A Rough Start

I’m having trouble starting a new quilt. Between my trip to Scotland, injuries to both knees and rehab, the election, and a general lack of inspiration, I haven’t made anything new since early August. That’s not strictly true: I have two quilt tops and backs, with bindings! ready to quilt for the local VA hospital. And in the last month I’ve quilted five donation projects for my guild. (Other people created the tops and backs.)

But it’s time to make a new medallion, after more than three months of nothing finished, and after several non-medallion quilts this year. And I’m struggling.

Do you ever have a hard time beginning?

Usually I start a medallion with the center block. After all, the borders radiate out from there. But this one, no, I decided to begin with a middle border. It seemed so simple. I’ve chosen colors, pulled fabrics, dug through my scrap drawer. I made 12 — actually 16 — centers for variable star blocks. In my limited vision, the variable stars will be on point, chalky pastels on a butter yellow background, with blue or lavender setting triangles. I made 16 centers. The first three are too complex and don’t work at all with the next few I made.


3″ center for a variable star, but not for this quilt, whatever THIS becomes

As I pondered the three little blocks, all I could think was to create a quilt titled “Into The Woods With Clowns,” a commentary on last week’s election results. That’s really not the mood I’m trying to achieve, for either myself or my quilt.

This might be easier if I began with the center block. The center creates context and direction for what comes after. But I’m not inspired there, either. One thing I know is the center does not need to be complicated. Most of my medallions have very simple center blocks, many of them based on a 9-patch setting.

hmmm… I’ll have to think about this. In the meantime, if you have any ideas for how to get moving or how to get inspired, let me know.


22 thoughts on “A Rough Start

  1. Andi

    I hope your “funk” ends soon! As for the center of a new medallion, maybe shop for a bold print or a new panel? I remember the housecleaning fairy…she was adorable! And Untied started with a plain (unpieced) center, right?

  2. lmay4th

    Stay away from the media. Practice patient acceptance. Trust me, I know all about starting something and feeling like I messed it all up. Part of experimentation that is so important. But, the medallion is lovely, now you can be creative and do something completely different. Don’t let trumping get you down.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks for the understanding. I don’t feel (yet) like I’ve messed it all up! I just feel like I don’t have a clue. Experimenting is easier for me than it used to be. So I just need to remember that and try a few things.

  3. Paula Hedges

    Your fabrics do shout “clowns” and I’m in complete agreement you don’t want to tie such a cute mixture of fabric with the election! What can you do with the idea of balloons for the center? Maybe one bursting and the fragmented pieces moving to the outer edges. I think balloons whenever I think clowns! Secondly, ruffled collars and cuffs. Hope this might help start your
    creative thoughts flowing. Let us know where you end up going with this really fun beginning!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      No indeed, this quilt won’t be about the election. But the little block above also won’t be in it, as I really don’t mean it to be about clowns. I was being sarcastic, and I apologize that didn’t come through. However, the colors shown above are the type I’ll use. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  4. jeanswenson

    Not sure if I have words of inspiration, but, your words have inspired me! Two years ago, we helped our friends navigate their sail boat through the Panama Canal. During the trip, I had the opportunity to be exposed to Molas, a colorful textile art form made by the native Kuna peoples. Molas are brightly colored panels that use the techniques of appliqué and reverse appliqué. The panels are then used in the women’s blouses/dresses.
    Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to purchase a Mola while in Panama, as our time was dedicated to enjoying time with friends, and sailing. However, given our global economy, I am going to see if I can source a Mola to use in a ‘near-future’ quilt. I think that a Mola would be a perfect center block for a medallion quilt. I have only done one medallion quilt, my Marigolds quilt I did last Fall: https://jeanswenson.org/2015/11/29/marigolds/
    As I finish writing this comment, I have come up with an idea for you: perhaps you can lean on a memory, feeling, or a visual from your recent trip to Scotland. When I think of Scotland and fabric, I think of plaids. Wonder if you explored creating your own unique plaid design, that is conceptualized/interpreted into a medallion quilt? Or maybe the center block could be some type of coat of shields (or coat of arms)? That might be fun to play with…

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I love the brainstorming that happens when I throw out a question like this. The various ideas do help me formulate a more complete vision. Also thanks for the link. Your medallion is lovely. And YES! I’ve been to the quilt center by Tillamook! 🙂

  5. katechiconi

    It’s hard to know what to suggest. One idea came to me, but I don’t know if it’s counter-productive to the way you’re feeling and the way you normally work. As you say, your medallion centres are normally quite simple, and the fireworks happen in the outer borders. As you are breaking with your normal process, how about designing a single, smallish but quite complex block to be the centre of your medallion, surround it with simplicity, and then gradually get more complex again as you work outwards? It sounds as if you’re a bit stalled, and maybe a single complex block would get the creativity firing again. Good luck finding inspiration again 🙂

  6. tierneycreates

    Well, sorting or reorganizing my fabric helps me when I am stuck; or maybe you have to put this one away for a week and try starting something else or pick up and old UFO. Sending you good thoughts of creative sparks!😀

  7. Kathy Aho in MN

    I hear you. I have just been through a lot of endings –and beginnings– in my life and think I just needed to rest to recharge . I am now feeling some movement toward energy and creativity again. If you want to create, perhaps go walk a quilt or fabric store. Sometimes even a spool of thread color or a bit of fabric can get me going positively, Best wishes on this.

  8. zippyquilts

    Well, I got a badly-needed laugh out of “into the woods with clowns”! Thanks 😃 But to the problem at hand: how about a single large block made of either wedges or diamonds? The stripes could look great that way. And with regard to our national situation, there are some things we never “get over”, but we usually do live through them. I think this is one of those 😒

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      So glad you got the joke — it was a pretty obscure reference, I think. 🙂 Wedges, diamonds? I’ve wondered about doing another of the Ricky Tims kaleidoscope stars to center this. Another idea worth considering. Thanks!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Laundry always helps! 😉 Well, I’m not sure. I think for now I’ll keep working on these border blocks. There are enough of them and they’re slow enough, that gives me a chance for my brain to magically come up with a workable idea. Thanks as always.

  9. Nann

    I’ve finished two quick-to-piece quilts in as many weeks. Both turned out nicely.. I want to try something more challenging for the next project, and I think that will be the AAUW-IL spring raffle quilt — but now I’m debating what pattern, what fabric genre, what colorway . . . Rather than go from zero to sixty, I only need to go from zero to twenty, right?

  10. KerryCan

    How about a project that is creative but not quilting? Do you knit or paint or embroider? I have found that being able to move from weaving to quilting to other handwork keeps me fresh in each, and ideas seem to cross-pollinate.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I quilt and cook and write, and I’ve written darn little for quite a while. That is a “craft” I’d like to spend more time on in the new year. But yes, switching gears is often productive. Thanks.


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