Today I’m BETA testing my new Bias Square-Plus ruler. What better way to put a ruler through its paces than to cut the pieces for a new Feathered Star block! I’m making a large Feathered Star in red and white. I wanted it to have scrappy feather squares. To get maximum variety of prints and still use the Bias-Strip Piecing technique, I cut 8-1/2″ (the size of the new ruler– how easy is that?) beginning squares from 7 different light reds and 7 different dark reds.
I cut them all into 2″-wide bias strips. Choosing one strip pair from each combination, I stitched the strips together (these are just the longest strip pairs -there are a LOT more strips). Every seam line gives a different fabric combination. Fun.
For further information on Bias-Strip Piecing, see the step-by-step directions in the Winter Star Tutorial.
My block has 2 different sizes of feather squares: 1-5/8″ and 1-9/16″. One is only 1/16″ larger than the other. To keep the sizes separate, I cut all the larger squares first and put them in a marked plastic bag for safe keeping.
Next are the 1-9/16″ squares, which also have a plastic bag.
The new Bias Square-Plus ruler is 1/2″ larger than the old 8″ Bias Square from Martingale, has dashed lines for the 1/8″ dimensions, and markings at the edges and down the bias line for 1/16ths. The original Bias Square rulers were designed in the 1980s by Nancy J. Martin for That Patchwork Place, but went out of print last year. Nancy and I developed the bias-strip piecing technique together, and I LOVED the 8″ Bias Square. It was (and is) one of my favorite rulers for cutting squares. I couldn’t stand the thought of not having it available anymore. To get rights to the design and the Bias Square name, Nancy obtained permission from Martingale (formerly That Patchwork Place) and granted it to me. One has to be careful of copyrights. It will be the fifth ruler produced by my small company, Feathered Star Productions, and will be available later this Spring (2016). The changes made to the design make it even more useful.
My friend, Loretta, is teaching a sampler class. The subject of this week’s lesson is Stars and Baby Blocks made with 60 degree diamonds. For years, my go-to person for 60 degree diamonds and triangle designs has been Sara Nephew. If you google her, you’ll see all sorts of rulers, books and quilt designs using hexagons and related shapes.
A great aid for designing with these shapes is Isometric Graph Paper. Again, a quick Google search will show you sites where this triangular grid paper can be printed. It can also be found in some stores. In Eugene, I would look at an art supply store or the University of Oregon book store.
You can draft a hexagon with regular graph paper. The graph paper I use has 8 squares to the inch and has a heavy line at the 1″ increments. You can draft this on unlined paper as well.
- Choose a dimension for the finished side of the 60 degree diamond. I chose 2″ and using that setting on my compass, drew a circle with a 2″ radius. Then I drew a midline through the circle dividing it in half. It helped that when I drew the circle, the compass point was placed at the intersection of the heavy lines.
2. Now, I need to locate 6 points on the circle that are the same distance apart. Using the compass again with the same 2″ setting, put the compass point where the midline intersects the circle and make a mark on the circle.
Now, move the point of the compass to the mark you just made, and repeat the process to make another mark. Continue until you have 6 points located on the circle (2 are created with the midline and the other 4 are made with compass markings).
3. Connect the 6 points as shown to draw a hexagon with 2″ finished sides.
4. Connect every other point on the circle with the center, to make three 60 degree diamonds with 2″ finished sides. (I can also see a set of equilateral triangles.)
5. To make a template, color in one of the diamonds and add a 1/4″ seam allowance.
In the meantime, I’m working on the last post on the Winter Star — the one about sewing the block together. We had a few setbacks in August (a funeral to go to and my husband was in the hospital for a week) and it has thrown my schedule off somewhat. Thankfully, things have settled some and I’m back to my studio and getting ready to teach for the Utah Quilt Guild’s Quilt Fest 2015 in mid September. This is the last conference I have scheduled that I have to fly to. I had already agreed to do it last year when I decided to limit my travel to just the Northwest. I’ve been to this event before and they put on a really fun show: http://www.utahquiltguild.org/annual/
If you are interested in taking a class IN PERSON, I have scheduled some classes locally in the Eugene area and a retreat in Washington State next year.
ENGLISH IVY QUILT, Saturday, October 3, 2015
At “Our Sewing Room” in Springfield, OR
I’ll be teaching my English Ivy quilt, which can be made in a miniature 3” block, or in a standard 6” block. You will learn some “cut it larger, true it down” sewing techniques and bias-strip piecing to make ½” scale triangles (for the miniature version). This is a very sweet two-color quilt. Cost is $55.
