Lessons: Medallion Books Review

Very few books on medallion quilts have been published in the last 35 years. Mostly they provide patterns. A few provide some historical context. Only one has an in-depth discussion of design.

For those interested in medallion quilts, whether made by yourself or in a round robin, I wanted to give short reviews of the ones you might encounter. Some I own and others I don’t. All reviews are presented in order of year of publication.

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The Art and Technique of Creating Medallion Quilts by Jinny Beyer, 1982
I own this out-of-print book and am glad I do. It’s a useful reference even though it is dated in presentation. Beyer’s writing is wordy; the book is largely in black and white; the quilt styling is formal and symmetrical; and construction methods use individually drafted templates for piecing. None of this is very appealing to today’s quilters, used to rotary cutting and quick piecing methods, as well as less formal styling. Things I like include a comprehensive history of the medallion format. Also, two chapters specifically consider design, though they focus on the broad outlines of proportion and not on aspects like color, value, shape, line, and movement. This book acknowledges construction challenges but provides little help for solving them, and there are no projects or patterns.

Classic English Medallion Style Quilts by Bettina Havig, 2003
This book shows traditional styling, providing patterns but no design context. The author asserts you can make an authentic English-style quilt using a center block and borders that alternately are pieced and wholecloth. There are ten types of border block units with instruction. The layouts of quilts are attractive, but the colors would be considered dated now. In addition, there are no construction strategies offered to help the quilter get borders to fit, assuming all sizing is absolutely accurate. The author provides planning charts, allowing quilters to customize their quilts with different blocks. However I find the charts very confusing, and the borders sizes odd. I don’t use this book much.

Medallion Quilts: Inspiration & Patterns by Cindy V. Hamilton, 2006
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out many times from my guild library. It includes some historical information about medallions, as well as beautiful photos. Hamilton is a skilled designer and includes patterns for four quilts. (I have not made any, so can’t comment on quality of instructions.) Though she encourages substitutions in border styles for the quilter’s preference or skills, her patterns include complex piecing with templates, and significant amounts of appliqué. Also, Hamilton’s book mentions making borders fit but doesn’t discuss solutions so quilters can do so.

Liberated Medallion Quilts by Gwen Marston, 2012
Marston is best known for her exuberant, “liberated” style. With its wonky, non-standard styling, liberated piecing gives plenty for the eye to enjoy. In this book she extends that styling to the traditional medallion format, and provides plenty of evidence for the notion that liberated IS traditional. The quilts in this book are playful and unique, a treat to look at.

In text Marston argues for design-as-you-go, but she doesn’t support that with strategies the reader might use to design their own, though there are patterns for a number of quilts. In addition, though I love many of these quilts, the liberated style is not how I like to work. So I use this beautiful book for inspiration if not instruction.

Focus on the Center by Pat Sloan, 2012
This is a pattern book with no design discussion. There are patterns for six lap quilts and one bed quilt. The marketing information doesn’t say what sizes those mean. I haven’t seen it in person, but the pictures of quilts are generally attractive.

Blocks, Borders, Quilts! by Sunny Steinkuhler, 2012
This book includes one blueprint for customization of a 40″ square quilt, with a number of specifically sized blocks. Though the creative reader could deviate from this pattern, there seems to be little to no design or construction information. I haven’t seen this book in person. One thing in the Amazon preview puts me off entirely. Steinkuhler says about contrast, “… you may not want any contrast in your quilt at all. There are no wrong answers here.” While wholecloth quilts can be very beautiful and interesting, they do have contrast in texture. And her book is on pieced medallion quilts, not whole cloth. What reason could there be for piecing a quilt with no contrast? I found this confusing.

The Modern Medallion Workbook by Janice Z. Ryan and Beth Vassalo, 2015
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out from the public library. Compiled by Ryan and Vassolo, it is a book featuring patterns by 11 designers including themselves. In addition, there are notes on basic quilt creation such as choosing fabrics, improving seam allowances, and cutting, which might be useful for beginning quilters. It is marketed as a “workbook,” as implied by the title. The premise is that the quilter can pick and choose favorite elements from the patterned designs, to customize a quilt to their taste. The workbook section does provide some helpful tips for this process. However, at only six pages, it really doesn’t cover either the design process or construction strategies in any depth. In the first printing, all three formulas given were stated incorrectly. All three said to multiply when the function should have been to divide, and one of the three had incorrectly stated order of operations. An experienced quilter might be able to suss that out, but a new quilter might be hopelessly confused. I won’t add this book to my personal library. For a more complete review, check the one written by Joanna the Snarky Quilter.

Quilter’s Academy Volume 5: Master’s Year by Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave, 2016
I wrote an extensive review of this new book when it came out in January. It was a big disappointment to me, for several reasons. The book is poorly formatted with at least three page layout styles; photos are murky; and all the quilts shown are in dull, muted colors. The content is marketed as a reference book and specifically not as a pattern book. Instead, it features patterns. The design reference section focuses on how to draw medallions on graph paper. The writing is confusing, both for basic text and pattern instructions. The authors’ tone is at least as off-putting as anything else. Please see my complete review for more detail.

