Tag Archives: Proportion

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.



DeLight. 96″ square. Finished June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

(Click on the photo above to open it larger in a new tab.)

As noted (extensively) in the last post about this quilt, the center block is a variation of an old design called “Odd Fellow’s” block. I found the design in a book called One Block Says It All, by Toni Phillips and Juanita Simonich. The book has a number of patterns all based on 60″ center blocks, surrounded by a couple of borders. While I used the same configuration as one of the centers in the book, I scaled mine to 32″, still a large block by most standards.

I’ve discussed before the proportion of the center as compared to the whole medallion quilt. Though I didn’t have a final plan when I made the block, I knew the quilt would be sized for a big bed, queen or king, so a big block would work well. (I’ll give all the border sizes in another post, as well as a blank you can play with.)

Almost all the shapes in this quilt are big. The smallest shapes are star points at the very center of the quilt. Next are the blue accent triangles in the inner HST border. They are small, but the solid pale grey in which they’re set creates large shapes to offset. (Note this: there are two shapes, one in the “color” and one in the background, or negative space. Either or both contribute to the sense of scale.) Also, the vibrant blue gives them weight relative to their size.

The “middle” border is actually two blocks wide. Each block finishes at 8″ square, so the perceived width of the combined border is 16″. As compared to the center (finishing at 32″) the middle border seems wide, and the blocks are bulky. The pale grey background fabric also attracts the eye more than the darker grey in the center. When the quilt is hanging as shown, the wide border and value difference takes some of the focus away from the center. When the quilt is on a bed, however, the imbalance is lessened in impact.


Two of the feature fabrics are the red with black print, making star points in the center and the large red triangles in the broad border, and the orange dandelion fabric. I’ve long wanted to use them together. They set the color scheme for the rest of the quilt, emphasizing the reds and oranges, but also including the violet.

The background color throughout the quilt is grey in varying shades. I’ll be honest. I am not a fan of grey, generally. But it was the right offset to the reds and oranges. It is very neutral, as a white would be, but it is less stark than white. That said, I much prefer the paler greys to the darker ones.

Speaking of paler compared to darker, the value contrasts in this quilt are a big factor in its effectiveness. In particular, I think the center block would be better if the background grey were paler, lending more contrast and showing off the Odd Fellow’s block and its fabrics better.

On the other hand, the broad border might be better with slightly less value contrast between its background grey and the shapes of color. A little less contrast would make the odd shapes stand out less.

Overall, though, I like strong contrasts creating distinct rings of value between center and border components. So while I’m not completely satisfied with the effect here, in the broad scope of things, I think the value contrast works okay.

Shapes are another design element we use to create meaning in a quilt. The comment above about value contrast in the broad border alludes to odd shapes. In truth, I really like the shapes from center through the big red triangles. And I like the outside border of red half-square triangles. And I even love the Old Maid’s Puzzle blocks in the corners of the broad border. But the other shapes there, especially the squares on point and the flying geese on either end of them, do not work as well for me as I’d hoped. Though they are connected to the red triangles and the Old Maid’s Puzzles, they don’t seem to relate. I still haven’t figured out what would have worked better.

Unity is the design principle that refers to the overall look of a piece. Does it present itself as a whole, or are there parts or elements that look out of place? This quilt displays unity. Aside from my misgivings about the squares on point, I don’t think they draw attention to themselves, distracting from the whole design. The strong symmetry and repetition of shapes and colors is soothing, while the ways points are directed provides some tension and contrast.

This quilt isn’t on my list of favorites, but I tried some things I hadn’t done before, and on the whole I like it very much.

Look for the EQ quilt design next time.

Proportion, Part 3

Posts 1 and 2 on medallion quilt proportion addressed the center block. What size should the design be within the center block? What size should the block be as compared to the whole quilt? If you want it bigger, or just to appear bigger, how can you do that?

