36 Strip Challenge

My quilt group had a thirty-six strip challenge. Nine of us cut four strips each for nine quilters, including one set of themselves. At one of our meetings, we put together identical collections of thirty-six strips, and then we each plotted a quilt which would use each fabric.

It sounds easy. It isn’t.

The fabrics are not at all compatible.

I hesitated, I searched for inspiration, I planned and discarded. Finally, I just plunged in, and the idea didn’t work, but it gave me an idea for something that might work. This meandering approach was new for me; normally I use quad notebooks and plan my quilts to the fraction of an inch.

The big flower in the upper central right part of the quilt is where I started, and where I was able to use eight fabrics. From there, I would look at the panel hanging and the fabric strips remaining, and overnight, another idea would come.

I actually started having fun with the project. It took me all summer, but it was work I enjoyed, much of it hand work, which I haven’t done a lot of lately.

My husband loves the finished project. I don’t love it, but I’m not unhappy with it.

Some Updated Thoughts on Sloppy Stars

I’ve done a lot of different kinds of quilts, but there are some quilt patterns I am drawn back to doing, maybe doing in new ways, maybe refining. I always love quilts with motion, like Kaleidoscope (click on Kaleidoscope in Categories to see instructions and variations) and another is Sloppy Stars.


It’s the hot, humid steamy season in Pensacola. It’s like winter in Alaska, it’s a good time to stay inside with your sewing machine and fabric except for when you need groceries, or to meet up with friends, or go to church, or even exercise – those are the exceptions. When it is steamy, it’s a great time to quilt.


One reason I love Sloppy Stars is that it makes such economical use of fabrics. You cut fat quarters – actually I cut mine to something like 18 inches square now – and slice, and then seam – no excess, except at the end when you trim as little as you have to on the outside, to make the blocks a uniform size. My goal is 15″ finished squares and now I am pretty good at getting them. My favorite part is picking out the fabrics. I don’t know exactly how they will look in the end, but that is part of the fun – getting fabrics that will jive and thrive, with a little bit of drama 🙂

The original instructions for Sloppy Stars are here; these are just refinements I have come up with after doing so many of them. My stars have gotten bigger and bigger; it’s a dramatic cut and I like the efficiency of using a 15″ block. I have two different patterns I use, one is fairly straight, and one is very slanted and wonky. I find I am more drawn to the wonky one, guess I am a wonky one, too. These are drafted on 16″ graph paper I find in books at JoAnne Fabrics.


Because I ran short on freezer paper, I only had enough for two identical copies instead of four. I should’ve gone to the store for freezer paper – cutting 25 layers of fabric was more than my cutter could handle. I got some truly jaggy edges. If you are going for the 50 blocks (25 light 25 dark), do two cuts for each set; 12/13 is enough of a challenge for your rotary cutter. I will never try to cut 25 layers again. Never.


I never string piece this block. I have learned from BAD experiences! I keep all the pieces flat; and the two sets (I do one with dark background light stars and one with light background dark stars) are kept separate. I always do one block at a time; each block takes about 12 minutes, I take it slow. It goes together fast, so it pays to go slow so you don’t mix up pieces. Keep away from cats! If a cat jumps up and upsets your pieces, you are out of luck! (Or maybe you will have a highly original quilt 🙂  )


Although the instructions tell you which pieces to put together, I have my own way of doing it (LOL, I no longer follow my own instructions!) and I tend to start with the bottom three pieces in the photo below – star point to the left piece, and then to the right. I then go to the two pieces in the upper right sector, sewing from the straight line to the outer edge.



By taking your time and lining things up (it comes easier with practice) you get the interior lines to match up and end up with a fairly straight line. The fairly straight line makes joining the components easier when you sew the major three blocks together.00StarsFirstSection


Next, I do the central three blocks, and when I finish them, I line up the star point seams and sew the small sector to the larger central sector. With any luck at all, you’ll have a nice join and the appearance of a straight line. Then you sew the last three pieces (upper left sector) together, focusing on making the interior seam the straight seam.


Because of the way these stars are cut, you are only very rarely ever going to get the last piece to line up at both parts of the center star, so focus on lining up the seam so that you get one straight seam with the join giving you a straight line at the upper right.



Things don’t always work out. Don’t worry. Wonky blocks are part of the charm of this technique. Two straight lines is great; three straight lines are awesome but all in all – are you having fun? No one is going to nit-pick this quilt, there are too many distractions! (Below is a wonky block I will truly use, but I wanted to show you that no matter how hard I try to be perfect, I am a miserable failure who sometimes doesn’t even manage two straight lines. I am a miserable failure who is having a lot of fun putting these stars together, though 🙂



This star comes pretty close to the goal – Four pretty good straight lines, almost five. That fifth just isn’t ever going to happen.



But, even though they are all cut the same way, and I do my best to stitch them the same way, for no apparent reason, now and then one star goes wild. The truth is, no one but you will ever know, but this is why I save my leftover strips after I have trimmed the stars down before slicing.



I even took this one apart and restitched it, but no matter what I did, it was dangerously out of whack. I added a one inch strip to the wackiest side, and was able to even everything up within reason, but this will never be a star that gives me satisfaction. It may, however, be one of those blocks that gives a quilt “character.” (When the blocks are sewn together, that addition will disappear . . . you just don’t see it in the wildness of all the diferent patterns and shapes.)


There are a lot of different ways to quilt these stars. In the African series, I used more angular quilting, and I liked it, it looked good with the African fabrics. In some of these quilts, I use a spiral out of the center block, and then elongated squiggles from the central star piece radiating out to the star tips. The background I stipple.