Do you have any of these books? What do you think of them? What are your favorite medallion quilt books?

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19 thoughts on “Lessons: Medallion Books Review

  1. zippyquilts

    I’m with Gwen Marston all the way here, having no interest personally in making a more formal medallion quilt. However, I’m glad you make them so I can admire them 🙂

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      🙂 Thank you! I like the Marston book, too. I don’t care how “formal” a medallion is. I like them of all types. For me the main question for the books is, how well do they help me understand medallions? And Marston helps me there, too. So do Beyer, though I don’t like her style and the book is dense, and Hamilton, though I’ll never make her quilts.

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  2. katechiconi

    I own none, I will buy none. I’m waiting for yours, which I suspect should be titled ‘The last medallion quilt book you’ll ever need’, since it will fill all the many gaps you have identified in your reviews, and give us so much more. I appreciate this may take some time, but meanwhile, I’d rather read your posts and discuss ideas with you than waste time and money on such poor work.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      They aren’t all poor work, really. Different people see different needs. There are three of the eight I like quite a lot. But they still don’t fill the design gap in the way I’d like to see. Thanks for your vote of confidence!

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      1. katechiconi

        Liking quite a lot isn’t enough to make me buy a book any more (I already have a very extensive library, and so many of them are trivial, poorly written and overly reliant on brightly coloured photographs). I’ll do a peek inside on Amazon, borrow it from the library if possible, and, usually, decide against it. Like my sewing skills, my tastes have become honed over the years, and I now demand more from my books than a catchy title, a well known name or a pretty photo on the cover. I want to *learn* something new and exciting.

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  3. KerryCan

    I wonder if craft books are going the way of the dodo, since there is so much info available from bloggers and sites like Craftsy and YouTube videos. Are you noticing fewer quilting books coming out in general?

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s new, in any of the categories of quilting stuff, so I can’t really say. However I just did a quick trip through Martingale’s quilt book offerings sorted by date, and it looks like there are almost 50 in the last 12 months. I think AQS puts out about that many, too. They are 2 of the biggest, but there are a lot of new publishing names up recently, also. I don’t think it’s going away any day soon.

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  4. snarkyquilter

    Funny there’s no one “must have” book on medallion quilts, given their popularity at AQS shows. And yes, Harriet Hargrave’s tone is often too hectoring for me, with a lot of “you must do it this way”. It may be a medallion quilt is a different thing to different quilters. Personally, I think round robin quilts that begin with a central block are medallion quilts, but I suspect they’re covered in other books. Like Kerry, I suspect that quilting books are being supplanted with video, which can convey how to do something much more effectively than a book. Please note the can. Some videos do nothing for me except make me seasick. So, perhaps a well produced video is the way for you to go. There are several craft oriented platforms springing up in the wake of Craftsy.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I have two round robin books, but the principles are all the same. I’ve been working on my small group round robin. Will email you pix…

      As to me doing videos, my speaking voice is not lovely… 🙂

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      1. snarkyquilter

        Got the pix. Your experience is my poster child on why I don’t do round robins, at least with members of my traditional guild. As to your speaking voice, I suggest you reread your latest post. You can work on it, or just go with it. I have viewed lots of videos made by people with less than mellifluous voices. A friend of mine teaches well received felted wool embroidery classes, and she sounds like Diane Rehm on a very bad day.

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  5. Jessi

    I don’t buy very many books- it is too easy to fill up the bookcase quickly with books I rarely reference.

    And add me to the vote that I’d love to see YOUR book on medallion quilts!

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      1. Jessi

        I don’t do many medallion quilts, but I’d be happy to pattern test if you write a book! Especially for smaller quilts… I don’t do much larger than twin. And even more so if you write something other than “quilt as desired” at the end of a pattern!

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  6. Kathleen C

    I’m currently hand quilting my 3rd liberated medallion quilt made in Gwen Marston’s style.Medallions are my favorite style to make, because they lend themselves to personal design. I tend to use a number of ‘plain’ fabric borders, some traditionally pieced borders and some liberated, keeping everything uncomplicated. Thanks for your reviews of the books; I won’t be buying any because of my large book collection but Gwen’s book calls to me. I learn a a lot from quilters like yourself–I enjoy your posts with descriptions of your processes and thoughts on design, color and fabric. Thanks!

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Kathleen. I hesitate to add books, too. But I have a set amount of shelf space for them. If I’m going to exceed, something has to go! Also I buy most of my books used anymore, and I borrow liberally from public and guild libraries. Seems like the best of all worlds. Thanks again.

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  7. Laura A Geiger

    I would like to suggest another resource for you. It’s a book called Making Welsh quilts the textile tradition that inspired the Amish? It’s by author Mary Jenkins and Claire Claridge. It’s published by KP. On the front are four pictures of medallion quilts and the pre-dominant theme/patterns featured in this book both in the gallery and historical quilts and also of the patterns they provide or medallion quilts. I would be interested in your review of this book as well as I have found it to be a beautiful resource with much historical information. I think one of the authors also has a PDF download book called little welsh quilts. Welsh quilter very much focused on the medallion style.

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