Who gets to decide the answers to these questions? You do. There are no rules for medallion quilt size, or for any of its components. (Believe me. I’ve looked.) And even if there were, I’d encourage you to break them whenever you want. You get to make your quilt your way.

The same is true for medallion borders. Their primary role is to support the center, the star of the show. But I’ve looked at historical medallions, and I’ve looked at contemporary show quilt medallions. I’ve read the only “rules” on this I can find (and I don’t necessarily agree.) Borders, and design components within borders, can be whatever size you want.

Let’s think about the various aspects of borders that affect proportions of the quilt:

1. How much of the total area of the quilt is borders, as opposed to the center (Part 1)
2. How big an individual border is, relative to other borders, the center block, or the whole quilt
3. How big the shapes within a border are, relative to that border, to other borders, to the center block, or the whole quilt
4. Visual weight characteristics, as discussed in Part 2.

Let’s start with how big an individual border is relative to the center block. Again, there are no hard rules here. But because the center block is intended to be the primary focal point, it makes sense that no border should be as wide as the center motif.

Indeed, Joen Wolfrom makes the argument, seemingly based on her personal preferences, that the total border width on a side should be less than half the width of the center. Here is advice she gave to entrants of the OEQC 2009: “If you are designing a medallion quilt … Generally, each side border should be no more than half the width of the medallion center. If the borders become much wider than the medallion center, the borders take over the design.” This is unnecessarily restrictive.

Okay, we’ve established that there is a “rule” for the width of borders as compared to the center, and we can ignore it. Let’s move on to the width of borders as compared to each other. Here again, there is no rule you need to follow, but there are some aesthetic principles that might be helpful.

The Golden Ratio is a geometric calculation that has been studied for at least 2,400 years. Some believe that it was used to develop ancient Greek architecture, not to mention innumerable other applications since. To simplify substantially, it is the ratio of 1.61 to 1. (huh?) And to make that applicable it suggests that two measures, to be aesthetically pleasing, should be scaled so one measure is 1.6 times greater than another.

For example, if a border is 3″ wide, the next border might be 3″ x 1.6 = 4.8″ wide. The next after that might be 4.8″ x 1.6 = 7.68″ wide. Here is an idea of what that looks like:

Proportion golden ratio

To approximate it in EQ7, this illustration uses a 15″ center block, 3″ first border, 4.75″ second border, and 7.5″ final border. The total quilt width is 45.5″, so the center is about a third of the total. To play devil’s advocate, what if we turned the order around? Does it look as good?

Proportion golden ratio 2

If I ignore the color/value use, I think yeah, it does look pretty good.

Okay, that is a rule that is worth keeping in mind. And there are other mathematical rules or progressions that could be tried, such as the Fibonacci sequence.

For practicality, though, designing pieced borders to fit the calculation could be rather torturous. My number one rule is to find the process rewarding, so I even if I use these mathematical progressions, I’ll certainly modify sizes to make design of individual borders easier.

That seems like a good segue to the next topic on proportion, the design of one border and how its shapes and sizes relate to the rest of the quilt.

Proportion, Part 2

In my prior post about proportion, I talked about center block size. The size of the design within the block affects the sense of proportion, as does the size of the block as compared to the whole quilt.

There are other factors besides size that affect proportion. The visual “weight” of design components also influences our perception of size, and therefore proportion. Weight refers to the ability of a component to attract attention. We want the center block to attract attention; it is a natural focal point, and should be in a medallion. But we don’t want it to attract attention to the detriment of all the other parts. The song “All About That Bass” annoys me because it isn’t. It’s about how the parts all work together to create a pleasing whole.

I used these illustrations last time, to discuss the size of the center as compared to the whole. They also exhibit the characteristic of relative weight. The first center block is 25% of the width of the whole quilt. The second, including the on-point setting corners, is just shy of that. The star design in each is the same, including colors.

Proportion center 25 percent

Proportion center on point

To my eye, the top center block appears larger and “heavier” than the lower one. Why? First, the shapes within the star are 50% larger. Second, the pale setting triangles of the lower one give it less weight and presence.

