Category Archives: Reach for the Stars sampler quilt

Reach for the Stars: Jenn Varney’s Quilt

Ladies and gentlemen, we have another Reach for the Stars quilt finish! Jennifer Varney of Hudson, New Hampshire is one of several quilters across the country I met virtually last year as we each worked on our own version of a star sampler quilt designed by Terri Krysan and featured as a series project in Quilter’s Newsletter. Over the course of 2014 our little band of stargazers shared pictures, compared notes, and cheered each other on.

We all made changes — some great, some small — to the design. Jenn chose to make a smaller quilt with fewer blocks and to use a straight set rather than putting her blocks on point. Here is her finished quilt:

JV's RFTS quilt-001
The muted browns and blues are offset by shots of metallic gold, giving the quilt such a rich look. The center medallion shows this off especially well:

JV's center medallion
Lorri Wurtzler of Seventh Heaven Quilting in Nashua, New Hampshire did the longarm quilting. I hope you can see Lorri’s lovely quilting in this close-up . . .

JV's RFTS block detail
. . . and this one:

JV's RFTS quilt detail
By changing the setting, Jennifer reduced the number of blocks (not counting the center medallion) from 16 to 12. If my math is correct, her quilt measures about 60″ square, perfect for a lap quilt or throw. And wouldn’t it look terrific on a wall?




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Reach for the Stars: Front and Back

I’m excited to show you a full frontal shot of Catch a Falling Star (CAFS), my sampler quilt based on Terri Krysan’s Reach for the Stars quilt. CAFS was photographed last week by Bill Volckening, quiltmaker, collector, author, historian, and blogger, to name a few of his pursuits. I have no wall or floor space in my home large enough to capture the entire quilt, which measures 84″ x 105″ after quilting, in a photo. Fortunately, there was plenty of room in Bill’s studio.

Here is Catch a Falling Star from the front: CAFS front BV photo 800and from the back:

CAFS back BV photo 800In a future post I’ll take you on a little tour of Catch a Falling Star, block by block. I’ll show you some close-ups of Loretta Orsborn’s lovely quilting and share a couple of fun facts about the making of the quilt.




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Two Steps Forward . . .

. . . and one step back. That’s how the last few days have played out in my sewing room.

Two steps forward: the binding and label on Catch a Falling Star (my Reach for the Stars sampler quilt):

2015-01-14 22.54.34

Still to come: attaching a sleeve on the back (one step back). I’ve decided to enter Catch a Falling Star in a couple of local quilt shows this year, hence the need for a sleeve. Before the sleeve gets attached, though, this quilt is going to be photographed in a studio. That’s something I can’t do at home because I don’t have a suitable space for a full flat shot. Several readers have asked for a look at the entire quilt as well as more photos of Loretta Orsborn’s lovely quilting, and I promise they are forthcoming.

A couple days ago I decided to finish my Sun Flowers wall hanging. I pieced a backing and pin-basted the layers. Two steps forward. Without a quilting plan in mind I started stitching in the ditch on the horizontal seams. Then I stitched the vertical seams and sashing strips on one of the kaleidoscope blocks. At that point I decided what I really wanted to do with this little quilt was stitch diagonally across the surface. Those horizontal and vertical stitching lines had to go.

I picked out all of the quilting. BIG step back:

2015-01-14 01.33.45

It was actually a good thing I picked out the quilting because I had pin-basted the layers rather hastily and the back was not entirely smooth. With the quilting stitches removed, I was able to adjust the layers, and this time I thread-basted them. I put the quilt on my design wall and started thinking about my quilting plan.

Now I’m second-guessing my decision on the diagonal quilting. It seems to me it might distract from the kaleidoscope blocks, which are the star of the show. One thing’s for sure: this quilt is not going under the needle on my sewing machine until I have a plan firmly in place.

In the meantime, I’m going to start piecing the backing for another quilt. One step forward.




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Reach for the Stars: Quilting Details

Would you like to see more pictures of Catch a Falling Star, my series sampler quilt based on Terri Krysan’s Reach for the Stars? Ah, I thought so.

Let’s start with a shot of the entire quilt (you’ll see close-ups of longarm quilter Loretta Orsborn’s beautiful work in subsequent photos):

whole quiltYou’re looking at it from the side because I couldn’t squeeze myself into the room in order to take a proper shot looking at the quilt from top to bottom.

