni Phillips and Juanita Simonich. The book has a number of patterns all based on 60″ center blocks, surrounded by a couple of borders. While I used the same configuration as one of the centers in the book, I scaled mine to 32″, still a large block by most standards.

I’ve discussed before the proportion of the center as compared to the whole medallion quilt. Though I didn’t have a final plan when I made the block, I knew the quilt would be sized for a big bed, queen or king, so a big block would work well. (I’ll give all the border sizes in another post, as well as a blank you can play with.)

Almost all the shapes in this quilt are big. The smallest shapes are star points at the very center of the quilt. Next are the blue accent triangles in the inner HST border. They are small, but the solid pale grey in which they’re set creates large shapes to offset. (Note this: there are two shapes, one in the “color” and one in the background, or negative space. Either or both contribute to the sense of scale.) Also, the vibrant blue gives them weight relative to their size.

The “middle” border is actually two blocks wide. Each block finishes at 8″ square, so the perceived width of the combined border is 16″. As compared to the center (finishing at 32″) the middle border seems wide, and the blocks are bulky. The pale grey background fabric also attracts the eye more than the darker grey in the center. When the quilt is hanging as shown, the wide border and value difference takes some of the focus away from the center. When the quilt is on a bed, however, the imbalance is lessened in impact.


Two of the feature fabrics are the red with black print, making star points in the center and the large red triangles in the broad border, and the orange dandelion fabric. I’ve long wanted to use them together. They set the color scheme for the rest of the quilt, emphasizing the reds and oranges, but also including the violet.

The background color throughout the quilt is grey in varying shades. I’ll be honest. I am not a fan of grey, generally. But it was the right offset to the reds and oranges. It is very neutral, as a white would be, but it is less stark than white. That said, I much prefer the paler greys to the darker ones.

Speaking of paler compared to darker, the value contrasts in this quilt are a big factor in its effectiveness. In particular, I think the center block would be better if the background grey were paler, lending more contrast and showing off the Odd Fellow’s block and its fabrics better.

On the other hand, the broad border might be better with slightly less value contrast between its background grey and the shapes of color. A little less contrast would make the odd shapes stand out less.

Overall, though, I like strong contrasts creating distinct rings of value between center and border components. So while I’m not completely satisfied with the effect here, in the broad scope of things, I think the value contrast works okay.

Shapes are another design element we use to create meaning in a quilt. The comment above about value contrast in the broad border alludes to odd shapes. In truth, I really like the shapes from center through the big red triangles. And I like the outside border of red half-square triangles. And I even love the Old Maid’s Puzzle blocks in the corners of the broad border. But the other shapes there, especially the squares on point and the flying geese on either end of them, do not work as well for me as I’d hoped. Though they are connected to the red triangles and the Old Maid’s Puzzles, they don’t seem to relate. I still haven’t figured out what would have worked better.

Unity is the design principle that refers to the overall look of a piece. Does it present itself as a whole, or are there parts or elements that look out of place? This quilt displays unity. Aside from my misgivings about the squares on point, I don’t think they draw attention to themselves, distracting from the whole design. The strong symmetry and repetition of shapes and colors is soothing, while the ways points are directed provides some tension and contrast.

This quilt isn’t on my list of favorites, but I tried some things I hadn’t done before, and on the whole I like it very much.

Look for the EQ quilt design next time.

Branching Out — The Challenge

My local guild has an annual challenge. In the eight years I’ve been a member, I’ve participated a couple of times. For the red and white challenge in 2012, I entered this quilt using a wedding ring block. I designed the setting.

The red and white challenge quilt, also known as the hunger quilt. A friend “purchased” it from me, giving the price to a local food pantry. It’s about 70″ square. 2012.

I didn’t win. My guild has very talented members.

Really, the goal isn’t to win. It’s to challenge yourself, in the process building skills and creative power.

This year’s challenge, issued last September, is to create a quilt from all solids, using at least three colors. I use solids, but generally I mix them with patterns of one type or another. Last fall I made a small quilt all in solids. It is pretty but not very interesting.

In fact, solids are not very interesting to our eyes. They are flat and don’t provide any sense of depth, rhythm, or contrast. Unlike patterns, they don’t hold attention, as we quickly determine there is nothing more to see.

There are a number of ways to make solids more interesting in a quilt. One is by covering them with beautiful quilting to add texture and pattern, as the famously solid Amish quilts do. Another is to use them in unexpected ways. Unusual color combinations or arrangements of elements can hold interest, even when the fabrics individually do not. In a block quilt, that could mean an unusual layout of the blocks. In a medallion, using asymmetric borders might draw us in. A lot of solid modern quilts successfully break the grid altogether.

I don’t want to spend time making an uninteresting quilt with uninteresting fabrics. I’ve had a hard time feeling inspired to begin this challenge. That changed recently when I saw a photo on a blog. Notice the quilt hanging on the left, obscured by the chandelier.

Look at the photo on the far left, behind the chandelier.

I don’t know if it is made in solids, and it doesn’t matter. The arrangement of elements — color, value, shape, line — is unexpected, interesting, and held my attention. I sent the photo to my sister and said, “I want to make THAT quilt! Except of course I don’t want to make someone else’s design.”

