In my last progress report I talked about playing with the cheddar and indigo blocks on my design wall and realizing more blocks were needed. This quilt is going to contain blocks in three sizes — six, 12 and 18 inches — in an arrangement still to be determined. I made four more blocks of each size — and then I stopped. Why? I hadn’t yet decided what size my quilt would be — an important piece of information when figuring how many more blocks to make!
I finally settled on a twin sized quilt for a rather compelling reason: I am ready to finish this project and move on to something else! After spending time moving blocks around on my design wall I realized how difficult it is to create a layout with different sized blocks. And it’s complicated by the fact that I’m combining various prints and trying to get them distributed evenly around the quilt.
I figured I’d better move to graph paper. Here’s the result, achieved with much erasing and with the bottom of the layout cut and pasted on:
The blocks with the big X are obviously the 18″ ones. The squares with the circle in the middle are the 12″ blocks and the squares with the small X are the 6″ blocks. The quilt will measure 66″ x 90″ (assuming I don’t put a border on it).
With paper layout in hand, I arranged the 18″ and 12″ blocks on my design wall . . . and kept moving them around until finally deciding on this distribution of blocks:
The white spaces you see are where the 6″ blocks will go, mostly in twos and threes but there is one space for a singleton block. I have something special in mind for that one.
I’m not very good at “going scrappy.” The quilt looks awfully busy to me — even before adding the 6″ blocks. But I love the block design and the fabrics so I just have to trust I will be happy with the end result.
Do you love star quilts as much as I do? I’ll bet half the quilts I’ve made over the years contain star blocks. Susan of stitchedbysusan.com, a quilter whose work I very much admire, asked me the other day on Instagram about my “best tips for perfect star points.” I thought to myself, “That’s a good topic for a blog post!”
I’m always surprised — and yes, a little disappointed — when I see star quilts with the points cut off. With a little care that can be avoided completely.
To illustrate this post I’m using a 6″ Sawtooth Star block from my current project. It’s made up of four Flying Geese units which form the star points, a square in the middle of the block, and four smaller squares in the corners:
If you look at the four Flying Geese units you’ll notice that the points of the star go right to the corners, the outer edges of the units. If the seamline is off on either side of the corner by even an eighth of an inch, the star point is going to be off when it’s joined to the other pieces in the block. In a block this small, a sixteenth of an inch can make a difference.
Tip #1: Make sure the seamline intersects the corner precisely.
The easiest way to achieve this is to make the block slightly oversize and then trim to exact size with a ruler. This is especially true with star points because they contain diagonal seams and it’s all too easy to get some distortion when sewing and pressing them, especially if you use steam and press with a heavy hand like I do.
There are several excellent Flying Geese trimming rulers on the market (I have two that I love) but the truth is you can trim perfect star points with any ruler that has the proper angled degree line going to a corner. Because a traditional Flying Geese unit is always twice as long as it is high, that angle is 45 degrees. Virtually every quilting ruler has a 45 degree angle marked on it.
Tip #2: Don’t forget the No Surprises pin.
I have my teacher and mentor Billie Mahorney to thank for this tip. It’s one of the most valuable things I ever learned from her. The No Surprises pin is the one that goes at the end of every stitching line to make sure the two layers are still lined up when you get to the end. The feed dogs on a sewing machine don’t always feed the layers evenly, resulting in one layer coming up short. This is especially true with longer seams. No matter how short the stitching line, I never fail to put in the No Surprises pin.
In my block the first three seams are pinned and ready to chain sew. Because these pieces are so small I didn’t feel the need to do pinning other than the No Surprises pin:
I have arranged the top and bottom pairs to be stitched so that I am stitching in the direction the diagonal seam was pressed (i.e. with the seam rather than against it).
On the middle pair I’m stitching on the side where I can see the intersection and make sure I cross it in the proper place (see Tip #3 below).
Here are the pieces chain stitched:
Look very carefully at this next photo for a preview of Tip #3:
Do you see how my stitching line joining the two pieces doesn’t cross at the exact top of the inverted V? It’s actually a couple of threads away from the point formed by the V and toward the raw edges.
When the stitching line is right on top of the point or — heaven forbid — a few threads on the inside, the point in the background fabric gets chopped off. This is where an accurate quarter-inch seam is so critical.
