Tag Archives: Original design

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.

Be Powerful. CREATE!!

I first published this two years ago, and had linked it on my personal Facebook page. Today Facebook “memories” brought it back to me. I thought it was worth sharing again. 


In my class on making Design-As-You-Go medallion quilts, students choose their own center block and borders, one decision at a time. As the quilts develop, the students engage and encourage their classmates in making skillful choices. All the quilters in that class are very experienced and talented. But not all of them design for themselves regularly.

Last night I received an email from one of my spring students. Sarah said, “I feel so liberated after taking your class.

Her ability to create, to design for herself, allows her to become more of herself. Liberated. To be herself. She is more powerful. And I believe we all have that power.


I had a long discussion about art and creativity with my friend Ben recently. I asked Ben, “Why is art-making so rewarding? Why must we make art — write, play, sing, act, paint, quilt, arrange flowers — ? How are we transformed by the creative process?”

Within a much larger answer, Ben said,

I think we are least destructive, even within ourselves, when we are most creatively fulfilled. Isn’t this where we separate ourselves from all other animals? In the ability to create what was not there before? In new and totally unique ways? Doesn’t creative exploration create new and different creative pathways within us? Don’t we thereby become more than we were before?

I think we are most true to our natures when we create, when we engage creatively. …

I think it is rewarding because we are doing what we are meant to do. Growing, learning, trying, failing, succeeding, exploring and expanding our natures.

We are expanding our natures. In my response to him, I agree with his summary and explain my personal experience.

I find creation to be powerful. My tagline on my blog is “Be powerful. CREATE!” I mentioned when we visited in July about my work to regain my personal power after my illness. And I have found that expression through writing and designing, and transforming ideas and colors and shapes into tangible objects is one of the primary ways [for me] to build power.

I keep pushing my personal boundaries of what I can do. That growth makes me more powerful and MORE OF THE PERSON I AM.

A book I read several years ago by Anna Quindlen is called Object Lessons. One of the things that struck me most when I was finishing the book is how the characters, through the period of the novel, all became more themselves. NOT that the book revealed that, but that their true selves were more revealed to other characters and even to themselves through the story. They became themselves.

And funny, I just dipped into the first of the novel on Amazon and I find a passage I hadn’t remembered, don’t remember as being part of the theme of the book, about the 12-year-old girl main character. The passage describes being in school and told by the nun to write an answer to the question “who are you?” The girl wrote “I am still becoming who I am.”

That’s how I feel. … my quilting work has taken off in ways I never would have anticipated. And that also has been creative growth, which has pushed my other personal growth in new ways. Mostly, perhaps, I’ve become more willing to try other things that are different or “hard,” even if not in the realm of creativity.

All I know is that creation helps me become myself. And becoming myself is powerful.

We all have creative power within ourselves, though we express it in different ways. It is a power of transformation. We transform materials, notes on a page, our thoughts, ourselves. We transform others as we reach out to them to teach or encourage. As we exercise that transformational power, it gets stronger. We become more liberated to be our true selves, revealing layers even we did not know were there.

You can become more powerful, too. Be powerful. CREATE!

Lessons: Starting a Medallion Quilt

The Mountain. 60" x 60" with 15" center block. 2015.

The Mountain. 60″ x 60″ with 15″ center block. 2015.

While I love all quilts, medallion quilts continue to fascinate me for a number of reasons. They’re one of the oldest formats of bedding quilting, and I love the history behind them and the huge range of styles they can take. Aesthetically, the variety of borders makes them exciting, while the symmetry appeals to me, too. Each one teaches me new lessons. But one of the things I like best is they are a mystery to be solved. I don’t need to know the ending before I even begin.

If you would like to make a medallion quilt, where should you start? First you need to consider a few things.

What is the purpose of the quilt? Will it be a gift? Will it be a wall-hanging, a baby quilt, a bed quilt? Do you need to please someone else or just yourself? Colors and size, and even blocks used may be influenced by this.

Is there a specific center block you plan to use? If so, that will drive many of your decisions as you go. If not, here are a number of centers that may inspire you.

What colors/fabrics will you use? Are you busting stash or will you buy some new? Are you comfortable with scrappy and improvisational fabric choices? The tradition of medallion quilts allows incorporating “new” colors and patterns clear into the last border, as long as they continue to relate to what’s gone before. If you’ve already chosen a center (or have a plan for making one,) you may want to pull fabrics that might work, knowing that others likely will be used, as well.

Once you’ve decided the purpose for the quilt and the approximate size, you can consider the center block. (Or alternately, if you already have a center block, that might guide the purpose and size of the quilt.)

How big should the center block be? When I study “successful” medallions (meaning, ones I like,) the center block is at least a quarter the width of the whole quilt. A smaller block tends to lose its importance when the scale is less than that. My largest block was about 60% of the width of the total quilt. [For some illustrations of center block proportions, see my post Proportion, Part 1.]

