Category Archives: Medallion Quilts

Melting Pot

George & Elmira Wymer, @1910.

In 1860, census records of Bourbon Township, Indiana, show Michael Wymer, age 31, living with his wife Eliza Fischer and the eldest two of their eventual ten children. Michael and Eliza were born in present-day Germany. Other records show they were married in New York in 1853, where their oldest child George was born. George, a first-generation American, was my second great-grandfather.

Currently somewhere between one and two percent of the US population identifies as Native American. The rest of us came from, or are descended from people who came from, somewhere else.

I have always marveled at the parade of athletes in the Olympics, and the array of national and ethnic backgrounds the US athletes carry in their names. The melting pot is a romantic notion, of course. We all have NEVER welcomed everyone here. Institutionally, we have always put up barriers to entry and barriers to success. But ultimately, we from all over the world have become we the people of the United States.

For more than three years, Jim and I have been helping teach English to students from all over the world. They come from Syria, Venezuela, Sudan, Kurdistan, Spain, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Congo, Lebanon, India, Ecuador, Thailand, South Korea, France, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Taiwan, and other countries!

Some of our students are here for a short time to visit family members. Some are here for their own or a spouse’s temporary employment or study at the university. Others intend permanent immigration.

While we help them, they also help each other learn English and find resources to deal with every day problems; they cheer each other on toward getting driver’s licenses and immigration status; and they provide a social network and friendship. There is nothing different or “other” about them. They are smart, creative, funny, courageous people, the same as my immigrant ancestors and yours.

We are all types of people, and we are from all over the world. We have a wide range of occupations and always have. When Michael Wymer was farming in northern Indiana, about half the men in the state farmed, while the rest undertook trades and employment of other kinds. Fifty years later his son George worked in the Singer Sewing Machine factory in South Bend, IN. Though the demographics of employment have changed since 1860, we still need all kinds of workers to have a successful economy.

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In March 2020 I began a new quilt called “Melting Pot” with  an Ohio Star block as the center.

The middle patch of the block, in black and cream, is from a panel print by Julie Paschkis. It is framed by a solid bronze, with star points in maroon traditional print, and a small-scale pale blue plaid men’s shirt as the background. I’ve been working primarily from stash for the last two years, so when I considered turning the block on point, I looked in stash first. The wild swirly black and bronze batik echoed the swirling branches in the center patch. At first I hesitated: would the batik work with the others?

You can use all kinds of fabrics in the same quilt: panels, solids, traditional prints, contemporary prints, Civil War reproductions, and batiks. Even cast-off clothing can work within the composition. In fact, once you’ve opened your mind (and heart) to using many kinds of fabrics, you can create a kind of harmony not possible otherwise. 

Melting Pot. 2020. 71″ x 71″. 

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Besides the romantic myth of the melting pot, that the US is a happy blend of many flavors, there is another myth, far more sinister. It is the myth that there is no room here for others. The myth that people from other countries pose a danger to us and our democracy. As we have seen in the past five years, as has been emphasized in the last few months, the greatest danger to our country is home-grown. White supremacists and white nationalists are the equivalent of Germany’s Nazis. They would install an authoritarian government rather than follow the will of the people and the rule of law.

My ancestors and most likely theirs came from other countries, and most did so for opportunities they did not have in their homelands. They came here because of the democracy, not in spite of it. If we wish for the democracy to continue, we must support it by repudiating the voices promoting racism, religious bigotry, and the “America First” movement. We must vote for those who uphold their oaths of office, to protect and defend the Constitution. We must call out those who support insurrection. If we do not, we risk losing this democracy, this melting pot, this United States.

New Work, Subject to Change

The point of blogging and the point of quilting, for me, is enjoyment. And self-expression. And moving things around until I get them “right.” I just finished reading a blog post by Austin Kleon, author/artist/poet who wrote Keep Going, among other books.

In his blog post, Kleon calls blogging a “forgiving medium,” because even after a piece is published, the author can edit easily. Usually no one is the wiser, and if they are, usually they are kind about it.

Quilting is like that, to a point. I’ve changed quilt tops in small ways and large, at all stages of construction. Of course, once quilted, it’s harder to make changes. Even then, though, there are opportunities to embellish, add stitching, or judiciously change colors with markers or paints. My friend Joanna Mack The Snarky Quilter changes finished quilts regularly, to positive effect.

I have a new project, and as with almost every project, it already isn’t what I expected. I started with this:

It’s a basic star-in-a-star featuring a large flower from a showy print. The outer corners, if you aren’t sure, are very dark navy, not black. They do rather disappear into the background. In fact, they disappear so much, they are the first thing I changed, substituting white corner triangles.

