Tag Archives: golden mean

Use calipers to measure sashing and first border.

Quilt Borders and Sashing Using the Golden Mean

The Golden Mean and Calipers

Finding the perfect width for your quilt’s borders and sashing is easy if you use the Golden Mean.  If you aren’t familiar with this term, it refers to a sweet spot in the middle, between 2 extremes.  It divides a space so that one side is a bit larger than the other in a way that is harmonious and pleasing to the eye.  Also referred to as the golden ratio, it occurs often in nature.  To find this division of space, I love to use my Golden Mean Calipers.  As the calipers open and close, the center point, always indicates the Golden Mean, and two harmonious inner spaces.  

large and small Golden Mean Calipers

large and small Golden Mean Calipers

These calipers are available in the Creativity Tools section of my web store.

Perfect Borders Using the Golden Mean

Adjust the Golden Mean Calipers to measure the width of a quilt block

Measure the width of your block.

This tool is also useful when adding borders to a traditional block quilt.  One method is to start with the blocks themselves.  Place the outer points of the calipers at the edges of the blocks.  This will give you two new measurements that will be in harmony with the blocks. 

Use the larger measurement for the total width of the border. 

Use the larger of the 2 inner golden mean measurements for the finished width of the full border.

Create a single border matching the wider measurement of the calipers.

Divide this area further by placing the outer points of the calipers on the edges of the border area.  This will indicate pleasing widths for an inner and outer border. 

Divide the border area using the calipers.

The golden mean indicates the optimum width of borders and sashing.

Create harmonious smaller borders.

All measurements indicate finished sizes, so don’t forget to add seam allowances.

Perfect Sashing Using the Golden Mean

Use the golden mean to determine the width of sashing, as well as borders.  The smaller inner border width, determined above, is also the perfect width for sashing.  Sashing is used  between and around all of the blocks, and it serves to set the blocks apart for the purpose of highlighting each as an individual unit.

Borders surround the grid of blocks and visually hold them together.  Sashing adds to the visual weight of the grid layout, and creates the need for a larger border to maintain balance. Combine the width of the sashing and the single border to create a harmonious, larger, outer border, as shown below.

Use golden mean calipers to measure sashing and first border.

Measure sashing & border

Golden Mean Calipers indicate width of an additional border

Calipers indicate width of additional border

Borders and Sashing for a Predetermined Quilt Size

Sometimes, a specific finished size is necessary and the process described above will exceed those limits.  In this case,  if you know how wide the full border needs to be, but you want to break it down into multiple borders, the golden mean is a good way to do that.  Open the calipers to the full border width, and use the two inner measurements for multiple border widths.

No calipers – No Problem

You can also determine harmonious measurements without the calipers by using the magic number: 1.6.  Take any measurement.  Determine a larger size by multiplying by 1.6

Example: 5 x 1.6 = 8 

Conversely, divide by 1.6 to find a smaller measurement.

Example: 5 ÷ 1.6 = 3.125 (Round down to 3 inches)

Learn More in My Color & Composition Class

Interested in learning more? Every month I lead a Color and Composition class where we explore a color scheme, color concept, and a composition concept.  We meet online  the 4th Saturday of every month 1:00-3:00 PM MDT. To join us, sign up through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

Subscribe to this blog for future summary updates on topics covered in the Color & Composition class.


Fibonacci Sequence Strip Quilt

This week I want to share with you a quilt made by my friend, Jeanne Lounsbury.  She made a strip quilt for her son using the Fibonacci Sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8,…).  When she shared it with our local quilt group, I got really excited and thought others would appreciate it, too.  She used my favorite hues of blue with a pop of red.  Here is the link to the Fibonacci Sequence Strip Quilt video.

I’m currently in the middle of my 2-week winter vacation from school and am thoroughly enjoying the extra time to work in my studio.  Next week, I should be ready to share with you my latest piece.  Stay tuned.


Golden Mean Calipers Part 2: Crop a Picture

This is my second video on how to use the Golden Mean Calipers.  This week I show you how use them to crop a photo around a focal point so that the outer dimensions are harmonious and the subjects in the composition are well placed. These calipers are available in my web store.  If you find these videos interesting or helpful, subscribe so that you get notified whenever I post a new one.  I’m trying to do this once a week until I run out of things to say—like that could ever happen.

