Category Archives: Medallion Lessons

Kim’s Bright Garden

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and I’ve missed reading a lot of your posts, too. But here I am, finally with a day unscheduled and more flexible. In some ways I feel like I’m finally coming up for air. Whew!

Today I’ll start with Kim’s Bright Garden, a quilt finished on March 31 and opened Monday by Kim, aka Son’s girlfriend.

I started this project late last year after imagining a border built from variable stars on point. The imagined border had a pale yellow background for the blocks, with blue or lavender setting triangles. The star centers would be pieced, and centers and points would be from chalky pastels. The feeling would be floral, though without actual flowers or floral fabric. However, after I made 16 star centers and cut much of the rest, I felt unfocused and uncertain. As it turns out, it’s often wiser to begin a medallion quilt with a medallion or central motif. The center creates context and direction for what comes after.

After that rough start, I refocused by choosing a center block design and fabrics. I chose first borders and middle borders. After extensive puzzling, I designed and made the final borders. In March I quilted it and bound it. The binding is the same saturated yellow as in the center block.

Kim’s Bright Garden. 71″ x 71″. Finished March 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Son has been traveling a lot for work. We finally had a chance to visit with Son and Kim Monday evening. After he unsealed the box, he handed it to her to open. She was very touched and pleased, to say the least. It was a good gift, made with love and received with generosity. 🙂

For Guild
Part of my busyness lately has been projects for guild. In the last few months I quilted 10 projects, two of which I did early this year. Each has required more prep work than I anticipated, so I’m putting more of these on hold for now.

Besides that I’m on the program committee, the guild’s group that sets up speakers and presentations for upcoming meetings. Currently we’re working on the 2018-19 year. It’s a big responsibility, as programs is where the majority of the annual budget goes, and we want to make sure members get their money’s worth. I’m newish on the committee and still learning the ropes. Fortunately, it’s a good group and I’m learning a lot.

We have a quilt show in early June, and I’m working on a couple of parts of the planning. The big contribution I hope to make is with a Powerpoint slideshow outlining the value of a quilt. Our show is held on the same weekend as the local (big, regional, juried) art fair, and many people attending won’t have quilting backgrounds. If my slideshow can explain what makes a quilt special, by the process and the value of time and materials, it might add to attendees’ appreciation of the quilts they see. And it might increase the bids they are willing to make on our silent auction offerings.

Besides the efforts for the benefit of the show, I’ve also worked on two quilts to enter. (It is non-judged, simply an exhibit to share the beauty of our work with others.) We’re having a special “red and white” exhibit and I’ve made two quilt tops for entry. Both still need to be quilted, bound, and labeled before our show.

More to come in the next few days, as I get back in the swing of writing some. Good to be here again! If you’re still reading, thanks so much!

Medallion Process — Final Borders


Unnamed top. About 71.5″ x 71.5″. January 2017.

Last weekend I finished this quilt top. I’ve shown you some of my process along the way, through the flying geese middle border. The geese border needed to be contained and balanced. Putting the orange and hot pink edge both inside and outside does that.

That decision was made before we traveled for the holidays. While gone I worked on designing the final border.

Remember the purposes of middle and outer borders are to

  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.

I used EQ7 to try design options. If you ever think that designing with software is cheating somehow, let me assure you it is not. I spent many hours, trying literally dozens of designs, before choosing what you see above. One option that made the finals was a border of variable stars on point. Those variable stars, in fact, are what inspired me to begin this project, so it was hard to let them go. The star proportions are the same as the variable star in the middle of the Carpenter’s Wheel center block, so would echo it. (The EQ7 drawing below uses a different version of the center block than I used. See the photo above.) The on-point setting also repeats the 4-patches’ setting in the first border. Another benefit is the ability to use all the colors again in a natural way.


Pretty, yes? But I like the boldness of the components that come before, and the stars are small and the detail gets a bit lost. To me the design did not seem well balanced or fully unified.

