Tag Archives: Medallion quilts

A Look at Some Medallion Quilts

I’m still on the road, so I’m sharing an older post. It’s a good follow-up to yesterday’s on petting older quilts and remembering the lessons they taught. This was first published more than four years ago, very early in my “medallion period.” Since then, I have studied design more carefully, and my opinions on some of these quilts has evolved as my knowledge has. Even so, it is fun to see some of my early medallions.


While working on developing the Medallion Sew-Along, I thought about what makes a successful design. I haven’t studied design formally, but when we talk about quilt design, we usually talk about elements such as line, color, value, size, shape, and texture. And we talk about how those elements are used, including principles such as balance, repetition, contrast, movement, and unity.

I decided to take a look at a few of my quilts and consider what design aspects work well and what don’t. (All are my original designs.) I welcome your thoughts on them, too. Don’t worry — you won’t hurt my feelings! We all have different taste. But besides looking at mine, take a look at some other medallions, either online or in books, and really think about why the design does or does not appeal to you.

One of my earliest quilts. I designed it. 72″ square.

As the caption says, this is one of my first quilts. I found beautiful, bright butterfly fabric and went from there. What works: the butterfly blocks create movement and unity with the focus fabric. The colors contrast well with the background. Colors are balanced across. What doesn’t work: it’s a little clumsy looking. The squares in the pieced border are simplistic and might look better if they were half-square triangles.

To look at more quilts with a critical eye, click here.

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Christmas Is Coming!

The top of my class Christmas quilt is done, but it needs to be quilted. (I’m still working on the bear’s paw quilt, too. As these get bigger, it’s harder to work on them “at the same time.”)

Here are a few pix. Below is the finished top in as big of a view as I can manage. There are a few “Christmas” fabrics in it, but I rarely buy novelty fabrics. My friend Sharon passed a few of hers to me, so bits of hers show up. Mostly, though, it is other reds, greens, and golds I had in stash. I didn’t buy anything new for this.

Quilt top, laid out on the floor. I can’t get quite high enough to fit the whole thing in view. It’s about 68″ square.

OH, that’s not true. I did buy the green paisley in one of the strip borders. I’d used a different green, cut it and attached it, and simply wasn’t happy with it. This green has more light in it and has more interesting pattern.

A decent view of the center block, which finished at 16″. The green border around it is 2″ wide, taking the segment to 20″ square. Notice how the strip border neither encloses the center block, nor expands it. It is neutral. The swirly line print does draw the eye, but does not direct the eye farther out. This suits, because the center block really is self-contained. With its round shape and circling flying geese, it wouldn’t work as well with something like spraying half-square triangles in the first border.

The outside border is the red plaid at the top of the photo. It helps settle down the riot caused by the pile of packages in the next border, all in scrappy fabrics.

I had fun making the green “packages” with their bows on top. The bows are just flying geese, and they echo the shapes in the hourglasses above, as well as the flying geese in the center and the pinwheels in the corner blocks.

The pinwheel corner blocks are a funny illusion. They’re made of the same block as that ribbon border near the center. It’s called a “Y” block in EQ7. There are 4 of them in a pinwheel block, and using all the same “background” fabric makes it look like a pinwheel on point. The pinwheel spins, as do the flying geese in the center, though going in different directions. Finally, they are one more allusion to a package, as it looks like you’re looking down on the top of a fancy bow.

Over the years I’ve gotten over the wish to make my fabrics match for style. While I do want them to “go” together, there is a pretty broad range, even in a quilt like this. There are 1800s reproductions, a few Christmas fabrics, at least one batik, a fabric sold as wide backing fabric… I enjoyed using the last of a few scraps, evening piecing a few scraps together to make patches big enough. I remember where I bought some of these, including on a family reunion trip in Michigan, on an outing to Illinois with Jim, at chain stores and local quilt shops and one online store. A quilt like this represents a large part of my quilting history, stitching memories into the design.

I plan to keep this quilt. Though we decorate pretty minimally for Christmas, I’ll enjoy having this out, either spread across the dining room table or draped on the stair railing, or even bunched around the two of us on the couch. Some day maybe I’ll give it to one of my kids, instead of the coal they usually get for Christmas. 😉

Black Sheep Manor

Some quilts decide to be made, regardless of our intentions. Such was the case for Black Sheep Manor. This is a quilt I would not have made, if not for seeing a panel print earlier this year at a local quilt shop. The full panel had 15 small panel motifs with a country estate theme. The faux-crackled, tea-stained background with black print featured a sheep, two manor houses, a squirrel, two trees, and other assorted illustrations. This is not my typical style.

But Jim and I have friends, smart, funny, warm people, who’ve recently moved to a home they call their “Black Sheep Manor.” When I saw the black sheep on the panel, I had to get it. The quilt called to be made.

