Not a Superstar After All

Once there was a quilter who decided to make a Star a Day for a year. Each day she cut and stitched her tiny star marking the date off on a pocket calendar. All was well –  star by star her quilt grew. Until one day she didn’t quite get her star done. “That’s okay,” she thought as she circled the date on her calendar, “I will finish it tomorrow morning”. Morning came and the star remained unfinished. “That’s okay,” she said out loud to her cat, Wanda, “As long as I finish seven in a week, I’m still meeting my goal.” Seven days went by and instead of seven days crossed off her little pocket calender there were seven big fat circles around the dates. People started talking. Her husband asked, “Aren’t you making little stars anymore?” “Yes!” she said emphatically, “I’m just behind a bit”.

So there you have it, I’m not a Superstar Tiny Star Maker after all. I am behind a full week’s worth of star stitching!

But today I have turned over a new leaf – or just turned the old one back over. After an hour of tracing and cutting I have all seven delinquent stars ready for stitching. And that’s not all – I also have 12 stars traced and packed for an upcoming trip.

And since I spent this blog beating myself up, I will end on a happy note. In spite of being behind by a whopping seven stars, overall, I am 1/3 finished – if this were a marathon I would be approaching Mile Marker #9.

Star A Day - Row one out of three. That's 1/3 of the tiny stars completed!

Star A Day – Row one out of three. That’s 1/3 of the tiny stars completed!

The blocks are stitched together into sections, the sections are quilted. I have re-read Marti Michell’s machine quilt as you go book and am ready to sew the three sections together. That isn’t too shabby for a 1/3 of a year worth of a Star A Day!



Here a Star, There a Star!

It’s fun to spend time sewing with friends. On Monday I spent all day and evening as a day camper with friends on a quilting retreat. Late in the afternoon, I pulled out my Star for the Day and found a place to sit and do a bit of handwork. Kathleen took a break from her sewing machine and joined me. We chatted as we stitched, sharing Star-A-Day stories. Kathleen is making her tiny stars with the English Paper Piecing method, they are scrappy, happy and perfect.

Kathleen's English Paper Pieced stars

Kathleen’s English Paper Pieced stars

Across the room, Christy finished sewing some of her stars together and Amy had her first three done, as did Kaye.

Christy's first section.

Christy’s first section

Amy's first three stars

Amy’s first three stars

Kaye is going for a Star-A-Month so with three completed she is ahead for the year!

Kaye is going for a Star-A-Month so with three completed she is ahead for the year!

There were stars over here and stars over there.

Christy's stars. She is using a uniform background throughout.

Christy’s stars. She is using a uniform background throughout.

Not everyone on the retreat is making tiny stars. Deanna was working on eight pointed stars too, but in a more reasonable 12″ size.

Deanna's 12" Star made with the Tucker Trimmer Ruler

Deanna’s 12″ Star made with the Tucker Trimmer Ruler

Although not on retreat with the rest of us, I snapped these photos of my Weds Sewing friends’ star blocks.

Kathy's is working from her scrap basket. Anything goes!

Kathy is working from her scrap basket.

Kathy's stack of stars, 27 blocks high! Many were stitched on the deck of a cruise ship!

Kathy’s stack of stars, 27 blocks high! Many were stitched on the deck of a cruise ship!


Nancy's red, cream and blue stars

Nancy’s red, cream and blue stars

It was the first time so many of us who are making tiny stars had been together in a group, so it was fun to share the insanity. As we laughed and stitched it didn’t seem like such a crazy idea after all.

To read all my Star-A-Day posts click here.


And Then There Were 100

Feb 8, 2014

Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, ONE HUNDRED! That’s right! 100 tiny stars completed!

When my children were young their classes celebrated the 100th day of school. Students could bring 100 of anything to school and they spent the day comparing piles and jars of 100 items. My children are adults now, but if they weren’t, and one of them needed 100 of something to bring to school for the 100th day of school celebration, this year I could send them with tiny stars!

