Category Archives: Medallion Quilts

Finished: Christmas Is Coming!

Recently I told you about the looping problems I’ve had when machine quilting. Even with the tension good — top and bottom threads balanced so they meet within the quilt sandwich — there’s been some extra loops appearing on the back of the quilt. Though no loops would be best, an occasional loop is likely to happen and is something I can shrug off. However, a lot of loops in a small area is messy looking and structurally not stable. It shouldn’t happen, and if it does, it is a problem to be fixed.

I took my bear’s paw quilt off the frame and put on a test sandwich. When a lot of effort and adjustments didn’t lead to the quality I want, I took the machine to the factory and worked with a technician to get things fixed. When I brought it back home, I tested the machine again by quilting a table runner.

Things looked pretty good, but I still didn’t feel very confident. At that point I decided to mount my Christmas quilt on the frame. This quilt is not intended as a gift, so the stakes were not very high.

I use free-motion quilting for most of my quilts. What that means is I guide the machine stitching by hand, without a pattern or a computer program. Also, for most of them I do an edge-to-edge or allover design, rather than choosing different designs for separate borders or other segments.

This quilt, called “Christmas Is Coming!”, didn’t warrant special quilting, in my opinion. The design impact is in the fabric and piecing, not in the quilting.

I often use a great big double meander — cross the quilt surface once with a big meander, and then cross back the other way, ribboning in and out through the original stitching line. Doubling the line allows you to fill more space if needed by sweeping out a little farther from the first line, or tracking closer where stitches are nearby. It creates a nice, soft texture, and it’s super easy to execute.

The double meander seemed like a low-risk way to test my machine again. If there were unacceptable looping, unstitching would be relatively easy because of the open design, and restitching would be simple, as well.

Here is the finished quilt.

Christmas Is Coming! 67″ x 67″. December 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The quilting was easy and the stitches were generally of pretty good quality. There were a couple of small areas with a little messiness on the back, but they were limited and very close to the edges. I decided to ignore them.

Once quilted, I added the green binding with machine stitching to finish. There’s so much I love about this quilt. The twisting red and gold ribbon border, the green packages with red bows in the last pieced border, and the dizzy geese block in the center all add to the festive look. I love so many pretty fabrics, few of them designed and sold as seasonal ones. I enjoyed using up a lot of scraps to complete the packages and the puss-in-the-corner blocks. And I really like the Y-block pinwheels in the corners. And it was fun to make. Over all it really works for me — you could say it’s the complete package!!

If you’d like to see more pix of this project before it was quilted, you can find them here.

Once this project was off the frame, I started again on my bear’s paw quilt. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well, and I stopped. For right now, the project is waiting until I can get back to it. That won’t be for several more days. Hopefully at that point, things will go better and I can get the quilting done.

 

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My Best Advice on Using Half-Square Triangles in Borders

I could call this a rule, but that would be silly, wouldn’t it? 🙂

Here’s the advice: when using half-square triangles as your border blocks, try them multiple ways before choosing.

Why? Because setting them with different line and value orientation changes the appearance significantly. It’s worth taking the few minutes to audition variations. This simple illustration gives 4 different ways to arrange them.

Here are some examples from a little quilt I made in 2014. They aren’t sewn together yet, hence the wonky look on some of the pictures.

There are still other ways to try these, too. Other than the first one, they all have the dark value close to the center. Try them with the light side against the center for a different look. Also, they aren’t shown with changing orientation, similar to the right side of the illustration at the top of the page. In other words, there are at least eight ways to use them, and that assumes that you pattern them the same on all four sides.

Here are some examples from my quilts. First, Marquetry. Note that two of the borders use HST, but with different arrangement.

Another one is Bird On Point. Closest to the center, the HST run around in one direction. In the middle blue-and-blue border, they’re positioned differently to create movement in the other direction.

And one more, Black Sheep Manor. This also has HST in two borders. In the one around the center block, the triangles “spray” outward symmetrically. In the middle border, they have changing orientation for value and line.

I could go on, but I’ll bet you get the point. 🙂

Bear’s Paws On My Quilt Back

Do you remember when President George H.W. Bush declared he did not like broccoli? He had never liked broccoli, since he was a little boy and his mother made him eat it. As an adult and president, he would not eat broccoli!

I do not like to make pieced quilt backs. The ideal quilt back, in my opinion, would be one that came from the store, already the correct size, washed, pressed, and ready to load on my quilting frame. I can’t have that, but as queen of my realm, I have decided to minimize my time making pieced backs. It makes my realm a happier place.

However, now and then, making a pieced back is still the right decision. My current project is a medallion with a bear’s paw block in the center. The top is done and ready to quilt. One of the feature fabrics on the top had very little left, a piece about 20″ x 35″, plus scraps of various sizes.

Fabric design by Julie Paschkis for a Washington State shop hop a few years ago.

As much as I love this fabric, I’m not interested in keeping a small chunk of it around. It is distinctive enough it needs to be used carefully, up to having a quilt designed around it. That’s more responsibility than I want right now!

I decided to use it up in the back of the quilt. That was an easy decision, partly because the other “right” fabric I have wasn’t quite big enough for full coverage.

This piece has stylized deer on it. It’s actually a seasonal fabric called “I Love Christmas.” I don’t know who the designer or maker are. It fits the nature theme of the quilt.

Designing and making a pieced back isn’t quite as much work as for the top. But it does require some thought, especially when using up stuff. After thinking carefully about it, I decided to make four large bear’s paws — not bear’s paw blocks, but the paws that are units of a block. This is the center strip of the back, with the paws “walking” in a direction. Each paw block is 18″ square, so the arrangement is 36″ x 54″. I had to piece in the deer Christmas fabric carefully so I didn’t run out of it. A bonus is I used almost all the rest of the turquoise fabric, too. It has little birds in a tone-on-tone print. Only scraps will be left of all three fabrics.

The back is loaded on the frame now. I need to choose thread color and do some maintenance on the machine before starting. I’m still pondering how to quilt it. But I am making progress.

A Look at Some Medallion Quilts

I’m still on the road, so I’m sharing an older post. It’s a good follow-up to yesterday’s on petting older quilts and remembering the lessons they taught. This was first published more than four years ago, very early in my “medallion period.” Since then, I have studied design more carefully, and my opinions on some of these quilts has evolved as my knowledge has. Even so, it is fun to see some of my early medallions.


While working on developing the Medallion Sew-Along, I thought about what makes a successful design. I haven’t studied design formally, but when we talk about quilt design, we usually talk about elements such as line, color, value, size, shape, and texture. And we talk about how those elements are used, including principles such as balance, repetition, contrast, movement, and unity.

I decided to take a look at a few of my quilts and consider what design aspects work well and what don’t. (All are my original designs.) I welcome your thoughts on them, too. Don’t worry — you won’t hurt my feelings! We all have different taste. But besides looking at mine, take a look at some other medallions, either online or in books, and really think about why the design does or does not appeal to you.

One of my earliest quilts. I designed it. 72″ square.

As the caption says, this is one of my first quilts. I found beautiful, bright butterfly fabric and went from there. What works: the butterfly blocks create movement and unity with the focus fabric. The colors contrast well with the background. Colors are balanced across. What doesn’t work: it’s a little clumsy looking. The squares in the pieced border are simplistic and might look better if they were half-square triangles.

To look at more quilts with a critical eye, click here.

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 that 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.