Tag Archives: Center block

Ohio Red and White Medallion, Center Block

As mentioned in my last post, I’m creating a quilt inspired by a historical work held by the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. You can find the inspiration quilt here. And you can find more information about it here. I don’t intend to reproduce it exactly, but to honor it.

The center block of the quilt is quirky and complex. I found the inspiration quilt more than a month ago and have spent much of that time pondering its construction. The sizing of components and the technique to use for them both present challenges. (And opportunities!) On first glance it looks mostly pieced, but I decided that appliqué would be my primary technique. I’m not very experienced with appliqué, so thinking it would be “easier” gives you a notion of how the piecing would go.

And because I don’t appliqué much, I tried multiple methods before settling on raw edge fusing, with a button-hole stitch to seal the edges.

Here’s the block so far, with more detail to come. It is surrounded by the hourglass blocks that border it a little later. I have a ways to go yet, but I’m really happy with it and its resemblance to the historical quilt.



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.

Medallion Process — The Center Block

The primary focal point of a medallion quilt is, and should be, the center. Because of that, it makes sense to begin there when designing a medallion. However, given my recent general lack of inspiration and motivation, beginning anywhere was worth doing! 

After thumbing through some of my favorite books and other sources of inspiration, I finally decided on a center block for my quilt. I found it in one of my old blog posts, and it uses the format in the design below:

The block is a variation and simplification of a traditional block that goes by multiple names, including Carpenter’s Wheel and Dutch Rose. (Thanks, Nann!) The original version is centered by an 8-pointed star with 45º diamond points meeting at the middle (like a LeMoyne Star or Star of Bethlehem) and includes set-in seams. The style was simplified further with the recently popular “Swoon” block.

No matter. I picked a block. I chose fabrics. I re-chose fabrics and performed surgery when I didn’t like the color of green used next to the center patch. I made a center block. Here is the finished block.


And here are two really important things about a center block:

  1. As said above, it should be the primary focal point of the quilt, but
  2. it does not need to be spectacular or complicated to serve that function.

If you look at my old medallion quilts, you’ll find that very few have spectacular centers. Some have particularly UNspectacular centers! I use basic stars a lot, as well as variations on 9-patches. They are showy mostly because of being bold, rather than being fancy.

20161119_105833_1479574812259My block shown above is 28″ finished. Why? The fabric used in the very center is fussy cut around two flowers. To capture the look I wanted, it needed to be cut for a patch about 7″ square. The center patch is a quarter of the block width (7/28 = .25), and using a grid of 3.5″ per cell worked easily for rotary cutting. (Look for future post on re-sizing blocks.)

For proportions, I like a center block to be about a quarter to a third the width of the finished quilt. Given the size of the block, the finished quilt will probably be from 80-95″ wide. (It could surprise me and be smaller or larger than that, too.)

Overall proportion is important, but that can be faked, too. If you look at the block again, you can see the star points directing the eye outward. The diagonal lines within the design serve that way, too. Those shapes and lines (design elements) help to expand the visual size of the block. (See this post on center block considerations for more on expansive or enclosed center blocks.) In addition, choice of borders affects the appearance of the center.

I’m ready to begin borders now. What next? I don’t intend this to be a yellow-and-pink-and-green quilt. That means I need to start adding in other colors right away. But which colors and in what format? I don’t know! Join me on this crazy design-as-I-go adventure to see.

The Struggle is Part of the Process

Have you ever made a quilt you loved that didn’t require some struggle?

I have. But not many of them. (See below my delectable mountains quilt, Still Climbing Mountains. It was easy and fun, and I love it! And it now belongs to my daughter.) 


Still Climbing Mountains. 57″ x 64″. August 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

As noted in my last post, I’ve been struggling with the start of a new quilt, lacking inspiration, lacking color context, generally lacking direction. Usually when I begin a medallion quilt, which this will be, I begin with a center block. The center helps provide all those things I’ve been lacking. (Well, it doesn’t give me energy and stamina, nor unlimited funds, nor world peace…) But this one I started with a border instead of the center block. Huh. Silly me.

Today I decided to look for a center block. I googled images for “center block medallion quilt,” or something like that. Go ahead and google, if you like. I’ll wait.

A lot of the images are mine, from this blog. And soon I saw one I liked. I clicked into the page and found this post from early 2014. There are three really cool blocks in the post. This is the one I’m going to make:

If you read the post, you’ll see I drew it as a 16″ block. With its 8 x 8 grid, it can be any size that’s a multiple of 8. I chose a size that is easy to cut and will create a biggish block, 28″ finished. That means each grid unit is 3.5″. (3.5″ x 8 = 28″.) So yes, the patches will be biggish, too.


