Tag Archives: Modern medallions

Lessons: Medallion Books Review

Very few books on medallion quilts have been published in the last 35 years. Mostly they provide patterns. A few provide some historical context. Only one has an in-depth discussion of design.

For those interested in medallion quilts, whether made by yourself or in a round robin, I wanted to give short reviews of the ones you might encounter. Some I own and others I don’t. All reviews are presented in order of year of publication.


The Art and Technique of Creating Medallion Quilts by Jinny Beyer, 1982
I own this out-of-print book and am glad I do. It’s a useful reference even though it is dated in presentation. Beyer’s writing is wordy; the book is largely in black and white; the quilt styling is formal and symmetrical; and construction methods use individually drafted templates for piecing. None of this is very appealing to today’s quilters, used to rotary cutting and quick piecing methods, as well as less formal styling. Things I like include a comprehensive history of the medallion format. Also, two chapters specifically consider design, though they focus on the broad outlines of proportion and not on aspects like color, value, shape, line, and movement. This book acknowledges construction challenges but provides little help for solving them, and there are no projects or patterns.

Classic English Medallion Style Quilts by Bettina Havig, 2003
This book shows traditional styling, providing patterns but no design context. The author asserts you can make an authentic English-style quilt using a center block and borders that alternately are pieced and wholecloth. There are ten types of border block units with instruction. The layouts of quilts are attractive, but the colors would be considered dated now. In addition, there are no construction strategies offered to help the quilter get borders to fit, assuming all sizing is absolutely accurate. The author provides planning charts, allowing quilters to customize their quilts with different blocks. However I find the charts very confusing, and the borders sizes odd. I don’t use this book much.

Medallion Quilts: Inspiration & Patterns by Cindy V. Hamilton, 2006
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out many times from my guild library. It includes some historical information about medallions, as well as beautiful photos. Hamilton is a skilled designer and includes patterns for four quilts. (I have not made any, so can’t comment on quality of instructions.) Though she encourages substitutions in border styles for the quilter’s preference or skills, her patterns include complex piecing with templates, and significant amounts of appliqué. Also, Hamilton’s book mentions making borders fit but doesn’t discuss solutions so quilters can do so.

Liberated Medallion Quilts by Gwen Marston, 2012
Marston is best known for her exuberant, “liberated” style. With its wonky, non-standard styling, liberated piecing gives plenty for the eye to enjoy. In this book she extends that styling to the traditional medallion format, and provides plenty of evidence for the notion that liberated IS traditional. The quilts in this book are playful and unique, a treat to look at.

In text Marston argues for design-as-you-go, but she doesn’t support that with strategies the reader might use to design their own, though there are patterns for a number of quilts. In addition, though I love many of these quilts, the liberated style is not how I like to work. So I use this beautiful book for inspiration if not instruction.

Focus on the Center by Pat Sloan, 2012
This is a pattern book with no design discussion. There are patterns for six lap quilts and one bed quilt. The marketing information doesn’t say what sizes those mean. I haven’t seen it in person, but the pictures of quilts are generally attractive.

Blocks, Borders, Quilts! by Sunny Steinkuhler, 2012
This book includes one blueprint for customization of a 40″ square quilt, with a number of specifically sized blocks. Though the creative reader could deviate from this pattern, there seems to be little to no design or construction information. I haven’t seen this book in person. One thing in the Amazon preview puts me off entirely. Steinkuhler says about contrast, “… you may not want any contrast in your quilt at all. There are no wrong answers here.” While wholecloth quilts can be very beautiful and interesting, they do have contrast in texture. And her book is on pieced medallion quilts, not whole cloth. What reason could there be for piecing a quilt with no contrast? I found this confusing.

The Modern Medallion Workbook by Janice Z. Ryan and Beth Vassalo, 2015
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out from the public library. Compiled by Ryan and Vassolo, it is a book featuring patterns by 11 designers including themselves. In addition, there are notes on basic quilt creation such as choosing fabrics, improving seam allowances, and cutting, which might be useful for beginning quilters. It is marketed as a “workbook,” as implied by the title. The premise is that the quilter can pick and choose favorite elements from the patterned designs, to customize a quilt to their taste. The workbook section does provide some helpful tips for this process. However, at only six pages, it really doesn’t cover either the design process or construction strategies in any depth. In the first printing, all three formulas given were stated incorrectly. All three said to multiply when the function should have been to divide, and one of the three had incorrectly stated order of operations. An experienced quilter might be able to suss that out, but a new quilter might be hopelessly confused. I won’t add this book to my personal library. For a more complete review, check the one written by Joanna the Snarky Quilter.

Quilter’s Academy Volume 5: Master’s Year by Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave, 2016
I wrote an extensive review of this new book when it came out in January. It was a big disappointment to me, for several reasons. The book is poorly formatted with at least three page layout styles; photos are murky; and all the quilts shown are in dull, muted colors. The content is marketed as a reference book and specifically not as a pattern book. Instead, it features patterns. The design reference section focuses on how to draw medallions on graph paper. The writing is confusing, both for basic text and pattern instructions. The authors’ tone is at least as off-putting as anything else. Please see my complete review for more detail.

