Tag Archives: Unity

Finding Balance with Visual Weight

I’m working on that UFO. More accurately, I’ve stalled working on that UFO, because of balance problems.

Last time I showed you a couple of ideas for finishing the 6-pointed star with borders. Both were good ideas, and I kept playing in EQ7 to refine them. This was the winner:

Pretty, huh? I liked the airy way the chains of 4-patches wrapped around the center. After arriving home over the weekend, I set to work making 40 double-4-patches to construct the borders. They finished well, and I was excited to lay them out around the center. But I don’t like the look at all. They definitely look better in the drawing than they do in real life.

The balance is all wrong. The visual weight of the center (everything in the center so far, including the 4-patches on point and the 1″ dark pink border outside of them) is too heavy, relative to the weight of the chains. The difference is so stark, the border chain blocks seem completely disconnected from the center, as if they are from different quilts.

Unity: the design principle that all the elements and components of a design look like they belong, that they are unified, or one.

Balance: the design principle that elements and components of a design have equal distribution of visual weight.

My chains are not well balanced with the center, and in fact, are so badly balanced as to look like they don’t belong.


So it was back to the literal drawing board of EQ7. I have a tentative plan, but you might understand that I’m shy about showing it right now. First I’ll see if it works.

How is your week going? Are you making good progress, or are you in steps-forward and steps-back mode, like I am?

Medallion Process — Final Borders


Unnamed top. About 71.5″ x 71.5″. January 2017.

Last weekend I finished this quilt top. I’ve shown you some of my process along the way, through the flying geese middle border. The geese border needed to be contained and balanced. Putting the orange and hot pink edge both inside and outside does that.

That decision was made before we traveled for the holidays. While gone I worked on designing the final border.

Remember the purposes of middle and outer borders are to

  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.

I used EQ7 to try design options. If you ever think that designing with software is cheating somehow, let me assure you it is not. I spent many hours, trying literally dozens of designs, before choosing what you see above. One option that made the finals was a border of variable stars on point. Those variable stars, in fact, are what inspired me to begin this project, so it was hard to let them go. The star proportions are the same as the variable star in the middle of the Carpenter’s Wheel center block, so would echo it. (The EQ7 drawing below uses a different version of the center block than I used. See the photo above.) The on-point setting also repeats the 4-patches’ setting in the first border. Another benefit is the ability to use all the colors again in a natural way.


Pretty, yes? But I like the boldness of the components that come before, and the stars are small and the detail gets a bit lost. To me the design did not seem well balanced or fully unified.

Long ago I played with a number of quilt designs, which used a repetition of a center block motif in the corners of both an inner and an outer border. Here’s one example (and see more here and here.)

wraparound corners 4

I tried this idea in a variety of ways, and I liked the direction it was taking. I chose corners the same as the corners of the center block. They are the same size, and the pinks are the same fabrics. They made sense, continuing the floral motif and unifying the design in ways the variable stars did not.

However, with all the blank space between those corners, it didn’t balance well with the busyness and boldness of the flying geese. What it needed was more.

Next I tried more. I tried adding a flower variation in the centers of the border. Several iterations of that later, I stopped with my final choice. But still it looked too bare.

Once the chain blocks, made of double 4-patches, were added, I stopped. The 4-patches repeat the inner 4-patches. The chains’ stair-stepping shape also imitates the line of an on-point setting. Finally, they present the notion of floral stems or vines, or even swags, very traditional ways to border a medallion.

I have fabric for the back and will quilt it soon. I’ll show you final photos then.

Medallion Process — First Borders

When we were in Scotland’s Scottish National Gallery, we enjoyed a wonderful special exhibit of Impressionist art. Many of the paintings were framed in heavily carved gilt frames, which seemed in conflict with the light-filled paintings of a different era. A few pieces were rimmed by simpler frames that seemed more suitable. Generally a frame should support and enhance the art within it, but it should not call attention to itself in any way.

It’s easy to think of medallion borders as picture frames. However, they are much more complex than that. Every border should support and enhance the center block, as well as everything else that is within it, telling a unified story. They can, singly or in combination, create secondary focal points. They can direct attention to or away from other components. They can provide contrast and tension, adding interest.

