At last, the month everyone has been waiting for! It’s time to choose and stitch your focal block.
Size Considerations: If you are making a wall quilt- keep it small. 8-12” will be ideal. Bigger will work, but the borders will need to be relatively narrow to keep the final size reasonable. If you are making a throw size or larger- start with a larger center block or your focal block may get lost in the quilt. This is a chance to go really big, using 18”, 24”, or even 36” for your focal block for a throw size or larger quilt.
Remember: Your focal block does not need to be square (it can be a rectangle, a diamond [or a square set on point], asymmetric, even irregularly shaped).
Let’s start fairly simply.
Mild: Pick a large scale print you love and fussy cut a block that features an interesting motif.Something like this yummy Anna Maria Horner print, perhaps?
Medium: Use a big print to make a kaleidoscope block with 6 or 8 wedges. This is an example with the fabric below:
This is effectively a single block made using the “one block wonder” or “stack and whack” method for kaleidoscope quilts. I couldn’t find a good tutorial for making a single block. The core technique here is to fussy cut 6 identical 60 degree triangles and stitch them together. If you cut them oversize, you will be able to trim to a square. If you cut them smaller, you will get a hexagon that can be appliqued to a square or made square by adding corners. Basically, the method would be a hybrid of the approach to making multiple blocks (https://teresadownunder.com/2016/11/06/video-tutorial-kaleidoscope-quilt-quick-and-easy-quilting/) and a clever way to create a template for fussycutting your triangles to create the kaleidoscope effect (http://flossieteacakes.blogspot.com/2014/05/how-to-fussy-cut-fabric-for-english.html) .
Spicy: Use the broderie perse technique. This technique dates from the 1700s, but can be very modern, as the example by Kae Eagling shows below. The elephant and the flowers were all cut from different fabrics and appliqued to a background, then further embellished with embroidery and beading. See below:
Stepping up the complexity a bit…
Make an oversized single patchwork block.
Mild: Repurpose an orphan block (bonus- no additional sewing required!). Here are a couple of contenders from my stash, both about 18” square:
Medium: Make a classic quilt block, but on a larger scale (15-24” finished size would be great). The block below is called Dutch Rose (or Carpenter’s Wheel) (or Carpenter’s Wheel) and the one on the right is called Friendship Wreath. These are beautiful when made at large scale and you can play with value to get a great sense of depth.
Spicier: Pick a block with simple construction, create new “fabric” from scraps using crumb piecing or string piecing and use that as your feature fabric to make the block.
More Spicy Options:
A classic medallion quilt center is a Mariner’s Compass. These can be very complex or relatively simple. They can be foundation paper pieced or made using specialty rulers and techniques. Two variations are illustrated below:
A set of 4 New York Beauty blocks (all the same or different) would make another great focal block for your quilt. If you are really inspired, try an improv version!
Jo Avery (@joaverystitch) has created a fun improv version of a New York Beauty block she calls “Dandelion Clock”. If you did the 2019 Summer Sampler, you have detailed instructions for this type of block. Similarly, the Journey to the Center of the Earth class that she taught at Quiltcon Together uses this technique. If you don’t have either of those, she did a blog post that shows some of the basic techniques. Dandelion Clock Quilt
How About Applique?
Depending on your experience, you may class applique blocks as medium or spicy…. There are some lovely modern takes on applique that would make beautiful centers for a medallion quilt. First up, a simple tree by Laura Bittel of HappeeTreeQuilts.
Alison Richter of Campbell Soup Diary (https://www.campbellsoupdiary.com/shop) has some single block quilts that could be downsized for a focal block, as well as some modern takes on classic applique, such as the block used for the Tiptoe Through the Tulips quilt shown below:
Wendy Williams (https://flyingfishkits.com/product-category/patterns/ ) has dozens of patterns for birds, flowers and animals based on simple shapes and vibrant colors:
And, of course, Laura Heine’s designs are a hybrid of broderie perse and applique (https://www.fiberworks-heine.com/shop/Patterns/Collage-Quilt-Patterns.htm?pageNum=1 ). She sells some of her designs at a scale that would work for a focal block.