Here’s the center medallion . . .

center medallion

. . . with a close-up of the free-motion feathers quilted in the black star points:

free motion feathers in center medallion
The 10 blocks sashed in black and the center of the medallion have one digitized motif and the four blocks sashed in green have a different one. Here is Block 2, sashed in black. . .

block 2, sashed in black
. . . and Block 10 sashed in green:

block 10, sashed in green
All of the quilting in the sashing strips is free-motion.

This is one of the side setting triangles:

setting triangle
Notice the design quilted in the hourglass blocks (there are four in the center medallion and one in each of the side setting triangles):

hourglass block

Loretta used the same motif in the border squares:

9-patch in border
She free-motion quilted feathers all around the outer border:

FM feathers in corner
The straight lines in part of the border give the eye some visual relief from all the quilted curves. Those straight lines are used in the interior of the quilt as well, tying the quilting elements together. You’ll see what I mean when you take another look at a side setting triangle:

setting triangle
And isn’t that vine motif graceful? Here it is in one inner corner:

green vine
Finally, here is a portion of the back of the quilt, where the black fabric allows you to see lots of quilting detail. You can also see the two focus fabrics I used for the fussy-cut images in each of the blocks on the front:

portion of back

Once Catch a Falling Star is bound, I’ll take proper full-length photos of both sides. The binding is attached, by the way, and I’m now gearing up to stitch it down by hand . . . all 378″ of it.




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Reach for the Stars: Quilted!

The New Year has gotten off to a grand start. Yesterday I picked up Catch a Falling Starmy version of Terri Krysan’s Reach for the Stars sampler quiltfrom longarm quilter Loretta Orsborn of Orsborn Specialty Quilting, and I have been swooning with delight ever since. I’ve long admired Loretta’s quilting skills, having seen several examples of her work in quilt shows over the last few years, and was overjoyed when she agreed to work her magic on my quilt. She is equally skilled at digitized and free-motion quilting, and I was eager to have both on display.

On the day I took my quilt top and backing to Loretta’s studio, we spent at least two hours looking at quilting motifs, discussing options, and choosing threads. We made a lot of decisions but I gave Loretta carte blanche to make changes and asked her to incorporate as much free motion quilting as she desired.

Take a look at her lovely work:

photo 2

photo 1

More pictures to come, I promise. These are the photos Loretta sent me when she finished the quilting. The battery on my brand new digital camera is charging as I write this. As soon as the camera is ready to use, I’ll take lots of photos and get them posted. In the meantime, I’m going to start working on the binding.




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Reach for the Stars: I’m There!

Yes, indeed! My Reach for the Stars quilt top is completely pieced, all 88″ x 108″ inches of it. I finished it at Quilt Camp last week. It’s a bit wrinkled from being all folded up during transport, but here it is:

RFTS PN 11-14
Dawn’s Version

I like the look of the black squares floating in the outer border, so rather than binding the quilt in solid black to frame it, as originally planned, I’m going to use more of the background fabric.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The quilt has to be quilted first! I am going to (gulp) invest in custom longarm quilting on this one. The quilter I have chosen is equally at home with free motion and digitized quilting, and I expect my quilt will have some of both. I’ll have a better idea after we meet next week.

While I was at Quilt Camp I also pieced the back. It measures about 96″ x 116″ and incorporates the two Jacobean floral focus fabrics I used for the fussy-cut images in the center medallion and individual blocks. This is a partial view of the back:

RFTS back, partial
Jacobean Florals on the Back

One of the prints was a border print, so I pieced it in both directions for a bit more visual interest.

I’m still grappling with the realization that this quilt may not fit my queen-size bed. The 88″ width is fine, even if the quilting draws it up a few inches. It’s the length that’s the problem. According to several websites I’ve looked at, the recommended length for a standard queen or king-size quilt is 94″. Even if the quilting shrinks 4″ from the length, it’s still going to be 10″ longer than the recommended length. If this had dawned on me sooner (like when I started making this quilt in January), I might well have resized the blocks. Too late now. But I’m not going to fret about it. Surely I’ll find a good spot to display this quilt.

On a brighter note, I’ve selected a name for my quilt:  Catch a Falling Star. If you were around in 1957 (as I was), you’ll recognize it as the name of a song by Italian-American crooner Perry Como.




