Tag Archives: Color

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. 😀

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.

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

A Gift for My Friend BJ

Recently I mentioned I’ll be giving away a few quilts. I sent off two on Friday, and yesterday (Saturday) the first one arrived for its new owner!

In July and August I had a few quilts displayed in a local quilt shop. One day my friend BJ met me there to take a look, and to enjoy some time together. BJ and I met 18 years ago (MY GOODNESS!) at the bank where we both worked. We worked closely for several years prior to her retirement, and we’ve remained friends since then.

BJ is a sports fan, and while there were a couple of the quilts she especially liked, I thought this one suited her well. It is named Play Ball! and is 46″ x 56″.

This fun little quilt started from a pillow panel. Several years ago, on my first excursion into our local Mennonite thrift shop, I found two square pillow covers. With their vintage baseball theme and strong blues, reds, and greens, likely they were used in a boy’s bedroom. Besides the square(ish) panels on the front, the envelope closures on the back were lined with small baseballs on navy blue.

I used one panel to inspire a baby quilt for my youngest grandchild. (He is going on 5 now, so not a baby anymore.) It uses the Burgoyne Surrounded block on the front and the pillow panel to center the back.

But I still had one panel left. With a nice range of color and value, I continued the baseball and All-American theme.

The dark green tone-on-tone framed the panel to represent the grass of the infield, and then I mimicked the baseline and bases in the corners with cream and tan. Spark and movement comes from the simple border of 4-patches and half-square triangles.

The busy stars print frames all that, followed by borders only on top and bottom to elongate the quilt. This border uses the “economy” block, or square-in-a-square, described in this tutorial. I was able to use four of the fussy-cut baseballs for the corner blocks. Finally I framed the whole thing with red. This gives a balance between the red, navy, and green in the center panel.

I enjoyed making this quilt. I have a feeling BJ will enjoy watching her baseball playoff games and quite a lot of football snuggled under this lap quilt.