Tip #3: When approaching a point (in this case it’s the bottom of the V of a Flying Geese unit), don’t stitch exactly across the point where the stitching lines intersect; rather, sew a couple of threads away from the point and toward the raw edges. This little tip is what gives you a nice crisp point when the seam is pressed.
Tip #4: In order to achieve Tip #3, make sure you are using a foot that allows you to see the needle going in and out of the fabric. Most quarter-inch feet are “open toe,” allowing you to see the path the needle takes.
Take a look at the next photo. You can see that my star points in the top two pieces where the corner squares have been added are a quarter of an inch away from the edge — thus they won’t get chopped off when I sew them to another piece of fabric. In the bottom piece, which is the center of the block, the inside V of the background fabric is nice and sharp.
Tip #5: Sew seams with a regular quarter inch seam. This is not the time to go for a “scant quarter inch” because the point of your star will land inside the seam allowance when other pieces are sewn to the block. That’s another way star points get chopped off.
Now look at the picture again and notice how the seams are pressed. In the top two pieces the seams are pressed toward the outside (toward the corner squares). In the bottom piece, the seam is pressed toward the center square and away from the Flying Geese unit. My seams will nest when I’m ready to sew the units together.
Tip #6: Whenever possible, press away from the points, whether it’s the star points or the bottom of the V of a Flying Geese unit.
Tip #7: Whenever possible, press from the right side of the block. This helps prevent tiny pleats from being pressed in at the seamline, which often happens when blocks are pressed from the wrong side.
I’ve added the other pieces of my Sawtooth Star block and now have three units ready to sew together. Here they are from the front . . .
. . . and from the back:
Even though the seams are pressed in opposite directions where they will meet, I still pin the intersections and add the all-important No Surprises pin at the end:
Do you see how the edges at the beginning of the stitching line (upper left corner) don’t meet? They’re supposed to. To correct this I’ve added a pin at the beginning of the stitching line to nudge that top layer over to meet its neighbor underneath:
These two seams that I’m sewing are the ones that connect my Flying Geese units to the middle section. When I get to the middle of the block I’ll make sure my stitching line is a couple of threads away from the point and toward the raw edges (Tip #3).
The seams are sewn and pressed toward the outside:
This is the way I pressed my star block seams for years. The block still looks good from the front but it feels bulky at the V where all those layers are lying on top of each other. Nowadays I clip the seam at the intersections so that I can press it toward center of the block, minimizing the bulk at the V:
Another option is to make a second clip on the other side of the intersection and press the seam open just between the clips, revealing a tiny 4-patch design. That’s what I showed you in my last post:
Here are my three most recent 6″ Sawtooth Star blocks, including the one starring (sorry, couldn’t resist) in this post:
I hope you found my tips helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions!
Perhaps I should have titled this post “Plodding Along: Cheddar and Indigo Quilt.” Even with all the extra sewing time available to me (thanks to the coronavirus pandemic), I don’t feel like I’m taking proper advantage of it. Part of the problem is that I seem to spend as much time petting my fabric as I do cutting and sewing it.
And I must confess to whiling away a big chunk of time last week just playing around with blocks on my design wall. Based on that pleasant exercise, I realized I need about twice as many blocks as I have. I decided to make a few more of the largest Churning Stars blocks — the 18″ Sawtooth Star blocks containing 9″ Churn Dash blocks in the center.
As I made each block, it instantly became my favorite. In this block the background dark navy print in the Churn Dash block and the background print in the Sawtooth Star are the same print in different colorways:
The same print in a third colorway makes the star points in the next block:
A very modern print from Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s “Futurum” line shows up in the Churn Dash block– but look how well it goes with the very traditional prints in the Sawtooth Star:
One more big block with indigo Sawtooth Star points is in the works. When it’s done I’ll have a dozen big blocks. Will that be enough? Time will tell . . .
My layout (the one in my head) calls for blocks of different sizes to be staggered. I expect there will be a lot of 6″ Sawtooth Star blocks used as filler so I’m gearing up to make a boatload of them. Here are three I made last week:
Look how cute they are from the back:
I have a new way of pressing the seams that makes them as flat as possible at the intersections. It does involve clipping to the seamline, which is something I used to avoid doing. But after making two large sampler quilts involving lots of angled seams, I have come to embrace the idea of clipping seams. The teeny tiny four-patches are an unexpected byproduct of the technique.
Maybe by the end of the week I’ll have some potential layouts to share with you. I hope you’ll stop by for a look!
