Tag Archives: Value

The Six-Pointed Star UFO Is Still a UFO

but it’s a lot farther along than it was!

Remember where I started with six star points and no real plan? Then I figured out how to set the points in their background fabric and made more borders.

I played with EQ7 to try some ideas for finishing. (Oh yes, in case you wonder, there were many more versions drawn!)

I started on the third of these, making 40 chain (double 4-patch) blocks and cutting the alternate blocks. The chain blocks didn’t have enough visual weight to balance with the center, so I switched gears.

This is the result so far, after a fair amount of unstitching and restitching.

As often, it is too big to take one decent picture of it on the floor. I simply don’t have enough head room above it to get the camera high enough.

Those are dark brown triangles in the corners. They look just right in real life, though in the photos they don’t thrill me. The triangles, along with the diagonal lines of 4-patches, provide the weight in the corners I was missing before. The diagonal lines there and throughout the chains give movement. And the value changes from light background through dark triangles provide the contrast I like.

The small 6-pointed stars centering the borders repeat the star shape in the quilt center. I wondered if they would look too small and fussy, but overall I’m happy with the effect. They were kind of a pain to make. I might post again about making them.

Right now it is about 70″ square. I’ll add another 1″ border, as well as a wider outer border to finish. I don’t have those fabrics in my stash, so will need to shop for the right thing. There are too many other things to do right now, so that will wait, and the UFO will stay a UFO for a while longer.


The Placemats Are Done

My son bought a dinner table this spring, and he bought a house this fall. In the meantime he spent three months in Kuwait, and he’s now in Oklahoma for some training. Despite his frequent forays away from home, he is a domestic kind of guy. As soon as he acquired the table, he asked for placemats.

I shouldn’t be surprised. He grew up with placemats at the kitchen table. When he was little, we used plastic ones for him. We have several. Two of them have US maps and one has a world map. One shows the solar system and another has the presidents through Bill Clinton. There are a couple of others, as well. Here are two favorites.


When he was older I began quilting. An early project was placemats using maple leaf blocks in the centers. Jim and I still use them on our kitchen table. This photo shows a pair I made for my sister, using the same design and most of the same fabrics.


I’ve made other placemats, some for daughters and some for Meals on Wheels and some for us. I don’t much like making them. It seems like a lot of effort for something that is mostly covered when being used. But Son asked, and what’s a mom to do?

As mentioned, he’s recently moved. The house is a project, to put it mildly. (He’s also asked if we can help him paint when we visit next time.) He has red accents in the kitchen, and the couch is brown. His couch throw is a quilt I made, with blues and greens. The tabletop is stained very dark, almost black. He didn’t have a notion of what colors I should use, so I used all of them.


How much are they worth? Earlier this year I wrote about making placemats and how to value them. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t do this for just anyone. But these are a Christmas present for him, one which I’m confident will be used. That makes it worthwhile for me.

Still Climbing Mountains

Last year I had fun making a medallion using big prints. (If you click on the photo, it will open in a new tab.)


The Mountain. 60″ square. November 2015. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

It was a challenge for me, because big prints tend to mute contrast. I like strong contrast and the sharp edges it reveals. I named the quilt “The Mountain.” In the linked post, I said this about the name, “I am not sure why the name came to me, other than that I have been climbing and climbing, mentally and physically and emotionally and artistically, and now I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere, though of course I’ll never reach the peak.” To see more about the design process, click here.

Early this year I saw a quilt top on this site that also merged big prints, but in a completely different way. (I didn’t link the quilt top itself, because the photos disappear when she has sold the tops. And I won’t copy her picture, because it is her picture. However, as of writing this, the top appears in the set of tops over $100.)

I thought about how to make a similar quilt and make it my own. This was the result:


Still Climbing Mountains. 57″ x 64″. August 2016. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The name, “Still Climbing Mountains,” is for three reasons. First and most importantly, the block style used is called “Delectable Mountains.” Second, I am still climbing! And third, it reminds me of The Mountain because of the big prints.

In truth, though, there are all kinds of fabrics in this quilt. They range from solids and tone-on-tone, to very large prints. There are batiks and traditionally printed fabrics, ethnic-ish designs and geometrics and Civil War repros. The fabrics were purchased over many years from local quilt shops and large retailers. Browns, teals, rusts, olives, and tans, I just kept pulling fabrics from stash until I had enough.

There are 48 blocks in a 6 x 8 layout. If you look at the photo above, they are arranged by value. The first column (left to right) is very dark and medium dark. Column 2 is medium dark and medium light. Column 3 is medium light and medium dark. Columns 4-6 reverse the order to finish with very dark.