Do you have any of these books? What do you think of them? What are your favorite medallion quilt books?


Best of 2015

There’s a fun link party going on for quilt bloggers. Cheryl at Meadow Mist Designs has invited us to share our top five posts of 2015. It’s a great way to find other interesting bloggers, as well as to remember some special moments from a diverse year. (Click into the post linked above and you’ll find links to dozens of blogs’ best five.)

Cheryl says: “To take part in the link party, simply write a blog post highlighting your “best” 5 posts from 2015 and linkup. There is no set way to pick your best, you can pick your posts anyway you would like, some examples include:

  • Posts with the most views
  • Posts with the most comments
  • Posts that provoked the best discussions
  • Posts showing your favorite 2015 finishes
  • Posts of your best tutorials
  • Posts that are simply your favorites

It’s been a while since I’ve cared much about view counts or comment counts. I already showed you some of my favorite finishes. I’m going with some of my favorite writing! In 2015 I’ve published about 150 posts (not including the few reblogs,) so choosing wasn’t easy. But here they are.

  1. At the beginning of 2015, I published Transforming the Past|Transforming the Future. It describes how my quilts hold memories both bright and dark.
  2. My 300th post published in May. The post itself isn’t much, but I sure enjoyed the comments!
  3. Labels constrain us in so many ways. How we label ourselves and how we label our work can hold us back. Here are a few of my thoughts on “modern” medallion quilts. (And this might be cheating, but here I write more specifically about why I battle with labeling ourselves, rather than our quilts.)
  4. Here’s another cheat. I wrote a series of posts on quilting as a business, and a subseries on cotton and cotton fabric production. The final post (so far) was Conversations with Artists. There are links to the rest at the bottom of that post.
  5. Finally, and as an appropriate follow-up to #4, is My Book Proposal. It outlines the process I encountered in developing and submitting a proposal for publication.

The Mountain. 60″ x 60″. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

And through all of this I’ve been climbing my mountain, learning and trying things I wouldn’t have taken on even a couple of years ago. I look forward to a new year, with new challenges ahead.

Thanks to all of you who stop in, read my blog, drop a comment or question now and then, forward my site to friends. The interaction with you makes this all so rewarding. Thank you. And Happy New Year!

What is a Modern Medallion Quilt?

Or more to the point, is there such a thing as a “modern” medallion quilt? What characteristics would make a medallion quilt “modern?”

To define one more time, a medallion quilt is one which is designed with a central block or motif, surrounded by multiple borders. Borders may be plain, elaborately pieced or appliquéd, or a combination of plain and fancy on the same quilt.

First, do me a favor and google “modern medallion quilts.” Look at Images. What do you see? I’ll wait…

My questions about modern quilts have to do with how those called “modern” break from the definition above.

To try to answer that, I checked again on the website of the Modern Quilt Guild, to see how they define the term “modern” as it applies to quilts. Their definition has evolved over time, which is natural and right. Currently it says this (emphasis in bold added by me):

… several characteristics often appear which may help identify a modern quilt. These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work.  …

The growth of the movement was facilitated by four factors: the cultural shift of quality design being recognized by the general public, affordable digital cameras, the changing fabric industry and the rise of social media.

Let’s take this apart, starting with “bold colors,” “high contrast and graphic areas of solid color,” and “minimalism.” This quilt was shown in 2012 on the See How We Sew site. It is an antique Amish medallion quilt in the pattern called “Diamond in a Square.” It was made around 1925. Modern…

What about “improvisational piecing“? The Modern Quilt Guild site gives a nod to the quilts of Gee’s Bend. Many modern quilters also are inspired by Gwen Marston’s “liberated” quilting. But in her book Liberated Medallion Quilts, Marston argues that liberated medallions are traditional. Her book begins with photos of a mid-1800s Welsh quilt and of a Martha Washington quilt made around 1800. Want more examples? See the search results from the Quilt Index on medallions from 1800-1849. Or look for examples on the Smithsonian site. Many early examples of medallions could be described as improvisationally pieced. Modern?

So perhaps what we are left with, at least with regards to modern medallion quilts, is that they are related to the use of digital cameras and social media.

I make medallion quilts. I do not think they are “modern.” Nor do I think they are “traditional,” by and large. They are expressions of me, not of an aesthetic imposed by a particular time or trend.

I do not accept the label “modern” as it applies to medallion quilts. I haven’t seen one yet that is new in that regard.

When we are willing to stop labeling our work to fit genres, trends, or styles, we are more free to express ourselves. When we are not dependent on public opinion, we can delve into and expose the deepest parts of ourselves. When we don’t care about whether our quilt will win at an AQS show or an IQF show or a QuiltCon show or a bloggers’ quilt festival, we build our artistic power.

Are you willing to stop labeling quilts? To stop labeling your quilting? To build your power?

Your comments, agreeing or disagreeing or questioning, are welcome. You are welcome to share or reblog this post as well.