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Reach for the Stars: Almost There!

The final two corners are on my Reach for the Stars quilt top, and already it is huge. It measures 80″ x 100″ — oh my! It will measure 88″ x 108″ once the final borders are on. The custom quilting will shrink it a few inches, of course, but still — I think it’s going to be too big for my queen size bed. I was lamenting this to my twin sister, Diane, who quickly pointed out that she has two king size beds in her home and oh, by the way, wouldn’t this quilt look terrific in the upstairs guest room?

There’s no room in my house big enough to photograph the entire quilt top so I placed an old sheet on the patio out back, centered the quilt on top of it, and took a picture in the waning light:

2014-11 all but last border
Final Border to Come

Those of you who have been following my efforts to achieve a symmetrical checked border now have a good look at how it all fits together. Your next view of this will be a finished quilt top!




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Reach for the Stars: Border Breakthrough, Part 2

Border Breakthrough? More of a Corner Crisis. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. It wasn’t really a crisis, but what I had envisioned as an easy way to extend the points of a narrow inner border into the wide outer border on the corners of my Reach for the Stars quilt turned out to be anything but.

(As regular readers know, my quilt is based on designer Terri Krysan’s quilt of the same name that was recently serialized in Quilter’s Newsletter magazine. I’ve been working on this quilt for the better part of a year, posting progress reports as often as I had something to show. The previous post recounts my efforts to achieve a symmetrical border and to carry the symmetry into the corners. If you haven’t read that post yet, you might want to, as it helps put today’s post in context.)

I could have taken the easy way out and simply attached the corner units without fussing with inner border points at all. The quilt has strong diagonal lines, and it probably would have looked just fine:

Corner 1

Butting the components up against each other gives you a better idea of what a corner would look like sewn together:

Corner 2

But I wanted the point of the solid black border to extend into the print border. Although I have departed in several ways from Terri Krysan’s design, this was one element I wanted to preserve. All I needed to do — I thought — was replace a 2″ black print square with a  block that included a solid black piece, like this one:

Corner 3

Easy enough to make. I toyed with the idea of paper piecing the unit but it was just as fast to sew two half-square triangles to a larger triangle. I made a 2½” block and then trimmed it to the finished size of 2″ square to test its position as a replacement block. Much to my dismay, it was too small. The bottom edges of the triangle didn’t match the seamlines in the solid black border.

The cause of the discrepancy, I finally figured out, was the finished width of the narrow black border: 1⅜”. I had cut the border strips 2½” inches wide, not knowing how wide they would turn out to be, knowing only that the finished width would be determined by where the setting triangles came together at the corners. This is because of the highly unscientific but vaguely mathematical way I figured and constructed the borders. If the narrow black border had finished at 1¼” wide, I think it might have fit.

But it didn’t. What to do?

The solution came to me only when I started thinking outside the box. Literally. Instead of working with a 2½” square (the box), I played with a 2½” x 6½” rectangle of black print — the equivalent of three squares — and larger triangles of the solid black. That gave way to two 2½” x 3½” rectangles when I realized they would give me the shape I desired in the size needed to match the other seams. Let me show you what I mean:

Corner 4The larger pieces are the 2½” x 3½” rectangles. The solid black pieces are 1⅝” squares, about to become foldover corners:

Corner 5

When I joined the two pieces in the middle and tested the edges of the resized triangle against the seamlines in the black border, they were right where they needed to be. Hurrah!

Here is the new rectangular unit inserted into part of a corner unit . . .

Corner 6 rep

. . . and here is that corner unit joined to the quilt:

Corner 7


This close-up shows how the seam joining the two solid black triangles becomes, in effect, an extension of the mitered seam in the narrow black border:.

Corner 9a
This view of the second corner shows you how it all fits together:

Corner 8

Two more corners to go. Then all that’s left is to add the final border of background fabric, which helps float the nine-patch units. Can you believe it? I am almost done!




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Reach for the Stars: Border Breakthrough

When I posted almost a month ago on my Reach for the Stars sampler quilt, pictured here . . .

