Tag Archives: Pattern

Medallion Process — A New Center Block for Class

When I teach Medallion Improv!, I use a blueprint specifying the size of the center block and the widths of each border. This frees the student from concerns about those proportions, allowing them to focus on other aspects of design.

Even with a blueprint, each student’s quilt will be completely different from every other, including mine. Each begins by creating their own center block. In so doing, they begin to define the style or theme of their quilt, from traditional to modern/contemporary, from casual to quite formal, from couch throw to heirloom to large wall-hanging.

I’m starting to prep for classes this fall. I’ve redesigned the blueprint to hone in on a couple of specific lessons. For example, using a center block on point requires knowing how to do that, as well as which blocks are appropriate for turning and which are not. Designating a border of half-square triangles demonstrates how many different ways they can be arranged, and shows how very simple blocks can be used to create a big impact.

I like to have at least a couple of examples of the blueprint quilt made, to show students varying ways to approach problems. Because this blueprint is new, I have some prep to do! I’ve chosen two center block designs to create two new quilts for class. One quilt will have a “traditional” feel because of the fabrics used, while the other will be from brighter, more contemporary fabrics. Both center blocks will be foundation paper-pieced. (I love knowing how to paper-piece!)

The blueprint’s center block is 16″ square, finished. (It could be no less than 15″ and no more than 16″ and still work easily. Smaller sizes would require some amendment.) Here is my first of two center blocks, already turned on point.

As you can guess, this is for the quilt that will be less traditional!

When turned on point, a 16″ block creates a center that is 22 5/8″. Because I used oversized setting triangles, when I trim it, it will finish at 23″. With a finished quilt top at 60″ square, the center, including setting triangles, is a little more than a third the width of the total. This gives a good proportion and clearly defines the center as the focal point. (See my posts on proportion, here and here and here.)

The variety of design elements in the star block create interest. (Note varying shapes, sizes, colors, values, and patterns. All of these are “design elements,” or the characteristics that add together to create the overall look. ) The lines in the fabric patterns, as well as the spinning star in the middle, provide a sense of movement that is both outward and rotational.

The colors reinforce each other, with the red and black in the outward stripes repeating the red and black of the pinwheel patches. The various oranges and orangey-yellows give depth, and also invite any other orange or yellow to join in. The dark blue of the star background isn’t repeated yet, but it will be in the first border.

The prints used, while emphasizing stripes, also include squiggles, bars, circles, and even floral. Having such a range in the center opens the door widely for what might come next.

The setting triangles are pieced from two different stripes. In truth, I had a hard time figuring the math to cut the orange squiggled fabric efficiently. So I didn’t. I just cut rectangles I knew would be big enough, and after piecing with the red and black stripe, cut the big triangles to fit the edge correctly. See my post on setting a block on point.

I have LOTS of stuff going on right now, so I’m not sure if I’ll work on this again next, or switch gears to the other class quilt, or … could be something else altogether. Either way, it was fun to make this block and I think it will make a big impact as the center of a quilt.


You Should Write Patterns!

I’ve written before about selling quilts, and the value vs. price problem. I choose not to sell my quilts (at this time,) because I reasonably believe that I value them far more than someone else would pay. In other words, the value to me is higher than the price I could charge. Consider a bed-sized quilt. If it takes 80 to 100 hours of my time, plus about $200 of direct material cost, plus overhead and marketing costs, plus profit, that quilt has a value (to me) of well over $2000. Will you pay me that much? If not, I’d rather give them away. (See end notes for links to my posts on this issue.)

Besides selling your quilts, another way to earn income in the quilting world is to create patterns. Thousands of quilters offer patterns, both for free and for payment. Some sell their designs through magazines or other publishers. Others market their patterns themselves.

A design, not a pattern. No yardage, no technical directions. Free here: https://catbirdquilts.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/free-medallion-quilt-design-1/

If you are interested in writing patterns, I strongly encourage you to read a couple of posts on the subject. First, from Jennifer at See How We Sew, some advice on creating well-written patterns. Second, from Sam Hunter at Hunter’s Design Studio, a discussion on writing patterns, and what might have happened when a pattern isn’t well done.

One aspect Sam mentions is how well pattern-writing pays. Or not. If you want to make income from your patterns, this is a key piece of data.

Whether you write one pattern for pay, or write them full-time, it IS a business. Several months ago I had a frustrating experience when I decided to buy two patterns from a designer’s website. The process didn’t go well. Multiple attempts to contact her — by email and phone — went unanswered for many days. Her eventual emails to me blamed me, rather than taking responsibility for a glitch in her website. Finally she whined that sending out the problem pattern by mail (which I had not demanded) would cost her another $5. I told her that if that was all it cost her to learn a good lesson in customer service, it was a cheap lesson. She is talented at design but her business skills were lacking.

