Tag Archives: Original design

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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The Curse of Echo

Long ago in the time of gods and goddesses, there was a mountain nymph named Echo. She lived on Mount Cithaeron with other nymphs. One of their frequent visitors was Zeus, who … ahem … enjoyed the company of the beautiful sprites.

Zeus’s wife, Hera, was a jealous type, and she followed Zeus to the mountain one day. Echo stopped her, talking so much and so fast that Zeus had time to get away. In her anger, Hera cursed Echo. The curse? From then on, Echo could never speak for herself, but could only repeat the last few words spoken to her by someone else.

How awful that curse would be, without ability to speak for herself! Yet many quilters choose just this way, only repeating designs made by others.

I see it in Instagram, under the #medallionquilt hashtag. While there are beautiful medallions of a wide variety shown there, Marcelle medallion, Aviatrix, and others show up time and time again. Some designers even specify every fabric and color, so you can duplicate their work!

And of course, it doesn’t only happen with medallion quilts. It happens with many successful quilt patterns and kits. The designer’s voice may be heard, but the maker is silent, except for an echo.

I struggle with my thoughts on this. On the one hand, it’s fantastic that people want to make. I think most are perfectly happy making something with a recipe or paint-by-number method. They really do want quilt patterns and knitting patterns and counted cross-stitch and woodworking patterns. They will follow those patterns exactly, often in the same colors or materials. They will enjoy the process as long as it works. If they love doing this, and they are putting beauty and good into the world, who am I to criticize?

On the other hand, I want other people to experience themselves more completely, and to feel comfortable sharing expressions from their soul. The quilts I see that are most powerful, that touch me most, are also designed by their maker. And honestly, it doesn’t matter much if they’re technically strong or not. The maker’s voice comes through.

Self-expression is powerful, but it’s also scary. It can leave us open to failure and criticism. It can make us feel like our efforts or resources are wasted if the end product isn’t as we imagined. Why open yourself up to problems like that? It’s safer to do something with a known result.

I know a little bit about risk and reward. My career was in investment management. If you stick with the safe option, you won’t lose much, but there is not much to gain, either. The farther out you go on the risk scale, the more potential there is for loss. But when things go right, the rewards are great.

Believe it or not, I’m pretty risk averse. While I don’t use patterns, I have trouble pushing myself to do brand-new things. Instead, I keep pushing at the edges, so I’m learning new skills and not making the same thing time after time. (That would be an echo, too!) I’ve had to convince myself that any efforts can’t end in complete failure. If nothing else, I’ll have learned an important lesson. That helps me take on “risk” in quilting with a more open attitude. Trying something, not knowing if it will work out, and learning from the experience is exciting, like an adventure!

Don’t be like Echo. Use your own voice to tell your own story. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

 

 

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.

Distracting Myself With Drawing Quilts

It was another rough news week, wasn’t it? Between threats of nuclear war with North Korea, the possibility of invading Venezuela (and WHY?? I keep up pretty well and haven’t been able to figure this one out,) and the disgusting display of American Naziism in Virginia over the weekend, I’ve practiced distraction a lot.

I’ve been quilting my big 6-pointed star quilt in pink and brown, too. I posted a handful of pix in Instagram, but nothing here. I have it about 75% done, but it is now off the frame, as I’ll turn it to do the last two sides. (Because I’m doing “custom” quilting, and treating each section differently, the borders are easier to do in one pass. If I turn the quilt 90°, I can do the sides that way, rather  than in pieces as the quilt rolls from one end to the other. If you didn’t understand what I just said, don’t worry… 🙂 )

Besides that, I’ve been thinking about my upcoming class. I will make one quilt to feature in the shop’s marketing. I’ll also make two quilts along with my students. But I also will draw several more, to show them examples of how they might use simple blocks and unpieced borders to create an intricate design.

Here are a few. All of them will create a quilt finishing 60″ square. The center block for each is the same size, and the border widths are the same sizes. They all use the same blueprint.

I’ll start with a re-do of the white and bright one from the other post. This preserves the flavor but simplifies it quite a bit.

Next are two that also use spacer blocks in the final border.

And two more that have more traditional block placement in the final border.

These were fun to create, and served well to keep my mind off some less happy topics.