2014-10, RFTS before borders

. . . I had finished the center medallion and 14 surrounding blocks and was getting ready to tackle the intricate pieced border. I say “tackle” because I knew it would be a challenge figuring out how to get the corners perfectly symmetrical. I knew I wanted to emulate the lacelike effect designer Terri Krysan achieved by putting nine-patch blocks on point in her border, but I also knew I wanted all of my corners to match.

First I added a narrow black border on all four sides, mitering the corners. Next I made several nine-patch units and cut several setting triangles and then just started playing with their positions around the perimeter of the quilt top, which had been moved to the floor after outgrowing my design wall. I walked around the quilt countless times, trying out nine-patch units and setting triangles in different spots along the outer sides.

Border Breakthrough #1 occurred when it became apparent to me that the corner design needed to include two nine-patch units with a strip between them, like this:

Border Breakthrough 1
I mocked up the rest of the corner and even sewed some pieces together. I expected I would need to miter the corner with a seam in the middle of the center strip to match the mitered seam in the narrow black border.

Border Breakthrough 2
When I looked at the photo I had taken above, it hit me that I didn’t need to miter the seam at all! If you follow the horizontal line at the tip of the narrow black border, you’ll see what I saw. Here is Version 2 of the corner unit . . .

Border Breakthrough 3
. . . showing a much easier way to finish the corner. And here is Version 3, which assures the continuity of the black print fabric all around the quilt next to the narrow black border:

Border Breakthrough 4
The position of the black print setting triangles at each corner coincided with a black print setting triangle hitting the exact center of the top and bottom of the quilt. You’ll see what I mean when you look at the next photo:

Border Breakthrough 5
See the point of the black sashing on the middle block, right where it touches the narrow black border? Follow the line into the border and note how it intersects both the black print setting triangle next to the black border and the blue setting triangle on the outer edge.

Unfortunately, there was no way that same design element was going to hit the middle of the long sides. That’s when Border Breakthrough #2 came into play. After much fiddling around, I determined that if I completely removed one nine-patch unit from a long side and added one more strip to two of the remaining nine-patch units, the middle of a black print setting triangle would hit the middle of the long side. Just what I wanted it to do!

Here’s what the “nine-patch plus” unit looked like just before adding the setting triangles . . .

Border Breakthrough A

. . . and here’s what it looked like next to a regular nine-patch:

Border Breakthrough B
I sewed all of my blocks together and then discovered that the border strip was about an inch too long (much better than an inch too short!). My solution? To re-sew the nine-patch units taking a full quarter-inch seam rather than my regular scant quarter-inch seam. Doing that with six nine-patch units and two “nine-patch plus” units took up the excess fullness, and my border fit perfectly. Was someone doing the Happy Dance? Oh, yeah!

Here’s a look at the middle of one long side, with the setting triangle hitting in just the right spot. Look above the small blue and black hourglass block in the valley between the two blocks near the top center of the photo:

Border Breakthrough 6
Here you are looking across the quilt to one corner:

Border Breakthrough 7
The “nine-patch plus” units — the ones with two black print squares on point — are evenly interspersed along the long sides, and even though the two short sides have no “nine-patch plus” units, everything still looks balanced because the borders match. My approach was strictly trial and error — no graph paper, no computer software program, no calculator work — with just a dash of intuition and a lot of luck.

I do have one more thing to figure out. It has to do with preserving the points of the narrow black border and it just may involve some paper piecing. Have I piqued your curiosity? I hope so! Please come back in a few days to see what I’m talking about.




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Around the World Blog Hop

Today’s my day to post in the “Around the World Blog Hop.” It’s like a chain letter passed from one blogger to another. What a fun way to meet new quilters and discover new quilting blogs! My assignment is to respond to four questions and then tag another quilter who will post on the same questions a week later.

I was tagged by Debbie Scroggy of All Quilted, LLC. Debbie is a local award-winning professional longarm quilter whose clients keep coming back because she does beautiful work. She takes care to bring out the best in every quilter’s project. I know this because she has quilted two quilts for me — and they will certainly not be the last. I’ve seen examples of quilting Debbie has done for other people as well as quilts she has made herself.  You’ll see for yourself when you click on the link above. And when you do, you’ll find a link to the blogger who tagged her. This blog hop takes you backward as well as forward.