For example, if you have a 15” block, your quilt might be up to about four times that, or 60” wide. If that 15″ block were half the width of the quilt, your quilt would be 30″ wide, perhaps a wall-hanging.

What if you want a larger quilt? Well, you could use a larger block, or you could increase the scale of your block by turning it on point. [See my posts on turning a block on point: Straight or On-Point Setting? and How to Set a Block on Point.]

That same 15” block, if turned on point with an exact (not over-large) setting, creates a block that is 21.21” wide. How do I know? Using the math for diagonals,
15 x 1.414 = 21.21.

Using a block about 21”, you can make a quilt up to about 84” and still have the same proportions.

(If you make the setting triangles “too large,” you can increase that more. If you decide to do this, you’ll want to think carefully about scale and how the block may “float” on the setting. If the block’s design is too far from the edges, it again may seem too small.)

Another way to make a block larger is to make it the center of a bigger block. Rather than turning on point with setting triangles, as above, you could frame it with the outside piecing of a larger block.

To the left is a basic variable star block, with the center left blank.

Imagine your block surrounded by star points. A variable star would double the size of your center, as shown in the photo below.

The little star below is framed by the bigger star, which could turn an 8″ block, for instance, into a 16″ block.

But there are any number of ways you can use your block as the center of another. Here are just 16 frame blocks I found in EQ7! This may be a little hard to see, because there are so many and all so different. But the idea is, you can frame your chosen block with any one of the bigger blocks below to expand it and make it more substantial, just like I showed with the little mock-Amish wall-hanging above.

I’ll write more about center blocks in the next Lessons post. Look for more Medallion Lessons here

Do you have a block? Have you thought some about your goals? I’d love to hear about your ideas in comments. 

More Borders, Still No Name

I’ve been making progress on my current project. I made a bunch of flying geese, as described in this tutorial. They actually were the second attempt at that border. The first attempt was puss-in-the-corner blocks. I made 24 of them. They are not lovely. More importantly, they didn’t continue the clean, elegant look that the quilt was otherwise achieving. I never mind making extra blocks, for two reasons. First, sometimes you actually have to do something to know it’s the wrong thing; second, I almost always use extra blocks in other projects. I’ll use these in a VA hospital quilt, and they will be perfect there.

After making my flying geese, I called in my consultant (jim) to discuss the right arrangement of them. Should I use the light edges toward the center, or the dark edges? How should I treat the corners? Ultimately I decided to use the dark edges inside.

More borders are in process. Yesterday I made 40 hourglass blocks, and today I’ll work on 40 square-in-a-square blocks to alternate with them. Yes, that is 80 blocks in one border. Yes, medallion quilts can involve a lot of piecing. Fortunately, I believe this is the final pieced border on this quilt.



Untied, Unquilted

A few days ago I shared my new quilt top. It was buried deep inside another post, so you might have missed it.


Currently it is still a quilt top, unquilted. The name is “Untied.” This is a reference to both the African print that centers it, as well as to the freedom I felt in creating this piece. I did not measure anything, and no math was involved (beyond third grade skills, at least). I made things the size I wanted them without regard for the numbers. While I wouldn’t want to work this way on every quilt, I enjoyed it quite a bit for this one.

Step One — The Center 
I began with the African print, a fat quarter I purchased a year ago. You can see the two tan batik insets placed vertically through it. Inserting those accomplished two things. First, they allowed me to stagger the rope colors, so the orange did not line up with orange, nor blue with blue. Having the colors offset is more interesting to me than having them line up. Second, the print design broke between vertical columns of rope. While that may have been an intentional part of the design, I chose to hide it in seam allowance. The tan insets have a similar feel, and they match well with the gold and brown spider-webbing in the background of the fat quarter.

To insert the tan batik, I used Debbie Bowles’ curved piecing technique, described here. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, it’s incredibly simple. Having decided to use it on this piece, I didn’t hesitate because I was certain it would work well, and it did.

Once I finished inserting the batik, I squared up the center (made 90° corners, not made it square.)

Step Two — First Border
One of the considerations for a first border is whether to enclose the center or extend it. Diagonal lines tend to extend a center, which is one reason sawtooth borders work so well for a first border. Besides that, lines that are perpendicular to the edge extend the center. Lines that are parallel to the edge are like a hard frame and tend to close it in. My center has fairly strong vertical and horizontal lines. In addition, the pattern clearly runs off the edges of the fabric, and I wanted to maintain that effect. The border I chose does not frame the design, but extends it.

I knew I wanted to make irregular dogteeth borders for two sides. After pondering for a long time about method, this is how I did it:
1. Cut two strips of equal width and different colors.
2. Stack the strips with right sides UP for both strips. (Below both are solids, but right sides UP.) 
two strips
3. Cut with rotary cutter through in uneven diagonals. I didn’t use the ruler to cut.
cut through
4. Slide a purple kitchen cutting mat under them to transport to my machine.
picking up
5. Move EVERY OTHER top cut patch to a new line. Move the ALTERNATE EVERY OTHER bottom cut patch in line with them. Maintain the order in both lines.
6. Similar to curved piecing, match the patches up with right sides TOGETHER to stitch, maintaining scant 1/4″ seam allowance.
7. Press the strip.
8. Trim the strip to desired width.