2-DAY RADIANT FEATHERED STAR, Mon., Oct. 5 & Tues., Oct. 6, 2015
At “Our Sewing Room” in Springfield, OR
This 2-day class will include drafting instruction for the Radiant Feathered Star, color placement, and accurate rotary cutting and machine piecing. Lunch and snacks are included both days. Cost is $295 for the 2-Day workshop.
5-DAY FEATHERED STAR RETREAT
AT THE WILD ROSE RETREAT CENTER in ORTING, WASHINGTON
Session I: June 3-7, 2016
Session II: June 8-12, 2016
If Feathered Stars are on your bucket list, this is your chance to learn from the quilting world’s Feathered Star expert! Enjoy 5 days of total Feathered Star immersion at The Wild Rose Quilt Shop and Retreat Center in Orting, Washington. The registration fee of $995 includes 4 nights double occupancy lodging, most meals, and daily classroom instruction with Marsha. The class agenda includes a trunk show, drafting and design, rotary cutting and machine piecing. You will have plenty of free sewing time and individual help from Marsha during this 5-day retreat!
QUESTIONS ABOUT THESE WORKHOPS? Contact Adonna Roelke at:
Email: GetawayGirlsRetreats@gmail.com Phone: 541-554-9537
To finish the cutting for the 11″ Winter Star, we will need to cut some squares and triangles. The 3″ Ohio Star for the center and the 16 feather squares were made earlier. Going back to the drafting, there are small squares (S3) that fill in where the feather rows turn, and large squares for the block corners (S13). There are also three triangles: TT10, T9 and T3. These template designations match those found in the cutting chart on page 46 of the Feathered Star Quilt Blocks II book.
Cutting instructions here include Trimming Points for Easy Matching
Trimming points on triangles and other shapes takes the guesswork out of matching cut parches before they are sewn together. Once you’ve trimmed points, patches will fit flush with one another when correctly aligned. I know many quilters skip this step in preparing their pieces, but I really encourage you to try it. My piecing is just better when I trim points.
The templates in the book and on my drafting include both points and trim lines. You need the points drawn for measuring cutting dimensions.
Triangle points can be trimmed in two ways: perpendicular to the long side or to the short side of the triangle. The direction of the trim line depends on how the triangle will be sewn to the next shape. the amount you trim will always be 3/8″ on 45° angles. There are other point trimmers on the market, but I designed the point trimmer function into the Precision Trimmer 3 ruler and the Precision Trimmer 6. Mostly, I use the PT3.
Here is my drafting and a drawing of the block with template placement.
• S3: Cut 4 squares 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″. I like to choose a fabric here that contrasts with the dark-side of the feather squares.
• S13: Cut 4 squares, 3-1/2″ x 3-1/2″, of the background fabric.
• TT10: Cut 1 square, 6-1/2″ x 6-1/2″, of the background fabric. Cut diagonally twice to make 4 quarter-square triangles.
Trim points for match using the PT3 as shown. Line up the dashed center line of the ruler with the long side of the triangle and the solid diagonal line with the short side. Trim off the 3/8″ triangle that sticks out beyond the ruler. Repeat for the opposite side.
• T9: Four of these triangles fit around the center Ohio Star and eight are used for the star points. Following the rule of straight grain placement (it needs to be on the outside edge of the pieced unit), these will be cut as half square triangles.
— For the T9 triangles that fit around the Ohio Star center, cut 2 squares, 3″ x 3″, of a medium value print. Cut diagonally once to make 4 half square triangles. Before moving the triangles, use the PT3 ruler as shown to trim the triangle points for matching. Line up the ruler’s center dashed line with the diagonal cut and the solid diagonal line of the ruler with the side of the square (short side of the triangle.) What sticks out will be 3/8″ triangles for both triangles. Trim them off. (If you forget to trim points before moving the triangles, they can be trimmed using the method used for the TT10 triangle above, only start with the center line lined up with the long bias edge.)
— For the T9 triangles that are the star points, cut 4 squares, 3″ x 3″, of a dark value print. Cut diagonally once to make 8 half square triangles. Use the PT3 ruler as shown above to trim the triangle points for matching.
• T3: This is the single triangle at the end of the feather row. Cut 4 squares 1-7/8″ x 1-7/8″ from the same fabric that is the dark side of the feather squares. Cut each square in half to make 8 half-square triangles. Trimming these points for matching is done differently than for the previous two triangles. Instead of the PT3 ruler, use the square ruler that you used to cut the 1-1/2″ feather squares and place the ruler as shown. The 90° angle of the triangle is placed on the 1-1/2″ square marking and the points that extend beyond the ruler are trimmed off. The trimmed part is 3/8″, leaving the short side of the triangle at 1-1/2″, the same dimension as the feather triangles.
