Taking the Show on the Road

Today I’m off to present to a guild. I love preparing for these meetings! Each time is a treat: the audience and space is new to me, the way I think about my quilts evolves, and I get to pet my quilts as I choose which ones to bring.

One of the things I enjoy about choosing my quilts is seeing how much they have changed over time. The differences might not be apparent to other people, but I can tell. In late 2012, a mere five years ago, I made the first quilt I think of as from my “medallion period.” (If Picasso can have a “blue period,” surely I can have a medallion period!) It was for my dear Jim, made at the end of a year that was hard for both of us. I always include this quilt in my trunk shows, for sentimental reasons and to illustrate design issues.

Extra-large lap quilt for my husband Jim, made in late 2012. It’s about 69″ square. 2012.

Since then I’ve made dozens of medallion quilts. All of them taught me lessons. For example, I learned that

  • the center block doesn’t need to be intricate, it just needs to be bold with multiple shapes and colors, and some decent value contrast;
  • placing the center on point makes the quilt a lot bigger in a hurry;
  • when you put it on point, it’s better to have the setting triangles too big than too small;
  • it’s easier to add new colors in the inner and middle borders than in the outer ones;
  • try arranging half-square triangles in a variety of ways, since placement of value and line make a difference in their effect;
  • spacer borders and blocks are your friends.

Dizzy. 60″ x 60″. One of my most recent quilts. 2017.

Besides lessons about design and construction, I also learned a few things about patience and persistence, and about asking for help.

Quilting, in any format, is good for developing patience, a trait thatΒ hasn’t always come easily to me. Consider the process of making a quilt, and all the steps required. Even when it all goes well, you have to be willing to work through the fabric prep, cutting, piecing, pressing, assembly, sandwiching, quilting, binding. You know this is the short list! And when things go wrong, besides the swearing and throwing of things, there’s also unstitching, sometimes yards and yards of unstitching! Or building different blocks, or cutting different strips, or taking the whole thing apart and starting over. Yes, I did that on the Garden Party quilt.

Garden Party. 2015.

I’ve also learned to ask for help when I need it. My tendency is to push through challenges without asking, not always a good decision. But Jim is my willing “consultant,” and I ask him for help frequently. Learning to trust his opinion (because he’s almost always right!) makes it easier to ask for others’, too. When I teach my class, a big portion of class time is in “workshopping” the students’ projects, allowing other students opportunity to advise and comment on the works in progress. They learn to evaluate the project and the process; while they do, so do I. Student comments have made an impact on multiple quilts of mine. And I’ve received tremendous help from my sister in learning to see color better.

I always hope I can convey a small portion of this in my guild presentations, along with the fun and excitement of designing and making these special quilts.

Do you enjoy looking at your past quilts? What has quilting taught you? I’d love to hear your comments.


18 thoughts on “Taking the Show on the Road

  1. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    Your Garden Party quilt is fantastic.
    When I look at the previous quilts I made, I think of the people and the story of each quilt.
    It also gives me the opportunity to see the growth and progress I have made in making quilts.
    I see the mistakes, and the “I wish I had done this differently” pieces, but it only seems to want to do better.

  2. snarkyquilter

    I hear you about a personal retrospective of one’s oeuvre. For me, some make me think – wow, I made that. Others are more cringeworthy, though I remember my thrill at the moment of creation. The curious thing is that many of my quilts I don’t think that much of others love, while some I love others kindly say nothing about. I think you’ve grow so much in your fabric choices and understanding of how colors play (or don’t) with each other, and the chances you’re willing to take. I’m quite fond of your “Garden Party.”

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Joanna. My color use has changed a lot. I am a lot more willing, usually, to use things that others might not choose. πŸ˜€ I was showing my quilts last night and there were several that had … non-standard color choices. I LOVE them. But they might not be to everyone’s taste, and that’s okay.

  3. KerryCan

    I spent yesterday going through a pile of weaving I’ve done in the last couple years, preparing for a craft show this weekend. I found that gave me the same pleasures, and insights, you’re describing with your quilts. I haven’t made all that many quilts so looking over the 10 or so I have doesn’t reach me as much.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Isn’t it fun to look over all those old pieces? I’m glad you have that with your weaving. I imagine it also happens with the linens that you choose when buying — things you would have bought a few years ago no longer appeal or seem as special. Yes?

  4. katechiconi

    I like looking at older quilts because I enjoy remembering the lessons I learned as I made them and tricks I still use. But the biggest lesson they have to teach is being brave. Do the design, wonder how on earth you’re going to make it happen, and then do it anyway. The one that’s taught me most in recent times is the Cloths of Heaven quilt. I learned a lot of valuable techniques with that one, but the most important one was to be fearless.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      YES, that was a stretch for you, I remember. One of the quilts I took to the guild presentation last night was Fire & Ice, one of the red and whites I made this year. I didn’t learn an enormous amount of design from it (since it was based on a historic quilt,) but I did learn a lot of skills! And being brave? Yes ma’am!

  5. Cindy Anderson

    I do but a lot of them I no longer like because of their color choices, quilting choices, design choices. Quilting has taught me about the need for precision and the importance of color value.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, definitely my opinion of some does change over time. But I try to be glad for all of them, because they all taught me things, even if only what I don’t want to do again. Thanks much.

  6. tierneycreates

    Your “Medallion Period”! I like it! Your medallions quilts are wonderful! The first picture – with the browns and blue – is that fabric from Connecting Threads? I looks very familiar, I have a kit quilt from them in the same colors and I think fabrics, just curious.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Nope, the fabrics weren’t Connecting Threads. I bought some of it in a quilt shop in Hannibal, MO, the border stripe in Amana, IA, a paisley or two in a fat quarter bundle from Ben Franklins… All over, except Connecting Threads! πŸ™‚ Thanks!

  7. knitnkwilt

    I love Garden Party: the exuberant center, the flow of colors, the echoing vines in the blue and green border. What I have learned in medallions and others is that there is no pre-piecing work that adequately foretells how a design will work. Rough idea, yes. But alas, sometimes ripping is essential.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Hi Claire. Garden Party is one of my all-time favorites, too. (I have many!!) And YES, you can make a plan, but you better still be ready to change the plan. Things look different in fabric than they do in pixels, or in graph paper and pencil. Thanks for looking.


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