Winter Star Tutorial: Accuracy

WinterBlueSetting Up to Sew the 3″ Ohio Star

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.

Sewing set-upIt helps to have the right tools. Every quilter has favorites. This is my list.

• 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.IMG_1172• 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.

IMG_2263• 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!)

IMG_2264• 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.

KKB SCISSORS• Seam ripper with a fine tip. No kidding, I use it a lot.

• 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.

PT3-2• Ruler to check for accuracy. The C-thru B-85 ruler we used for drafting is good for this, or I often use a 4″ x 8″ Omnigrid with a 1/8″ grid.

• Pins: My current favorites are the Clover Patchwork Pins. Fine, short, with a glass head.

IMG_2270• 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

Accuracy Test

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.


OSp2 OSp3 OSp4

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).

OSp6 OSp7

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.

Osp9 OSp8

Next, we’ll cut the rest of the pieces for the Winter Star.

Winter Star Tutorial: Cutting for 3″ Ohio 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.)

WSScrappy fabricsIn my Winter Star Quilt, each block has a slightly different version of the 3″ Ohio Star both in fabrics (scrappy) and the location of light and dark values. I’m going to show you three versions.

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.3The 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.

QSTFor 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:

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.

33. 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:

3 33

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.

3336. 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.

3 3

37. 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″.

3 3

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.

3 33


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.

Winter Star: Making Feather Squares with Bias-Strip Piecing

WSScrappy fabrics

Fabric Choices for the Winter Star:

Don’t feel you need to go out and buy fabric to make this block. When I made my Winter Star quilt, I used scraps from my fabric collection. I chose light, medium, and dark prints in brown, red and green. I just pulled a lot of different prints that fit my color recipe and started making blocks.

The first cutting and sewing on a Feathered Star block is making the feather squares with Bias-Strip Piecing. Generally, I choose the lightest light and the darkest dark fabrics for these small triangles. It’s important to have good high contrast here so the shapes show up and “sparkle.”

Supplies for Bias-Strip Piecing
• Large square ruler, 12-1/2” – 15″
• Long ruler: 18 “ or longer
• Precision Trimmer 6 or Feathered Star Ruler (or other square ruler
with a diagonal line and the correct markings for the size of square you want to cut)
• Rotary Cutter with sharp blade
• Cutting mat
• Sewing machine, Iron and board

NOTE ON RULERS: When I teach the Winter Star Class, the Precision Trimmer 6 ruler is on the materials list. The markings are clear, simple, and work for many of the cutting dimensions in the block. To learn more about the PT6 ruler, go to:


The Feathered Star Ruler has a lot more square sizes and is more complex, but works essentially the same way. You can learn about this ruler at:

FSR8 small

Making the Feather Squares for the Winter Star

1. Choose a light and a dark fabric; from each cut one square 8” x 8”. The 8″ squares are more than enough fabric to make all the feathers for one Winter Star block —-with a few cutting mistakes.  All the feather squares will be the same fabric combination. Layer the fabrics right sides together and cut both squares at the same time.WSBS1

2. Cut the layered squares diagonally corner to corner to establish the true bias (45 angle.)


NOTE: If you need fewer or more feather squares for a project, or you if want your feathers to be scrappy, use the YIELD CHART to see how many units can be cut from different sizes of Beginning Squares. You’ll see that the 8″ Beginning Squares will yield 21 feather squares (I know because I counted). We need 16 units for one Winter Star block.

Yield Chart

3.  Measuring from the center cut, cut 4 sets of bias strips 2” wide.
I layer the large triangles so I’m cutting 4 layers at at time — thus the 4 sets of strips plus triangles at the corner.


4. Pick up pairs of contrasting strips; they will be right sides together and ready to stitch. Sew them together on the long edge with 1/4” seam allowance. Be careful not to stretch this bias edge. If it is wavy after sewing, you’ll need to check the tension on your machine. A well adjusted sewing machine will make a seam that is nice and flat. Press seams open.


5. Sew strip pairs together as shown. There will be pairs of varying lengths. Sew longest strip pairs together, then next longest, until all strips are connected. Alternate light and dark strips. Keep the Vs even along the lower edge. Press seams open.

WSBSseamsopen WSBSstripstogether WSBSstripsetWSBSpressing

Corner triangles left over after cutting the strips can be sewn together, but they will not be joined to the strips. Press seams open.

6. Using the Precision Trimmer 6, cut 16 square feather units, 1-1/2” x 1-1/2”.

Find the size of the square to cut by laying your ruler on top of a template in the book or the appropriate shape on your drafting to see where the lines line up.


I usually mark the dimension/square with blue painter’s tape so it will be easy to find over and over.

To cut the first feather square, place the diagonal line on the ruler on the first seam line. Cut the square slightly larger (a few threads to 1/8”) than it needs to be. Two cuts are needed to separate the square from the set-up. Let you rotary cutter go slightly beyond the seam line on each cut to cleanly separate it from the strip set-up.WSBSfirst cuts

To trim the square to the right size, turn the square around and align the diagonal line of the ruler with the seam line of the square and the desired dimension exactly lined up with the previously cut sides. Make the final 2 cuts.


