Category Archives: Medallion Quilts

Black Sheep Manor

Some quilts decide to be made, regardless of our intentions. Such was the case for Black Sheep Manor. This is a quilt I would not have made, if not for seeing a panel print earlier this year at a local quilt shop. The full panel had 15 small panel motifs with a country estate theme. The faux-crackled, tea-stained background with black print featured a sheep, two manor houses, a squirrel, two trees, and other assorted illustrations. This is not my typical style.

But Jim and I have friends, smart, funny, warm people, who’ve recently moved to a home they call their “Black Sheep Manor.” When I saw the black sheep on the panel, I had to get it. The quilt called to be made.

The Center Block

The black sheep had to center the quilt, but the small panel finishes at 7″. The size is better suited for a pillow or placemat than the focal point of a lap quilt. I’ve written before about enlarging center blocks with frames of various types. Adding variable star points doubles the size, and making a star-in-a-star quadruples it. But as much as I like stars, this little sheep called for something else.

To highlight and enlarge the sheep without other distractions, I chose to set it with an economy block setting. The simplicity draws the eye to the middle. Using strong value contrast with the subtlety of tone-on-tone prints emphasizes the block structure, as well.

The pattern design on the brick-colored fabric is of wheat stalks, and the pinky-tan setting triangles are printed with a deer motif. Both suit the small-farm life of our friends. These two fabrics, along with the sheep panel, set the theme for the rest of the quilt.

The Inner Borders

Beyond the economy center block, the first border of half-square triangles bursts forth to further enlarge the appearance. Here again, simplicity serves the purpose of enhancement rather than distraction. I did try a different arrangement of HST using two borders, and the effect was messy. As Jim reminded me, KISS is often the best policy. πŸ™‚

The darker rust print edge around the HST finished the look of the center. Rather than the center appearing as a 7″ square, it is 22.5″.

The Middle Borders

Outside of the narrow rust strip is the second most important piece of the quilt. Though the sheep literally plays center stage, the wording personalizes it. Anyone could like black sheep, but there is only one Black Sheep Manor. The wording is hand-lettered using fabric markers. I printed the words on paper and then arranged a light box with an overturned plastic tub on top of a CFL utility light. I taped the paper to the plastic tub. Freezer paper on the back of the fabric stabilized it, and I taped that down, as well. I outlined the letters with a very fine-tipped pen, and then filled them in with a heavier marker.

Framing the wording on either end, and below the sheep block, are strips from the width-of-fabric panel print. On the left and right borders are paper-pieced triangles that finish 2.5″ x 3.75″. They are proportioned differently than flying geese, which lets them fit the space evenly as well as suggest pine trees. The corner blocks are of the broken dishes format.

Black Sheep Manor. Approx 58″ x 58″. September 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The next pieced border is of larger HSTs. The HSTs repeats the shapes of the inner border, but the shifting orientation keeps them from simple repetition. It also prevents them from making a dark line on either side of the border, so it is more open and airy.

Also note the narrow strip borders on either side of the HST. These are one of the lightest values in the whole quilt. Using the light color is a bit unexpected, and it keeps the quilt from descending into dinginess.

The Outer Borders

The next border is a style called “piano keys.” I cut the piano keys border to finish at 6″ and planned to make shoofly corner blocks. Instead, I chose four of the other small panel pieces and cornered the border with them. Once their decorative “frame” was trimmed off, they finished at 5.25″, so I trimmed the piano keys to match. Aside from the corner blocks, the piano keys border is mostly dark in value.

The piano keys are made with 28 strips on each side. I made the strips into blocks of four strips each. Each block has a red, a brown (or black,) a blue, and a green strip. These are two warm and two cool. I assembled the blocks in haphazard order, and then assembled the borders only making sure that no two strips of the same color touched each other. Aside from very minimal rearrangement, the placement is random, but the colors and “temperatures” are well-distributed. This was easy! And more importantly, it is not formal or regimented, but casual.

The last border of another rusty print frames the whole. I didn’t know what width I wanted until I tried it. No elements of the quilt are very large, so a relatively narrow border worked better for proportions.

The Fabric Choices

Almost all of my quilts have at least one scrappy border. They help to integrate the multiple pieces of similar color that I use within a quilt. This quilt differs by being scrappy throughout, giving it a casual and homey feel.