Construction was amazingly simple. I began by making 48 half-square triangles that would finish at 9.5″. That is a weird number, but the unfinished size is 10″. (I cut squares of fabric at 10 3/8″. I cut them on the diagonal and then stitched HST from them. If you cut oversized and then trim, you would trim to 10″, so a finished HST would be 9.5″.)

Each HST then was sliced into 4 segments of 2.5″ by 10″. The segments are rearranged and sewn back together. The new block finishes at 8″ x 9.5″.

hst sliced rearranged

The coolest thing was how each block transformed as it was rearranged.
Del Mtn blocks in process

Assembling the top was easy, too. I assembled each of the six columns, being careful to match them in the one place where the jags fit together. When sewing the columns together, you only need to match the block corners, because that is the only place where contrast shows. In fact, though I’m usually pretty careful in my construction, this was a really forgiving quilt top! My blocks were not all exactly sized and my within-block seams didn’t match up, and believe me, there is no way to see any of that! It was fun and fast — the hardest part was picking the fabrics, and I’m not kidding.

This is one of four quilts I finished in August. September will be a lot lower output for me, so it was nice to mark some finishes.

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.


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


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

Climbing The Mountain

I finished climbing The Mountain.


The Mountain. 60″ square. November 2015. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

When I posted a photo of the top, I said that, aside from taking three different tries at the center block, it went together very quickly. One reason for that was I had already defined the border widths. When designing a medallion, there are infinite choices for border widths. Each possibility leads to other design decisions, including block size and the next border width. Because I was using a familiar blueprint, those decisions were minimized.

Two other decisions were made as I chose fabrics. First, I chose to use large patterns, and lots of them. Second, I chose to do minimal piecing. After all, if you use large prints and cut them into little pieces, you lose the impact of the print.

Working with constraints such as size simplifies some things, but it also forces a different kind of creativity than when there are more options. For example, having decided that the center block would be 15″, I needed to choose a design that would translate well to that size. A 9-patch format works easily; using a 5-grid (5×5 format) works, too. But a 7-grid, like a bear’s paw block, is harder to use. Deciding to use all large (or largish) prints meant figuring out how to use them effectively.

This quilt taught me more than you might guess. First, it showed me the power of large prints. When many of us started quilting, we learned that an effective combination of fabrics would include small prints, mid-sized prints, and large prints. (Back then we also were warned against using any solids, as they would read “flat.”) The combination, we were told, would provide sufficient contrast to keep the quilt interesting.

I often use small prints and tone-on-tones as the main type of fabric pattern in a quilt, but I’d never made one with all large prints. I wondered if mixing them would confuse the eye, but I found that didn’t have to happen. The key still is contrast. Using contrast in color and/or value separated the components sufficiently. While the outcome is a jumble, it is an organized jumble. The prints didn’t all mush into a big blob.

The importance of value contrast was reinforced to me, as mentioned above. One thing I like especially is the pairing of the lighter, peachier batik near the center with the darker, bronze batik in the outside half-square triangles. Both serve the same purpose in piecing, but using the darker triangles farther out emphasizes the last border and gives the eye a place to stop.

Value also plays its part in the three borders with light backgrounds. Nearest the center, you see the “sticks” split with red. (I really did split the sticks and insert the red, maintaining the positions of the lines.) The order is reversed two borders farther out, with the red split by arrows with light background. And the next border is a white-with-navy stripe, adding brightness to a quilt that could have bogged down in dreariness. All three of those borders give strong, graphic light/dark contrast, repeating the black with almost-white in the very center.

The third lesson was in piecing. My intention was to use minimal piecing for this quilt, regardless of the fabrics. Over time I’ve found that my tendency has been to increase complexity in my borders. At the same time, I know beautiful medallions can be made with little to no piecing within borders. So it was time to push back and simplify some. The big prints gave an even better excuse to do that.

I’ve been asked why I call this quilt “The Mountain.” It does not have pictures or representations of mountains on it. There are no wild animals, towering pines, or anything else. I am not sure why the name came to me, other than that I have been climbing and climbing, mentally and physically and emotionally and artistically, and now I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere, though of course I’ll never reach the peak.

I think these words of advice from Carina Devera are helpful when facing any mountain:

How to climb a mountain:
1. Don’t forget to pack your courage.
2. Do not presume a mountain can be climbed all at once; one step at a time is all you will be granted.
3. Faced with such permanence, take comfort in all that is fleeting, and dare not disturb the rocks.

I found her essay at On Being, one of my favorite sites. She concludes with “The mountain had taught me how to persist beyond all hope or expectation — a humbling lesson I will not forget.”

There are lessons to learn from all the quilts we make, all the relationships we strengthen or break, all the physical challenges we face. My mountain teaches me to have patience and perseverance, and to stop on my way to catch my breath, to appreciate my traveling companions, and to marvel at my surroundings.