With all the pieces cut, the next step is to lay them out on a Portable Design Board in preparation for sewing.
Notice in the photos for this post, a lot of different fabric are used. In my quilt, I played around some with a variety of prints and values to make each block look different.
Next time, I’ll show you the piecing.
When piecing at this small scale, precision is really important. Being just a few threads off can make a difference, so I’m going to spend a little time here talking about how I set up my work area for piecing and how to find an accurate seam allowance.
• Good light is essential. I strive to keep my work area neat. A portable design board (see earlier post) keeps the pieces from wandering.
• Sewing machine. I have two: a Bernina 1530 and a Singer Featherweight. Both have reliable straight stitches. I’ve been warned by the service guy that the Bernina might be on its last legs, but the Featherweight will probably outlive me. When I use the little machine, I often use doorstops to angle the machine for better visibility.• Thread. For small-scale piecing I use a fine cotton thread — 50 or 60 wt. Presencia is the brand I carry on my website. It is a 3-ply, long staple Egyptian cotton made in It Italy. Harriet Hargrave recommends this thread and I like it. Finer thread creates less bulk in the seam lines.
• 70/10 Schmetz Microtex (sharp) Needles. I’ve been using these machine needles for small-scale piecing. I think if they got much finer, I wouldn’t be able to thread them. “Sharp” needles (as opposed to “universal”) are recommended for straight stitching on cotton. The smaller size makes a smaller hole in the fabric. For needle sizes, the lower number, the finer the needle. (NOTE: If you depend an a needle threader on your sewing machine, I’m told it may not work with this needle.) Needles need to be changed more often than you think. My Singer manual says to change the needle after every 8 hours of sewing! Also, change the face plate on the machine to one with a small round hole for straight stitching. (If your machine does other stitches, be sure to change it back before zig-zagging again!)
• Presser foot for piecing. My favorite is the straight stitching foot for the Singer or the #13 foot for the Bernina. A #53 foot is available for newer Berninas. They all have an open toe so I can see the needle as it enters the fabric. The narrow inner toe allows me to see the edge of the fabric as I sew. The shorter inner toe gives me room to guide the fabric with my finger closer to the needle. Some people use a stylus for this.
• Stitch length. Short and strong, but not so short that you can’t use a seam ripper: 11 stitches to the inch on the Featherweight and about 2 mm on the Bernina (a little shorter than the default setting).
• Scissors. I keep Karen Kay Buckley’s 7-1/2″ Perfect scissors next to my sewing machine. They are sharp all the way to the tip and good for clipping threads and trimming seams. The large handles make them easy to grab.
• Precision Trimmer 3 ruler. I often trim points on triangles for matching as I go along, so I keep this point trimmer, a rotary cutter, and a small cutting mat by the sewing machine.
• Pins: My current favorites are the Clover Patchwork Pins. Fine, short, with a glass head.
• Leader strip. I use a leader strip to control threads and save time when machine piecing. A leader strip is a strip of fabric about 8″ long and 2″ wide. It can be a scrap or something you cut for this purpose. Fold the strip in half lengthwise and stitch over one end of it at the beginning and end of each row of chain piecing.
• Pressing board. I needed a pressing board next to my sewing machine, so I made one. It’s a small piece of plywood (10″ x 18″) covered with a layer of batting, then a piece of fabric — all attached with a staple gun. Works for me.
• Small Iron. I have a truly wonderful travel iron that must be more than 15 years old, that I picked up at a drugstore somewhere in the Midwest. It’s not as if I could ever go back and get another one. If it ever dies, I will be bereft. It gets hot enough, has a nice point on it and is a perfect size for pressing tiny seams
BEFORE you sew your cut patches together, please, please, please, do an accuracy test on your 1/4” seam allowance! When we were doing Bias-Strip Piecing and making the 4-triangle squares for the Ohio Stars with the cut-larger-true-it-down method, the seams were sewn before the final shapes were cut, so if the seam allowance was a little off, it really didn’t matter. From now on in piecing the Winters Star block, the seam allowance matters.
• To find the 1/4” seam allowance, I use a piece of my 1/8” graph paper cut on
one of the solid lines. I lower my needle into the second line in (1/4” from the edge ). The edge of the paper is where the edge of my fabric patches need to be. On the Featherweight, I lay a tape. On the Bernina, tape would cover part of the feed dogs, so I depend on the line etched on the plate just before the feed dog holes.
