Four Flying Geese, Three French Hens, Two …

[I published this in April when I was making lots of geese. Well, I’m at the geese stage again! Since I needed to remind myself of the four-at-a-time method, I thought I’d remind you, too. Cheers!]

Fooled ya, huh? It’s actually “four calling birds…” The geese don’t come in until later, when there are six geese a-laying…

One of the reasons I love flying geese blocks is they can be made almost any size. Blocks that are on grid are less adaptable for sizes. For example, regular 9-patches are on a 3-grid (3 rows by 3 columns) and are most easily made in sizes that multiply easily by 3, such as 6″ finish with 2″ patches, or 7.5″ finish with 2.5″ patches. For a harder one, bear’s paws are on a 7-grid, so are most easily made in sizes like 7″, 10.5″, or 14″. But geese are ungridded. The flying geese I need finish at 8.25″ in length. That’s a weird size, but easy to make. (Half-square triangles and hourglass blocks also can be made any size.) 

There are a variety of ways to make geese, but I only use two of them. One is the stitch-and-flip method. With this, the base (goose) is cut the size of the finished block, plus 1/2″ each direction for seam allowances. For example, if you want a block that finishes at 3″ x 6″, cut the base as 3.5″ x 6.5″. The background (sky) is cut as two squares, both half the length of the finished block, plus seam allowances. Using the same size block, cut two pieces that are 3.5″ square. Pat Sloan shows how to put these together to make a perfectly sized flying geese unit.

The method works great. However, you do have waste triangles of fabric cut off. Some people make good use of them and convert them into half-square triangles for other purposes. I do not. For small flying geese, throwing away the waste doesn’t bother me much. For larger ones, it does.

The other method I use is the four-at-a-time method. Why choose this one? The process allows more efficient use of fabric, because there are no waste triangles. For me, the disadvantage is I have to be more careful of my seam allowance. To adjust for that, I check sizing on the first set I make. If I need to trim slightly, that means I need to use a slightly bigger seam allowance, perhaps only a thread width bigger. Even so, it’s a great way to make a lot of geese quickly and with no waste.

Here is a video that clearly explains the process, as well as a link to another set of instructions from Connecting Threads.

For each FOUR geese units, use 1 large square and 4 small squares.
Large square = finished length of unit + 1.25″
Small square = finished width of unit + .875″ (that is 7/8″)

Example: for four flying geese units finishing at 3″ x 6″, cut 1 large square (the geese) at 7 1/4″, or 7.25″. Cut 4 small squares (the sky) at 3 7/8″, or 3.875″.

Draw a diagonal line across the wrong side of each small square, corner to corner. Arrange two of them right sides together in diagonally opposite corners of the large square, with the drawn lines meeting in the middle. The small squares will overlap a little. Pin them in place.

FG 1
Stitch from corner to corner, a scant 1/4″ away from the drawn line. Then turn around and stitch the other direction on the other side of the drawn line.

Cut on the drawn line between the two stitching lines. The video shows using the rotary cutter and ruler, but scissors work fine.

FG 3
Press toward the sky squares. You end up with two pieces shaped sort of like a heart.

FG 4

On each of those pieces, pin another of the small squares with the drawn line running from the corner through the “cleavage” of the heart. Sew 1/4″ from both sides of the drawn line, as you did before. Cut apart on the drawn line, and press toward the sky triangles.

FG 5

What is the difference in fabric used for the two methods? I needed 32 flying geese units with finished measure 4.125″ x 8.25″. To make FOUR units this size:
Stitch-and-flip requires 4 (units) x 4.625″ x 8.75″ = 161.875 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 (units) x 2 (per unit) x 4.625″ x 4.625″ = 171.125 square inches of the sky fabric.

Four-at-a-time requires 9.5″ x 9.5″ = 90.25 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 x 5″ x 5″ = 100 square inches of the sky fabric.

For this size example, stitch-and-flip requires almost twice as much of each fabric, compared to the four-at-a-time method. For 32 of them, that’s almost a half yard difference for each fabric. I don’t always have that much more fabric available. Note that different sizes of flying geese will have different outcomes on this calculation, because of the proportion of the seam allowance compared to the rest of the unit.

One more alternative is to create the effect of flying geese using half-square triangles. Instead of 32 flying geese, I could have used 64 half-square triangles. I chose not to do this because I wanted the toile of the base fabric unseamed.

Do you use flying geese in your quilts? Do you have a favorite way of making them? Questions or comments?

Chit Chat

Here’s my current project, a new medallion. The next border will be a narrow strip, but I’m a little stuck for color.


My first impulse, and first attempt, was in mid-purple. Sorry, no photos to evaluate! It works in some ways, giving nice value contrast to create a darker edge and repeating the purples just used in the corner blocks. But it just seems DULL. My next thought was to use orange, an orange stronger and more vibrant than the one nearest the center block. The color works, but I don’t have the right piece.

I start all of my quilts from stash. For many, somewhere down the line, I shop to fill in for colors or values I don’t have. Looks like I’ll head to the store this week to track down a better orange.

