Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Part 2 -- Dresden Stars Tutorials

Are you ready?  
Today, I'll review the templates and cutting.
For one block, you need six pairs of blades, six kites, six background diamonds and a 1" finished hexagon to applique to the center (I'll cover preparing the hexagon in Part 3).
Let's start with a look at the templates to use.

The last page of the pattern has the three pattern pieces drafted without seam allowances and was done in a response for requests from students wanting to hand piece the block or English paper piece.  These can be used to make rotary cutting templates if you prefer.  You'll need template plastic, a glue stick and an extra copy of the pattern page.
Glue the pattern sheet to the template plastic and allow the glue to dry completely.
Once the glue is dry, rough cut the three shapes apart leaving extra space.  Then using a rotary ruler (with an old blade), cut the three shapes to size by placing a ruler on top of the template plastic aligning the 1/4" marks with the pattern line and cutting.  This will add 1/4" seam allowance to each shape.
The three templates are almost ready to use.  Note that each has a "grain" line.  I use these more to line up the template with the "grain of the print" than the fabric when working with directional prints.
The final step is to trim the points of the templates.  Use a rotary ruler.  Align it squarely with the tip of the pattern piece, draw a line 1/4" from the seam line and trim off the tip square to the ruler.
Here are the finished templates.
I prefer to use Marti Michell's templates -- they are so accurate and versatile.  Here's a quick story on me to illustrate the 180 degree flip I did on cutting patchwork with templates.  Marti recruited me to work as an educator for her when I closed my shop in 2005.  I was surprised because I had been avoiding her and her templates for years!?!  She convinced me to spend a week with her in Atlanta learning to work with them and I came away convinced.  The biggest selling point for me has been the increased accuracy of my piecing.  Using a template to cut pieces means all the pieces are exactly the same and that is HUGE when working with complex shapes like diamonds and hexagons.  

For this block, I use template H52 and H52b plus the "kite" from the 2" Kite & Crown set.  See all those purple shapes printed on H52 -- those are all the shapes that can be cut with this one template.  I'll be using 52b -- the half diamond.  Also I should mention that my kite template doesn't have any markings printed onto it because it was a "proto-type" -- yours will have printing on it.
** I leave some of the paper backing on my templates to cut down on "skidding".
Since I'm working with 10" layer cake squares, I begin by layering a pair of squares right sides together.  I cut three 2 1/4" strips.  If you are working with a jelly roll or 2 1/2" strips from your stash, there is no need to trim the strips down, just layer a pair right sides together.
To cut a pair of "blades", align the solid purple line of the template along one edge of the strips as shown above.  If you are working with homemade templates, use the "blade" template.
Cut pairs until you have six sets as shown below.
Don't separate the pairs and leave them on the cutting mat for the "trim" step.
(The leftovers at the top of the picture will be used for kite points on other blocks.)
You'll notice I've shifted the template a bit to one end which is different than the pattern picture you have.  Just saving a bit of fabric.

Now for the trimming step.
Save your brain energy and line up the blade pairs and the pattern photo to match.
Use the kite template and line it up as in the photo, trimming the right end of the blade pairs.
If you made your blade template, you don't need to do this trim.
Before lifting the kite template off the fabric, grab a sharp pencil and use the hole in the template to make a dot on the wrong side of the blade --  just one dot for each blade pair -- don't skip this step!!
This signals you where to stop sewing when we start the piecing next week!
Now cut six kite shapes from a contrasting print.  
I'm using the leftover from another blade pair.
There is enough fabric to cut six of these if you set the template against the cut edge from the previous kite. 
 If you are working with jelly roll strips, the template will just fit.  I match the "flat" point to one edge and if the other end falls a wee bit off the edge, it works out okay because we will have a "dot" at that end.
Six kites!
On the wrong side of each kite, mark one dot!  That's all you need!
Now you just need to cut background diamonds to fill out the edges of the blocks. 
Start with 3 1/8" strips regardless of which template your are using.  One strip across the width of the fabric will yield 9 diamonds, so two strips will give you 18 diamonds, enough for three blocks.
If cutting with the homemade template, I suggest laying a rotary ruler on top of it to prevent shaving the thin template with your rotary cutter.
Final step, two dots -- one on each side.  There is no need to transfer dots to the sharp pointed ends.
Final note -- if you are making templates, you will need to make a hole.
I suggest using Marti's DELUXE CORNER TRIMMER tool.  It looks odd, but it's very versatile!  It is used for trimming points (for better matching) and includes holes for transferring dots to many shapes.
The 120 degree corner will cover all the corners that need to be marked!


 1.  Organize the fabric combinations for two or three blocks -- you might want to make at least one of them for a "practice block" especially if you haven't already tried using my Set-In Piecing Simplified technique.  

