Friday, March 7, 2014

Diamond Star Playtime Sew-Along -- Step 1

Are you ready to begin?  Have you ordered Set-In Piecing Simplified?  Have you tried out the piecing technique?  Have you gathered up a starting assortment of fabric?   If you answered "YES" to all of these, then let's get started with the first star block for our sampler. 

This first step is a long post.  I promise they won't all be so long.  You can also download a PDF of it by clicking here.

If you haven't practiced the sewing technique from Set-In Piecing Simplified, I suggest you start with some scraps and make a couple stars before working with your sampler fabrics.  The resulting blocks would be perfect to use on a tote bag or pillow top.  The practice will give you a chance to review the process and improve your results.  As I say on the DVD, it took some practice for me to get comfortable with it and that is certainly the experience my students have during workshops.

We'll begin with one basic two color 6-pointed star.  The rest of the stars in the sampler will be variations of this basic one.  Pick two prints with a good contrast.  If you are using multiple background fabrics, choose one that goes with your star prints.
For my cutting sample, I'm using Marti Michell's 60 Degree Diamond but the cutting will be the same for whichever template you choose for your blocks.  First we'll cut strips and then diamonds from the strips.  I'm going to cut 3 1/2" diamonds (remember -- this measurement refers to the finished length of any side of the diamond -- not the width of the strip).
The width of the strip needed is often an "UGLY" measurement that is hard to see on a ruler and generally impossible to cut consistency. 
Marti teaches us to use the tool or template to "measure" the width needed right on the fabric.  In the photo below I have already straighten the edge of my fabric and now have the line for the size diamond I'm cutting matched to that edge.  Oops, I have it on 3" and it should be on 3 1/2" -- good thing I noticed before I cut! 
 I then brought my long rotary ruler up against the opposite edge of the template and I'll move the template down the length of the fabric to be sure the ruler is aligned perfectly the entire way.
Once the ruler placement is just right, I pull the template away and cut along the right hand side of the ruler.  If I were left-handed, I would work from the opposite side of the fabric.  If you are also working with this tool, the instruction booklet that comes with it explains this method (with illustrations) on pages 6 and 8.  If you have Volume 6, Six is for Hexagons, the same instructions are on page 8.   Or go here for a PDF from Marti's website that explains the process. 
I cut several strips of background fabric so those diamonds will be ready for future steps.  To cut the diamonds from the strips, open the strips out and layer up two to four of them with the right sides up.  Use the tool to make the first diagonal cut as in the photo below. 
Now slide the tool to the right until the line for your size (3 1/2" for me) or the edge of the template (if you are working with Set G or H) aligns with the first cut.   
Cut away a diamond and gently pull the strips to the right.  Don't move these diamonds yet.  
Nip off the tips sliding the tool into place at each end and before you un-stack the fabric.  (No fussing about the trimming -- it's very helpful in the long run!) 
This is one of my prints for the star -- can you see a problem?  The top set of diamonds is not symmetrical! 
And here is what happened.  I went all the way to the edge of the tool instead of stopping at the 3 1/2" line. 
This cutting error is (thankfully) easy to correct -- just need to take a bit off.
To avoid this, I find that keeping the tool right side up on my fabric so I can read the words eliminates that issue.  (After all, this is the way it was designed to be used.)
And if you are a leftie, keep the tool "upside-down" as in the photo below -- the words are the only thing that is upside-down, everything else will be where it should be.  
Last thing to do before we go to the sewing machine is make dots.     I use a standard pencil most of the time, but on those dark ones, I use a bright orange colored pencil as ultimately the markings won't show.  (Once again, no fussing -- the dots are important!!)
We could make dots at all four corners of each diamond, but we really only need the two opposite each other -- upper right corner and lower left corner in this photo.
Time to sew!!  I lay out the block as it will look finished -- never skip this step -- it's too easy to get a piece in the wrong place.
If you pull away every other background diamond, you'll notice there are three identical units and they are tumbling blocks.  We could also divide the star in half and make two half stars but after all the 6-pointed stars I've made, I get better centers making three tumbling blocks units.  And so do my students!
So here are the three tumbling block units ready to stitch. 
This part of the piecing is covered in the first part of the DVD.   I take a "production line" approach to my piecing.  I start by flipping the top diamond right side down onto the left side diamond and stitching that seam (chain-piecing as in the DVD) for all three units.  I can start at the raw edge of the point that will be on the outside of the unit, but I have to stop at the DOT!!
I lay each unit back in position and add the right-side diamond to the starting pair. 
Now there is just one more seam to finish the tumbling blocks -- pay attention to my tips in the DVD on the best matching point at this stage to assure accurate centers and remember, it's better to stop a stitch short of the dot when chain-piecing through the set-ins!
Press all the tumbling block units EXACTLY the same with the seams swirling in one direction (you'll get a little hexagon in the center on the back).  Pressing all of them identically pays off as you join them together in the next step.
Now it's time to lay out the units in the star again.
Bring the remaining three background diamonds back into the layout. 
First set together the tumbling block units -- review the second part of the DVD at this point to help you through this step -- you will be stitching from DOT to DOT.  If the seams on all three units swirl exactly the same way, when two units are right sides together, the seams will mesh together perfectly.  If they don't, stop now and press again!!  That seam will act like a dot at those corners helping you stop in the right place.

Two together!  Then set in the third one and close up the star!
Now you are ready to set in the remaining background diamonds.  You can start at the raw edges of the outer points, but you must stop at the dot on the inside corner. 
To press the final block, follow the swirl direction started by the tumbling block units.  Notice the center of this star swirls counter clockwise and the swirls along the background swirl clockwise.  If you press all the stars identically throughout the Sew-Along, the blocks set together more easily at the end. 
Now it's time to check the center.  Pretty good I'd say.  If yours isn't perfect, not to worry.  Just try another one.   I'll post some troubleshooting tips on Monday (3/10) to help you diagnose problems as well as introduce you to the Flickr group where you can post photos of your stars. 
Now make another two color star -- use the same background or change it to a slightly different print.  The second one should go together faster and easier as you begin to feel more comfortable with the set-in piecing technique.  Two stars are enough for now.
The second step will be ready on March 21 -- we'll explore fussy cutting the diamonds and managing striped fabrics.

If you have questions as you work through this, e-mail me at

Mary Huey
All material Copyrighted by Mary Huey Quilts! 

If you can't find Marti's templates locally, you can order all of them from her website!


  1. You have ended up with a very precise result. Do you find this method quicker than traditional EPP?

  2. I do some EPP, Karen but have only used it for hexagons, so I can't say for sure if it's quicker. My inclination would be to say "yes", I think it is quicker now that I'm comfortable with the technique.