Even with scraps, the look is consistent. All the colors have a golden tinge. The reds are brick red and rust; the greens are olivey; the blues all have a touch of teal; and the browns and blacks are warm, not cool. The tan or “background” fabrics also tend toward golden, not grey.

However, if you look more closely at the fabrics, you’ll notice I didn’t take the fabric patterns too seriously. They range from 1800s reproductions to a small piece of a circus print, to Kaffe Fassett. The color and value were far more important than the style of print.

To keep the dozens of fabrics from leading the quilt into chaos, there are places without scraps. For example, the center block has only three fabrics: the black sheep panel, the inner brick red triangles, and the outer tan triangles. The brick red and tan are repeated with the same fabrics for the broken dishes corner blocks. The inner strip border and the final border echo the brick red, varying it somewhat toward rust. The two pale strips borders use the same fabrics. The panel corner blocks with the piano keys emphasize the sheep by repeating the same fabric style. All these points of repetition help calm the appearance.

Except for the panel (which demanded I buy it and make a quilt with it,) all of the fabrics are from my stash, including the back. The vast majority is from scraps and small pieces. Very little is from yardage. It’s been a very long time since I worked with mostly scraps and I enjoyed it a lot.

The Quilting

I had a hard time deciding how to quilt this. I didn’t want the stitching to run rampant over the little sheep, but I also didn’t want to custom quilt the entire piece. I compromised by quilting the center very simply, with an outline of the sheep, a simple fan pattern on the brick red, and triangles of leaves and loops on the tan. For the rest of the quilt, I did an all-over leaves and loops design.

My Overall Assessment

I really fell in love with this quilt. As noted at the top, this is not my typical style, with the black-and-tan-and-country feel. But I often think my very best quilts are those I make for specific people, and I think this is one of them. Another reason I love it is because I couldn’t have made it before now. The design shows a level of expertise that I’ve developed over time. The paper piecing is a new technique for me this year. Hand-lettering the banner isn’t something I would have tried until recently. Besides the look, I enjoyed the process. The ease with which it went together is rare. Each step of the way, decisions were simple, but from a strong sense of direction, not merely from habit.

My friends received the quilt and are thrilled. They’re happy, and that makes me happy.

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Class Quilts

My medallion class began last week! In class I help lead participants through the process of designing their own medallion quilts. And while they create, I do, too.

In the few weeks we have together, while each of them is making one quilt, I design and construct two. I start with very different centers and color schemes in order to demonstrate a variety of strategies.

The first one I began has a center block that features flying geese circling a star. The block design came from theΒ Big Book of Scrap Quilts, published by Oxmoor House in 2005. The quilt pattern is called “Dizzy Geese,” designed by Joan Streck. Dizzy Geese is a block quilt, with a 17″ block made with templates.

I re-drew the block to 16″ and paper-pieced it.

Though I’ve made quilts in reds and greens before, I haven’t made one I’ve thought of as a Christmas quilt. This one will have that intention, but I’d still like to keep it lighthearted. I’ll minimize the holiday-focused prints, but refer to the occasion through shaping. For instance, the circling flying geese give the impression of a wreath.

With the intricate center, I wanted a simple first border, but one that would extend the range of color. Because the star points are a forest green print, I chose a citrus green for the border. The corner blocks add to the gold, found in the center’s green print and in its background fabric.

The second border was fun and easy to make. Take a look. The corners are just half-square triangles. The side blocks are each made of three pieces and all the blocks are same. Their orientation gives the look of a twisting ribbon as they circle the top.

And the third border is a plaid with dark green, dusky gold, and burgundy, with bright gold corners. I don’t love the dark plaid, for various reasons. But I think it will serve its purpose as the design develops. It’s easy to get hung up on individual elements, such as the color or shapes or value of a particular border. Just as you don’t have to love a particular block to have it work well in a block quilt, you don’t have to love a particular border in a medallion quilt. Every border changes every border, and it’s the final effect that counts.

I have tentative plans for the next borders, but won’t work on this more until next week.

The second quilt begins with a bear’s paw block in the center. I’m less certain of the direction for this one. I really like the center block, with its beautiful Julie Paschkis print in the large sections. And I love the batik that surrounds the block. I am not absolutely sure they work together. However, some patience is in order as I let the process play out. (Trust the process.)