2.  Cut the pieces for two or three blocks (including background diamonds) following today's blogpost and your pattern.  Don't cut too far ahead for now.  I want you to be sure you enjoy piecing this block before you commit to a king size quilt!?!  If you hate it, two or three blocks could become a tablerunner or a stack of potholders -- (-;

3.  Get that UFO organized that you'll be using for "leaders and enders -- maybe set it up on a tray or in a box lid (you do use box lids, don't you?) to make it easy to access without getting any of it mixed into the Dresden Star block pieces.

4.  Finally, if you have questions -- put them in the comments below!

I'll be back to start the piecing process next week, Wednesday, July 5!



Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Dresden Stars -- a Tutorial Series

 In 2015, another shop owner showed me a vintage quilt with a unique six-pointed star block I had never seen.  I took pictures and set out to discover the name and source of the block.  But alas, I could not find anything.  I was mid-stream in my obsession with six-pointed stars and "needed" to piece that block so I figured it out from scratch.  It was so much easier to piece than I expect that I wrote my pattern, Dresden Stars to share what I figured out with others.

Fast forward to the pandemic (why does that sound so wrong?) when I started selling my patterns as PDF's on Etsy.  Every time I sell a copy of Dresden Stars, I message the buyer thanking them and saying, "I'm going to do a series of tutorials on my blog for this pattern"  . . . soon!?!  Well, "soon" has finally arrived and today is the first of what I expect will be a five posts as I construct a new version.

I hope you will sew along with me, so I'll space the posts to make that easier.  Even if you aren't interested in sewing along right now, I hope you'll get ideas from the posts and perhaps try piecing just one block to get a feel for it.  It's also a good introduction to my "set-in piecing simplified" technique!

The pattern is written for a small lap/crib size quilt but I'm going to make a large lap size this time so this will also serve as supplementary instructions for the pattern on how to enlarge the quilt size.   The instructions are written for machine piecing with templates from Marti Michell, but a template sheet is also included for those who prefer to hand-piece.

If you don't have the pattern, it's available HERE in my Etsy Shop for $8 US.  You might also like to invest in my Set-In Piecing Simplified teaching guide ($10 US) as a companion.

The templates I use are Marti Michell Set H plus the 2" Kite and Crown Set.  Both are available directly from her website -- click on the name of each above to go straight to the shop.  At the end of the series, I'll review some other patterns that can be pieced with these sets to help you maximize your investment.

Today, I'll share my thoughts on fabric requirements.  Let me begin by saying I hope you'll use some stash for this project!!  Nothing gives me as much satisfaction as using some of my stash!!

I'll be using a layer cake but you could also use a jelly roll -- both will give you enough variety of prints and quantity of fabric to piece a large lap size quilt top.  And sometimes it's nice to not have to make any fabric choices -- just grab and sew! 

 If you chose to work with a fabric line assortment, take some time this week to rough draft some color combos.  I begin by eliminating pieces/strips that don't contrast clearly with the background fabric  chosen.  The easiest way to do that is lay the prints on the background fabric, squint at them and if you can't clearly see a line of demarcation between the two fabrics, set it aside.

Here you see the squares I've set aside with light backgrounds since I'm using a light Grunge for my background.  I expect to be able to use these prints for the setting triangles in the final quilt so they won't go to waste.  

Once the elimination step is done, I match up contrasting pairs of squares or strips.  Hanging them on a design wall or laying them out on a table and letting them rest for a day helps me decide if I like my choices.  Here are some combos I'm auditioning.

Prints that I don't use in the combinations are set aside for the "tips" of the diamonds.  I decide on the "tip" fabric when I'm cutting my pieces.   Seven combinations are needed for the pattern size and I'll need thirteen combinations for the large lap size I'm piecing.
When I work from my "big" stash, I love sorting through it and making combinations of prints that I like.  A color or style theme is a helpful way to start this process.   30's reproduction prints would be fun or a stack of batiks.  If you've never tried a "triad" color scheme, that would be fun!  Triad color schemes are popular with designers and understanding that makes it easy to pull interesting color combinations from my stash.  A quilt I finished recently is lavender, soft orange, and yellow green -- a triad created by selecting three colors evenly spaced around a color wheel.

Here's a blogpost I found that explains this concept with good illustrations.

I could start in my scrap stash of 2 1/2" strips with no trouble!

So here are some action steps for this week:

1. Find your copy of the pattern (is it in the "download" folder on your computer?) or purchase a copy from my Etsy shop.

2. Check to see if you have either of Marti's template sets -- if not, see if your local shop stocks them or is willing to special order them or order them direct from Marti (use links above).  I'll also explain how to make "templates" from the pattern next week if you don't want to invest in Marti's templates.