In February my design wall was starting to fill up with Churning Star blocks. (Churning Stars is the name designer Jenifer Gaston gave to a quilt with Churn Dash blocks centered in Sawtooth Star blocks.) I’m combining different size Churning Star blocks in cheddar and indigo fabrics for a quilt whose layout is still in my head. All I know so far is that it will be a bed-size quilt and blocks will vary in size.
I took the blocks down from the design wall to make room for a couple of smaller projects and the stack lay untouched in my sewing room. For four months. Part of the reason is that the coronavirus came to Oregon and I moved on to making face masks. I’m still making masks but this weekend I was inspired to dig out those cheddar and indigo fabrics, get my blocks back up on the design wall, and make some more Churning Stars.
Here are my latest blocks:
The two blocks at the top will finish at 12″ square and the one on the bottom will finish at 18″ square. The blocks are easy and fun to make. I do believe it’s taking me more time to decide which fabric combinations to use than it is to actually make the blocks!
Here are close-ups of the blocks:
Those two are the 12″ blocks. The one below is the 18″ block:
Not all of my blocks have fussy-cut centers but these three do. That’s part of the fun!
I’m going to concentrate on this project and see if I can wrap it up by the end of the month. And this time I’m going to keep the blocks on my design wall until I’m ready to sew them together.
The best way to describe progress on my Churning Stars quilt is “intermittent.” I’ve not spent much time in my sewing room recently. Over the weekend, though, I did find the time to make a few more big blocks — the ones that will finish at 18″ square. Take a look:
Last month I discovered that a seller on Etsy had a Layer Cake of “Cheddar and Indigo,” the fabric line from Penny Rose Studio that launched this project. Even though it was not a bargain, I snapped it up because a) fabric from this line that came out in 2015 is virtually impossible to find now, and 2) I really wanted more of these background fabrics:
If I’m very careful in cutting up these 10″ squares, I’ll be able to maximize the number of blocks that contain the fabrics as background.
Curiously, I was able to find a lot of almost every cheddar and indigo print from the line — I started looking three years ago — but only two of the six light background prints, the ones you see on the left:
I’m especially fond of the smaller of the two background prints. Good thing, as I have plenty of it. And I have enough of the other prints to make at least one more cheddar and indigo quilt. Even though I’ve practically just begun working on this one, I’m already auditioning patterns for a second one.
Is this normal behavior (for a quilter) or am I obsessing?
I made a new Churn Dash block the other day for the quilt I’m currently working on using fabrics from the line called “Cheddar and Indigo” by Penny Rose Studio. Because these fabrics have been out for five years, I don’t have a full set of the line and am lacking light prints for the background. I’ve filled in with cream tone-on-tone prints from my stash.
Imagine my delight when I stopped by an LQS (that’s Local Quilt Shop for you non-quilters) the other day and happened upon two fat quarters of a light print from a different Cheddar and Indigo line, this one by Nancy Gere for Windham Fabrics. A perfect addition, I thought. After making my block I thought it looked just fine . . .
. . . until I put it up on my design wall in the company of some other blocks:
I had thought the new background fabric was creamy but it looked positively snowy white against the other blocks. What to do? I wondered if I could tea-dye the fabric. I’d never done it before but how hard could it be? After a bit of research on the Internet, I approached my task.
First, I found the widest shallowest bowl in my kitchen, one that was big enough for the block to lie almost flat on the bottom:
After removing the block, I plopped one tea bag in the bowl and filled it halfway with boiling water. I let the teabag steep for 90 seconds, then fished it out of the bowl when the water was a nice light brown. In went the block for a timed tea bath of three and a half minutes:
I could have let it steep longer but I wanted just a bit of color. I figured I could always dip the block a second time if it wasn’t dark enough.
After removing it from the bowl I plunged it into a bowl of cold water to which I had added a couple tablespoons of white vinegar (a tip from the Internet, intended to set the dye so it wouldn’t wash out when laundered). When the block was dry I gave it a good pressing . . .
and put it back up on the design wall:
Can you see the difference? It’s very subtle but unmistakably a better match with the other backgrounds.
Here’s a look at the block before and after:
Mission accomplished! Now I just have to tea-dye what’s left of the two fat quarters so I can make some more blocks.
. . . I could make Churn Dash blocks till the cows come home.