100th Tiny Star

100th Tiny Star


Tiny Stars-Month #3 Progress Report

Feb 1, 2014

It’s the end of the first quarter of my Star-A-Day challenge. For three months I have marked off a star a day. That’s 92 days. I now have enough stars completed for my second section – which means I am over 2/9ths finished! Can’t say I have ever measured quilt progress in 9ths before.

I love sewing these little stars. I know, I know, I say that all the time. But they are like little friends. Most days my ritual goes like this:  I sit in my grandmother’s overstuffed chair, turn on the evening news, and stitch. By the time the news is over, my star is finished. Every day there is news. Every day there is another star completed. I don’t stress about getting them done, I don’t need to block off time to get into the sewing room, I don’t have to stop to wind a bobbin or change thread color on my machine. I just pick up the pieces and sink the needle into the fabric and stitch. And stitch. And stitch. Day after day. For three months. And look where it has gotten me:

92 Tiny Stars

92 Tiny Stars

Next, I will machine quilt section #2.

Then, I will connect the two sections which  is sure to generate a story or two! If you have quilted this way before and have any tips for me, please leave a comment.

A few months ago I blogged about slow stitching. (See the story by clicking here. ) The rhythm of stitching these tiny stars is the epitome of slow stitching. I officially take back all the times I saw someone hand piecing and said, “That would be faster on the machine”.

If you are just tuning in to my blog and want to see all the related Tiny Star posts look for Categories in the column on the right and click on Star a Day Challenge.

As for me, I’m off to sew my first star of the second quarter! Catch ya later!


A Mini Tutorial – Pressing Tiny Stars

It took a few completed star blocks to figure out my favorite way to press them. This is what works best for me.

When piecing, I leave all the seams free by poking the needle through the seam to the other side instead of crossing over it and sewing it down as in machine piecing. By leaving the seams free I can press them anyway I want when the star is completed.

Stitched and ready for pressing (wrong side view)

Stitched and ready for pressing (wrong side view)

Stitched and ready for pressing (right side view)

Stitched and ready for pressing (right side view)

Working from the wrong side, start on the lower right hand corner. Use your finger or stiletto and working counter clockwise, smooth the seams away from you, pressing a seam at a time with the tip of the iron. Avoid getting the iron on the very center, we’ll go back and get that seam later. In general, I am a fan of steam, however, I turn the steam off during this step because I don’t want scorched fingers. Note to lefties: You might have better luck starting in the lower left hand corner and pressing clockwise, try it, and let me know if it works.

Start in the corner like this

Start in the corner like this

When you reach the upper right hand corner, press one more seam with the iron pointed toward the upper left hand corner.

Continue one seam at a time until you reach this point

Continue one seam at a time until you reach this point

Rotate the block so the next seam you will press is now at the lower right hand corner. Repeat, smoothing seams and pressing, rotating the block as needed. Rotating the block helps avoid getting the hand holding the iron into an awkward position.

Rotate the block pressing the seams into a spiral

Rotate the block pressing the seams into a spiral

The pressed seams will spin counter clockwise.

Press the final seam open. Don’t worry if it looks a little wonky.

Press  the center seam open

Press the center seam open

Flip the block over and give it a good pressing from the front side, with steam and a spritz of light spray starch, if you’d like.

Press from the right side

Press from the right side

There! A lovely little star block, pressed and ready for the “finished” pile!



Have Stars, Will Travel

As I was planning my mid-winter trip I worried that might fall behind on my Star-A-Day project. So I got organized. For the first 11 days of Jan I traced two stars a day – one to cut and sew that day and one for the road. I dated them, and packed them in a baggie with the plan that I would cut out and stitch one a day. Easy peasy, right?

Tiny Stars to go

Tiny Stars to go

Before I report my trip stats I want to remind my readers that my goal is actually 7 stars a week. In which case, whew! I made it. Admittedly, I fell behind early in my trip and was behind by three stars by the time I left Philly.

