Tag Archives: Proportion

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.


Medallion Process — Middle Borders

While you might have forgotten my current medallion project by now, I have not. I’ve been making placemats and a Christmas stocking, attending various meetings, working out, cooking and eating, having a bad cold … And I’ve worked on my medallion.

When you last saw it, it needed a narrow border to define an edge and correct for sizing. I asked for advice on color. The most frequent call was for a strong pink, though my brain was stuck on orange. In the end, I combined the two and pieced a border of both. I love the way it sparkles and adds interest more than a single color would. And a big bonus was that I used a lot of small scraps in my piecing!

Since then, I decided the next frame would be flying geese. [See the tutorial here.] I’m not sure I’ve ever used a border of all geese, beak to tail, but that seemed the right answer this time. The photo below shows all those geese edging the center on my design wall floor. They are not sewn together yet, nor attached to the center. (And it might be a couple of weeks before they are. Other adventures await!)


I really like it, but it clearly needs more pink next, probably some of that Pepto pink from the center block. (I don’t have much of it. It might call for a shopping trip.) The strong orange and dark pink belong, too. I’ll have to think about how to do this… (Since I have time to ponder, it’s possible I’ll decide to insert some pink and orange geese into the flock.)

In the last post on this project, I noted that inner borders and outer borders play somewhat different roles.

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.

In my view, the pieced pink and orange strip is an inner border. It reinforces both the pink and orange colors from the center. It adds a new shape, a non-square rectangle. It stops the eye from outward movement, while encouraging some “circular” movement to notice the different orange and pink scraps.

The geese, however, are a middle border. Here are a couple of things to notice about it. First, geese in formation create a sense of movement. Movement is “interesting,” in that it keeps the eyes engaged. Too much movement is disturbing, though. The next border will need to be calmer. Another thing to see is the colors. I used two of the four blues from the 4-patches on point. The other two were completely gone, and I don’t have anything else close to sub in. I also used two new greens. Did you notice that? Probably not, as there already were three other greens of similar nature. At this point, I could add almost any bright green I want and it will fit in. Finally, there are two purples, repeating the purples used in the corner tulip blocks. Because they show up again, the earlier use is not a one-off, but seems like a natural part of the color palette. This is true even though there is no purple in the center block.

Another element of the geese border is size. It is visually wider than the 4-patch border, even though the measures are similar. The 4-patches on point is 5.6″ wide (measured from the center outward,) while the geese are 6″ wide. However, the tail or base end of each flying geese block creates a strong perpendicular line, while the 4-patch border has no similar emphasis to make an impression of width. In fact, because the blue patches run parallel to the edge, they provide an illusion of a narrower border. Varying the width of borders also contributes to interest.

The other important aspect of the geese’s size is proportion. Remember, proportion is not only a matter of size. It also is affected by visual weight. [See my posts here, here, and here.] Because the center block is large, borders need visual weight to balance it. The geese’s width and the strong direction created by their position and value contrast give that balance.

What do later borders need to do? They must continue the unity of the composition in terms of color, value, and basic style. They need to repeat the bright yellow and vibrant pinks and oranges from the center and first borders. They need to calm the center a bit after the strength of the flying geese. How will I achieve that? I don’t know yet! But it will be fun to find out.

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. 

The Big-Block Quilt

The quilt below is for someone who shall remain nameless for right now. While I’m pretty sure he doesn’t read my blog, it’s possible his mommy does. 🙂


The quilt measures about 84″ square and is structured around the 50″ center block. Yes! FIFTY inches, which is why I call it the big-block quilt. I actually found the block design in the book One Block Says It All by Toni Phillips and Juanita Simonich, published in 1998. The book features patterns for 10 60″ blocks, with instructions for interchangeable borders to create bed quilts.

For my purposes, 60″ was too large. If you look at the photo above, you can see the center block is created on a 5-grid. That made it easy to rescale to 50″: just make each “unit” 10″ finished instead of 12″. For example, the tan and blue half-square triangles in the corners of the center are each 10″ units, as is the variable star at the very middle. Each set of two flying geese is a 10″ unit, also.

Remember the wonderful cats and mice fabric from the center? And some of you commented on the postage stamp cloth, too.


I like several of the blocks in the book and used another of the designs in DeLight!, a quilt I made last year. However, the size provides a design challenge. Whether 50″ or 60″, the large size makes proportional borders challenging. For borders to “stand up to” the center, they need to have appropriate visual weight.

I created that proportion in a number of ways. First, the blue stars border contains the center completely, and its relative width stops the eye from extending the size of the center. Second, the center border of broken dishes blocks has a lot of visual weight of its own. It is in high-contrast values, with a large variety of fabrics to hold attention, and it is scaled larger than the center variable star. The second blue stars border echoes the first, creating even more contrast for the broken dishes to play against, and for the outer sawteeth border. That last border has half-square triangles that run around the outside edge, drawing attention with them, and increasing their visual weight. (See my posts on proportion here, here, and here.)

I honestly wasn’t sure this would work, but I think it did.

And the back… A couple of years ago I planned a project with my granddaughter. We were going to use some John Deere logo fabric and a few other things to make a quilt for her little brother. Unfortunately life got very complicated, and we weren’t able to make progress on our project. I checked with her and she agreed I could use the parts of our project for this instead.


I expect the quilt recipient may well want this side showing on his bed. 🙂

The Quilt with the BIG Center Block

As mentioned, I started a new medallion quilt. This one has a big, 50″ center block, and a total width of about 84″. It will be square.

At about 60% of the width, the center is larger, as a proportion, than I usually use. (See my three posts on proportion here.) The size makes the borders challenging. If they are narrow and fussy, they will be out of proportion with the large-scaled center. They need to have enough visual weight to hold their own, while also enhancing the center’s impact.

Here is my plan. I started with the center and then designed around it. So while this isn’t strictly “design as you go,” it was definitely designed one step at a time.

Isaacs Big Bed Quilt

The center is 50″. Notice it is built on a 5-grid, so each of the 25 segments (5 x 5) is a 10″ finished square. Each half of a flying geese unit is 5″. It doesn’t look complex, but there are 97 patches in the big block. The broken dishes blocks in the first pieced border are each 7″. While not scaled the same as the center (and they don’t need to be,) they are large and graphic, giving appropriate support for the whole design.

I have the center built, as well as some of the hundreds of half-square triangles for the two pieced borders. The outside edge of HST might have a different arrangement when all is said and done.

Here is the center of the center:


Can you see the delicious cats and mice fabric used as the light value? I’ve had that since my oldest grandson was born, almost 11 years ago. I used a little in his baby quilt, but have hoarded most of the rest since then.

I’m still working on the half-square triangle blocks. When they are all built, I’ll use 144 of them to make the 36 broken dishes blocks. Truthfully this part of the process is a little tedious, so I might not be speedy.