Borders are part of the composition, not simply a setting for it.

As that composition is built, it radiates from the center. Borders close to the center play a different role than those farther out. 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.

And all unpieced borders can be used to correct size problems.

Let’s go back to inner borders. What does it mean to expand or enclose the center? Interior borders that visually expand the center block give the illusion that the block is bigger or more important than it actually is. Take a look at a couple of examples to see inner borders that expand the center. First, in Garden Party the panel has definite edges to it, showing the Tree of Life as through a window. However, the border of half-square triangles near it gives the illusion that the leafy trees continue beyond the seam. The asymmetrical placement of HST contribute to the illusion of expansion (and the narrow black border encloses it.)

Garden Party. 62" x 68". Center panel by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning Fabrics. Finished March 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Garden Party. 62″ x 68″. Center panel by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning Fabrics. Finished March 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Second, in Stained Glass, the turquoise flying geese surrounding the center block point outward. The lines created by the points direct the eye out, expanding the center.

Little One Stained Glass

Stained Glass. 40″ square. February 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Isaac’s Big Block quilt has an inner border that encloses the center. The center block is enormous, extending all the way to the unpieced border of blue with white stars. It has to stop! And the strip border stops it.


Isaac’s Big Block. 84″ square. February 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

For my current project, the 28″ finished center block is expansive in itself. It doesn’t need to be expanded. The size, the diagonal lines, and the points all give it visual weight and an outward line. What it does need is more colors. If I don’t introduce new colors within the first border or two, they will look out of place if added later. The highest priority for new colors is the green-tinged-blue of the small flowers in the center patch, and orange. Orange is harder to see in that patch, hidden a bit amongst the pinks. But it is there and calls to be used. I can probably fit purple/lavender in at some point, too, once the color set is enlarged. Dark navy or black might work — we’ll see.

Wow, it’s a tall order to add a border of blue and orange, immediately after using bright yellow, strong pinks, and grassy green. A little subtlety is called for.


The orange has about the same intensity and slightly darker value as the center’s yellow, so it is a natural extension of it. The outward points and the color do, in fact, expand the center. However, the 4-patches on point create a bead of blues. That puts a stop to the eye, though it is not a hard stop.

The variety of blues automatically allows any of them or a bunch of others in later borders. I also repeat but vary the yellow and green of the center. Any time you’ve already used at least two versions of a color, you invite a third, and then you might as well have a party. 

The corner blocks’ shape echoes the basic shape of the corners in the Carpenter’s Wheel block. Note that I added purple without it being an obviously new color. The corners also allow me to add flowers, repeating the motif of flowers in the center patch. Look also at how the 4-patches head to the corners. There isn’t a very good way to get them to turn corners gracefully. The corner blocks allow me to avoid that altogether.

Repeating elements provides unity, the sense that there is nothing out of place. Varying elements and adding new ones adds contrast and interest. This first border does its job of supporting the center block. It expands and then encloses it. It also both adds and repeats components, moving us toward an interesting and unified composition.

The next border will be an unpieced one. I can use it to correct the size, setting up the composition for another, more interesting border.

Untied, Unquilted

A few days ago I shared my new quilt top. It was buried deep inside another post, so you might have missed it.


Currently it is still a quilt top, unquilted. The name is “Untied.” This is a reference to both the African print that centers it, as well as to the freedom I felt in creating this piece. I did not measure anything, and no math was involved (beyond third grade skills, at least). I made things the size I wanted them without regard for the numbers. While I wouldn’t want to work this way on every quilt, I enjoyed it quite a bit for this one.

Step One — The Center 
I began with the African print, a fat quarter I purchased a year ago. You can see the two tan batik insets placed vertically through it. Inserting those accomplished two things. First, they allowed me to stagger the rope colors, so the orange did not line up with orange, nor blue with blue. Having the colors offset is more interesting to me than having them line up. Second, the print design broke between vertical columns of rope. While that may have been an intentional part of the design, I chose to hide it in seam allowance. The tan insets have a similar feel, and they match well with the gold and brown spider-webbing in the background of the fat quarter.

