Tag Archives: Roberta Horton

Three Comments on Balance

In the last post I showed you the quilt I’m working on now. It’s intended as a donation for our local VA hospital, to warm a vet with the love stitched into it. You can see the blocks below.

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I talked about choosing the layout, and how using an even number of blocks across, when there are alternate blocks, can lead to an unbalanced layout. My EQ7 isn’t working properly right now, or I would show you a picture I create. Instead I’ll show you from Roberta Horton’s book Scrap Quilts: The Art of Making Do.

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From Roberta Horton’s book Scrap Quilts: The Art of Making Do, page 19.

Notice that there are three star blocks on the left and two on the right, making it asymmetrical. If there were another row across, giving three and three, the arrangement still wouldn’t have left-right symmetry. The lack of symmetry makes it feel unbalanced.

In my quilt above, I have a similar layout, but use half-square triangle blocks rather than plain alternate blocks. To my eye, it is balanced. What’s the difference? The strong diagonal line created by the HST takes the emphasis off the horizontal (or vertical) row arrangement. The visual weight isn’t in the shoofly blocks; it’s in the HST, which creates diagonal lines that are symmetrical. (For more about visual weight, see my posts on proportion, parts 1, 2, and 3.)


For the last couple of years, I’ve had the goal to be sturdy and flexible. It’s an easy motto to say: “Sturdy and flexible — that’s the goal!” I apply it to both my physical and mental health. To be sturdy, I need good balance. But in August I hurt my left knee, and it’s astonishing how quickly everything else fell apart! My right leg wants to work much harder than my left leg does. My upper body feels a lot more competent than my lower body does. I am all out of balance, and I don’t feel at all sturdy, and my legs especially are not flexible. (Mentally things seem to be going fine, thank you.)

If you’re a quilter you know how physical our making can be. I get up and down off the floor once a piece is too big for my design wall. I walk up and down stairs, 15 steps each time, to get to my studio. I stand for long stretches when quilting at the longarm. And even sitting at the domestic machine requires good core strength to keep from hurting my back. I need this all to be easier again!

I decided it was time to ask for professional help. I’ve started working with a personal trainer at a local gym. So far we’ve assessed the problem (and she agrees with my evaluation, but in much more specific terms.) And she’s begun showing me the type of work I’ll do to get back on track. I’m looking forward to improving my strength, flexibility, and endurance, and to getting my balance back.


I’m also pondering how to set myself up to finish the year well. The key to doing what I want is knowing what I want. That sounds simple, but you know as well as I that sorting priorities isn’t always easy.

Here is something I wrote to a friend in email two years ago:

… your power is in what you DO, not in what you DID. For me, I can only DO effectively when I am doing the right things, really spending my time and energy on my true priorities. There are a lot of different layers to that, right? Bills have to be paid, dishes have to be washed, etc. …

I finally figured out my magic formula, this funny 3-legged stool … I have to identify my priorities correctly so I can balance my resources right. And I have to get my balance right to maximize my power.

Being sturdy and flexible is about being powerful, able to create and to endure. Identifying priorities is about being powerful, in just the same way.

Identifying priorities. That is the task I’m working on now. I’ll talk more about that another time.

More Book Reviews

I’ve mentioned before that I’m on my local guild’s library committee. The reality is I’m the committee’s chairman. And with that I have the privilege of choosing new books to add to our library. I buy new books several times a year, with no particular schedule. I think we have an official budget of $250, but we’ve also sold many books over the last three years, raising at least that much each time. And as mentioned before, I almost always buy books on discount, both for myself and for the guild. (For the guild, however, I only buy new.) Truthfully, I don’t worry much about the budget…

Our guild year begins in September. Last guild year I added a number of books. Here are reviews of a few of them.

Reviews of Guild Library Books
Quilters Playtime by Dianne S. Hire
As the name implies, this book wants to make quilting more fun with a set of games. The games range from tiddly winks, pick-up sticks, tic tac toe, and musical chairs, as well as several others. A lot of the techniques include sewing blocks and slicing, and then resewing parts from a number of blocks together. Others include fusing and machine applique.

The resulting quilts are interesting, fun, and refreshing, and they give me an “I wanna try that!” feeling. Frankly, a lot of books with offbeat techniques don’t make me feel that way. In fact, this one looked like so much fun, I bought a copy for myself.