My favorite quilt shop, Inspirations in Hills, IA, is closing soon. The shop is successful and well-loved, but the owner is retiring. If I were ten years younger, I’d consider taking it on. At this point, I just don’t want to work that hard! During these last weeks, the sale prices are tempting, even for a non-shopper like me. I’ve already purchased about 25 yards and expect I might double that.

As I’ve worked on this medallion, I’ve also returned to quilting donations. At November’s guild meeting, I turned in five donation quilts, pieced by others and quilted by me. I have five more of those waiting. But I also had two of my own that I finished piecing weeks ago. Maybe it was before we went to Scotland? Can’t remember… Those are now quilted and ready for me to bind. The bindings are ready for both. December’s guild meeting is 12/12, so I have a bit of time.

Today after finishing quilting the second, I vacuumed. Do you clean up your studio regularly? This was not an A+ clean-up. I didn’t wipe down all the surfaces as that would require. But I did vacuum through. My floor is carpeted with a tight Berber, which captures pins uncommonly well. Fortunately I don’t lose track of many, but each time I vacuum, I find one or two. Today was no different.

Oh! The other thing I’ve been working hard on is my fitness. I’ve finished the physical therapy part of recovery and am still working with a personal trainer. The goal is to regain my strength and endurance while making my knees steady again. It is making a big difference already. When I get up and down while quilting at the longarm, I can get up off the floor without a struggle, and without making big grunting noises!! Jim noticed that first.😀

I’ve also been pondering my Word of the Year for 2017. I’ve tried to choose words that apply more largely in my life, not just for the quilty part of it. I’m pretty sure of my choice, but not quite ready to discuss it.

What have you been working on? How do you meet the challenges in the last part of the year? 

Medallion Lessons

I made my first quilt in 2003, for a soon-to-be-born granddaughter. I made another and quickly was hooked. I was lucky back then. I didn’t take any classes, and at first I didn’t have books. Internet sites were in their infancy. I didn’t know what a quilt shop was, much less a fat quarter. Without the resources we’re blessed with today, I pushed through on my own, designing my quilts on graph paper, figuring out how to do the math, learning to improve my seam allowance.

I’ve learned a lot since then. And though I’ve been making medallion quilts almost since I began quilting, the last three years have taught me the most. Through my experience and study, I’ve learned lessons on design as well as construction. In those three years I’ve shared many of the lessons with you.

Often people comment that they’re inspired to undertake a medallion, but it needs to wait until … another time. Or they would consider making one, but parts of the process are intimidating. I’ve thought about ways I can help make the process easier for those who want to make one. Certainly one way is to create a bunch of medallion patterns and give precise instructions for what patches to cut, and what order to use them, and what colors or values to use. But I don’t want you to make MY medallion quilts. I want you to make YOURS. And I want you to have the resources to adjust to the quilt’s needs, like what to do when the fabric you MUST use will only make a border 1.5″ wide, not 2″ wide.

A couple of months ago I reorganized my site to make some of those lessons more easily available. If you look at the tabs above, the middle one says “MEDALLION LESSONS”. If you click the tab, it will open a page of links to posts on a variety of topics. As it says on the page, if you have questions about medallion topics you don’t see, drop me an email. I’ll either point you to existing posts or perhaps write one to address your question! You can find me at catbirdquilts at gmail dot com

I’ll continue to edit links to this page through time. In fact, I’ve just added my most recent two posts. As I document the process on my current quilt, I’ll try to create meaningful lessons to help you make your own quilt.

Any questions? Let me know in comments, or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.



Medallion Process — First Borders

When we were in Scotland’s Scottish National Gallery, we enjoyed a wonderful special exhibit of Impressionist art. Many of the paintings were framed in heavily carved gilt frames, which seemed in conflict with the light-filled paintings of a different era. A few pieces were rimmed by simpler frames that seemed more suitable. Generally a frame should support and enhance the art within it, but it should not call attention to itself in any way.

It’s easy to think of medallion borders as picture frames. However, they are much more complex than that. Every border should support and enhance the center block, as well as everything else that is within it, telling a unified story. They can, singly or in combination, create secondary focal points. They can direct attention to or away from other components. They can provide contrast and tension, adding interest.

Borders are part of the composition, not simply a setting for it.

As that composition is built, it radiates from the center. Borders close to the center play a different role than those farther out. Inner borders

  1. either expand or enclose the center, (or can be neutral,) and
  2. introduce new elements such as colors and shapes.

Middle and outer borders

  1. build the story by repeating and varying earlier elements such as color, value, shape, line, and contrast; contributing to a motif or theme; and
  2. correct problems with balance and proportion; and complete and unify the composition.

And all unpieced borders can be used to correct size problems.

Let’s go back to inner borders. What does it mean to expand or enclose the center? Interior borders that visually expand the center block give the illusion that the block is bigger or more important than it actually is. Take a look at a couple of examples to see inner borders that expand the center. First, in Garden Party the panel has definite edges to it, showing the Tree of Life as through a window. However, the border of half-square triangles near it gives the illusion that the leafy trees continue beyond the seam. The asymmetrical placement of HST contribute to the illusion of expansion (and the narrow black border encloses it.)