The Center Block

The black sheep had to center the quilt, but the small panel finishes at 7″. The size is better suited for a pillow or placemat than the focal point of a lap quilt. I’ve written before about enlarging center blocks with frames of various types. Adding variable star points doubles the size, and making a star-in-a-star quadruples it. But as much as I like stars, this little sheep called for something else.

To highlight and enlarge the sheep without other distractions, I chose to set it with an economy block setting. The simplicity draws the eye to the middle. Using strong value contrast with the subtlety of tone-on-tone prints emphasizes the block structure, as well.

The pattern design on the brick-colored fabric is of wheat stalks, and the pinky-tan setting triangles are printed with a deer motif. Both suit the small-farm life of our friends. These two fabrics, along with the sheep panel, set the theme for the rest of the quilt.

The Inner Borders

Beyond the economy center block, the first border of half-square triangles bursts forth to further enlarge the appearance. Here again, simplicity serves the purpose of enhancement rather than distraction. I did try a different arrangement of HST using two borders, and the effect was messy. As Jim reminded me, KISS is often the best policy. 🙂

The darker rust print edge around the HST finished the look of the center. Rather than the center appearing as a 7″ square, it is 22.5″.

The Middle Borders

Outside of the narrow rust strip is the second most important piece of the quilt. Though the sheep literally plays center stage, the wording personalizes it. Anyone could like black sheep, but there is only one Black Sheep Manor. The wording is hand-lettered using fabric markers. I printed the words on paper and then arranged a light box with an overturned plastic tub on top of a CFL utility light. I taped the paper to the plastic tub. Freezer paper on the back of the fabric stabilized it, and I taped that down, as well. I outlined the letters with a very fine-tipped pen, and then filled them in with a heavier marker.

Framing the wording on either end, and below the sheep block, are strips from the width-of-fabric panel print. On the left and right borders are paper-pieced triangles that finish 2.5″ x 3.75″. They are proportioned differently than flying geese, which lets them fit the space evenly as well as suggest pine trees. The corner blocks are of the broken dishes format.

Black Sheep Manor. Approx 58″ x 58″. September 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The next pieced border is of larger HSTs. The HSTs repeats the shapes of the inner border, but the shifting orientation keeps them from simple repetition. It also prevents them from making a dark line on either side of the border, so it is more open and airy.

Also note the narrow strip borders on either side of the HST. These are one of the lightest values in the whole quilt. Using the light color is a bit unexpected, and it keeps the quilt from descending into dinginess.

The Outer Borders

The next border is a style called “piano keys.” I cut the piano keys border to finish at 6″ and planned to make shoofly corner blocks. Instead, I chose four of the other small panel pieces and cornered the border with them. Once their decorative “frame” was trimmed off, they finished at 5.25″, so I trimmed the piano keys to match. Aside from the corner blocks, the piano keys border is mostly dark in value.

The piano keys are made with 28 strips on each side. I made the strips into blocks of four strips each. Each block has a red, a brown (or black,) a blue, and a green strip. These are two warm and two cool. I assembled the blocks in haphazard order, and then assembled the borders only making sure that no two strips of the same color touched each other. Aside from very minimal rearrangement, the placement is random, but the colors and “temperatures” are well-distributed. This was easy! And more importantly, it is not formal or regimented, but casual.

The last border of another rusty print frames the whole. I didn’t know what width I wanted until I tried it. No elements of the quilt are very large, so a relatively narrow border worked better for proportions.

The Fabric Choices

Almost all of my quilts have at least one scrappy border. They help to integrate the multiple pieces of similar color that I use within a quilt. This quilt differs by being scrappy throughout, giving it a casual and homey feel.

Even with scraps, the look is consistent. All the colors have a golden tinge. The reds are brick red and rust; the greens are olivey; the blues all have a touch of teal; and the browns and blacks are warm, not cool. The tan or “background” fabrics also tend toward golden, not grey.

However, if you look more closely at the fabrics, you’ll notice I didn’t take the fabric patterns too seriously. They range from 1800s reproductions to a small piece of a circus print, to Kaffe Fassett. The color and value were far more important than the style of print.

To keep the dozens of fabrics from leading the quilt into chaos, there are places without scraps. For example, the center block has only three fabrics: the black sheep panel, the inner brick red triangles, and the outer tan triangles. The brick red and tan are repeated with the same fabrics for the broken dishes corner blocks. The inner strip border and the final border echo the brick red, varying it somewhat toward rust. The two pale strips borders use the same fabrics. The panel corner blocks with the piano keys emphasize the sheep by repeating the same fabric style. All these points of repetition help calm the appearance.

