Tag Archives: Shape

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.

 

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Lessons: Medallion Center Block Considerations

If you’re just beginning a medallion, you may already have a center block in mind. Perhaps there is an old traditional block you’ve always wanted to try, like a feathered star. Or maybe a modern log cabin setting has you excited. Did you receive a beautiful block in a swap but not figured out how to use it? If you’d like some other ideas, see my post A Center Block for a Medallion Quilt.

Here are a few considerations as you begin. First, the center is the focal point of the quilt. It does not need to be spectacular to serve that purpose, but it does need to be eye-catching. Many of my centers are fairly ordinary blocks such as variable stars, Ohio stars, or churndash variations. Bold is more important than fancy.

Second, the block should be sized appropriately for your goal. In general, you may want the center to be a quarter to half the width of the finished quilt. If it isn’t, there are ways to enlarge it while retaining the flavor of the block. I discussed size in Lessons: Starting a Medallion Quilt and in Proportion, Part 1.

Third, it’s very helpful if the block has good variations in color and/or value. I once made a block that had three main colors, teal, salmon, and red. All three had small prints with colors that were hard to pick out. All three were similar value. It was very difficult to find ways to expand the range and make it interesting.

Oh my! All the same value, and hard to pick out more colors…

As you look at the block above, you might note a fourth factor: shape. All the discernible shapes are squares, though in truth the red patches are non-square rectangles. Even the shapes aren’t interesting here. The diagonal lines created by the salmon squares is the only thing that saves this from being completely weird/ugly/disastrous. Well, it is those, but I rescued it…

Sparkle. 48″ square. Finished January 2014.

The shapes are important not just for how interesting the center is. The shapes also play into the fifth factor. Is the center block enclosed or expansive? Lines that direct the eye outward tend to make the block expansive. Diagonal lines tend to do this but aren’t the only way. Triangles and star shapes often create natural movement outward. In the block above, other than the salmon squares, there is no line that directs the eye beyond the block itself, and they don’t do a very good job of it. I would call that block enclosed.

Here are a couple more examples.

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I Found the Housework Fairy But She’s Not Coming Back. 35″ square. June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

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The Big Block Quilt. 84″ square. February 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

In the Fairy, the center block is enclosed. Though we can imagine the scene extends beyond the frame, we really are called to look inward to the fairy herself, not outward. In the Big Block Quilt, the center is expansive. The outward-pointing flying geese, set in slightly paler gold for emphasis, literally radiate from the center.

Neither one is better ultimately. It is just a design aspect to understand for how it fits into your whole quilt. If your center is expansive, at some point you may need to contain it, as the first broad strip border does for the Big Block. If your center is enclosed, you might want to find a way to direct attention outward and provide some sense of movement. In Sparkle, above, the borders including the large red triangles serve that purpose.

Blocks set on point are expansive naturally, because of the long diagonal lines created. Look at the difference between this

and this.

The top one is more neutral than either expansive or enclosed. Though the brown triangles of this churndash block provide some visual movement, it is largely stopped by the blue and gold print at the center edges. Once it is turned on point, the strong blue diagonal lines push the eye to the outer edges of the block, where the brown unpieced border stops it again. This example has fancy corners added, but there’s no need to do extra piecing in the setting corners. See my post on when to set your block on point.

Finally, the examples here all show square centers. While they are easier, perhaps, there is no reason not to use a non-square rectangle. Some of my favorite quilts have non-square centers.

All of this makes it sound like choosing a center block is very complex. In fact it’s not. How should you choose a center block? Just pick something fun, or beautiful, or the right colors, or sentimental. As you saw with my weird/ugly/disastrous block above, there is no wrong block. They all can work.

Next comes borders. They all support the center and each other, but first borders have a little different role than last borders. And look for more Medallion Lessons here

Lessons: Rectangles Include Squares

I am a word nerd. When words have very specific meanings and are not used correctly, or are used ambiguously, I react.

For example, a rectangle is a four-sided shape with all four interior angles measuring 90°. In other words, with all four corners as right angles. Opposite sides are parallel and the same length.

A square is a special type of rectangle. The difference is that squares have all four sides the same length.

The problem occurs in using the word “rectangle” to mean “non-square rectangle.” Rectangles include squares. So to be accurate, I would always need to amend it by saying “non-square rectangles” if I mean “non-square rectangles.” Correct, but awkward, huh?

So the solution is to be incorrect, at least a lot of the time. It will make my skin crawl, but when I use the term “rectangle,” generally I will mean “non-square rectangle.”

Questions? Comments? Do you have pet word peeves? (Please reassure me that I’m not alone in this!) 

A Gift for My Friend BJ

Recently I mentioned I’ll be giving away a few quilts. I sent off two on Friday, and yesterday (Saturday) the first one arrived for its new owner!

In July and August I had a few quilts displayed in a local quilt shop. One day my friend BJ met me there to take a look, and to enjoy some time together. BJ and I met 18 years ago (MY GOODNESS!) at the bank where we both worked. We worked closely for several years prior to her retirement, and we’ve remained friends since then.

BJ is a sports fan, and while there were a couple of the quilts she especially liked, I thought this one suited her well. It is named Play Ball! and is 46″ x 56″.

This fun little quilt started from a pillow panel. Several years ago, on my first excursion into our local Mennonite thrift shop, I found two square pillow covers. With their vintage baseball theme and strong blues, reds, and greens, likely they were used in a boy’s bedroom. Besides the square(ish) panels on the front, the envelope closures on the back were lined with small baseballs on navy blue.

I used one panel to inspire a baby quilt for my youngest grandchild. (He is going on 5 now, so not a baby anymore.) It uses the Burgoyne Surrounded block on the front and the pillow panel to center the back.

But I still had one panel left. With a nice range of color and value, I continued the baseball and All-American theme.

The dark green tone-on-tone framed the panel to represent the grass of the infield, and then I mimicked the baseline and bases in the corners with cream and tan. Spark and movement comes from the simple border of 4-patches and half-square triangles.

The busy stars print frames all that, followed by borders only on top and bottom to elongate the quilt. This border uses the “economy” block, or square-in-a-square, described in this tutorial. I was able to use four of the fussy-cut baseballs for the corner blocks. Finally I framed the whole thing with red. This gives a balance between the red, navy, and green in the center panel.

I enjoyed making this quilt. I have a feeling BJ will enjoy watching her baseball playoff games and quite a lot of football snuggled under this lap quilt.

DeLight

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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.

Proportion
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.

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Color
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.

Value
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
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
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.