Tag Archives: Half square triangles

Spinning Star

Some projects turn out roughly the way one expects, and others? Not so much. My Spinning Star is one of those.

Earlier this year I was invited to facilitate a three-day workshop at an art center. I was honored! And excited! And I started planning a quilt project that could convey many lessons of medallion quilts, while allowing the students to create designs unique to their own tastes.

When I teach my Medallion Improv! class, I offer a common blueprint so the students can focus on some design principles and elements, but not all of them. With given sizes for the center block and border widths, for example, they don’t need to worry much about proportion.

For the three-day workshop, I planned to use a 16″ center block. Each student would bring their own to the first class day, to set the foundation for their own design. The first order of business in class would be to demonstrate setting that block on point. The on-point setting expands the center block both physically and visually. The 16″ space, with exactly sized setting corners, suddenly becomes 22 5/8″. It’s an efficient and dramatic way to increase the size of the project. (To see how to set a block on point, check this out.)

In order to provide an example for promotional materials, I got to work and made a 16″ block of my own. The setting triangles are slightly oversized to take the new center to 23″. Using oversized corners helps with two aspects. One, it doesn’t require perfection in placing those corners, making it an easier task. Two, it allows the quilter to trim the center to a size that is simpler to use. Using 23″ finished means I can add 2.5″ (finished) borders on each side, taking the top to 28″. That is an easy size to use.

You can see more information about how I started this in my post Medallion Process — A New Center Block for Class.

And then … the invitation was rescinded because the art center decided they needed a bigger name. (Yes, I am a bit disappointed by how that all went, but you don’t need to worry or comment on that. There are challenges and opportunities in how we deal with disappointments, too.) Immediately it was apparent that this project would not go roughly as I imagined.

At about the same time, I was working on the slide show for my guild’s quilt festival. You can find the video of A Quilt Is More Than A Blanket in this post. Though I was deep in the midst of making my red and white quilts, I realized that to show the process of making a quilt, I needed to take pix of a quilt in process! For various reasons, I didn’t think the red and white ones were good candidates for that. So onward and upward! The spinning star became a priority again.

Spinning Star. 50″ x 50″. Finished June 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The center block is made with paper piecing. The first framing border (not setting triangles) is unpieced strips. The fabric of the border repeats the dark blue, red, and black that came earlier. It also adds some lighter chalky blue for value contrast and relief. The print is supposedly an Australian Aboriginal design. The border takes the center (everything in the center so far, including the border once added,) to 28″.

This really is an easy size to use, if one is making a pieced border of square blocks. You can divide 28″ a lot of different ways, including into 7 blocks at 4″, 8 blocks at 3.5″, 14 blocks at 2″, and so on.

My original plan for the workshop blueprint was to use 3.5″ half-square triangles. There are a lot of lessons to learn with HST, and there are fun ways to demonstrate them. (Here are a few ways to look at HST.) But once plans changed, and I wanted to increase the size more quickly in order to finish more quickly, I decided to use a wider border.

I looked for inspiration in a number of places and ultimately saw a round robin quilt in Instagram I liked. It had a middle border of light bars and darker bars, arranged in a staggered way. I think the proportions of the bars were different from mine, but the idea is the same. One advantage to this design is I could make it as wide as I wanted. (“Wide” means the dimension perpendicular to the edge of the center. The two lines in this symbol ⊥ are perpendicular to each other. “Length” is the dimension along the edge.) The width is 6″, taking the top to 40″.

Running the blue bars through the middle creates a stable line, and makes the V-pattern of the staggered darks a little more subtle.

I also knew I wanted the corner blocks to echo the center shapes. Using the same blue and red fabrics from the very center, as well as one of the orange fabrics, gives a direct repeat. And using the economy block gives a less direct repeat of the center with setting triangles. (For directions on making the economy block, see my most-viewed post ever.)