Liberated Quiltmaking II by Gwen Marston
Marston originated the term “liberated quilting” and uses it to describe her freeform, improvisational process. This 2010 publication by the favorite author/quilter takes readers through nine processes to create fresh quilts without patterns. From liberated log cabins and wonky stars, recut blocks and sashing, and truly wild geese, she shows how to make parts that can be combined in various ways. The final two processes, Liberated Medallions and Liberated Samplers, show how the parts can be combined in multitudes of ways for a new look.

Throughout the book, photos of finished quilts, diagrams of stitching and cutting instructions, and tips provide the reader with everything they need to begin liberating themselves from traditional patterns.

Create Your Own Free-Form Quilts by Rayna Gillman
My sister bought this book first, and excitedly showed me through it and some piecing she had started inspired by the book. I love the quote on the book’s back cover: “No such thing as a mistake!” So many of us, as we learn to quilt, focus more on our mistakes than on our victories. This is a sure way to kill pleasure and creativity.

This book’s philosophy carries the no-mistakes theme all through. The author’s cheerful attitude takes the reader from sewing strips cut without rulers, joining strip sets, slicing them across and apart, framing, and rejoining. The resulting quilts are thoroughly original and, to me, reminiscent of architectural studies. A bonus is the chapter on using orphan or ugly blocks. Once they are sliced up and re-pieced with slashes and strips, they aren’t recognizable anymore, but are reborn.

Quilts Made Modern by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr
Unlike the three books above, this book uses purely traditional processes. However, it does so within the styling of “modern” or “contemporary” quilts. Sections on design and construction sandwich the section of patterns, making this a more traditional book just by its arrangement. The patterns in between also show multiple colorways and information to make each quilt in varying sizes.

The patterns themselves allow quilters of differing skill levels to try simple Chinese coins, transparency, curved piecing, and different kinds of applique. Few of the quilts use a typical block style, and though the patterns are modern in this regard, no one would mistake the quilts for another art or textile genre.

Men and the Art of Quiltmaking by Joe Cunningham
This exciting book provides a gallery and artist summaries of about thirty male quilters, as well as several patterns. The men’s comments on their introduction to quilting, their creative processes, and why they quilt are not very different than you would hear from most women. But culturally we often are surprised by men who quilt, and some of them discuss others’ reactions, as well.

The photos of the quilts reveal a variety of styles. Some show traditional block-pieced quilts, others focus on applique, while others veer into the art quilt world. The common thread, in my opinion, is the boldness of color and form. While the author may have chosen these quilters specifically for this quality, it stands out to me in a way a collection of women’s quilts might not.

Reviews of Books from My Personal Library
A few days ago I blogged about buying books. One of the things I mentioned was the idea of creating a written inventory of my personal library.

I used an Excel spreadsheet to record the title, author, and publication date for each. I also noted the category of the book. Categories include History, Patterns, Machine Quilting, etc. To preserve the list, I uploaded it using Google Docs.

On the list are more than 80 books acquired over the last few years, and I’ve probably donated another 20 or 25, books I decided I no longer need.

As I entered them in my spreadsheet, I wondered which ones I’d keep now, if I could only have a few. Four of them stood out for different reasons.

The Ultimate Quilting Book by Maggi McCormick Gordon is one of the first books I owned. At 448 pages, it is survey of classic quilts, including patchwork and applique. Antique and contemporary quilts are shown in high-quality photos with discussion of pattern, layout, and the histories of them. The last half of the book focuses on techniques.

Scrap Quilt Sensation by Katharine Guerrier is another favorite. The author takes color a completely different direction from the antiques of the prior book. Rich blues, purples, and greens dominate, with warm colors as accents. Block styles have a more fluid nature than in traditional quilts, but she uses all the traditional techniques. This book helped me look at color and format in whole new ways.

I checked Scrap Quilts: The Art of Making Do out of the public library dozens of times before I finally had for a copy of my own. Roberta Horton shows fabric and color combinations to honor, not imitate, antique quilts. As a fun addition, the latter part of the book also discusses story quilts and how to compose them. I find this book fascinating and refer to it over and over for inspiration.

Finally, Harriet Hargrave and Sharyn Craig‘s The Art of Classic Quiltmaking is a classic unto itself. It serves as a how-to resource for a variety of technical skills, but it also discusses color and composition, as well as other topics necessary to the skilled quilter.

Do you have favorite books or bookstores for your quilting adventures? Are there “best” books for learning techniques or processes, for learning color theory or design? Share with us!