To insert the tan batik, I used Debbie Bowles’ curved piecing technique, described here. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, it’s incredibly simple. Having decided to use it on this piece, I didn’t hesitate because I was certain it would work well, and it did.

Once I finished inserting the batik, I squared up the center (made 90° corners, not made it square.)

Step Two — First Border
One of the considerations for a first border is whether to enclose the center or extend it. Diagonal lines tend to extend a center, which is one reason sawtooth borders work so well for a first border. Besides that, lines that are perpendicular to the edge extend the center. Lines that are parallel to the edge are like a hard frame and tend to close it in. My center has fairly strong vertical and horizontal lines. In addition, the pattern clearly runs off the edges of the fabric, and I wanted to maintain that effect. The border I chose does not frame the design, but extends it.

I knew I wanted to make irregular dogteeth borders for two sides. After pondering for a long time about method, this is how I did it:
1. Cut two strips of equal width and different colors.
2. Stack the strips with right sides UP for both strips. (Below both are solids, but right sides UP.) 
two strips
3. Cut with rotary cutter through in uneven diagonals. I didn’t use the ruler to cut.
cut through
4. Slide a purple kitchen cutting mat under them to transport to my machine.
picking up
5. Move EVERY OTHER top cut patch to a new line. Move the ALTERNATE EVERY OTHER bottom cut patch in line with them. Maintain the order in both lines.
6. Similar to curved piecing, match the patches up with right sides TOGETHER to stitch, maintaining scant 1/4″ seam allowance.
7. Press the strip.
8. Trim the strip to desired width.

The main benefit of this method was that I got the wonkiness I wanted but ended up with a straight strip. Even though I trimmed farther, that was easy because I was simply knocking off edges rather than trying to make adjustments for it getting way out of balance.

Now here is the part of the story that goes back to design rather than construction. I planned on these two dogteeth borders to be left and right. As soon as I attached the first one, in orange and tan, I knew it was in the wrong place. Nothing is sewn that can’t be unsewn! I unstitched. I had planned to use the brown sticks print as the top and bottom, but they became left and right.

I made the lower border of reddish print and tan triangles long enough, because I made it after deciding it would be a top/bottom border. However, the orange and tan set was too short, so I need to add more to it. I chose a yellowish solid rather than more tan. It brightens the corner and makes the whole line a little more interesting.

The narrow blue strip separating the center from the top and bottom dogteeth borders is a Marcia Derse print. It’s also the fabric in the last border. The stripey effect reminds me of the texture on a rope, as well as animal stripes or even a blue tiger maple.

Step Three — Second Border
This narrow solid teal strip is the same color as the teal rope. With its hard line, it serves as the enclosure to the center.

Step Four — Third Border
This border uses four different fabrics log-cabined around. The top and left are relatively narrow and muted. The right is a wild batik with a lot of distinct pattern and color, including oranges, teals, and blues. The bottom is one stripe of a two-stripe pattern from fabric sent by another blogger. Gwen the Textile Ranger sent me this lovely African print. Amazing, huh? When I started this project, I knew I would use a piece here. I chose to center the pyramids on the teal box, rather than on the whole length of border. This adds emphasis to the teal as a frame.

Step Five — Fourth Border
This was harder and stumped me for a while. First I added a narrow strip of a fabric that didn’t end up in the quilt. I liked it, but after contemplating what came after, I decided to remove it and was very glad I did!

This border had to be light to add some value contrast and allow the prior border to shimmer. At the same time, it had to have enough heft that it maintained the unity of the piece. Unity? By that I mean that nothing looks out of place, it all looks like part of a whole. If the border was light and wimpy, it wouldn’t stand up to the drama of the prior work.