Struggle. It’s part of almost every quilt. It’s part of our daily lives. My knees? This might sound weird, but I feel really fortunate that I injured them. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be working so hard now to get back in shape, to be fit enough to not injure them again. Though I still have a long road to get where I want (sturdy and flexible, with good balance and endurance,) I CANNOT get there without the struggle.

Struggle is part of the process, whether to design/develop a new quilt, or to achieve a physical goal, or to create a more just world.


When you struggle with developing a quilt, don’t get discouraged. Ask for help, as I did. (And thanks to all for the ideas and comments.) Look for inspiration. If you’re making a medallion quilt, I’ve linked a lot of helpful posts above, under the Medallion Lessons tab.


I’ve chosen fabrics for the center block. They are not the oranges and reds you see above. Instead they will be the soothing, cheery colors that I intend for this quilt. Though there are many pieces, construction is simple. I’ve already cut most of the patches so should have a block to show you soon.

Lessons: Medallion Center Block Considerations

If you’re just beginning a medallion, you may already have a center block in mind. Perhaps there is an old traditional block you’ve always wanted to try, like a feathered star. Or maybe a modern log cabin setting has you excited. Did you receive a beautiful block in a swap but not figured out how to use it? If you’d like some other ideas, see my post A Center Block for a Medallion Quilt.

Here are a few considerations as you begin. First, the center is the focal point of the quilt. It does not need to be spectacular to serve that purpose, but it does need to be eye-catching. Many of my centers are fairly ordinary blocks such as variable stars, Ohio stars, or churndash variations. Bold is more important than fancy.

Second, the block should be sized appropriately for your goal. In general, you may want the center to be a quarter to half the width of the finished quilt. If it isn’t, there are ways to enlarge it while retaining the flavor of the block. I discussed size in Lessons: Starting a Medallion Quilt and in Proportion, Part 1.

Third, it’s very helpful if the block has good variations in color and/or value. I once made a block that had three main colors, teal, salmon, and red. All three had small prints with colors that were hard to pick out. All three were similar value. It was very difficult to find ways to expand the range and make it interesting.

Oh my! All the same value, and hard to pick out more colors…

As you look at the block above, you might note a fourth factor: shape. All the discernible shapes are squares, though in truth the red patches are non-square rectangles. Even the shapes aren’t interesting here. The diagonal lines created by the salmon squares is the only thing that saves this from being completely weird/ugly/disastrous. Well, it is those, but I rescued it…

Sparkle. 48″ square. Finished January 2014.

The shapes are important not just for how interesting the center is. The shapes also play into the fifth factor. Is the center block enclosed or expansive? Lines that direct the eye outward tend to make the block expansive. Diagonal lines tend to do this but aren’t the only way. Triangles and star shapes often create natural movement outward. In the block above, other than the salmon squares, there is no line that directs the eye beyond the block itself, and they don’t do a very good job of it. I would call that block enclosed.

Here are a couple more examples.


I Found the Housework Fairy But She’s Not Coming Back. 35″ square. June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.


The Big Block Quilt. 84″ square. February 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

In the Fairy, the center block is enclosed. Though we can imagine the scene extends beyond the frame, we really are called to look inward to the fairy herself, not outward. In the Big Block Quilt, the center is expansive. The outward-pointing flying geese, set in slightly paler gold for emphasis, literally radiate from the center.

Neither one is better ultimately. It is just a design aspect to understand for how it fits into your whole quilt. If your center is expansive, at some point you may need to contain it, as the first broad strip border does for the Big Block. If your center is enclosed, you might want to find a way to direct attention outward and provide some sense of movement. In Sparkle, above, the borders including the large red triangles serve that purpose.

Blocks set on point are expansive naturally, because of the long diagonal lines created. Look at the difference between this

and this.

The top one is more neutral than either expansive or enclosed. Though the brown triangles of this churndash block provide some visual movement, it is largely stopped by the blue and gold print at the center edges. Once it is turned on point, the strong blue diagonal lines push the eye to the outer edges of the block, where the brown unpieced border stops it again. This example has fancy corners added, but there’s no need to do extra piecing in the setting corners. See my post on when to set your block on point.

Finally, the examples here all show square centers. While they are easier, perhaps, there is no reason not to use a non-square rectangle. Some of my favorite quilts have non-square centers.

All of this makes it sound like choosing a center block is very complex. In fact it’s not. How should you choose a center block? Just pick something fun, or beautiful, or the right colors, or sentimental. As you saw with my weird/ugly/disastrous block above, there is no wrong block. They all can work.

Next comes borders. They all support the center and each other, but first borders have a little different role than last borders. And look for more Medallion Lessons here