• Stitch two of your perfectly cut 1-1/2” feather squares together with your best 1/4” seam allowance. Press the seam open and MEASURE the results. The unit should be 2-1/2”. If it isn’t, then adjust until you get the proper measurement.
3″ Ohio Star Piecing
1. The Ohio Star is constructed in 3 rows. Stitch the squares together with exact 1/4″ seams and measure the results. Each row should be 3-1/2″ long. Press seam allowances away from the pieced squares: this will result in opposing seams row to row. Trim seams.
2. Sew the rows together. Pin carefully, using a positioning pin to match the triangle points. A positioning pin is a pin placed perpendicular to the fabric to match two points. You can’t sew over it, so another pin is placed just in front of it the keep the matching point from slipping.
Leave each positioning pin in place as long as possible, removing it just before stitching. For the best matching, stitch right over the pinhole (where the positioning pin used to be).
Once the rows are together, press the seams open to distribute the bulk. Measure the sewn block to make sure it is 3-1/2″ square.
Next, we’ll cut the rest of the pieces for the Winter Star.
Making the 3″ Ohio Star block for the center of the Winter Star is a lot of fun. I liked it so much, I went on to develop a whole library of 3″ block designs using similar techniques. But that’s another tutorial.
(Click on any image to make it large enough to see details.)
If we look at a drafting of a 3″ Ohio Star, we see only 2 shapes: a 1″ finished square for the center and corners, and a triangle for the 4-triangle square units that make the star points.The square is easy: it will be cut at 1-1/2″.
The triangle needs some work before we know how to cut it. First, following the rule of straight grain (straight grain should fall on the outside edge of the pieced unit), it should be on the long side of the triangle. In rotary cutting, these triangles are called Quarter-Square triangles. Essentially, you cut a square and cut it on the diagonal twice to get 4 triangles with straight grain on the long side. The formula for getting the size of the square to cut is to add 1-1-/4″ to the finished long side of the triangle: 1″ + 1-1/4″ = 2-1/4″. Or, you can simply measure the long side of the triangle including seam allowances and you will get the same measurement.
For our Ohio Star, if we cut the squares 2-1/4″, we will get triangles that are exactly the right size. BUT, if our sewing isn’t absolutely accurate the resulting finished dimension could easily be off. I prefer to OVERCUT the squares by 1/4″: cut 2-1/2″ squares instead of 2-1/4″. This will make the 4-triangle star point units too large, but they can easily be cut down to the correct size using the Precision Trimmer 6. My Feathered Star Ruler also has appropriate markings. You can order these rulers on the website: http://www.marshamccloskey.com/rulandnot.html
Here’s how I do it:
1. To make the four 4-triangle units needed for the 3″ Ohio Star, start by choosing 2 fabrics: a light and a dark. From each, cut 2 squares 2-1/2″ x 2-1/2″.
2. Place the light and dark squares right sides together and cut diagonally once. This set-up will make 4 star point units.
3. Stitch the 4 triangle pairs together on the long sides. Press the seams to the dark. At this point, I like to trim the seam allowance down to a little more that 1/8″. If you trim too much, the seam won’t lie flat. I use a very sharp pair of scissors for this: I like Karen Kay Buckley’s 7-1/2″ Perfect Scissors because they are sharp all the way to the tips and are slightly serrated to grip the fabric. You can buy Karen’s scissors on my website: http://www.marshamccloskey.com/pesc.html
4. Place the 2-triangle-square units together with right sides facing, seams butting and colors opposite. Cut the square pairs diagonally (across the seam line) to make 4 new triangle pairs
5. Pin. and then stitch the pairs together, to make 4 four triangle square units (two are shown). Press the seam open, then trim.
6. Using the Precision Trimmer 6 ruler, center the 1-1/2″ marked square on the pieced unit. The diagonal ruler lines in the square should line up with the seam lines. Essentially, you’re measuring from the center of the square. Trim off two edges as shown. Turn the pieced unit around and trim the other 2 sides.
7. Now, you should have 4 perfectly sized star point units for your 3″ Ohio Star. With these, you can choose to make a light star on a dark ground OR a dark star on a light ground. The center (1) and corner squares (4) are cut 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″.
If you want to add a third color (a medium) to the star point units, do this:
1. Cut four 2-1/2″ squares: 2 dark, 1 light and 1 medium. Place a dark and a light square right sides together. Place a dark and a medium square right sides together. Go to step #2 above and follow the same directions.
In the next post, I’ll show you how I set up my sewing machine for accurate piecing and how to stitch the Ohio Star parts together to get great points and the correct finished size.