I found a mottled creamy-tan print, with black spatters on it. It seemed close but not close enough to actually cut it. (I’m glad, as it will be greatly useful on some other project.) I looked through all my light stash multiple times, considering creams/tans and greens and anything else. Finally the fabric used for left and right landed in my hands at the right time. If you click on the photo at the top, it will open in a new tab. Then you may be able to enlarge to see the detail. The fabric looks like a jacquard but is actually just a print. I had less than a fat quarter and pieced it so my lengths were enough. I added the blue inset on the left side to extend the interior line of blue.

Though the border needed to be light, I also wanted to add color. The top and bottom includes the other colors using an improvised framing or sashing method. This was done all freehand and with scissors, unlike the dogteeth triangles described above. I never used scissors so much before! Can’t say I would switch, but it’s good to remember that they are an available tool, and appropriate for some use.

I attached the top and bottom with the same curved piecing method as before.

Step Six — Fifth Border
Final border. I wasn’t sure this would be the final, but as I looked at the center so far, and had the blue next to it on the design wall floor, it seemed to be the right punctuation.

I cut the blue across the width to capture the striping. Of course it was not quite enough length, so it was pieced to make the left/right edges. The top and bottom also were pieced. They were a little tougher to add, because of the curved piecing. In addition to the curves, the prior top and bottom had a fair amount of stretch and splay. Ultimately I got them on and then trimmed the whole to square it (made 90° corners, not made it square.) It’s not perfect and there is a little ruffle in the final top and bottom edges, but they’re workable.

Step Seven — Backing, Quilting, and Binding
It will finish at something like 43″ x 48″, though likely I’ll trim it once more when quilted. At that size, it’s best as a wall-hanging. I don’t need a fancy back so may use muslin. I don’t know how I will quilt this, but I’m considering at least some big-stitch hand-quilting. Binding will probably be a bright rusty orange, but teal is an alternative, too.

Thought Process and Stories Told
In my prior post, I pledged to share process more often. A lot of times I get wrapped up in a project and simply am not motivated to talk about it until I’ve a) completed a step where I know what I’m doing or b) figured out a step where I don’t know what I’m doing. That just means you get the full data dump when I’m done, like today. I don’t include the inspirations I have just as I’m drifting off to sleep. I don’t tell you about when or where I bought particular pieces, and what other quilts I’ve used them in. The stories you get may be true, but not complete and not always very interesting, no need to protect the innocent.

Even so, there is value to me in explaining, and I hope there is some value to you in the reading.

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read my blog.

Around the Corner

I’m trying to finish my Branching Out challenge quilt before Monday’s guild meeting. Once I’m done with it, I won’t get to do much quilting for the rest of the month or into August. These are a couple of weird, fragmented months, and I have much to do besides sew.

In the meantime, I continue to look for inspiration and ideas. While rolling though some googled images the other day, I noticed a handful of medallion quilts that had something in common. For each, the first border wrapped blocks around the center’s corners, leaving the middle of the border unpieced. The effect was to strengthen and extend the center block.

I drew some examples in EQ7 to save as reminders, and possibly as designs. They have a western or southwestern feel, masculine and rugged, but the idea is valid regardless of style or format. It could work just as well for a block quilt’s borders as for a medallion.

The first two illustrations don’t use exactly the same effect as the googled images, since they both have a narrow first border, followed by the block-wrap. In addition, my drawings repeat the corner design, which wasn’t used in what I saw elsewhere. Drawing in EQ7 leaves some “piecing” lines where I wouldn’t actually piece. Also all of the sizing isn’t exactly how I would make it in real life.

wraparound corners 1 wraparound corners 2 wraparound corners 3

This is the center block.
wraparound corners 3 block

This kind of corner gives a couple of positives. First, I like the way the fancy corners connect the rings of the quilt differently than with a more typical border/corner design. Second, the length of the border isn’t dependent on the length of the blocks in it. For example, in the second quilt above, the grey-blue strip between pieced brown blocks acts as one long spacer strip, and its length doesn’t need to be a multiple of the pieced block length or width. That makes it easy to adjust for odd border lengths.

Though these corners are a little showy, they don’t call attention to themselves, but contribute to the unity of the whole quilt. The repetition of the corner treatment in each design adds to that effect.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make any of them, but they have design elements that are worth remembering.