The main benefit of this method was that I got the wonkiness I wanted but ended up with a straight strip. Even though I trimmed farther, that was easy because I was simply knocking off edges rather than trying to make adjustments for it getting way out of balance.

Now here is the part of the story that goes back to design rather than construction. I planned on these two dogteeth borders to be left and right. As soon as I attached the first one, in orange and tan, I knew it was in the wrong place. Nothing is sewn that can’t be unsewn! I unstitched. I had planned to use the brown sticks print as the top and bottom, but they became left and right.

I made the lower border of reddish print and tan triangles long enough, because I made it after deciding it would be a top/bottom border. However, the orange and tan set was too short, so I need to add more to it. I chose a yellowish solid rather than more tan. It brightens the corner and makes the whole line a little more interesting.

The narrow blue strip separating the center from the top and bottom dogteeth borders is a Marcia Derse print. It’s also the fabric in the last border. The stripey effect reminds me of the texture on a rope, as well as animal stripes or even a blue tiger maple.

Step Three — Second Border
This narrow solid teal strip is the same color as the teal rope. With its hard line, it serves as the enclosure to the center.

Step Four — Third Border
This border uses four different fabrics log-cabined around. The top and left are relatively narrow and muted. The right is a wild batik with a lot of distinct pattern and color, including oranges, teals, and blues. The bottom is one stripe of a two-stripe pattern from fabric sent by another blogger. Gwen the Textile Ranger sent me this lovely African print. Amazing, huh? When I started this project, I knew I would use a piece here. I chose to center the pyramids on the teal box, rather than on the whole length of border. This adds emphasis to the teal as a frame.

Step Five — Fourth Border
This was harder and stumped me for a while. First I added a narrow strip of a fabric that didn’t end up in the quilt. I liked it, but after contemplating what came after, I decided to remove it and was very glad I did!

This border had to be light to add some value contrast and allow the prior border to shimmer. At the same time, it had to have enough heft that it maintained the unity of the piece. Unity? By that I mean that nothing looks out of place, it all looks like part of a whole. If the border was light and wimpy, it wouldn’t stand up to the drama of the prior work.

I found a mottled creamy-tan print, with black spatters on it. It seemed close but not close enough to actually cut it. (I’m glad, as it will be greatly useful on some other project.) I looked through all my light stash multiple times, considering creams/tans and greens and anything else. Finally the fabric used for left and right landed in my hands at the right time. If you click on the photo at the top, it will open in a new tab. Then you may be able to enlarge to see the detail. The fabric looks like a jacquard but is actually just a print. I had less than a fat quarter and pieced it so my lengths were enough. I added the blue inset on the left side to extend the interior line of blue.

Though the border needed to be light, I also wanted to add color. The top and bottom includes the other colors using an improvised framing or sashing method. This was done all freehand and with scissors, unlike the dogteeth triangles described above. I never used scissors so much before! Can’t say I would switch, but it’s good to remember that they are an available tool, and appropriate for some use.

I attached the top and bottom with the same curved piecing method as before.

Step Six — Fifth Border
Final border. I wasn’t sure this would be the final, but as I looked at the center so far, and had the blue next to it on the design wall floor, it seemed to be the right punctuation.

I cut the blue across the width to capture the striping. Of course it was not quite enough length, so it was pieced to make the left/right edges. The top and bottom also were pieced. They were a little tougher to add, because of the curved piecing. In addition to the curves, the prior top and bottom had a fair amount of stretch and splay. Ultimately I got them on and then trimmed the whole to square it (made 90° corners, not made it square.) It’s not perfect and there is a little ruffle in the final top and bottom edges, but they’re workable.

Step Seven — Backing, Quilting, and Binding
It will finish at something like 43″ x 48″, though likely I’ll trim it once more when quilted. At that size, it’s best as a wall-hanging. I don’t need a fancy back so may use muslin. I don’t know how I will quilt this, but I’m considering at least some big-stitch hand-quilting. Binding will probably be a bright rusty orange, but teal is an alternative, too.

Thought Process and Stories Told
In my prior post, I pledged to share process more often. A lot of times I get wrapped up in a project and simply am not motivated to talk about it until I’ve a) completed a step where I know what I’m doing or b) figured out a step where I don’t know what I’m doing. That just means you get the full data dump when I’m done, like today. I don’t include the inspirations I have just as I’m drifting off to sleep. I don’t tell you about when or where I bought particular pieces, and what other quilts I’ve used them in. The stories you get may be true, but not complete and not always very interesting, no need to protect the innocent.

Even so, there is value to me in explaining, and I hope there is some value to you in the reading.

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read my blog.