Taking Time To Bring Some Order out of Chaos

I have the two tops finished, and am getting ready to quilt, which means MAJOR CLEAN UP TIME; I like a clear table top when I quilt and all my extraneous stuff has to be put away. Meanwhile, I am also cutting out bags – quilts for the Pensacola Quilt Guild Show must each have their own bag – and so I had to take down my batting bin. And I had to open each piece to see if I had enough for one of the quilts (I did.)

As I was putting them back, I thought “I do this all the time, open up, measure . . . why don’t I just label them like I used to?” So I took a minute – well, maybe five minutes, but barely – and labeled quilt leftovers so I would know what I have without undoing and measuring every time.

Ah! I feel so orderly!

Jewel Box Pieces

Here are the pieces for the Jewel Box:

Starring the half square triangle, which I chose to be 4″ finished:

The four patch, which I chose to be made of pieces cut 2 1/2 inches to total 4″ completed:

Each four patch is united with a half square triangle:

Completed component (1/4 of the finished block)

Completed block is composed of four component blocks, above, each rotated to complete the box:

My all time favorite quilt book is “It’s OK If You Sit on my Quilt” by Mary Ellen Hopkins, and I like it because it helped me quilt without having to follow someone else’s idea of how my quilt should be. When I found a jewel box pattern, it was bigger than I wanted, so I scaled it down. This jewel box pattern is a great practice for your first effort at changing scale, because the size you choose for your four patch and your half square triangle changes everything. You could use 1″ blocks, or you could use 12″ inch blocks, and the pattern would remain the same, only the scale would change.

I’ve seen this quilt done with a light background and with a dark background. I made one big mistake right at the beginning; I cut the half square triangle background out of a dark navy blue and the 2 1/2 inch background squares out of black. If I had it to do over again, they would be the same fabric.

If you want the variations in color, you will need small amounts of a LOT of fabrics; this is a great opportunity to ask for small donations from your quilting friends. What is fun is that you later can look at the quilt and remember who gave you that perfect shade of coral, or fuchsia, or pistachio, or parrot, that icy blue. I have a dress I love, ruined by a drop of bleach; a piece of that dress is in my quilt.

As I look at the completed top, below, I am reminded that classic patterns have their own timelessness and elegance, and can look totally different from one another, depending on fabric choices. I would do this one again in a heartbeat; I love the diagonal lines created by the half square triangles.

Quilting Bee

“No,” I said as nicely and firmly as I could, “No, but thank you for thinking of me.”

I had been invited to join a quilting group, and you’d think with being retired now I would have hours to fill, but I find just the opposite. I used to have hours and hours, empty hours, to fill, and I spent a lot of them quilting and going to groups. Now . . . I am spending more time with my husband, and going to exercise, and with my grandson, and . . .

I’d heard such wonderful things about this group, but I can’t commit to a time-consuming group, and honestly, I quilt better on my own; I get more done.

“Just let me tell you a little about our group,” she persisted pleasantly. I couldn’t help it, I liked this woman, I liked her polite persistence, I liked the sound of her voice, and that she didn’t let me go with my ‘no.’

The more she told me about the group, the more my heart knew it was an opportunity, not an obligation. The more I learned, the less I felt ‘no’ and the more I felt ‘yes.’ For one thing, they sound like women I would really like. For another, they do a lot of charity quilts, and I really like doing charity quilts. Third, they only meet once a month for two hours. Wooo HOOO! Better and better.

Then I met with them, and oh, I liked them all a lot. These are good women, the kind of quilters I like, their minds all over the map. They laugh a lot. They like each other. They have a great show and tell, and the group is small enough we can all touch and ask questions.

I found myself excited about quilting again, encouraged and inspired. I joined the group happily, and I look forward to their meetings! I’ve completed three quilts since I joined!

I still have to grin when I think of how firmly I said no, and how pleasantly the leader persisted. She didn’t know me. I wonder how she knew I was right for the group? But by the time she was through with me, I believed she was right. I am loving being a part of this group.

Cool Threads and Everything Else

I am working on a Pensacola Quilt Guild challenge; each quilter was given a 5″ square. The challenge is that in the quilt you make, you must only use the colors you find in that 5″ square. Actually, there were a lot of colors to work with, or at least, there were a lot of colors I work with often. I can’t show you the quilt yet. 🙂

When I went to quilt it, I had to go through all four boxes of threads. Four boxes you ask?

My Kuwaiti quilting friend helped me organize my quilting room; we went to Daiso, a Japanese dollar-store like shop, and found just the right boxes, two very flat boxes for “shiny threads” and two larger boxes for piecing threads and flatter, more matte threads.

Everyone has his or her own system. My machine quilting threads are Hot or Cool; cool mostly referring to colors of the sea, I seem to do a lot of those. My piecing threads are Colors of the Sea and Everything Else, LOL.

Or at least that’s what I thought until I started to write this entry. Looking at all my threads in these photos, I discovered that they are all either blue/green/purple or they are everything else. I guess it shows me where my priorities are. 🙂

Stash Reorganization For the New Year

I usually do this the first week of the New Year, but I got a little behind trying to make sure I finished White Ties and Tails. I have a new project in mind, and I need to get started, it’s a guild challenge with a deadline, but I can’t work as long as my area is in disorder, and it is. I have some folding and sorting and putting away to do so I can find the fabrics and tools that I need when I need them.

It takes a full day to get things in order. I took a photo because the stash won’t stay in order for very long. And no, this isn’t all of it. There is a plastic tub of ‘shiny fabrics’ and another of batiks and a smaller one of Kona solids. Now I have a better idea of what I have to work with. 🙂