With the center then at 40″, I had another easy length to divide into square blocks. I chose a 5″ wide border, this time of the HST I didn’t use before. Well, sort of. My plan was to use HST, simply made from a solid orange and the same blue Aboriginal print from before. I made 8 of the 36 required blocks (8 on each side and 4 in the corners,) and they were awful. The orange was much too much, too orange, too much orange. (NOT articulate, huh? I wish I’d taken pictures to let you see exactly what I mean.)

I still liked the idea of using the HST to make Vs around the edge, but the orange wouldn’t work. I tried other ideas and other fabrics. I flipped the orange underneath to reveal less of it, and put that against another blue. Ah. Much better. However, the solid orange still didn’t work for me. Instead I cut strips of the squiggly orange stripe from the center setting triangles, and added pieces of the blue that looks like it has finger-painting smears on it. One benefit of this is I could still use all the blue Aboriginal print I’d already cut!

The completed top is 50″ square. I quilted it very simply with a large double meander in a marigold-colored thread. (The double meander is done with one very large stipple or meander across the surface of the quilt, followed by another pass back, winding and ribboning through the first pass. It’s simple and fast and looks great on a lot of quilts.)

The binding is made from the African fabric used for the red and black stripes of the setting triangles. Though the red and black were fussy cut from it, the design also includes dark blue, so it was suitable across its pattern.

This quilt did not go roughly how I expected. It didn’t go much as planned at all. But I was pleased to use it for the video, and I like how it turned out. I think it will have a special owner some day, but right now I don’t know who that will be.


Mountains Coming Into View

My Delectable Mountains quilt is coming along well. I have the “mountains” pieced for the second set. Next is trimming those half-blocks and filling outside of them with the double pink setting fabric. Then I can trim the center to size and attach the DM borders with corner blocks.

What is “double pink”? From the Quilt Index Wiki page:

Double pinks, sometimes called ‘cinnamon’ pinks, feature tiny prints in a dark, cinnamon-like pink, on a light rosy pink ground. Both of these hues have warmer undertone than bubblegum pink, which emerged as a quilt fabric, often as a solid rather than a print, in the twentieth century. Double pinks were most popular in the 1860s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, though double pinks are common in quilts through the 1920s. At the height of their popularity in the mid-nineteenth century, double pinks were often paired with madder or chocolate browns in quilts.

In the image below, the dark pink triangles on the outside edge are double pink. The center of the center block also is considered a double pink, even with its more complex pattern.


Half blocks set in place but not sewn on yet. They need their double pink setting fabric first, as well as corner blocks.

The color combination, as it says above, was most popular in the mid-1800s. Most of the images of Delectable Mountains medallion quilts in the International Quilt Study Center & Museum index are from before 1850. So the colors are slightly anachronistic, but I think they still suit.

Three Comments on Balance

In the last post I showed you the quilt I’m working on now. It’s intended as a donation for our local VA hospital, to warm a vet with the love stitched into it. You can see the blocks below.


I talked about choosing the layout, and how using an even number of blocks across, when there are alternate blocks, can lead to an unbalanced layout. My EQ7 isn’t working properly right now, or I would show you a picture I create. Instead I’ll show you from Roberta Horton’s book Scrap Quilts: The Art of Making Do.


From Roberta Horton’s book Scrap Quilts: The Art of Making Do, page 19.

Notice that there are three star blocks on the left and two on the right, making it asymmetrical. If there were another row across, giving three and three, the arrangement still wouldn’t have left-right symmetry. The lack of symmetry makes it feel unbalanced.

In my quilt above, I have a similar layout, but use half-square triangle blocks rather than plain alternate blocks. To my eye, it is balanced. What’s the difference? The strong diagonal line created by the HST takes the emphasis off the horizontal (or vertical) row arrangement. The visual weight isn’t in the shoofly blocks; it’s in the HST, which creates diagonal lines that are symmetrical. (For more about visual weight, see my posts on proportion, parts 1, 2, and 3.)