Except for the panel (which demanded I buy it and make a quilt with it,) all of the fabrics are from my stash, including the back. The vast majority is from scraps and small pieces. Very little is from yardage. It’s been a very long time since I worked with mostly scraps and I enjoyed it a lot.

The Quilting

I had a hard time deciding how to quilt this. I didn’t want the stitching to run rampant over the little sheep, but I also didn’t want to custom quilt the entire piece. I compromised by quilting the center very simply, with an outline of the sheep, a simple fan pattern on the brick red, and triangles of leaves and loops on the tan. For the rest of the quilt, I did an all-over leaves and loops design.

My Overall Assessment

I really fell in love with this quilt. As noted at the top, this is not my typical style, with the black-and-tan-and-country feel. But I often think my very best quilts are those I make for specific people, and I think this is one of them. Another reason I love it is because I couldn’t have made it before now. The design shows a level of expertise that I’ve developed over time. The paper piecing is a new technique for me this year. Hand-lettering the banner isn’t something I would have tried until recently. Besides the look, I enjoyed the process. The ease with which it went together is rare. Each step of the way, decisions were simple, but from a strong sense of direction, not merely from habit.

My friends received the quilt and are thrilled. They’re happy, and that makes me happy.

Medallion Quilt Rules

Each year my local guild has a new challenge, and I’m excited about this year’s! The current challenge is to create a medallion quilt. Though I won’t enter, I’m looking forward to seeing the entries and hearing from members as they create their pieces.

We just started our guild year this week, and it will close out in July with display and judging of these quilts. To help my fellow members move through the process, and also to help and inspire others who want to make medallions, I’ve decided to republish some of my prior posts. The best place to start is the beginning, right? Below you’ll see the fundamental rules of making a medallion quilt.

Show Me More…

Six-Pointed Star Is Off The Frame

Last week I looked at some very old posts from this blog. One noted a handful of UFOs, including the 6-pointed star. I needed to set the points in background and then figure out what else to do. That was more than four years ago, and already it was a challenging puzzle.

Besides the design puzzle, it also provided some good quilting puzzles. First up, the batting. I decided to quilt it with wool batting. I have two new batts in the closet, both large enough for this project. However, I also had largish chunks of remnants. I wondered if there was enough to use for a quilt finishing at about 80″ square. After pulling it all out of the closet and draping it across the floor, it was easy to see there was plenty. They were all the same brand, Hobbs. However, I found that each batting was substantially different. Some was thick, dense, and spongy. Some was thin and with little resiliency. Some varied in thickness and density from one side of the batting to the other. (The new batts in the closet are a different brand. I’m hoping for better consistency.)

The quilt center is large enough, with the large background setting, that I decided to use a double layer of batting to set it off. That gave another challenge — how to use those remnants to show the center off, and also have fairly consistent loft and density through the rest of it.

Big question: should I stitch all the batting pieces together before starting to quilt? Big answer: NO! It seemed like stitching would crush the edges. Instead I saved the piece I wanted for the center, and other than that, simply kept sliding in more pieces as I went. It was a pretty improvisational method, but it worked. You can see by the translucency in the photo below that there is no batting behind most of the quilt top at that point.

For most of my quilts I wouldn’t have the patience or see the need for “custom” quilting. Instead I use some kind of edge-to-edge design, such as loops and leaves, or spirals, or all-over feathering. This one, again because of the large center star and setting, seemed to call for more special treatment. I used a combination of free-motion quilting and ruler work on this quilt. In the photo above you can see I used blue painters’ tape to remind myself of where I wanted to put feathering. The tape is easy to use and move and move again with no damage to the fabric.

Here are a couple more photos of quilting in process.

I did long feathering on the outer borders, and ruler work on the inner border of 4-patches on point. It was easy to do the “top” and “bottom” borders with continuous movement, because they run parallel to the frame. Doing the side borders was more challenging. There are two choices: 1) do the side border quilting in small sections, as I advance the quilt on the frame; or 2) take the quilt off the frame, turn it 90°, making the side borders now at the “top” and “bottom.” I did the second.

Choosing the second method is easier in some ways and harder in others. For example, it requires big-stitch basting through all the areas to be quilted after turning. The basting stabilizes and secures the layers, so they don’t shift and pleat with turning.

When I got through the first time, I turned it and started again at the top.

The quilt isn’t finished, as I don’t have binding on it yet. But here it is, quilting finished and off the frame. The first photo shows some of the detail, while the second gives the big picture. You can see in both of them that the wool, especially in the center, gives a lot of stitch definition and texture.

I’ll finish with binding some day soon. And I need a name for it. (Any ideas?) Before that, though, I’m working on my class sample. I’ll show you progress on that soon.