Layered Improv Circles—Our own Debbie Jeske (aka A Quilter’s Table) has created tutorials for making a layered improv circle, which would be a great focal block. See her photos below, plus links to the tutorials.
Tutorial to Make Layered Improv Circles
Tutorial to Inset the Circle in a Block
How about a fantastic paper pieced block?
There are so many amazing designers making great foundation pieced patterns that would work for a focal block. We’ve linked more ideas in the guild Pinterest board, so be sure to check there too.
Seattle Modern Quilt GuildMedallion Quilt Inspiration Follow On
Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
Nicole Young (aka Lilyella) has free patterns for a series of butterflies and moths- a cluster of these would make a great focal block. https://lillyella.com/tutorials/butterflycharmblocks/ She also has some larger and more complex patterns for sale in her web shop.
What about this cool fireworks design by Ruth Blanchet of Arbee Designs? Available free at Ruth’s blog. (Note that the original block is only 6” finished, you’d probably want to increase the size).
Another idea would be to use one of the blocks from Berene Campbell’s (HappySewLucky) Tattoo quilt. HappySewLucky etsy shop. It was hard to pick just one to highlight, there are several that would be a gorgeous focal point:
Holding Hands by Ingrid Alteneder (aka JoeJuneandMae) would make a great focal block- Link to pattern on Etsy
If you love animals, check out these two great designers. Juliet van der Heijden (The Tartan Kiwi) has written a lovely book called Animal Quilts and also sells less complex patterns in her Etsy shop Tartan Kiwi Patterns.
Janeen van Niekerk of QuiltArt Designs also has some fantastic animal quilt blocks. These are more complex, but the results are so worth it. She has a lot of dog breeds, many cats, lots of safari animals and farm animals. QuiltArtDesign website. Check out this amazing black Labrador, for example.
To recap, here are the focal block ideas highlighted in this post, sorted approximately by the difficulty/effort required.
|Use a fun large scale print, no sewing required
||Kaleidoscope block using 6-8 wedges
|Repurpose an orphan block
||Make an oversized classic quilt block (or start with a classic and make it wonky)
||Use string or crumb piecing to make the feature fabric for an oversized classic quilt block
|Make a block you love
||Foundation pieced block, less complex
||New York Beauty- classic or improv
||Make a block you love
||Mariner’s Compass- you choose the difficulty….
||Foundation pieced masterpiece
||Make a block you love
Please be social!
Have fun! This may be one of the hardest sections to make, just because there are so many cool directions you can take it. Don’t be afraid to experiment- it is just one block. If you don’t like it, try something different. Don’t forget to post your progress using the hashtag #seamqgsalsabom!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aauZo-km8dc Basic technique tutorial by Laura Ann Coie of Sew Very Easy
https://suzyquilts.com/raw-edge-applique-tutorial/ Good basic raw edge applique method
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6_LDMf4qo4 How to set up your machine and get great applique results
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOc303D6CB8 Kathy Doughty’s organic applique approach- great method for getting turned edge look easily
Foundation paper piecing tutorials
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KyImHuxrgM You tube video from the Modern Quilt Guild featuring Elizabeth Dackson.
http://ellisonlane.com/2013/08/beginningpaperpiecing.html. Good basic approach to foundation paper piecing
https://www.violetcraft.com/fpp-tutorials Violet Craft’s foundation methods, including one on how to put subunits together.
https://bryanhousequilts.com/2020/05/freezer-paper-piecing-tutorial.html Using freezer paper as the pattern, but with no stitching through the paper. This is a commonly used technique for the curved pieces in a NY Beauty block or a Pickle Dish block. I like it for curved flying geese, as well.http://mollyflanders.blogspot.com/2011/10/rolling-onfreezer-paper-piecing.html An excellent tutorial showing detailed photos of using the freezer paper method for a curved block.
We will aim to post the next instructions right before the May meeting. Stay tuned, and happy sewing!