After modifying the block, I considered how to frame it. Now imagine me, chin on hand, eyes directed upward, much like a cat that isn’t really looking at anything. (We call that cat “Stuart,” even though he hasn’t lived with us for thirty years.) Pondering, pondering… And it came to me, I should frame it with the same showy print that inspired the center.

The showy print is one I bought, if I remember correctly, in Taos in 2014. And again I don’t know for sure, but it might be an Alexander Henry piece. Long ago and far away… But it’s BIG! and SHOWY! and DIRECTIONAL! And it has one more challenge: I’ve fussy cut chunks out of it a few times.

When I decided to use it, I also decided to set the center block on point. I had enough of the big print for setting triangles, if I cut very carefully.

Yeah, you can guess what happened. I cut two big squares and cut them each on the diagonal to make setting triangles. But because the print is directional, I needed to cut one square from northwest to southeast, and the other from southwest to northeast. And I didn’t. ugh. Luckily I could cut another square almost big enough and piece over a missing section.

It worked. I framed the center block with a very fine yellow line, and then set it in the showy print. Because of the visual weight, I needed to balance that with a weighty border. After rifling through stash, I had a nice array of pinks, oranges, blues, and greens.

Along with white, they became hourglass blocks to surround the magenta spacer strip.

I’m not sure what’s next. That’s okay. I can take my time, ponder the possibilities a la Stuart. I can make and unmake, do surgery to remove or transplant parts. There is nothing precious, even a piece of fabric purchased long ago and far away.

Anticipation for 2020 (Looking Back)

It’s been almost 13 months since I’ve posted here! Between breast cancer treatment in 2019 and general world craziness in 2020, writing and posting slipped off my list of things to do. And while I’m not going to make any promises to either you or me, I’d like to come back and write here from time to time. I’ve always loved the interaction with you, the format to document my quilting work, and a way to ponder out loud how I think about a broad range of quilting and making topics.

Before the end of 2019 (another year in which I barely blogged,) I began writing this post, “Anticipation for 2020.” It included the following list of things to enjoy in 2020, not in order of importance:

  • travel with Jim
  • fencing lessons
  • skydiving
  • granddaughter’s college graduation
  • Houston’s International Quilt Festival
  • finally stepping down from the guild’s program committee
  • getting some upper body strength back
  • hiking more
  • finishing some quilts, starting some quilts
  • entering quilts in the Iowa State Fair

We all know how that went!

In fact, I did resign from my local guild’s program committee! And I did attend granddaughter’s graduation via Zoom.

And I did finish some quilts and start some quilts. So overall, I guess it was an entirely successful year!

I want to share a few of the quilts I finished in 2020. Today’s post will look at Cimarron.

Cimarron. Designed, pieced, and quilted by me. Approx. 48″ x 48″. Made in 2020.

This quilt started with a fat quarter of aqua and cinnamon print, which my daughter gave me. The color combination was striking and unusual, and it inspired me to build out from there. You can see that inspiration fabric in the very center, as well as sprinkled out from there.

I wanted a white fabric for brightness, and to highlight the tiny bits of white in the feature fabric and in the other center “background” fabric. I always look to stash first and found the white below. The print on it is actually a strong red but in fine lines. The “right side” of fabric shows how red it is. Using the wrong side makes it show as speckled pattern more than color.

I quilted it using a very pale aqua thread, So Fine 50 weight from Superior Threads. So Fine is my go-to thread for almost all quilting. I also use it for piecing more often than not. The quilting design is a free-motion panto-like design of swirls and bumps.

The quilt is named “Cimarron.” The colors and shapes reminded me of a fresh river running through mountains. The Cimarron River flows from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico, and the name stuck to the quilt.

Wind River Beauty, Project Process Part 1

My recent post on project process summarized the steps in project development and implementation. As fancy as project flow charts can get, it really comes down to this, a simple set of procedures that can help you make a quilt, build a highway, or write a blog post. I’ll outline how these steps apply to making the Wind River Beauty quilt, one of my current projects.

Identify problem or objective
The problem to solve or objective to meet was to create a quilt using the New York Beauty block I made in a workshop last year. The original block I made, before modifying, is below.
The fabric in the center was fussy cut from a border stripe fabric. I experimented with the symmetry as shown in this video:

Potential solutions
When thinking of potential solutions to any problem, you can switch into brainstorming mode. Think of a lot of different options, at first without evaluating them as good or bad. When you get stuck, consult one of the many articles online for tips for more brainstorming. Remember, one of the best questions to ask is “what if?”

Making the block wasn’t difficult, but I wasn’t interested in making more. That meant any quilt using it would use only the one. It could be a small quilt like a table topper; a larger ungridded quilt, such as one using the block as one of many blocks of various sizes and designs; a larger gridded one, such as one using a number of other blocks the same size, but different designs; or my specialty, a medallion quilt, featuring the New York Beauty as a center block.