Another aspect of designing and pattern-writing to consider is copyright law on patterns. It can be very hard to protect your work, and the law isn’t clear on where the lines are drawn. If you’ve ever looked at a quilt and thought, “I don’t need to buy the pattern for that. I can draw that up myself,” you know what I mean. (If this concerns you, I’ll leave it to you to investigate for yourself. Copyright law is not my area of expertise.)

Now and then I’m asked to provide a pattern for one of my quilts. It’s a tremendous compliment and I take it seriously. But while I love to design, I’m not interested in writing patterns. The reasons are partly due to my personality, and partly because of my quilts.

First, to create a pattern and be sure that it provides good instructions, a pattern should be tested. Because I design as I go, I would need to make two quilts of the same design, with the second one as a test of instructions written only after the first was finished. I don’t want to make duplicate quilts. I want to make original quilts. So recreating a design, even for pattern testing, is not very interesting to me.

Second, in general, my quilts are complex. Writing accurate instructions would be time-consuming and difficult, and would suck all the fun out of quilt creation for me. Instructions you would get would be lengthy and difficult, and might well suck all the fun out of creation for you, too. Both of us would lose.

Third, and most important, I don’t want to help you make my quilts. I want to help you make your quilts. Your fabrics are different from mine, your vision is different from mine, you might have a specific purpose for your quilt. If you want to make your best friend a quilt loaded with friendship stars, by all means you should! If you have a wonderful piece of embroidery, or a great big print you’d like to use as a center block (Kate…), you should.

I can help you with that. But I can’t help you make your quilt your way AND tell you how to make my quilt my way. It’s a choice.

We are more powerful when we create from our own vision. For many people, it is harder to do that than to use someone else’s design and instructions. But I know from personal experience, and from feedback from my students, that original creation is incredibly rewarding. It feeds confidence and seeds more ideas for future work. Those seeds sprout and grow in unexpected ways. Here as elsewhere we reap what we sew.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Learning Quilt Design from “What Not to Wear”

Color, Texture, Pattern, Shine — these are the foundation of wardrobe design on TLC’S What Not to Wear, a wardrobe/life make-over show that ran for ten years. Hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly emphasized these, as well as shape, proportion, fit, and appropriateness.

Last Monday while I worked out, I watched a re-run. It occurred to me that quilt design follows many of the same principles as wardrobe design.

Using color, texture, pattern, and shine are simply ways to create contrast and visual interest. Stacy and Clinton pair color with neutrals, for example showing a chartreuse print top with taupe slacks. For accent they might add teal shoes and a textured mustard-colored purse. To add sparkle, a bangle bracelet and dangling necklace. They repeatedly insist that colors don’t have to match, they just have to “go.”

How is this like quilt design? Colors in quilts don’t have to match, and in fact often work better if they don’t quite match. But using strong color with neutrals is the best way to highlight the colors.

The rerun showed a woman who enjoyed dressing in rainbow colors and cow prints. One “before” outfit showed her in rainbow-striped tights and sweater, with bright red corduroy jeans, rolled to the knee. I read a blog post elsewhere recently criticizing “scrap vomit” quilts that feature scores of colors, all the same in size, intensity and value. (Look up the term — I didn’t make it up!) The blogger reasonably commented on the visual confusion that occurs. This is the same effect given by the make-over participant in her clownish rainbow togs.

As she moved through the make-over process, she learned about fit, proportion, and appropriateness. You can have a great outfit in other regards, but if the fit and proportions aren’t right, it won’t look great.

In quilt design, we could compare this to using shape, size, proportion, and balance. Consider a basic block-style quilt with an unpieced border. We can add any size border at all, right? It could be 3″ wide or 30″ wide. And like Goldilocks, we might assess one extreme as too small, and the other extreme as too big. They are out of proportion and out of balance. Somewhere in the middle is the width that is just right! Just right will depend on the total width of the center, as well as the block size, and possibly the size of units in the block.

Color, texture, pattern, shine, shape, proportion, fit, and appropriateness… What about appropriateness? When we design quilts, choosing patterns and fabrics, we choose partly based on appropriateness. We rarely make a baby quilt as a wedding present; if we do, it’s either because a baby is due or we have a poor notion of good taste. In this culture we rarely choose pinks and flowers for a little boy’s quilt, or trucks and footballs for a little girl’s.

Fit? Large quilts are for big beds. Table runners are for tables. I made a table runner a few years ago for a friend. Her home was in the midst of renovation; her kitchen was going to be substantially larger than before. Her kitchen table, without leaves, would be nearly eight feet long. Her table runner, to fit and to look proportional, needed to be large. It was about 76″ long, much too large for a typical kitchen table, but perfect for hers.

You can learn design principles from so many sources. Television shows on decorating or even cooking, blog posts on photography, books about writing, stops at museums or hikes in the wilderness. All have much to offer. Be open. Absorb the lessons around you. Think about how to incorporate what you see into what you quilt. Your work will be richer for it.