Long ago I played with a number of quilt designs, which used a repetition of a center block motif in the corners of both an inner and an outer border. Here’s one example (and see more here and here.)

wraparound corners 4

I tried this idea in a variety of ways, and I liked the direction it was taking. I chose corners the same as the corners of the center block. They are the same size, and the pinks are the same fabrics. They made sense, continuing the floral motif and unifying the design in ways the variable stars did not.

However, with all the blank space between those corners, it didn’t balance well with the busyness and boldness of the flying geese. What it needed was more.

Next I tried more. I tried adding a flower variation in the centers of the border. Several iterations of that later, I stopped with my final choice. But still it looked too bare.

Once the chain blocks, made of double 4-patches, were added, I stopped. The 4-patches repeat the inner 4-patches. The chains’ stair-stepping shape also imitates the line of an on-point setting. Finally, they present the notion of floral stems or vines, or even swags, very traditional ways to border a medallion.

I have fabric for the back and will quilt it soon. I’ll show you final photos then.

Medallion Process — Middle Borders

While you might have forgotten my current medallion project by now, I have not. I’ve been making placemats and a Christmas stocking, attending various meetings, working out, cooking and eating, having a bad cold … And I’ve worked on my medallion.

When you last saw it, it needed a narrow border to define an edge and correct for sizing. I asked for advice on color. The most frequent call was for a strong pink, though my brain was stuck on orange. In the end, I combined the two and pieced a border of both. I love the way it sparkles and adds interest more than a single color would. And a big bonus was that I used a lot of small scraps in my piecing!

Since then, I decided the next frame would be flying geese. [See the tutorial here.] I’m not sure I’ve ever used a border of all geese, beak to tail, but that seemed the right answer this time. The photo below shows all those geese edging the center on my design wall floor. They are not sewn together yet, nor attached to the center. (And it might be a couple of weeks before they are. Other adventures await!)


I really like it, but it clearly needs more pink next, probably some of that Pepto pink from the center block. (I don’t have much of it. It might call for a shopping trip.) The strong orange and dark pink belong, too. I’ll have to think about how to do this… (Since I have time to ponder, it’s possible I’ll decide to insert some pink and orange geese into the flock.)

In the last post on this project, I noted that inner borders and outer borders play somewhat different roles.

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.

In my view, the pieced pink and orange strip is an inner border. It reinforces both the pink and orange colors from the center. It adds a new shape, a non-square rectangle. It stops the eye from outward movement, while encouraging some “circular” movement to notice the different orange and pink scraps.

The geese, however, are a middle border. Here are a couple of things to notice about it. First, geese in formation create a sense of movement. Movement is “interesting,” in that it keeps the eyes engaged. Too much movement is disturbing, though. The next border will need to be calmer. Another thing to see is the colors. I used two of the four blues from the 4-patches on point. The other two were completely gone, and I don’t have anything else close to sub in. I also used two new greens. Did you notice that? Probably not, as there already were three other greens of similar nature. At this point, I could add almost any bright green I want and it will fit in. Finally, there are two purples, repeating the purples used in the corner tulip blocks. Because they show up again, the earlier use is not a one-off, but seems like a natural part of the color palette. This is true even though there is no purple in the center block.

Another element of the geese border is size. It is visually wider than the 4-patch border, even though the measures are similar. The 4-patches on point is 5.6″ wide (measured from the center outward,) while the geese are 6″ wide. However, the tail or base end of each flying geese block creates a strong perpendicular line, while the 4-patch border has no similar emphasis to make an impression of width. In fact, because the blue patches run parallel to the edge, they provide an illusion of a narrower border. Varying the width of borders also contributes to interest.

The other important aspect of the geese’s size is proportion. Remember, proportion is not only a matter of size. It also is affected by visual weight. [See my posts here, here, and here.] Because the center block is large, borders need visual weight to balance it. The geese’s width and the strong direction created by their position and value contrast give that balance.

What do later borders need to do? They must continue the unity of the composition in terms of color, value, and basic style. They need to repeat the bright yellow and vibrant pinks and oranges from the center and first borders. They need to calm the center a bit after the strength of the flying geese. How will I achieve that? I don’t know yet! But it will be fun to find out.

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.