Honestly, I didn’t really brainstorm. I seriously only considered making a medallion quilt, as that was my intention as I made the block. There are still infinite options open within the category “medallion quilt,” so that decision alone didn’t determine my solution, but it did give it a framework.

Beyond that, I wanted to use and honor the fabric I purchased at a trading post on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, south of Yellowstone National Park. A traditional quilt style for some Native American groups is the Lone Star, also known as Star of Bethlehem. There were many quilts of this style for sale at the trading post. If you google “Lone Star” or “Star of Bethlehem,” you’ll see lots of beautiful examples. Here is an illustration from EQ8 of the basic format:

Constraints and resources
Prior to taking the workshop, I assumed that the block, if successful, would be used to center a quilt. The feature fabric mentioned above was both a resource and a primary constraint, since I had a limited amount of it.

In fact, fabric availability is often one of the biggest constraints for my quilts. I almost always start with stash, filling in by shopping only if needed. For this project, I had to create work-arounds for multiple fabrics. I designed my border treatment to use the limited length of the feature fabric. Some colors from the center block required substitution fabrics. The yellow used for the star’s background was a particular issue. The photo below shows two yellows I tried for background. The bright yellow in the lower left corner was too strong, while the soft butter yellow served as an appropriate foil for the stronger colors of the block and star points. You can also see two different purples, and two different rusts. (The color that might look like red in the star points is actually rust in real life. The colors, in general, do not show well in the photos.)

Besides materials, time and skills are both resources and constraints, too. There is no deadline for this project. In that sense, time is a relatively unlimited resource. My skills are a resource in the sense that I’m capable of the design and piecing for the quilt (although there were piecing problems, discussed in the next post.) However, my quilting skills are “intermediate” level. Over time I’ve chosen to do custom quilting more often for my quilts. As I do, I learn more and upgrade my abilities. But I still can’t do all the things I want to do for each project.

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This post is long enough! I’ll share more about the execution of my plan in another post. Thanks as always for taking a look.

Wind River Beauty, Math Part 2

Wind River Beauty is the  name I’ve given to my current project. I’m using the New York Beauty center (shown below) along with 45° diamond star arms. The overall look is of a Lone Star or Star of Bethlehem variation.

In Math Part 1 I noted that my Wind River Beauty quilt center is 17″. In fact, the block as designed by Toby Lischko finishes at 16″, which is a more typical, or perhaps more useful, size for a quilt block or medallion center. I first built it as a 16″ block according to her instructions, and then I rebuilt the orange surround to finish at the larger size. The 17″ block allowed two things. First, it made the proportions of the block better, once the corner treatment was added. And second, it made the math easier for the next stage.

Proportion

I previously wrote about proportion in three posts (here, here, and here.) In the first post, I covered the proportions of the center block design. In the first picture, the circle is tangent to the sides of the square. The size seems to crowd the square, and may seem “too big.” In the second picture, the circle floats in the square and seems “too little” within a sea of background. The one on the right, to my eyes, seems “just right.” It is still related to the edges of the square while not touching them.

For the Wind River Beauty (my name for the quilt,) once I decided to create an octagon of the background orange fabric, I knew it would need to be larger. A slightly bigger block makes more room for the corners, without crowding the inner circle. As shown below, the width of orange is approximately the same as the width of the teal circle. If the block were 1″ smaller, the orange width would be skimpy. Overall, the proportions are better with it bigger.  

More Math

Another reason the make the block bigger is some more quilt math. The diagonal of the square is 1.414 times the length of the side. (See the Pythagorean theorem review in the prior post for details.) The diagonal measure of a 17″ block is 17″ x 1.414 = 24.04″, or just over 24″. Half of the diagonal, or just to the very center of the block, is 12″, which is much easier to work with than the result from a 16″ block.

Look at the illustration below of an 8-pointed star. The very fine line draws a square, representing the center block of the quilt. The square is 17″ on each side. The diagonal all the way from corner to corner is 24″. Half of the diagonal, represented by the dotted segment B, is 12″. Each of the star points in orange and turquoise is a 45° diamond. All four sides of a diamond are the same length. A is the distance along the right edge of the turquoise point. A and B are the same length, 12″. With the 12″ length I could build out the star with relatively easy piecing.

As mentioned before, the design of the quilt is a variation of a Lone Star or Star of Bethlehem quilt. The sketch from EQ8 below gives a glimmer of how this will work. On this picture I drew two squares the same size. One is rotated 45° from the other, around the center point. You might be able to see that the octagon formed by the overlap is marked with a heavier line.

If you compare the illustration with my center block above, you can see that the corners of my center block, in purple, are like the corners beyond the octagon.

In the next post on this quilt, and past most of the math, I’ll show you next steps for construction.