Compare the square to the template to check the size.

You now have a perfectly pieced 2-triangle square with straight grain on the outside edges (this is why the strips were cut on the bias). It is already pressed. It has no “dog ears” to trim off and no paper to remove.

And you only need to cut 15 more!

NOTE:  There is a conversation among precision machine piecers about where to place the lines of the ruler when rotary cutting. Some cut with the edge of the fabric just on the ruler line, some with it slightly outside. The right way to do it is the way that will get you the most accurate results (i.e. sewn measurements), and will depend on how you sew your 1/4” seam allowance. Some people measure to the outside of the line and sew a full 1/4″ seam. I cut to the center of the line and use a slightly scant 1/4″ seam allowance. What’s important is to be consistent in your cutting and stitching, and measure the sewn-in units as you go along.

7. Cut squares from alternate seam lines working across the strips from one side to the other.  After cutting the from first set of seams (the lowest points), go back and cut from the skipped seam lines. Repeat until you have all the squares you need.

WSBScutting1 WSBScutting2

To help manage all the little pieces, I keep them in labeled plastic resealable bags until I’m ready to piece my block.


In the next post, we’ll be making the 3″ Ohio Star for the center of the Winter Star.

Drafting the Winter Star, continued

The next step in the Winter Star Drafting is to add 1/4″ seam allowances to each shape that has been identified with color. This where we get cutting dimensions.WSdraft12

On vertical and horizontal edges, the graph paper lines can be used to locate the 1/4″ seam allowance. The smallest squares here are 1/8″, so two squares out from the edge of the colored shape will be 1/4″.


When adding the seam allowance to a diagonal edge, there is no line on the graph paper to guide you, so you’ll need to use the drawing ruler. Lay the ruler on the shape with the 1/4″ line of the ruler on the diagonal line to measure the seam allowance. Draw the seam allowance lines all the way out to the points. You’ll need the whole shape for measuring for cutting.

NOTE: The goal here is to add exactly the same 1/4″ all the way around each piece. You don’t want some “fat” quarter inches and some “skinny.” Be consistent. On some rulers this means using the same side of the ruler for all the seam allowances, because the two sides of the ruler may measure differently.

NOTE 2: Pencil lines have width, and sometimes the 1/4″ line on the ruler needs to be set ever-so-slightly on the inside of the inner line in order to have the pencil line fall in the right place.


Add the 1/4′ seam allowance around each shape that has been colored in. If you find the seam allowances are overlapping, don’t worry. The drafting will be used for measuring and will not be cut up.

The drafting is your road map of the design. Write all the information on it that you will need to make the block. In another post I’ll talk about measuring for cut sizes, establishing grain lines, and making cutting notes.

Next, as a change of pace in my Winter Star class, we do Bias-Strip Piecing to make the two-triangle squares that I call “feather squares.” After making the feathers, we’ll come back to the drafting to cut the rest of the pieces.

Drafting the Winter Star

I’m a lazy perfectionist. I hate to have to do things over. So, I’m as careful as I can be in every step of the quilting process. It starts with an accurate drafting.

• Slow down. Think about what you’re doing.

• Work in good light. We’re using a the B-85 drawing ruler because it is thinner that a rotary cutting ruler and will not throw a shadow exactly where you want the line to be.

• Use a sharp pencil. It will make a more accurate line than a dull pencil.

• Be careful when you place the ruler: the edge of the ruler needs to be set back slightly to accommodate the width of the pencil line. I like to place the point of my pencil first and move the ruler up to it so the line I draw will not be offset.

• Graph paper is your friend: pay attention to the lines on the graph paper as they will help keep all the angles true.


ANALYZING THE BLOCK DESIGN: This is the traditional block design I started with when I made my first Winter Star block. The center square here is 3″ finished — a perfect size for inserting a 3″ Ohio Star. To me this block looks like an Ohio Star with “feather” triangles lining the long sides of the large blue triangles that are the star points. I always start my Feathered Star draftings with the 2-triangle squares (“feather squares”) measuring 1″ finished. If we put three 1″ feather squares along the long side of the large blue triangle the long side of the triangle will be 3″ long.  That same size triangle also fits next to the center square. Following the logic, the side of the center square measures 3″. That is where we will start our drawing.


• Using a sharp pencil and a drawing ruler, draw a 3″ square near the center of your 17″ x 22″ sheet or graph paper. See the previous post for info on the graph paper, ruler and pencil. The heavy lines on the graph paper are helpful here.


• Now, draw 8 lines that extend the sides of the center square. Each new line will be 3″ long.


• The next 4 lines will be drawn on the diagonal and will form the 12 large triangles that fit around the center square and that form the basic star points. I depend on the large squares on the graph paper to find 45° angles, by drawing exactly corner to corner diagonally through the squares. Notice that these 4 lines extend beyond the points of the large triangles by the diagonal dimension of the 1″ square on the graph paper. The next step in the drafting will show you why.