Once settled in daughter Sarah’s apartment in Florida I had a chance to catch my breath, nurse my shin splints (sister Dora has long legs and I had to race to keep up with her in Philly), and get caught up on stars.

Cut out and ready for stitching

Cut out and ready for stitching

By the time I came home my baggie was empty and my pile of completed stars was 11 deep.

 9 down, 2 to go

9 down, 2 to go


Philly and Florida 261So, if you are taking your Star-A-Day on the road, I recommend tracing before you leave home and pack a tiny sewing kit for sewing on the airplane.

Star-A-Day travel tin - yep, that's on an airplane tray

Star-A-Day travel tin – yep, that’s on an airplane tray



Tiny Stars – Month #2 Progress Report

Dec 30: Christmas is past, the New Year is upon us. When it comes to a star a day for 2014 I say, bring it on! Yes, I thought it would be interesting to make a star a day for a year. And yes, I thought I could do it. I imagined myself with a shoe box full of the little cuties by the end of the year.

Then – I read the instructions and one line stood out from the print like a warning light. Designer, Karen Styles, cautioned that it would be overwhelming to sew the stars together at the end and suggested sewing them into blocks as you go. She went on to advise joining the blocks into sections. Smart lady. I followed her advice and I’ve been happy so why did I have to go mess with things? I thought, why stop there? Why not quilt as I go too?

Umm, hum. You’ve got it, I am now set on quilting each section as I go.

Marti Michell wrote a great book about Machine Quilting in Sections. I re-read it then sandwiched my 1/9th of a quilt and set it under the needle of my sit down HQ Sweet 16 quilting machine, and took a tentative stitch. Did I really want to do this? Maybe I should just quilt a block or two and see how it looks. Anyone here enjoy ripping out machine quilting? Not me, so there’s no turning back now! first section tiny stars quiltedLater on I’ll show you how I’m quilting but for now, notice the bottom and right hand edges are left un-quilted? That’s so I can connect the bordering sections. Ooooo, I hope I don’t regret this!

It’s the end of the second month and here’s my score card:

Section 1 stitched together AND machine quilted (41 stars)

Three blocks of Section 2 completed and ready to be stitched into a row (13 more stars)

Five more stars completed – enough to stitch into a nine patch for the second row of Section 2. end of month two

Add them all together and get 59 stars in 59 days (60 by the time I got to bed – YES! I’ll get it done!)

I know it’s still early in the project, but I like making these stars so much that I feel like I could do this for years and years and not tire of it! (Tune in around Oct to see if my feelings have changed!)

Are you making a Star a Day quilt? Do tell!



More Tiny Stars

Dec 11, 2013: It’s Day 41 of The Tiny Star project and I have completed 41 stars. That’s 41 stars in 41 days! Just a star a day! Are you surprised? I am – kind of! Back in the beginning, thinking a ‘star a day’ too lofty a goal, I set out to complete 7 per week. I thought I would get bored and drop behind a day or two from time to time. And it’s true, I have missed a few days along the way – but I made up for them a day or two later by stitching two stars. Now, here we are, 41 days into this project with 41 stars completed! Yahoo!Little stars first sectionAnd not only are my stars completed, the first set of nine blocks are stitched together! It just keeps getting better doesn’t it?

Dec 15, 2013: A person can’t hand stitch a star a day without learning a few tricks!

1. Regarding the asymmetrical templates: The designer is very clear about this fact in her instructions but I was probably 10 stars deep before I figured it out. Sooooo, trace one set of four diamonds with the template right side up and the other set of four diamonds with the right side down and your stars will come out flatter.

2. Regarding setting in the outside squares and triangles:  I have tried it every which way – First setting in four corner squares then going back and setting in the triangles. Blech. Next,  I set in four side triangles and went back and added the four corner squares. Better. Finally, I settled on alternating a square and a triangle and stitching counterclockwise around the star. Very nice. (lefties might want to go clockwise).

