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.


25 thoughts on “Medallion Process — The Center Block

  1. Elizabeth E.

    I’ve been reading, but not commenting, but thought today (while I took a break from Thanksgiving prep) was a good time. I think a lot of people are in a funk right now and I do chalk it up to the election. Usually there’s an excitement, even if your guy doesn’t win, but this one was so far out of the park and the rhetoric so strong, that we are all a little dazed and confused. Having said that, I think beginning a medallion is a perfect way to express your faith in this little world of ours, and I love the symbolism of starting at the center with that block creating its very own little world, all parts branching out from it. You almost tempt me to think of one to do myself, but I’m still cranking away on my list from my Shoulder Injury Hiatus time. So I’ll watch with interest as you do this creative endeavor–carry on! (PS, pls. reply to my email, not back to here, so I can read it. Thanks.)

  2. snarkyquilter

    I do like the green that surrounds your center square. As to other colors, like others, I would try some blue. And possibly some black. It all depends on what’s in your stash and whether you want to go pastel or deeper. But choices to make means your brain is in gear.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yep. The blue works very well. That means the quilt will not be “chalky pastels” the way I thought, but a lot more saturated than that. Which is totally fine. Just tell me what to do (she said to the quilt.)

  3. claire quilty

    You always hit the nail on the head when I am in a quandary. After spending months in my mind’s eye as to what center block to use and a great deal of time this morning on your blog, I now feel armed and ready to make the necessary decisions. Thank you for being so generous in sharing your information in a format I can understand. Most certainly you are a blessing to me.

  4. Cjhaab

    So you did still have some of that pink clamshell KF print? Hmmm. I pieced the scraps you sent me to get what I needed in the rooster quilt, and wished I had more.

    I like this big block and look forward to seeing this quilt develop.

  5. katechiconi

    I love that centre block, but the idea of working out all the seam allowances sends me away, twitching slightly… I’ve never had great success with that process, and have resigned myself to sticking to paper pieced shapes, where I can draw it to size and then explode and break down the shape before reassembling it. You’d probably do the calculations with ease and look at me with a raised eyebrow….

  6. mothercat2013

    Every time I read one of your posts about how to make a medallion quilt, I say to myself, “One of these days you really should have a go at making one of these” … and I will … one of these days! I think it’s the thought of all the mathematical calculations I’ll need to make to keep it balanced and in proportion as it grows that scares me a little … 🙂

        1. Melanie McNeil Post author

          Yes indeed! If you start tiny, then you have tiny pieces to work with, which can be awkward. But start with a center that is something like 8-12″. Then just put pretty fabrics around it, like a log cabin. Use things that make you happy and don’t worry too much about sizing. If it is too long, cut it off. If it is too short, add something. Just enjoy the pretty fabrics and it will turn out well.

  7. Jean Condon

    Beautiful center. As for more colors……the little blue flowers, are they forget-me-knots maybe? Could be inspiring. I also like the idea of orange. Can’t wait to see what you decide.

  8. jmn111

    I’d be inclined to pick up that lovely blue (maybe a Kona solid?) in the small flowers in the upper right of the floral center and use it big time. From there I don’t know – a very pale blue-green? More of the red print?

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, the blue is definitely one direction. The greens already used are pretty grassy, so that will get pulled toward yellow. Also likely to include some purple tones. The red-pink print in the corners is almost gone!


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