Challenge: design and make a quilt in all solids of at least three colors. How can I use solids in a new, interesting way? Seth Godin writes:

This is a challenge I can meet. I will try to pull a hat out of a rabbit, turning the question upside down, to do it backwards, sideways, or in some way significantly more generous or risky.

I have a plan and last week I began construction. Since then we’ve had company a couple of times, slowing me down. In a few days I’ll have a finished top and will show you the work in progress.

How do you challenge yourself? Do you seek out new problems? Or do you try to solve problems in new ways? 

DeLight-ful Odd Fellows and Old Maids

On the same weekend I finished the Fairy quilt, I also finished DeLight.


DeLight. 96″ square. Finished June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

This quilt began (as most medallions do) with the center block. The design is a variation of an old block called “Odd Fellow’s” block, or alternately, “Odd Fellow’s Chain.” The variation you see above puts one more variable star as the center of the block you see below.
Odd Fellows block

This is what the Odd Fellow’s block looks like if you group four of them:
Odd Fellows 4
and if  you color it a little differently:
Odd Fellows 4 variation

Notice the corners of the block, reaching clear toward the center of the block. Each corner is made like the block called “Old Maid’s Puzzle,” shown below.
Old Maids Puzzle block

When you group four of these, they become the same as an Odd Fellow’s block.
Old Maids Puzzle 4

More about my quilt’s design process next time.

The Housework Fairy Is Done (Even if the Housework Is Not)

In April and May I taught my Medallion Improv! class at one of my favorite local shops, Inspirations in Hills, IA. The purpose of the class is to teach students to create medallion quilts of their own design. I provide a “template” for them to use if they choose, which helps with border and block sizes. In addition they each get a workbook I wrote with design information and ideas, as well as construction pointers.

One of the main features of the class is the “workshop,” or providing feedback to each other on our work so far. We each show what we’ve done and discuss our thinking, as well as possibilities for changes and additions. The other members of the group give ideas and comparisons. The comments help eliminate some options and expand others.

To help them visualize different solutions to the many challenges medallions can offer, I make two quilts that are very different from each other. Recently I finished the second one and now have pictures of it.


I Found the Housework Fairy But She’s Not Coming Back. 35″ square. Finished June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

I began this quilt with a piece of fabric. Last fall when Jim and I visited Taos, NM, I purchased a half-yard of Alexander Henry fabric. On one side of the width was one fairy, and on the other side were two grouped together. For this quilt I chose the side with only one. To fit the center block size of the template, I cut it to a 15″ finish. After cutting, I decided I wanted to use curved insets. The insets frame the fairy with lines that continue across the block, allowing easier focus on the fairy herself. Of course, adding the insets messed substantially with the sizing, and I was lucky to get it back to 15″ finish. Lesson learned: add insets before cutting to size.

The first border is 2.5″ wide. It is very simple, again intended to draw attention to the fairy. The avocado green and turquoise strips are mitered to draw lines directly to her.

The next border stumped me, but here the class helped. Using a large design wall, I auditioned a number of fabrics and ideas. Phyllis asserted that the pale fabric was my best option for next color. But at home I tried various solutions and still wasn’t convinced. Finally I told myself to think like my sister Cathie. Her approach is somewhat different from mine, and she gets great results. If I could be more flexible in my thinking I could meet this challenge.

I decided to put squares on point, but make them smaller than the width allowed. That meant more squares and a little more delicate feel. But I needed to figure out how to fill the width. I chose having a darker color outside and extra of the very light color next to the center. Also because all the squares and their setting pieces are on the bias, a strip of lavender on the outside edge stabilizes it and gives it a more defined finish. I tried a variety of corner blocks before choosing the multi-colored batik.

The third border is 3.5″ wide, taking the top to 35″ finished. I like the plus blocks. The floated setting shows off each block and also provides an airier feel than would be achieved if the blocks were set against each other. I’ve described my decisions for that border pretty completely here, so won’t repeat all of it.

My class template takes the quilt to a 60″ square. Once I finished the third border, I tried two completely different approaches to the fourth one. Neither worked, and after each attempt I liked the piece better by stopping where it was. So I did.

The final challenge was quilting. The density of the print design in the center still threatened to obscure the fairy. To emphasize her I wanted to hand-quilt around her, rather than quilting right across. I used a small posy edge-to-edge design, with free motion quilting, avoiding her. After the rest of the quilting was done, I did the hand-quilting.


The center with the insets. Quilting isn’t very visible, but perhaps you can see I didn’t obscure her with machine quilting through her.

The binding is the same fabric inset at the bottom of the center block. I’d made it for a different project, but it didn’t work for that one. Fortunately it is just right for this.

The class was wonderfully successful. I had the pleasure yesterday of seeing two of my students’ projects and they are wonderful, startlingly different from each other, and so suited to their makers. My other project for class, Marquetry, was documented here.


Marquetry. 87″ square. Finished May 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Thank you as always for stopping by. I always welcome your comments and questions. If you are making your own medallion and have questions, please feel free to ask.