Okay, there are two different things I mentioned. One is the size of the shapes within the block, and one is a color and/or value contrast issue. Let’s break them out separately.

First, the color and value: compare the first picture below with the middle. Then compare the bottom illustration with the middle.

Proportion darkest valueProportion center 25 percent Proportion hottest temperatureThe first center block appears larger than the second one, though they are actually the same size. Why? Because the value contrast is greater. With its greater visual weight, it will appear to have a somewhat different proportion with the whole. Similarly, the third block using bright red has more weight, or draws attention more, than the bright purple.

Factors that increase our perception of visual weight include:

  • Greater size
  • Greater value contrast
  • Greater color saturation (more vivid as compared to duller)
  • Warmer color temperature (red is weighty as compared to blue)
  • More pattern
  • More compact or dense

For the last two, examples might help. First, more pattern is visually heavier than less. Consider two blocks of the same size and design, and generally the same colors. One is made from printed fabrics and one is made from solids. For most people, the block from prints will hold attention longer; thus it is considered to have more weight. Second, a more compact design is heavier than one that is less compact. For this, consider two objects. One is the puffball of a dandelion gone to seed. The other is a golf ball. Both are about the same size; both have textured “surfaces,” both are white. But the dense and compact golf ball is visually weightier. If you return to the two images at the top of the post, there is another example of the denser component having more weight. The top block appears denser within a similar space.

Next time: discussion of border width proportions.

Proportion, Part 1

Proportion is one of the key design principles of medallion quilts. It’s easy to understand that proportion is determined by the size or scale of shapes. It is also affected by color characteristics, relative value, line, and placement of shapes. In this post I’ll talk about center block size.

There are a number of places where size or scale of components comes into play. Scale within the center block, relative size of the center to the whole quilt, and the relative widths of the borders all affect how we perceive the proportions of the quilt.

Center Block Design
Within the center block, sizes may seem “too big” or “too little.” Take a look at these illustrations of center blocks. I chose wheel patterns because a lot of modern quilts use Dresden plates, circles of geese, or other round patterns for centers. They are colored the same so you can focus on the size of the design within the square.
Proportion wheel big

Proportion wheel little

In the top picture, the circle is tangent to the sides of the square. The size seems to crowd the square, and may seem “too big.” In the second picture, the circle floats in the square and seems “too little” within a sea of background. And just like baby bear’s porridge, the one below, to my eyes, seems “just right.” It is still related to the edges of the square while not touching them.

Proportion wheel just right

Center Block Size Relative to Quilt Size
Similarly, the size of the center block as compared to the whole matters. I’ve written before about the size of the center block.

When I study “successful” medallions (meaning, ones I like,) the center block is about a quarter the width of the whole quilt, or even larger. A smaller block tends to lose its importance when the scale is less than that.

For example, if you have a 15” block, your quilt might be up to about four times that, or 60” wide, while keeping the central block thematically important.

I’ve also seen it suggested that a center block should be approximately half the total quilt width. So let’s say an appropriate range for most quilts is from a quarter to a half of the width. Consider the examples below for how the center block size matters to the whole quilt’s proportions. Again, all else is the same so you can notice size.

Proportion center 17 percent Proportion center 25 percent Proportion center 50 percent Proportion center 75 percent

All four of these could work, depending on how they were bordered. However, the two illustrations in the middle (with center blocks at 25% and 50% of the whole) have the most graceful proportions. It is easy for me to imagine borders around either of those. The first picture has a center that is one-sixth of the whole, and the last picture has a center that is 75%.

What if your block is too small, as compared to the quilt you want to make? There are a variety of solutions. One is to enlarge it with framing. Another is to turn it on point. The picture below shows that first block, which is only 16.6% of the width of the whole. Turned on point it is almost 24% of the width and has more presence.

Proportion center on point

Next time: more discussion of how your center block affects design proportion.