The Churn Dash really is one of my very favorite traditional blocks. It’s right up there with stars of any kind — note the Sawtooth Stars above. Last year I spotted a quilt called Churning Stars in a book by Jenifer Gaston (Primitive Style) with this combo of Churn Dash blocks inside Sawtooth Star blocks and was instantly hooked.
I made a couple of test blocks back then, dipping into my collection of cheddar and indigo fabrics from Penny Rose Studio. Then nothing until Quilt Camp in November, when I made a few more blocks. Since then I’ve picked up a few fabrics from other lines to add to the mix.
I stole a few moments last week to make a handful of blocks, all destined to be part of a bed-size quilt. I’m not working with a pattern. I’m just making blocks in different sizes, ranging from the 3″ blocks you see in the upper right corner to the 18″ block in the lower left corner. I’ll play around with them on my design wall when I have enough to make a quilt.
Do you ever start a quilt without having a firm plan in mind? It’s a tendency of mine. It seems I am always making test blocks and then deciding to proceed with a quilt without knowing what the finished product will look like. I just start making more blocks willy-nilly until a plan emerges.
Such is the case with my newest WIP (that’s Work-in-Progress for you non-quilters). Starting with my stash of cheddar and indigo prints from Penny Rose Fabrics and the Churn-Dash-inside-a-Sawtooth-Star block that Jenifer Gaston created for her Churning Stars quilt, I made 12″ and 18″ test blocks, subject of my last post. Where to go from there? Should I add some 9″ and/or 6″ blocks to the mix? Might be fun to play around with that.
When the bundle of fat quarters I found online arrived the other day, I got busy cutting 12″ squares from the cheddar and indigo prints:
Why 12″ squares? For the star points in the Sawtooth Stars, I’m making Flying Geese units using the method that calls for two different size squares and yields four Flying Geese units. A 12″ square is needed for the 18″ blocks and it’s also the largest to be cut from a fat quarter so I figured I’d better cut them first. After I had cut all the squares you see above, it dawned on me that I probably don’t want that many 18″ blocks. Oops.
That’s what happens when you don’t have a plan. Well, all is not lost. I can cut those squares into smaller pieces to use in smaller blocks. And I have enough fabric for two quilts anyway. One of the benefits of having an ample stash, right?
You probably know from my previous post that I’m going for a “controlled scrappy” look with my cheddars and indigos. Because of that I decided to make a bunch of Churn Dash blocks and a bunch of Flying Geese units for the Sawtooth Stars but wait to combine them into blocks until I can play around with the components on my design wall. That’s my current plan. If you can call it that.
For now I’ve made a couple Churn Dash blocks and Flying Geese sets in two sizes. The Churn Dash blocks measure 6½” and 9½” square, as they will go in the center of blocks that finish at 12″ and 18″ square:
The Flying Geese units below are half sets (i.e. there are actually four units in each set, not two) as I wanted to combine parts of four sets in one photo. The large units measure 4½” x 9″ and the smaller ones 3½” x 6½”:
The cheddars in this photo are not from the original fabric line but rather fabrics from my stash that I want to include in the quilt.
This WIP is destined to become a WISP (Work in Slow Progress, an acronym I learned just the other day) as I really must turn my attention to some other projects. Because these Churn Dash blocks and Flying Geese units go together quickly — and are fun to make — I’m going to make a few whenever opportunity and inclination coincide.
When I confessed in my last post that I was tempted to drop everything and start a new project, my friend Vickie responded at once with these words: “Resistance is futile. Give into the temptation.” Thank you, Vickie! All it took was that bit of encouragement for me to abandon my current quilting projects — only temporarily, you understand. I spent a delightful few hours Sunday afternoon petting my stash of cheddar and indigo fabrics, playing with possible fabric combinations, and finally making a couple of blocks using Jenifer Gaston’s Churning Stars block design.
I already knew Jenifer’s block was a winner. I tested it a couple weeks ago for the Junior Billie Bag I’m working on and couldn’t wait to make some blocks for an actual quilt.
Most of the fabrics I’m working with are from the “Cheddar and Indigo” line by Penny Rose Studio, a division of Riley Blake Fabrics. It came out in 2015. Here’s the entire line:
I had eight of the fabrics: four of the cheddars but only two navies and only two background fabrics. How perfectly providential, then, to find a complete fat quarter bundle for sale last weekend on eBay! It was not a bargain but I snagged it anyway. With a full selection from the line plus a few fabrics pulled from other sources I’ll be able to make what I call a “controlled scrappy” quilt.