Tag Archives: Medallion quilts

Martha Washington’s Children’s Games

Yesterday I was adding a final border to my Games with Martha quilt. I haven’t told you about this yet, other than a passing mention.

Games with Martha is part of a larger project I’m working on. It’s an interpretation of a quilt top made by Martha Washington, around 220 years ago. Martha Washington was a remarkable and complicated woman. As our first First Lady, she served at Valley Forge with her husband George, during the Revolutionary War. She was considered an adept manager of the plantations of both her first husband and Washington, bargaining with Europeans on tobacco prices.

She was a slave owner, having inherited the use of more than 80 slaves when her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, died. The slaves were, in essence, held in trust for her use during her lifetime. When she died, ownership of these “dower” slaves reverted back to members of Custis’s family. George Washington also owned slaves. In his will Washington directed that they be freed upon Martha’s death. After he died, she freed them soon after.

And she was a quilter. She is known to have started three quilts, finished one, finished the top of another, and started the top of a third. It is possible, of course, that she was not the quilter, but a slave was. However, since the third top was finished by a younger relative after her death, it seems likely that it was her own handwork, rather than something she directed a slave to do. All three quilts are now held at Mount Vernon in Virginia.

One of the quilt tops is called “Children’s Games” because of a toile used in large corner blocks depicting children at play. I’m creating an interpretation of the top. Note, there is a difference between an interpretation and a reproduction. A reproduction is a copy intending to appear essentially the same as the original. An interpretation is a representation of the original, but without intention to look exactly alike.

Here is a photo in George Washington’s Mount Vernon Facebook page showing a woman who is making a reproduction of Children’s Games, along with the original flat on the table.

While her reproduction is, I believe, imitating the scale (larger than eight feet) and creating or finding copies of the fabrics, my version is not that. Again, it’s an interpretation. It will finish at approximately seven feet (about 84″) and uses fabrics currently available and from my stash.

I have finished the top. However, it is BIG and I didn’t get a photo of it. I did get a picture prior to adding the last border yesterday. Here’s what it looked like, and a comparison to the original. Mine is on the right of the screen capture.

My final border is technically a double pink, but is printed in pink, red, and white with small red rosettes in the stripe. It will look substantially like hers. I mitered the border corners and messed that up, cutting two of the strips too short. (If you look at Washington’s mitered corners, they’re not great, either.) However, all’s well that ends well and it looks just fine now.

I’ll tell you more about my mitering adventure, the design of the quilt, and some other things soon. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

New Work, Subject to Change

The point of blogging and the point of quilting, for me, is enjoyment. And self-expression. And moving things around until I get them “right.” I just finished reading a blog post by Austin Kleon, author/artist/poet who wrote Keep Going, among other books.

In his blog post, Kleon calls blogging a “forgiving medium,” because even after a piece is published, the author can edit easily. Usually no one is the wiser, and if they are, usually they are kind about it.

Quilting is like that, to a point. I’ve changed quilt tops in small ways and large, at all stages of construction. Of course, once quilted, it’s harder to make changes. Even then, though, there are opportunities to embellish, add stitching, or judiciously change colors with markers or paints. My friend Joanna Mack The Snarky Quilter changes finished quilts regularly, to positive effect.

I have a new project, and as with almost every project, it already isn’t what I expected. I started with this:

It’s a basic star-in-a-star featuring a large flower from a showy print. The outer corners, if you aren’t sure, are very dark navy, not black. They do rather disappear into the background. In fact, they disappear so much, they are the first thing I changed, substituting white corner triangles.

After modifying the block, I considered how to frame it. Now imagine me, chin on hand, eyes directed upward, much like a cat that isn’t really looking at anything. (We call that cat “Stuart,” even though he hasn’t lived with us for thirty years.) Pondering, pondering… And it came to me, I should frame it with the same showy print that inspired the center.

The showy print is one I bought, if I remember correctly, in Taos in 2014. And again I don’t know for sure, but it might be an Alexander Henry piece. Long ago and far away… But it’s BIG! and SHOWY! and DIRECTIONAL! And it has one more challenge: I’ve fussy cut chunks out of it a few times.

When I decided to use it, I also decided to set the center block on point. I had enough of the big print for setting triangles, if I cut very carefully.

Yeah, you can guess what happened. I cut two big squares and cut them each on the diagonal to make setting triangles. But because the print is directional, I needed to cut one square from northwest to southeast, and the other from southwest to northeast. And I didn’t. ugh. Luckily I could cut another square almost big enough and piece over a missing section.

It worked. I framed the center block with a very fine yellow line, and then set it in the showy print. Because of the visual weight, I needed to balance that with a weighty border. After rifling through stash, I had a nice array of pinks, oranges, blues, and greens.

Along with white, they became hourglass blocks to surround the magenta spacer strip.

I’m not sure what’s next. That’s okay. I can take my time, ponder the possibilities a la Stuart. I can make and unmake, do surgery to remove or transplant parts. There is nothing precious, even a piece of fabric purchased long ago and far away.

Anticipation for 2020 (Looking Back)

It’s been almost 13 months since I’ve posted here! Between breast cancer treatment in 2019 and general world craziness in 2020, writing and posting slipped off my list of things to do. And while I’m not going to make any promises to either you or me, I’d like to come back and write here from time to time. I’ve always loved the interaction with you, the format to document my quilting work, and a way to ponder out loud how I think about a broad range of quilting and making topics.

Before the end of 2019 (another year in which I barely blogged,) I began writing this post, “Anticipation for 2020.” It included the following list of things to enjoy in 2020, not in order of importance:

  • travel with Jim
  • fencing lessons
  • skydiving
  • granddaughter’s college graduation
  • Houston’s International Quilt Festival
  • finally stepping down from the guild’s program committee
  • getting some upper body strength back
  • hiking more
  • finishing some quilts, starting some quilts
  • entering quilts in the Iowa State Fair

We all know how that went!

In fact, I did resign from my local guild’s program committee! And I did attend granddaughter’s graduation via Zoom.

And I did finish some quilts and start some quilts. So overall, I guess it was an entirely successful year!

I want to share a few of the quilts I finished in 2020. Today’s post will look at Cimarron.

Cimarron. Designed, pieced, and quilted by me. Approx. 48″ x 48″. Made in 2020.

This quilt started with a fat quarter of aqua and cinnamon print, which my daughter gave me. The color combination was striking and unusual, and it inspired me to build out from there. You can see that inspiration fabric in the very center, as well as sprinkled out from there.

I wanted a white fabric for brightness, and to highlight the tiny bits of white in the feature fabric and in the other center “background” fabric. I always look to stash first and found the white below. The print on it is actually a strong red but in fine lines. The “right side” of fabric shows how red it is. Using the wrong side makes it show as speckled pattern more than color.

I quilted it using a very pale aqua thread, So Fine 50 weight from Superior Threads. So Fine is my go-to thread for almost all quilting. I also use it for piecing more often than not. The quilting design is a free-motion panto-like design of swirls and bumps.

The quilt is named “Cimarron.” The colors and shapes reminded me of a fresh river running through mountains. The Cimarron River flows from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico, and the name stuck to the quilt.

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.

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. 😉