Calipers video part 2

calipers 2


Using the Golden Mean Calipers

Golden Mean Calipers

Today, I want to share with you a tool that I’ve discovered called the Golden Mean Calipers..  I’ve also seen them labeled “Fibonacci Gauge.” can be a useful design tool in your artistic process. There are a variety of ways this particular tool can be used. Let me illustrate a few.

Finding the Sweet Spot Within Your Composition

A focal point is used to grab the viewer’s eye and engage the viewer in your artwork. Generally, it is best to avoid taking the viewer’s eye to the center, for when it arrives there, it will tend to stop and rest. Placing key elements off center will tend to prolong the viewer’s engagement with the composition. Use the calipers as shown below to determine the best placement of the focal point and other key elements of a composition. In portraits, eyes and mouths are important features for focal points.

Use calipers for cropping the sides of an image.

Use calipers for cropping the sides of an image.

focal point 1

Lay the calipers over a photo print, to determine the best way to crop it.

Focal Point Landscape

Use the calipers to determine the placement of a design element within a larger panel.

Taking Elements Off the Edge

Avoiding the middle also applies when taking lines or elements off the edge of a composition. See how the calipers can be used to determine the most visually pleasing locations for the placement of lines that will carry the viewer’s eye to the edge of a composition.edge 2edge 1

edge 3

Creating Borders with Harmony

This tool is also useful when adding borders to a traditional block quilt. One method is to start with the blocks themselves. Place the outer points of the calipers at the edges of the blocks. This will give you two new measurements that will be in harmony with the blocks. Use the larger measurement for the total width of the border. This area can further be divided by placing the outer points of the calipers on the edges of the border area. This will indicate pleasing widths for and inner and outer border. All measurements indicate finished sizes. Don’t forget to add seam allowances.

Measure the width of your block.

Measure the width of your block.

Create a single border matching the wider measurement of the calipers.

Create a single border matching the wider measurement of the calipers.

Create harmonious smaller borders.

Create harmonious smaller borders.

Divide the border area using the calipers.

Divide the border area using the calipers.

Sometimes, a specific finished size is necessary and this isn’t achieved in the process above. In this case, determine the desired total width of your outer borders, open the calipers to this desired width and then measure the distance between the points to determine the finished widths of an inner border and outer border.

Perfect Facial Proportions.

The Golden Ratio occurs naturally within faces and calipers are useful when creating portrait works, either when drawing the face, or problem solving when a face doesn’t look quite right. See the photos below for ways to check the proportions of the face, and placement of the features.

Placement of mouth between nose and chin

Placement of mouth between nose and chin

face 1

Bring of the nose in relation to forehead and chin.

Placement of eyes

Placement of eyes

If you are interested in learning more about facial proportions and portrait quilting, check out my book, Thread-Painted Portraits: Turn Your Photos into Fiber Art 

AND look for videos on my YouTube Channel Lea McComas Fiber Art.


The Tangled Web

I’ve managed to get the first two panels of my 4 Horsemen triptych fused together and have come to terms with the reality that I will not get the 3rd panel finished in time for my May deadline. I will make the 3rd panel—someday—maybe in the summer.

Before I can begin stitching, I must to do some planning and prep work now if the three panels are to fit together later. Toward that end, iI want to make sure that each panel works individually AND in concert with each other.

Panels side by side

Panels side by side

Here is the process:

  1. Lay the panels side by side. (Panel 3 is just a large sheet of muslin)
  1. Mark the corner points and 1/3 marks along each side.
  1. Run a line of string string between each of these key points.

In doing this, I can accurately place lines of the riverbank, foothills, mountains, and place the final riders in just the right position. Additionally, this web of string creates a grid for identifying key lines and points of intersection within the piece.

Here is my dilemma: the whole thing is way to large to fit on my design wall. The best I can do is clear the floor in my family room and lay out the panels. Unable to pin into the hardwood floors, I’m left to lay the string on the floor and they won’t stay put.  They are continually shifting as I move things around under them.  Eventually, I do get a sense of how things are laying out.

