Tag Archives: Design-As-You-Go

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.

 

Kim’s Bright Garden

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and I’ve missed reading a lot of your posts, too. But here I am, finally with a day unscheduled and more flexible. In some ways I feel like I’m finally coming up for air. Whew!

Today I’ll start with Kim’s Bright Garden, a quilt finished on March 31 and opened Monday by Kim, aka Son’s girlfriend.

I started this project late last year after imagining a border built from variable stars on point. The imagined border had a pale yellow background for the blocks, with blue or lavender setting triangles. The star centers would be pieced, and centers and points would be from chalky pastels. The feeling would be floral, though without actual flowers or floral fabric. However, after I made 16 star centers and cut much of the rest, I felt unfocused and uncertain. As it turns out, it’s often wiser to begin a medallion quilt with a medallion or central motif. The center creates context and direction for what comes after.

After that rough start, I refocused by choosing a center block design and fabrics. I chose first borders and middle borders. After extensive puzzling, I designed and made the final borders. In March I quilted it and bound it. The binding is the same saturated yellow as in the center block.

Kim’s Bright Garden. 71″ x 71″. Finished March 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Son has been traveling a lot for work. We finally had a chance to visit with Son and Kim Monday evening. After he unsealed the box, he handed it to her to open. She was very touched and pleased, to say the least. It was a good gift, made with love and received with generosity. 🙂

For Guild
Part of my busyness lately has been projects for guild. In the last few months I quilted 10 projects, two of which I did early this year. Each has required more prep work than I anticipated, so I’m putting more of these on hold for now.

Besides that I’m on the program committee, the guild’s group that sets up speakers and presentations for upcoming meetings. Currently we’re working on the 2018-19 year. It’s a big responsibility, as programs is where the majority of the annual budget goes, and we want to make sure members get their money’s worth. I’m newish on the committee and still learning the ropes. Fortunately, it’s a good group and I’m learning a lot.

We have a quilt show in early June, and I’m working on a couple of parts of the planning. The big contribution I hope to make is with a Powerpoint slideshow outlining the value of a quilt. Our show is held on the same weekend as the local (big, regional, juried) art fair, and many people attending won’t have quilting backgrounds. If my slideshow can explain what makes a quilt special, by the process and the value of time and materials, it might add to attendees’ appreciation of the quilts they see. And it might increase the bids they are willing to make on our silent auction offerings.

Besides the efforts for the benefit of the show, I’ve also worked on two quilts to enter. (It is non-judged, simply an exhibit to share the beauty of our work with others.) We’re having a special “red and white” exhibit and I’ve made two quilt tops for entry. Both still need to be quilted, bound, and labeled before our show.

More to come in the next few days, as I get back in the swing of writing some. Good to be here again! If you’re still reading, thanks so much!

Medallion Process — Final Borders

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Unnamed top. About 71.5″ x 71.5″. January 2017.

Last weekend I finished this quilt top. I’ve shown you some of my process along the way, through the flying geese middle border. The geese border needed to be contained and balanced. Putting the orange and hot pink edge both inside and outside does that.

That decision was made before we traveled for the holidays. While gone I worked on designing the final border.

Remember the purposes of middle and outer borders are to

  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.

I used EQ7 to try design options. If you ever think that designing with software is cheating somehow, let me assure you it is not. I spent many hours, trying literally dozens of designs, before choosing what you see above. One option that made the finals was a border of variable stars on point. Those variable stars, in fact, are what inspired me to begin this project, so it was hard to let them go. The star proportions are the same as the variable star in the middle of the Carpenter’s Wheel center block, so would echo it. (The EQ7 drawing below uses a different version of the center block than I used. See the photo above.) The on-point setting also repeats the 4-patches’ setting in the first border. Another benefit is the ability to use all the colors again in a natural way.

carpenters-wheel-with-stars

Pretty, yes? But I like the boldness of the components that come before, and the stars are small and the detail gets a bit lost. To me the design did not seem well balanced or fully unified.

Long ago I played with a number of quilt designs, which used a repetition of a center block motif in the corners of both an inner and an outer border. Here’s one example (and see more here and here.)

wraparound corners 4

I tried this idea in a variety of ways, and I liked the direction it was taking. I chose corners the same as the corners of the center block. They are the same size, and the pinks are the same fabrics. They made sense, continuing the floral motif and unifying the design in ways the variable stars did not.

However, with all the blank space between those corners, it didn’t balance well with the busyness and boldness of the flying geese. What it needed was more.

Next I tried more. I tried adding a flower variation in the centers of the border. Several iterations of that later, I stopped with my final choice. But still it looked too bare.

Once the chain blocks, made of double 4-patches, were added, I stopped. The 4-patches repeat the inner 4-patches. The chains’ stair-stepping shape also imitates the line of an on-point setting. Finally, they present the notion of floral stems or vines, or even swags, very traditional ways to border a medallion.

I have fabric for the back and will quilt it soon. I’ll show you final photos then.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.