3. Find the fabric you want to use!  Either a layer cake; or a jelly roll; or do some stash busting.  I use almost two full 2 1/2" strips for each star plus 12" of a strip for the contrasting points.  Background fabric required for a large lap is 1 yard.  If you are stashing busting the fabric or working with a jelly roll, you'll also need a 1/2 yard for the setting triangles -- you can chose that once the quilt top is underway when it will be easier to make decisions, too.  My scrappy border on the original quilt was made from layer cake leftovers but I won't be able to do that with this larger version.  I'm going to have to get creative about fabric selection since it's an older layer cake and I suspect yardage of any of the prints is long gone . . . but that's okay -- a challenge is good!!

4. Find a UFO in your stash to use as "sew-offs", leaders & enders, whatever you call them.  I use lots of them when machine piecing set-in seams and it's been a great way to finish long-stalled projects that I've grown tired of piecing!  I'll be returning to my version of this cover quilt -- I've only pieced 6 out of the 35 blocks needed for a lap size quilt.

5.  Finally, ask me questions!!  Leave them in the comments and I'll answer them so everyone can read them.  Remember what our teachers told us, there is no such thing as a dumb question!!

I'll be back next Wednesday, June 28 to get started!


Thursday, June 15, 2023

A Whirly Weeds Setting

As I said in my last post, I had a vision for a setting the Whirly Weeds blocks!
The trick was to get it out of my head and assembled.
So here's an overview of my process.
Being such a subtle assortment of prints, the photographs look a bit boring -- nothing to be done!?!

My goal was to stagger the blocks to look like random leaf rosettes as they might be growing in an open field.  Therefore, the first step was to stagger them around the design wall and step back for a day to let the arrangement "steep".  In the end, I only made minor adjustments to my original arrangement.

Then it was time to dive in and spend a long afternoon focused on assembly.
This picture is the first audition stage of sashing to figure out how to maintain the staggered layout.
The vertical rows are staggered up and down and horizontally, the blocks are staggered left and right within the vertical rows.
I started by attached the labels to the lower edge of each block.  I straighten the lower side of the block, added a strip to one end of the label and stitched it to the block.
Once that was finished, I added sashing strips to two sides of each block.  First, I  straightened each edges and then added a  3" cut strip.  They were wider than needed but it allowed for trimming as I set the blocks together.
You can see the block doesn't look perfectly square and the blocks were about the same size but not exactly.  That inconsistent sizing allowed me to maintain the staggered layout.
Below are the blocks back on the design wall with the sashing added  -- notice that the positions of the sashing aren't the same.  
The top row alternates across left/bottom and left/top.
The row below is right/bottom and right/top.
This maintained the staggered setting.
I assembled the rows vertically -- trimming and straightening the blocks as I went -- not much measuring.  As long as the width of the three blocks in a row was constant, it was good.  Once the four vertical rows were assembled, I compared the length of the rows, trimmed a bit of the top and/or bottom of the rows until they were all the same length as the shortest row.  (A judge would have a field day with "it doesn't match properly" remarks at this stage.)  It's hard to see but the blocks don't intersect as is typical.
The final step was to add a 3" border of the sashing fabrics -- cut in random lengths all the way around the quilt top.  It's hard to see but that's the point -- the block background, sashing, and borders are meant to meld into a muted background. 
I'm happy with the result -- the sashing color sets off the weeds nicely.  At this point, my plan is to bind the finished quilt with scrappy greens used in the weeds.  One thing I will say, I don't think I could have figured out the setting strategy on paper -- it needed to be done on the design board and I needed to audition my way through ideas.  It's a departure from Pamala's (the designer) setting idea but I don't think she minds!?!

I didn't mention in the post about making the labels that I printed the names of the native North American plants in green and the non-natives in red.  Turns out it was 50/50 natives vs. non-natives.  I think that's a true commentary on the state of "wild" habitats today -- only half the plants are native and that is triggering insect and bird declines continent wide.  Probably, it's a world-wide problem
This summer, I'm working to remove non-native plants from my garden and bringing in as many native plants as will fit.
It's a crazy dream that is catching on because you and I can "do something" positive!!

Next week, if I get all my ducks in a row, I'm going to begin a series of weekly blogposts as I make a new version of my pattern, Dresden Stars.  I know many of you have bought the pattern from my Etsy shop or when you've seen me at a show but I haven't seen too many folks piece it.  I'll be machine-piecing it and you can work along with me or book mark the series for a future make.  The pattern is written for a crib/lap size but I'll be making a large lap/twin.  
I'll start next week, June 21, with the supplies needed - so make a note and if you have the pattern, dig it out and get ready with me!