3. Regarding seam allowances: One of the benefits of hand stitching is that you don’t have to press as you go and you can leave all the seams free instead of stitching them pressed to one side or the other (or open). I got a little private tutoring with friend and hand piecing expert, Donna Lynn Thomas, and learned to put a back stitch on either side of the free-standing seams to bring the connections really close together. Donna also showed me how to stitch with one thread all the way around the star while setting in the squares and triangles. My, does that ever save time and thread!

4. Regarding the very center of the star: A few years ago I took a precision piecing class from Sally Collins. In the workshop we made 6″ LeMoyne Stars with set in Y seams. On that particular day I thought my 6″ star was mighty small -today it looks like a giant ! Although Sally was teaching us to machine piece, I have been applying some of her techniques to my 3″ hand pieced beauties. Two of the most valuable tips I learned from Sally are: a) Close up the center of the star. If you leave a hole in the center you will, well, have a hole in the center. b) If it doesn’t have a set in piece, bring the stitching all the way to the outside edge of the star. (Don’t stop where the lines cross).

5. Regarding pressing: I had some pretty wonky stars in the first few weeks and pressing only helped mildly. Nearly two months into the challenge, I have developed a system for pressing that seems to be yielding consistent results. 028With the completed star wrong side up on the ironing board use the tip of the iron and press the seams into a spiral going counter clockwise (if you’re a lefty, try going clockwise). Press the center seam open. After sewing the stars and plain squares into a nine patch block, press the connecting seams toward the plain 3″ square. (This may require a little snip into the seam allowance.) 029Turn it to the right side and give it one more overall pressing. Ta Da! Flat and smooth and every little point is pointed. I love these tiny stars!


Tiny Stars – Month #1 Progress Report

Today is Dec 1. That means I have been working on my Star a Day project for exactly one month. That’s 30 days. So that means I should have 30 little stars completed.  Right?

Well…  what can I say? In the past month there was laundry and housework to do. There was  travel with classes to teach. There was fall cleanup in the yard and bulbs to plant. And, there was a Thanksgiving dinner to prepare. Do you think you know where this is going? Do you think I am going to tell you that I ‘hit the wall’ and missed my mark on the very first monthl?


I did it!

I have 30 – count them – 30 blocks completed and, for the most part, sewn together! month 1 Star a DayYay for tiny stars! Yay for one star a day!


Tiny Stars

I’ve been lured in. Lured in by charming little stars. Lured into a star challenge; just one star a day – for a year. Are you thinking, what’s the big deal – star blocks are easy? Here’s the thing, these stars are hand pieced and they are tiny – just 3”, and they are LeMoyne Stars.

with ruler showing size

BUT, it’s just one star a day. AND, it’s just for a year.

I once got myself into running a marathon because when my friend asked, “Will you run a marathon with me?” I said “Sure.” After agreeing to run with her I asked, “How far is a marathon?” I tried to back out but she took me at my word when I said I would do it. So I did. I trained for 12 weeks then ran the 1983 San Francisco Marathon – all 26.2 miles of it.

1983 SF marathon 001

It was time consuming and painful, but I did it. Here I am crossing the finish line!Barb at SF marathon finish 001

I should add, I haven’t run since. I marked ‘run a marathon’ off my life list before I even knew of such a thing as a life list.

In 2012 I completed another type of marathon – this basket quilt:

Baskets quilt

It has 311 hand appliqued basket blocks. I agreed to participate in this simple little, friendship exchange before I knew they were 5” blocks. Baskets quilt detailI think I stopped breathing for a minute when the pattern arrived in the mail and I saw the size. It’s from the book, When the Cold Wind Blows, by Barb Adams and Alma Allen. Once I started sewing the baskets, I liked them. They were cute. They were fun. I could have stopped at 60 blocks, like most of my friends in the exchange, but, oh no! I was lured in by the picture of the full quilt. Some ask, “Why did you make it?” I answered, “Because I’ve never made a full sized quilt with 5” appliqued basket blocks before, so why not?”