I see some good things going on in the right panel:

Lines o the right panel

Lines o the right panel

  • A diagonal goes down the face, hits the shoulder, belt buckle, then follows the line of the tail
  • Another diagonal follows the line of the neck, a crease in the blanket, and the shadow of the back haunch.
  • The lower horizontal connects the reins, rifle, and blanket fold









In the center panel:

Lines on the center panel

Lines on the center panel

  • A diagonal connects the hand, a stripe of the blanket, a line of rope, and then runs down the back leg
  • Another connects the eyes, bottom of the rope and follows the tail.
  • The lower horizontal runs along the belly of the horse










In the left panel:

Lines on the left panel

Lines on the left panel

  • I place the horses in the center between the horizontal strings
  • Diagonals from the upper left corner will fall along the head and back of the horse and also connect the nose, chest and stirrup.
  • I also sketch in lines for the background so that it will all come together in the end.


Doing this on the floor stinks! Every time I move something, I have to reposition the strings.   To make things worse, my trusty companion, Coco, has her own ideas about the placement of these strings.   I love her, but I REALLY don’t appreciate her design sensibilities.

Coco tries to help

Coco tries to help


Casting a Net Over Bike Boys

While I’m anxious to put the boys on the long arm and begin stitching, there is still some prep work to be done.  I’ve put the piece back on the design wall, put pins at the corners and 1/3 points along the sides.  Next I wrapped string connecting the points and creating a sort of net over the Boys.

These strings are really a network of tangents that run across the surface.  I can use them to identify  lost and found lines that fall on these strings.  I did this a few weeks back when the piece was only partially fused.  Now that it is done, I’ll choose a few key tangents and  accentuate them by stitching highlights and shadows so that they help guide the viewers eye through and around the piece.  Of course this key stitching will be the last stitching that I do on the long arm, but I need to identify these  tangents now, so that I can avoid removing and reloading the piece on the long arm later.

This is also a time to look over the composition and note areas that need some color or value correction.  For example, the bike frame under the front rider’s bum is just a bit too light.  I can cover it with a darker fabric now, or stitch it with darker thread later.  I think it is hard to see in this photo, but the man behind the bike, standing on the sidewalk, should have his feet showing, and they have been done in sidewalk fabric and are obscured.  They sit just on the line going across the bottom third of the piece.  That, I will fix with fabric now, taking care not to make them too strong.

I’ll have to leave this up for a few days and review it several times as it is hard to catch everything in just one viewing.  Do you see anything?



Life in the Shadows and the Golden Mean

One line through many elements

With a week off work, my travels over, and all guests have gone home, I’ve been able to make great progress on the Bike Boys.  While traveling, I did pickup some new brown fabrics with deeper, darker shades.  I used them to replace some earlier choices, hoping to strengthen the color schemes for some of the bikers.  I think it worked.  My second bike boy really pops forward.  I also built the foreground with rich tones for the sidewalk and street (you were right, dad), and added the cooler grays for the background.

Originally, I had chosen to delete the figure standing in the large dark space, but when I saw it on the wall, I knew he needed to rejoin the party.  When I added him, I made his features vague and used a very narrow range of value.  This served to push him farther into the shadows and create a third plane within the composition: bikers in the foreground, onlookers on the sidewalk, and this guy in the background. I also raised him up just a bit so that he sits on a tangent in line with other figures in the piece. He will  become the top of a triangular shape within the piece. I pinned the string across the design wall to show this.

Next, I realized that the top of the piece has reached the approximate 2/3 mark.  This got me thinking about the golden mean and how it can be used to create a pleasing composition.  The golden mean refers to a ratio of  3/8 or 5/8, but many people use thirds, because its easier.  If you don’t know about it, it’s worth a google search.  I placed pins at the corners and at the 1/3 marks along the edges and then wrapped string around the pins to create lines joining each of the points.  Placing objects along these lines helps to create a pleasing composition and can be used to guide the eye around and through the piece.  Also, the places where these lines cross could be considered power points.  It was exciting for me to see how often these lines were working with my composition.

So many connections!

 Here are some things to note:

  • the first line crosses the eyes of the man in shadow, then the face of the man behind the bike, grazes the top hat of biker #2, runs along the hat shadow of biker #1, and then connects to the hands of the man inside the window and the man in the red vest.
  • biker #1 is centered within a triangle  created under the 1/3 point and his elbows fall at a power point
  • the face of biker #2 falls at a power point, and so will the face of #3.
  • The tangent that falls through the face of biker #2, hits both elbows of biker #1 before grazing the handlebar and the toe of the red vest guy.
  • The tangent that will cross the hat of biker #3, also flows along the leg of biker #1 and near the bend in the fork of the bike.

I’ve got to take the lines down now so that I can fuse more fabric, but I’ll put them up again when it all comes together.