Though I rarely work on two quilts in the same stage at the same time, the chaos is kind of exciting, too. We’ll see if I still feel that way in a couple of weeks. πŸ™‚

Turning a Block On Point Twice

Friday Jim and I drove down the Mississippi River from La Crosse, WI. We were returning from a two week trip to see our son, who lives in Washington state. With 2,000 miles behind us on the train, it felt great to switch to our own car.

In Prairie Du Chien, WI, we stopped for lunch. On one wall of the diner hung a quilt with a patriotic theme. It was a medallion quilt, centered by a stylized American flag. The flag block was turned on point twice, emphasizing its importance and creating a nice, large center.

I liked the setting, and especially liked that a non-square rectangle was turned that way. It’s a setting I haven’t used myself.

I’ve written plenty about turning large blocks on point to center a quilt. In one post I described the types of blocks suited for an on-point setting, if it is only turned once.Β In another I showed how to do that, with the math needed to cut your setting triangles large enough. I’ve also written about turning small blocks twice, creating an “economy block.”

But I’ve never written about turning a larger rectangular block twice. Here are some cool things I learned about it.

*~*~*~*~*

The Part I Already Knew
If you turn a square block twice, you’ll double its dimensions. Consider an example of a 15” block. Turn it twice with an exact (not over-large) setting, and you will create a block that is 30” wide. Using the math for diagonals,
15” x 1.414 = 21.21”.

Now turn it again:
21.21” x 1.414 = 30”.

This block setting is often called an β€œeconomy block.” It’s an especially effective way of highlighting a small centerpiece, such as a special or fussy-cut piece of fabric.

Economy block setting – a square turned on point twice.

The Part I Didn’t Think About Much, But Probably Knew, Too
As it turns out, you can do this with non-square rectangles, too.

Non-square rectangle, squared first with unequal triangles, and again with equally-sized ones.

The Part I Didn’t Know, And Figured Out Last Night
The size relationship for both types of blocks can be generalized, and is far easier than multiplying by 1.414. If the length of the inside shape is A, and the width of the inside shape is B, the distance across the diagonal of the interior square is A+B. That means the length of the exterior square is A+B.

In the economy block example above, the interior square is 15”.
The resulting block is 30” square, or 15” + 15”.

In the second example, if the interior blue rectangle is 12” x 18”,
the resulting block is 30” square, or 12” + 18”.

The next time you want to frame a rectangle with setting triangles, remember how easy it is to determine the finished size. Length plus width of the interior rectangle (square or not!) is the width of the resulting square.

Ain’t math fun? πŸ™‚

Medallion Quilt Rules

Each year my local guild has a new challenge, and I’m excited about this year’s! The current challenge is to create a medallion quilt. Though I won’t enter, I’m looking forward to seeing the entries and hearing from members as they create their pieces.

We just started our guild year this week, and it will close out in July with display and judging of these quilts. To help my fellow members move through the process, and also to help and inspire others who want to make medallions, I’ve decided to republish some of my prior posts. The best place to start is the beginning, right? Below you’ll see the fundamental rules of making a medallion quilt.

Show Me More…

Dizzy

Recently I’ve shown you a few illustrations drawn in EQ7. (See pictures here and here.) One of them was to become a sample for my upcoming medallion design class, and the others will be used to illustrate various ideas for the students. Here is one of two that I started with.

Consensus in comments was that the design was too busy and didn’t look maker-friendly. I simplified it by removing the piecing from the spacer blocks — see the connecting blocks between stars in the final border and between pinwheels in the middle border. I also changed two of the patterned borders to plain white.

I liked the simplified version, so I made it.

Dizzy. 60″ x 60″. September 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Even if I design a quilt prior to making, it almost always gets changed in the translation. Fabric simply doesn’t look the same as pixels. On this one, I found that the density of color and pattern in the center (visual weight) was too much as compared to the middle and outer borders. It was unbalanced. To fix the balance, I replaced the white in the illustration’s outer narrow border with green. As soon as I did that, I was happier with it. The binding of the strong blue adds punctuation.

I quilted it with a double teardrop design. The quilting is pretty dense, making the quilt less cuddly and soft than I prefer, but I like this look. The second photo is of the underside while it was still on the frame.Β 

The quilt is named “Dizzy.” Between the spinning pinwheels and all the stars, as well as its overall brightness, it reminded me of the lightheaded feeling of standing up too quickly. “Dizzy” sounds better than “Lightheaded” though. πŸ™‚

Just to round things out, here is “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe.