Tag Archives: Color


These days, HGTV is focused on total house renovation, largely done by hired contractors, and selling fantasy homes. In the old days, many programs looked at the smaller scale of crafts and DIY home decor. Those old shows, and current ones like Craft in America on PBS, elevate making as a means of expression, and as a source of pleasure in transformation. As I watched those shows I remarked more than once about my wish to make beautiful things by my own efforts. But though I took a couple of drawing and painting classes, and occasionally bought craft supplies to try at home, I had no particular skill or talent for it.

Sometimes I’m still surprised at my journey into quilting. In my first experience fourteen years ago, I cut measured squares using a ruler, pencil, and scissors. I sewed them with seams as wide as the presser foot edge. The machine’s tension wouldn’t hold, leaving me repeatedly frustrated. Once my quilt top was assembled, I used tack stitching to hold the layers together. I pinched together¬†wide bias binding, from a package, around the edge and top-stitched. It’s amazing that little quilt held together as long as it did.

The effort was not very satisfying, much less inspirational. I was not transformed into a quilter, but I enjoyed choosing fabrics to go together, and deciding how they would be arranged. Perhaps that’s what spurred my second quilt. It also was from squares, but I had a new sewing machine and basic tools of rotary cutter, a ruler, and mat. Having better tools allowed more pleasure from the process, as well as a better product.

The tools we use include more than the tangible ones like rulers and mats and machines. They also include the skills and talents we develop over time. I remember in the early days of my quilting having to think about each step as I made a small table runner for a friend. My goodness, it was hard!

Terri’s Variable Star Table Runner, about 8.5″ x 25.5″. From my early days, maybe 2006.

Of course, I didn’t use a pattern. I didn’t know patterns even existed. By that time I understood basic patch cutting with a quarter inch seam allowance, so I used the few books I owned for ideas, not recipes. (Eternal thanks to the small number of quilters online, who offered tips and tutorials even without patterns. Because of them, I learned how to quilt. Hallelujah and Amen.)

Besides the books, I started subscribing to American Patchwork & Quilting. Here, too, were patterns that I misunderstood as ideas and inspiration. Though I made a few quilts over the years based on the beautiful projects they showed, I always changed things, subbing a different block into the setting, or changing the size. The quilt below uses the “streak of lightning” setting I saw in an APQ project, though nothing else about it is the same.

Em’s Bed Quilt top (unquilted.) Streak of lightning setting. From about 2007. I don’t have a photo after it was quilted and bound.

Though I always designed my own quilts, it was many years before I thought of myself as a designer. In fact, that thought came to me about four years ago, at a specific moment, which I wrote about here.

While that recognition didn’t change what I do, it did help change how I do it. Seeing myself as a designer made me take design more seriously. Design is something that can be learned, and can be taught. I started studying design principles generally, but specifically related to quilts. I learned about unity, balance, proportion, and movement. I learned how design elements such as color, value, shape, and size contribute to the look of the quilt. And I began to evaluate more carefully what I see and what I make.

Evaluation allows me to identify both challenges and opportunities for meeting them. Currently I’m developing quilts for the class I’m teaching on medallion quilt design. Sometimes when I’m making a quilt, something about it strikes me wrong. Does that ever happen to you? ūüôā I got this far on one of my tops, and was dissatisfied. I knew the problems, but I wasn’t sure about the solution.

bear’s paw center block with borders

The first border of batik around the bear’s paw center block is cornered by fussy-cut flowers. I liked the effect at first, but as I surrounded it with more borders, it bothered me more and more. (Construction note: I used separate blocks, including half-square triangles, to form the borders that create the on-point look. The blocks allowed better precision of placement than I would get by creating large triangles to set on point.) The last border in the picture above is also batik, and it is cornered with more of the red used in the interior.

What didn’t I like? Those corner blocks. Though small, they have a lot of effect on the look. In the interior corners, the black print with red flowers bled into the surrounding fabrics. It wasn’t distinct enough from the batik, the black print, or even the red. On the outside corners, the red is simply too hot.

Another problem is that I’ve limited the number of colors I can use in later borders. There are various blues, greens, golds, and browns in the prints. However, the large sections of aqua, red, and butter yellow make introducing more colors awkward.

The simplest solution to both problems is to change the corner blocks. I looked for blue in my stash that would emphasize the blues in the batik. I had one small piece, about 10″ x 15″. (This isn’t unusual for my stash. I usually buy a yard at a time, but the way I use it, often in small amounts, ultimately leaves me with small amounts.) I cut squares to replace the eight corners and covered the ones already sewn in. Immediately I was happier. The blue transformed the piece, making it cooler and simpler, and allowing blue as another color for outer borders.

As I create my class projects, I explain to my students some of my process, using the jargon of design. Explanation clarifies for both them and me. And I ask for advice and help at decision points. They, also, present their work, and the group provides constructive input.

Over the series of classes, they become more confident in their choices. Some who have never designed their own quilts before are guided through the process, transforming themselves at the same time.

One could define “transformation” as the act or process of being changed. Some synonyms are change, alteration, and metamorphosis. A “metamorphosis” is the transformation into a completely different form, unrecognizable from the beginning. My metamorphosis over many years has taken me from someone with no apparent artistic skill, to one who can change pieces of fabric and thread into things of beauty and utility of my own design, and to one who can teach others to do the same. I like this form, and I look forward to what comes next.


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.


Medallion Process — Middle Borders

While you might have forgotten my current medallion project by now, I have not. I’ve been making placemats and a Christmas stocking, attending various meetings, working out, cooking and eating, having a bad cold … And I’ve worked on my medallion.

When you last saw it, it needed a narrow border to define an edge and correct for sizing. I asked for advice on color. The most frequent call was for a strong pink, though my brain was stuck on orange. In the end, I combined the two and pieced a border of both. I love the way it sparkles and adds interest more than a single color would. And a big bonus was that I used a lot of small scraps in my piecing!

Since then, I decided the next frame would be flying geese. [See the tutorial here.] I’m not sure I’ve ever used a border of all geese, beak to tail, but that seemed the right answer this time. The photo below shows all those geese edging the center on my design wall floor. They are not sewn together yet, nor attached to the center. (And it might be a couple of weeks before they are. Other adventures await!)


I really like it, but it clearly needs more pink next, probably some of that Pepto pink from the center block. (I don’t have much of it. It might call for¬†a shopping trip.) The strong orange and dark¬†pink belong, too. I’ll have to think about how to do this… (Since I have time to ponder, it’s possible I’ll decide to insert some pink and orange geese into the flock.)

In the last post on this project, I noted that inner borders and outer borders play somewhat different roles.

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.

In my view, the pieced pink and orange strip is an inner border. It reinforces both the pink and orange colors from the center. It adds a new shape, a non-square rectangle. It stops the eye from outward movement, while encouraging some “circular” movement to notice the different orange and pink scraps.

The geese, however, are a middle border. Here are a couple of things to notice about it. First, geese in formation create a sense of movement. Movement is “interesting,” in that it keeps the eyes engaged. Too much movement is disturbing, though. The next border will need to be calmer. Another thing to see is the colors. I used two of the four blues from the 4-patches on point. The other two were completely gone, and I don’t have anything else close to sub in. I also used two new greens. Did you notice that? Probably not, as there already were three other greens of similar nature. At this point, I could add almost any bright green I want and it will fit in. Finally, there are two¬†purples,¬†repeating the purples used in the corner tulip blocks. Because they show up¬†again, the earlier use is not a one-off, but seems like a natural part of the color palette. This is true even though there is no purple in the center block.

Another element of the geese border is size. It is visually wider than the 4-patch border, even though the measures are similar. The 4-patches on point is 5.6″ wide (measured from the center outward,) while the geese are 6″ wide. However, the tail or base end of each flying geese block creates a strong perpendicular line, while the 4-patch border has no similar emphasis to make an impression of width. In fact, because the blue patches run parallel to the edge, they provide an illusion of a narrower border. Varying the width of borders also contributes to interest.

The other important aspect of the geese’s size is proportion. Remember, proportion is not only a matter of size. It also is affected by visual weight. [See my posts here, here, and here.] Because the center block is large, borders need visual weight to balance it. The geese’s width¬†and the strong direction created by their position and value contrast give that balance.

What do later borders need to do? They must continue the unity of the composition in terms of color, value, and basic style. They need to repeat¬†the bright yellow and vibrant pinks and oranges from the center and first borders. They need to calm the center a bit after the strength of the flying geese. How will I achieve that? I don’t know yet! But it will be fun to find out.

Chit Chat

Here’s¬†my current project, a new medallion. The next border will be a narrow strip, but I’m a little stuck for color.


My first impulse, and first attempt, was in mid-purple. Sorry, no photos to evaluate! It works in some ways, giving nice value contrast to create a darker edge and repeating the purples just used in the corner blocks. But it just seems DULL. My next thought was to use orange, an orange stronger and more vibrant than the one nearest the center block. The color works, but I don’t have the right piece.

I start all of my quilts from stash. For many, somewhere down the line, I shop to fill in for colors or values I don’t have. Looks like I’ll head to the store this week to track down a better orange.

My favorite quilt shop, Inspirations in Hills, IA, is closing soon. The shop is successful and well-loved, but the owner is retiring. If I were ten¬†years younger, I’d consider taking it on. At this point, I just don’t want to work that hard! During these last weeks, the sale prices are tempting, even for a non-shopper like me. I’ve already purchased about 25 yards and expect I might double that.

As I’ve worked on this medallion, I’ve also returned to quilting donations. At¬†November’s guild meeting, I turned in five¬†donation quilts, pieced by others and quilted by me. I have five¬†more of those waiting. But I also had two of my own that I finished piecing weeks ago. Maybe it was before we went to Scotland? Can’t remember… Those are now quilted and ready for me to bind. The bindings are ready for both. December’s guild meeting is 12/12, so I have a bit of time.

Today after finishing quilting the second, I vacuumed. Do you clean up your studio regularly? This was not an A+ clean-up. I didn’t wipe down all the surfaces as that would require. But I did vacuum through. My floor is carpeted with a tight Berber, which captures pins uncommonly well. Fortunately I don’t lose track of many, but each time I vacuum, I find one or two. Today was no different.

Oh! The other thing I’ve been working hard on is my fitness. I’ve finished the physical therapy part of recovery and am still working with a personal trainer. The goal is to regain my strength and endurance while making my knees steady again. It is making a big difference already. When I get up and down while quilting at the longarm, I can get up off the floor without a struggle, and without making big grunting noises!! Jim noticed that first. ūüėÄ

I’ve also been pondering my Word of the Year for 2017. I’ve tried to choose words that apply more largely in my life, not just for the quilty part of it. I’m pretty sure of my choice, but not quite ready to discuss it.

What have you been working on? How do you meet the challenges in the last part of the year? 

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.