• Measuring 1″ out from the long sides of the large triangles, draw parallel lines. As you can see 2 lines will be drawn in each corner of the star: one vertical and one horizontal. These lines terminate at the ends of the diagonal lines drawn in the previous step. What you’re drawing here is the area where the feather triangles will be. You should find a 1″ square where the feather row will turn.


• Next, draw the 1″ squares that will be the feather squares. Each corner section will have five 1″ squares plus 2 triangles that measure 1″ on the short side.


• Draw diagonal lines through the 1″ squares to represent the feather triangles. Don’t draw a diagonal in the squares where the  feather rows turn. Notice that the lines seem to radiate from the center of the block and change direction at each corner. In each corner, all the diagonal the lines are parallel.


• Draw the outside lines to complete the corner squares and outside triangles. I line my ruler up with the points of the triangles at the tips of the star. When this is done, measure the outside of the design: the block will finish at 11″ square.


• At this point, I like to take a break and identify the shapes in the drawing that will need to be cut. It’s easiest to find these shapes later if they are lightly shaded with colored pencils. Only one example of each shape needs to be highlighted this way. We’re not trying to make this drawing look like a finished block, merely trying to call attention to the different shapes that will need to be cut.
So far, we see a 3″ square, a large side triangle (5″ on the long side), a medium size triangle (3″ on the long side), a small triangle (1″ on the short side) and a 1″ square.

From this we can make a scale judgement: is this the size you want the pieces to be? If not, make the drawing again starting with a larger or smaller feather. For example, if you start with a 1/2″ finished feather, the center square would be 1-1/2″, and so on. The block would finish at 6-1/2″. (I haven’t done this, but it would be fun.)


• To draw the small Ohio Star in the center square, first divide the 3″ square into a nine patch by drawing 4 lines on the heavy graph paper lines 1 inch apart: 2 vertical and 2 horizontal.


• Draw 4 diagonal lines to complete the star. There will be 4 squares consisting of 4 triangles and 5 plain squares that finish at 1″. To identify the new shapes, color in one of the small triangles and the 1″ center square.

NOTE: When coloring, I try not to color shapes that are next to each other. I’m going to be adding 1/4″ seam allowances and want to have enough room. If I have no choice, I color adjacent shapes in different colors so I can see each one clearly.

Okay, I’m tired now. In the next post, we’ll label the shapes and add seam allowances to get cutting dimensions.

Remember that you can buy the drawing ruler and the graph paper on my website:

Winter Star Tutorial


Introduction: For the last few years, I have used slides in my classes to illustrate all the parts of what I’m teaching. Though students still seem to prefer gathering around a table to watch me sew, in large classes, the slides help them see the details. I have these photos and thought I’d do a tutorial here for you using the slides from my Winter Star Workshop. As always, in a class, teaching a specific block is just a vehicle for teaching skills and techniques. This tutorial will include drafting, bias-strip piecing, rotary cutting, trimming points, precision piecing and a “cut-larger, trim-it-down” method for the making the star points of the tiny Ohio Star in the center of the block. The Winter Star block finishes at 11″.

Winter blue

The Winter Star is a variation of a traditional block. When I made the blue and white version with the little Ohio Star in the center one cold January, I called it Winter Star and the name stuck. It is the simplest Feathered Star pattern in my book, Feathered Star Quilt Blocks II.


You can find the book on my website:


I’m going to start with drafting on graph paper. I always draft with students in my classes. It’s a focusing exercise. Students learn about the design they will be making and also how to make design changes to the shapes and size of the block. I find it gives students a firm base for constructing the block. This is also the nitty-gritty of original quilt design: how to translate your ideas into a useable pattern. You may want to follow along and do the drafting yourself or simply watch and learn not only how this is done, but why.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to:

  1. Draw the basic Winter Star Block on graph paper.
  2. Identify the shapes that need to be cut.
  3. Add seam allowances to shapes to get cutting dimensions.
  4. Modify the design, and make it larger or smaller.

SUPPLIES for this exercise:

Graph paper etc

• one 17” x 22” sheet of 1/8” Cross –Section graph paper. Be sure it has a heavy line at the 1” increments. This size can be found at art supply stores, or university book stores that supply engineering students, but not at Staples or Office Depot. I buy mine wholesale and will start selling it on the website in bundles of 10 sheets.

• 18” C-THRU drawing ruler (B-85). This is a thinner ruler than a rotary cutting ruler. It is 18” long and 2” wide, and has a 1/8” grid printed in red. C-THRU is the brand name. B-85 is the product number. (Lately, my supplier has been sending a brand named Wescott B-85 — it’s the same ruler.) This ruler is generally available in art supply stores. Quilt stores generally sell a similar “Quilt and Sew Ruler” for a slightly higher price — this ruler is also appropriate. The drawing ruler is also available on the website.

• mechanical pencil (Papermate #2 is good) and an eraser

• 2-3 colored pencils

We’ll get started with my next post.