Tag Archives: Value

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.


Worth Its Weight in Gold

I’m struggling with inspiration for starting new projects. I only have a couple of UFOs, so picking up an old project to finish isn’t an easy fix. Today I decided to review old posts to see if anything would spark some motivation. The post below from March 2014 doesn’t lend a lot of mojo, but it does remind me that my stash is to use. If it is to be used, I need to use it. Yeah. That simple. Enjoy the rerun…

In my professional career I worked as an investment manager with a large regional bank. My clients included both trusts and individuals, and my job was to try to meet their financial goals, balancing potential risks and returns.

A trust is a document, not a human, but it has its own legal identity and ownership of assets and liabilities. The document specifies, in particular, who receives benefits from the assets owned by the trust, and what those benefits will be. In days past, trusts also often specified exactly what assets could be used. For example, it might say that particular farm property had to be held, or that only stocks and bonds could be used.

One trust with which I worked said that gold coins had to be owned by the trust, as well as financial assets. The coins had belonged to the person (human) who had set up the trust. When that person died, the coins transferred in ownership from the human to the trust.

That same trust also said the beneficiary would receive any income generated by the trust. For example, if farm property is held, the farm creates cash flow, and the net income would go to the beneficiary. With stocks, the dividend stream would create income. And with bonds, interest earned would do so.

Think for a moment: what income do coins generate? I suppose if they were rare enough, someone might pay to see them, as in a museum. But they were not. They were just gold coins, and they generated no income.

Now consider, the coins could never be sold because the document said they had to be held, so it didn’t matter what the price of gold was in the market. The coins would never go to market. And the beneficiary could only receive income, but the coins would not generate income. What value, really, was there in the coins?

No more value than pet rocks.

What gold are you keeping hidden, never to be used or appreciated? Your quilting stash, if purchased new in the U.S. today, would go for about $10-15 a yard. Overseas it may be substantially more. Does your “trust” hold a hundred yards? That would be a fairly modest stash, by many standards. A thousand yards?

You could measure it using a simple estimate. Quilting fabric weighs a little more than a quarter pound per yard. In other words, there are about three to four yards per pound. The photo above shows about fifteen yards of my stash, by that measure. Eyeballing it, I might have 400 yards of stash in total. And mine is small…

Each pound, then, might have a value of about $40-60 in the U.S. Perhaps not the value of gold on the market. But there is value, if…

Do you use it? Do you get the benefit of it? Or do you still go buy new, at $13 a yard, rather than shop the stash?

Is your stash worth the same as the gold held by that trust? If you don’t use it, you don’t enjoy cutting it, crafting it, or giving it to someone who will love it. If you do not use it, it has no value.

Use your stash. Shop your stash first. Enjoy the discovery of fabrics you already love. Challenge your creativity by finding pieces that will work, even if they aren’t what you had in mind. Make sure your stash has value, at least the value you paid for it. Otherwise it’s worth its weight in gold, the gold owned by that trust.

Playing with Color and Value Placement

Recently I showed you a block that uses the economy block as the center. It’s called “Union Square,” or “Contrary Wife Variation.”

Union Square block

I showed you two different versions of it. Here is the straight set with sashing.

Union Square straight set

Union Square or Contrary Wife variation, straight set with sashing.

What a difference it makes to remove the sashing. If you’re like me, your eye starts to focus on the dark shapes rather than on the blocks. In fact, you might start to see T blocks.

Union Square unsashed

Union Square unsashed

And one more change, putting some subtle color in the blocks’ corner patches. For me, this really blurs the block outlines.

Union Square unsashed 2

Union Square unsashed, with color/value variation

Now let’s try placing the values differently. Different colors, here, too.

Union Square unsashed 3

Union Square unsashed variation

Honest to Pete, it’s the same blocks. Putting the darkest value in the corners and their adjacent wedges takes the eye directly to them. In other words, the visual weight is where the dark values are. That is accentuated by using the pale yellow to create squares on point between the dark segments.

The lesson in this, if there is one, is that the way you see a pattern or design first is not the only way it can be done. Most of us are used to using our own preferred colors. But values can be placed differently, too. Experiment with designs to see how color and value placement changes the look.


If you’d like to see my other posts on economy blocks, the first post showed you how to make the economy block ANY SIZE with my tutorial and cheat sheet. The second showed you 17 different arrangements of the block with alternate blocks. They range from simple to fairly complex. The third is linked at the top of this post. It is on blocks that use the economy block as their center.


Sam Hunter’s New Post: Legs of the Same Table

Sam Hunter has written a lot about how we pay artists/designers/authors in the quilting industry. The name of her series of posts on this topic is abbreviated as WASWI. It stands for “We Are $ew Worth It.” This morning she entered a new post in that series. I don’t reblog often, or even link without more context. You need no more context for this. Please read.

WASWI — Legs of the same table



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.