Moving forward, you will hop from Oregon halfway across the North American continent to visit Jennifer Gwyn of Seams Crazy. Jennifer lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and two young children. Despite the demands of working and raising a family, she still manages to get a lot of quilting done. Jennifer’s fabric choices are always pleasing to the eye. I especially admire her ability to go scrappy when the quilt calls for it. I have Jennifer to thank for the project you see below. She wrote about it on her blog late last year and got me hooked.

On to the assignment at hand.

1. What am I working on?
Ah, the easy question first. I always have several projects underway. One is my series sampler quilt, Reach for the Stars:

2014-10-11 02.40.46
Reach for the Stars Border Puzzle

I’ve been working on this quilt since the beginning of the year, and the end is tantalizingly in sight. At the moment I’m trying to solve the puzzle of how to make the borders match in all four corners, something the original design does not do. The math doesn’t work out, and I’m trying to figure out a creative way to make it work.

Another work-in-progress is this Bow Tucks Tote, designed by Penny Sturges of

2014-10-11 01.13.43
Tote Bag in Progress

I’m currently teaching a class on this bag at the Pine Needle and need to make a tote along with my students to demonstrate the steps. In the photo above, that’s the lining you see on the left. The green strip turns into pockets that go around the entire inside of the bag. Clever!

Yet another project is this Rotary Cutter Coat, one of my own designs:

2014-10-11 02.49.42
Rotary Cutter Coat in the Works

Look closely at the fabrics in the unfinished project above: those are zipper pulls and zipper teeth on the front and straight pins on the back. So cute! (I posted a tutorial a few days ago that includes a link to the free pattern; perhaps you’d like to make a rotary cutter coat yourself.) As soon as the zipper pull coat above is finished, I’m going to give all three away. I hope you’ll come back later this week for my Giveaway.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I would be hard pressed even to identify what genre my work fits in. I’m all over the map in terms of the kinds of quilts I like — and the kinds of quilts I like to make. Am I a traditional quilter? Absolutely. Non-traditional quilter? Yes. Modern quilter? Yes. Art quilter? That too. I tend to make what pleases me, and most of the time my work pleases others. That’s satisfying on both fronts.

3. Why do I create what I do?
It’s all about the fabric. I love fabric! I love to make things with it. My mother taught me to sew when I was 12 years old, and I honestly can’t remember a time I didn’t have some kind of sewing project underway. I made all of my own clothes well into the 1980s (past the time when it was cheaper to make clothing than to buy it), along with pillows and curtains and other “soft furnishings.” By then I had also discovered quilting, which became a creative outlet and antidote to an intense work schedule. When I retired six years ago, quilting — and then teaching quilting — took over my life. Oh, and sewing for my sisters, who think I’m the Home Dec Queen.

4. How does my creative process work?
Often an element in a quilt — a block, perhaps, or a border — will catch my eye, and I will think about how I might incorporate it into a quilt of my own. Or I will look at a traditional block and ponder how it might be jazzed up a bit. I will look at a design element and think, “What if I did this or that to it?” Some of my best ideas have come from asking myself, “What if . . .?”

Some of my work is frankly derivative. Case in point: the rotary cutter coats pictured above. A couple of years ago I saw a pattern in a magazine for a quilted eyeglasses case. I was instantly transported back to the age of four, when I got my first pair of glasses. I came home from the optician with glasses on my nose and a faux-leather case to store them in when I wasn’t wearing them. The case was cut along the same lines as the one in the magazine. I examined the eyeglasses case in the photo and said to myself, “What if . . .?” The result was a case (or coat, as I like to call it) designed specifically for a rotary cutter, though it could certainly double as a case for a pair of large eyeglasses.

I find inspiration everywhere: not just in books and magazines but also in nature, the work of other quilters and crafters, designs in fabric, a sidewalk, a coffee cup. I study quilts I like — and quilts I don’t much care for — to understand what appeals to me and why. Straying from the familiar path and trying something new are parts of the creative process, so I take classes whenever I can.


Jennifer’s “Blog Hop Around the World” post is due Oct. 20, one week from today. But you don’t have to wait till then to visit her blog. Go there now and see what she’s working on. Not only will you get a glimpse of her Reach for the Stars fabrics, you’ll be able to check out the size of her stash. Oh my!




Posted in Giveaway, Reach for the Stars sampler quilt, rotary cutter case, tote bags, tutorial, update | 2 Comments