Tag Archives: Center block

Medallion Process — A New Center Block for Class

When I teach Medallion Improv!, I use a blueprint specifying the size of the center block and the widths of each border. This frees the student from concerns about those proportions, allowing them to focus on other aspects of design.

Even with a blueprint, each student’s quilt will be completely different from every other, including mine. Each begins by creating their own center block. In so doing, they begin to define the style or theme of their quilt, from traditional to modern/contemporary, from casual to quite formal, from couch throw to heirloom to large wall-hanging.

I’m starting to prep for classes this fall. I’ve redesigned the blueprint to hone in on a couple of specific lessons. For example, using a center block on point requires knowing how to do that, as well as which blocks are appropriate for turning and which are not. Designating a border of half-square triangles demonstrates how many different ways they can be arranged, and shows how very simple blocks can be used to create a big impact.

I like to have at least a couple of examples of the blueprint quilt made, to show students varying ways to approach problems. Because this blueprint is new, I have some prep to do! I’ve chosen two center block designs to create two new quilts for class. One quilt will have a “traditional” feel because of the fabrics used, while the other will be from brighter, more contemporary fabrics. Both center blocks will be foundation paper-pieced. (I love knowing how to paper-piece!)

The blueprint’s center block is 16″ square, finished. (It could be no less than 15″ and no more than 16″ and still work easily. Smaller sizes would require some amendment.) Here is my first of two center blocks, already turned on point.

As you can guess, this is for the quilt that will be less traditional!

When turned on point, a 16″ block creates a center that is 22 5/8″. Because I used oversized setting triangles, when I trim it, it will finish at 23″. With a finished quilt top at 60″ square, the center, including setting triangles, is a little more than a third the width of the total. This gives a good proportion and clearly defines the center as the focal point. (See my posts on proportion, here and here and here.)

The variety of design elements in the star block create interest. (Note varying shapes, sizes, colors, values, and patterns. All of these are “design elements,” or the characteristics that add together to create the overall look. ) The lines in the fabric patterns, as well as the spinning star in the middle, provide a sense of movement that is both outward and rotational.

The colors reinforce each other, with the red and black in the outward stripes repeating the red and black of the pinwheel patches. The various oranges and orangey-yellows give depth, and also invite any other orange or yellow to join in. The dark blue of the star background isn’t repeated yet, but it will be in the first border.

The prints used, while emphasizing stripes, also include squiggles, bars, circles, and even floral. Having such a range in the center opens the door widely for what might come next.

The setting triangles are pieced from two different stripes. In truth, I had a hard time figuring the math to cut the orange squiggled fabric efficiently. So I didn’t. I just cut rectangles I knew would be big enough, and after piecing with the red and black stripe, cut the big triangles to fit the edge correctly. See my post on setting a block on point.

I have LOTS of stuff going on right now, so I’m not sure if I’ll work on this again next, or switch gears to the other class quilt, or … could be something else altogether. Either way, it was fun to make this block and I think it will make a big impact as the center of a quilt.


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.