It was time consuming and painful, but I did it.

I should add – there are online support groups for people making this quilt.

So you would think I learned my lesson on agreeing to such things as marathons and sewing little blocks. So why did I agree to another time consuming and potentially painful quilt challenge? Because, I was lured in.

It stared in Portland, Oregon on a rainy day last May when I met Karen Styles at the International Quilt Market. She was minding her own business greeting visitors to her booth. I didn’t have to stop. But from way over yonder her quilts attracted my attention. I had never seen these patterns. They were gorgeous. Like a beacon, the rows of tiny pieced blocks drew me in. Compelled to take a closer look, I soon found myself standing in the booth engaged in pleasant conversation with Karen and her husband. From Somerset Patchwork and Quilting in Australia, with their ‘down under’ accents, they explained the origins of their patterns to me. Precise and detailed with tiny pieces and perfectly balanced settings I let down my guard. I fell in love with Mrs. Billings Coverlet. I admired  Merrimack and I walked away with a complete pattern set for Robin’s Nest.

I have the pattern on display in my sewing room. But I’ve been  traveling and teaching and barely home long enough to do laundry and repack. “2014”, I said to myself. “That is the year I will make Karen’s quilt”. So it waits.

Fast forward 6 months. This time it was Houston, Texas at the Fall International Quilt Market. There she was, Karen and her beautiful quilts. As soon as I recognized Mrs. Billings Coverlet hanging in the booth I stopped to say hi. I admitted to Karen that I had not yet started my project. And Karen, in her lovely Australian accent, told me, “It’s a commitment once you start, but you can do it!” She went on to say that the ladies at her shop who made Mrs. Billings Coverlet wanted a break once it was finished so she designed a new project for them. “Just a star a day for a year”, she said. “See, here it is.” My gaze zeroed in on her hands, I saw my own hand reaching out to the package she held. It was an innocent looking package – a slim, 5” x 7” folded pattern sheet with three acrylic templates tucked inside. That’s all there was to it! No pages and pages of instructions, no miles of paper piecing and no applique’. Just three little templates.

Pattern and templates

There wasn’t anyone there to say, “Stop! Remember the baskets! Remember the marathon!” There wasn’t anyone there to warn me, “It will be time consuming! It may be painful!”

“Oh,” I whispered, “I could make a star a day!”


November 1, 2013 – launch day of my Star a Day Challenge. I woke up extra early – at 5 AM. Quietly, lest I disturb my sleeping husband, I slipped out of bed and started hand stitching my first star block. One hour and 20 minutes later I put in the last stitch. There. It was done. My first block was completed. 1 down, 364 to go. So far, so good! I celebrated by going back to bed for another hour of sleep.

First block5 days 5 stars

November 5, 2013 – Happy Birthday to me! And there’s more than a birthday to celebrate – it’s day five and I have completed five blocks. Five in Five. Easy, peasy! Only 360 stars left to stitch!First 9 inch block

November 6, 2013 – Karen’s pattern includes a tip to sew the 3” blocks together as they are completed.

November 18, 2013 – It’s day 18 of my Star a Day Challenge and I have completed 18 stars. Yahoo! However, I will confess – I don’t always get a star completed each and every day but if I miss a day I sew two stars the next day – I’ve set my goal at 7 stars a week.  Some days I’m tempted to sew an extra star and get ahead but I resist the urge and move on to other projects with the promise that tomorrow is another day, with another star in it.

Are you tempted to join me? You may order a pattern and template set from Quilting Bits and Pieces in Eudora, KS. (Call the shop to request a pattern). Their Star A Day challenge will begin in Jan 2014.