For the last couple of years, I’ve had the goal to be sturdy and flexible. It’s an easy motto to say: “Sturdy and flexible — that’s the goal!” I apply it to both my physical and mental health. To be sturdy, I need good balance. But in August I hurt my left knee, and it’s astonishing how quickly everything else fell apart! My right leg wants to work much harder than my left leg does. My upper body feels a lot more competent than my lower body does. I am all out of balance, and I don’t feel at all sturdy, and my legs especially are not flexible. (Mentally things seem to be going fine, thank you.)

If you’re a quilter you know how physical our making can be. I get up and down off the floor once a piece is too big for my design wall. I walk up and down stairs, 15 steps each time, to get to my studio. I stand for long stretches when quilting at the longarm. And even sitting at the domestic machine requires good core strength to keep from hurting my back. I need this all to be easier again!

I decided it was time to ask for professional help. I’ve started working with a personal trainer at a local gym. So far we’ve assessed the problem (and she agrees with my evaluation, but in much more specific terms.) And she’s begun showing me the type of work I’ll do to get back on track. I’m looking forward to improving my strength, flexibility, and endurance, and to getting my balance back.

I’m also pondering how to set myself up to finish the year well. The key to doing what I want is knowing what I want. That sounds simple, but you know as well as I that sorting priorities isn’t always easy.

Here is something I wrote to a friend in email two years ago:

… your power is in what you DO, not in what you DID. For me, I can only DO effectively when I am doing the right things, really spending my time and energy on my true priorities. There are a lot of different layers to that, right? Bills have to be paid, dishes have to be washed, etc. …

I finally figured out my magic formula, this funny 3-legged stool … I have to identify my priorities correctly so I can balance my resources right. And I have to get my balance right to maximize my power.

Being sturdy and flexible is about being powerful, able to create and to endure. Identifying priorities is about being powerful, in just the same way.

Identifying priorities. That is the task I’m working on now. I’ll talk more about that another time.

Sawtooth Borders

This morning Jim asked me about a decision I’d made on my Tree of Life quilt. I arrayed the sawtooth (half-square triangles) border asymmetrically and he wondered why. If you look at the photo below, you can see that the points spray “outward” but without being split evenly at the centers of the sides.


He wondered, in particular, if I’d done that because there are 15 HST on each of the long sides and 12 HST on each of the shorter sides. I could split 12 at the center (6 going each direction), but it’s hard to split 15 at the center, without some other creative adjustment.

The truth is, I hadn’t even thought of that. Instead, I knew I wanted to continue the whimsical feel of the center panel, and to create the sense that it erupted past the narrow red border. To me the HST give the organic feel of more leaves. One other reason is because I heard Jim’s voice in my head. He has often urged me to use asymmetrical borders, and this seemed like the right time to heed that voice.

I’ve talked about sawtooth borders before. In my post Pieced Borders I show lots of ways to use simple units in a variety of ways. Sawtooth borders are one shown. This simple illustration gives 4 different ways to arrange them.

Different effects depending on value placement

In another post I showed you these four variations, which I auditioned for a small quilt.

Can give a cool effect, but probably not what I want for this quilt.

This one I kinda like…

Not actually wonky — these are just blocks I’ve overlapped.

Maybe too “sharp” looking?

The lesson is, try lots of different ideas when you’re using HST in a border. Though I didn’t try multiple arrangements for my Tree of Life, normally I would. I’ve been surprised more than once and chosen something I wouldn’t have expected.

An Ode to Half Square Triangles

How do I make thee? Let me count the ways.
I cut thee to the depth and breadth and height
Seven-eighths of an inch greater than finished
And then cut across the diagonal.
I make thee to the level of the HST ruler
Available from Fons & Porter and others.
I make thee with Thangles, stitching through the paper.
I make thee in sets of eight, filling me with praise.
I use thee with the passion putting you to use
In my old UFOs, and with my next children’s quilts.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost senses. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if fates choose,
I shall but love thee better after quilting.

How Do I Love Thee (Sonnet 43)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.