Garden Party. 62" x 68". Center panel by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning Fabrics. Finished March 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Garden Party. 62″ x 68″. Center panel by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning Fabrics. Finished March 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Second, in Stained Glass, the turquoise flying geese surrounding the center block point outward. The lines created by the points direct the eye out, expanding the center.

Little One Stained Glass

Stained Glass. 40″ square. February 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Isaac’s Big Block quilt has an inner border that encloses the center. The center block is enormous, extending all the way to the unpieced border of blue with white stars. It has to stop! And the strip border stops it.


Isaac’s Big Block. 84″ square. February 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

For my current project, the 28″ finished center block is expansive in itself. It doesn’t need to be expanded. The size, the diagonal lines, and the points all give it visual weight and an outward line. What it does need is more colors. If I don’t introduce new colors within the first border or two, they will look out of place if added later. The highest priority for new colors is the green-tinged-blue of the small flowers in the center patch, and orange. Orange is harder to see in that patch, hidden a bit amongst the pinks. But it is there and calls to be used. I can probably fit purple/lavender in at some point, too, once the color set is enlarged. Dark navy or black might work — we’ll see.

Wow, it’s a tall order to add a border of blue and orange, immediately after using bright yellow, strong pinks, and grassy green. A little subtlety is called for.


The orange has about the same intensity and slightly darker value as the center’s yellow, so it is a natural extension of it. The outward points and the color do, in fact, expand the center. However, the 4-patches on point create a bead of blues. That puts a stop to the eye, though it is not a hard stop.

The variety of blues automatically allows any of them or a bunch of others in later borders. I also repeat but vary the yellow and green of the center. Any time you’ve already used at least two versions of a color, you invite a third, and then you might as well have a party. 

The corner blocks’ shape echoes the basic shape of the corners in the Carpenter’s Wheel block. Note that I added purple without it being an obviously new color. The corners also allow me to add flowers, repeating the motif of flowers in the center patch. Look also at how the 4-patches head to the corners. There isn’t a very good way to get them to turn corners gracefully. The corner blocks allow me to avoid that altogether.

Repeating elements provides unity, the sense that there is nothing out of place. Varying elements and adding new ones adds contrast and interest. This first border does its job of supporting the center block. It expands and then encloses it. It also both adds and repeats components, moving us toward an interesting and unified composition.

The next border will be an unpieced one. I can use it to correct the size, setting up the composition for another, more interesting border.

Medallion Process — The Center Block

The primary focal point of a medallion quilt is, and should be, the center. Because of that, it makes sense to begin there when designing a medallion. However, given my recent general lack of inspiration and motivation, beginning anywhere was worth doing! 

After thumbing through some of my favorite books and other sources of inspiration, I finally decided on a center block for my quilt. I found it in one of my old blog posts, and it uses the format in the design below:

The block is a variation and simplification of a traditional block that goes by multiple names, including Carpenter’s Wheel and Dutch Rose. (Thanks, Nann!) The original version is centered by an 8-pointed star with 45º diamond points meeting at the middle (like a LeMoyne Star or Star of Bethlehem) and includes set-in seams. The style was simplified further with the recently popular “Swoon” block.

No matter. I picked a block. I chose fabrics. I re-chose fabrics and performed surgery when I didn’t like the color of green used next to the center patch. I made a center block. Here is the finished block.


And here are two really important things about a center block:

  1. As said above, it should be the primary focal point of the quilt, but
  2. it does not need to be spectacular or complicated to serve that function.

If you look at my old medallion quilts, you’ll find that very few have spectacular centers. Some have particularly UNspectacular centers! I use basic stars a lot, as well as variations on 9-patches. They are showy mostly because of being bold, rather than being fancy.

20161119_105833_1479574812259My block shown above is 28″ finished. Why? The fabric used in the very center is fussy cut around two flowers. To capture the look I wanted, it needed to be cut for a patch about 7″ square. The center patch is a quarter of the block width (7/28 = .25), and using a grid of 3.5″ per cell worked easily for rotary cutting. (Look for future post on re-sizing blocks.)

For proportions, I like a center block to be about a quarter to a third the width of the finished quilt. Given the size of the block, the finished quilt will probably be from 80-95″ wide. (It could surprise me and be smaller or larger than that, too.)

Overall proportion is important, but that can be faked, too. If you look at the block again, you can see the star points directing the eye outward. The diagonal lines within the design serve that way, too. Those shapes and lines (design elements) help to expand the visual size of the block. (See this post on center block considerations for more on expansive or enclosed center blocks.) In addition, choice of borders affects the appearance of the center.

I’m ready to begin borders now. What next? I don’t intend this to be a yellow-and-pink-and-green quilt. That means I need to start adding in other colors right away. But which colors and in what format? I don’t know! Join me on this crazy design-as-I-go adventure to see.