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SIX-POINTED STARS 

    When I  start thinking about design for any Jewish quilt project,  the first option that I consider is something that involves a six-pointed star.  I can't help myself.
      First, there's the history. It's not the oldest Jewish symbol  (the seven-branched menorah is far older), but it has deep roots, going back to about the 2nd  Century (archeologists found it adorning  the ruins  the famous Capaerneum synagogue from that era, on the Sea of Galilee---along with menorahs, five pointed stars and---believe it or not---swastikas.). In modern times, the star  is powerfully evocative of our history, and of sacred space. 
      And in the brief-by-comparison history of American pieced quilts, the six- pointed star also has a noble history.   Traditional patterns like Baby Blocks, Tumbling Blocks, Seven Sisters, Grandmothers' Flower Garden, Mariners' Compass,  and others are based on  the shape.

    If you make several stars, the  arrangement can be very simple but satisfyingly symmetrical (if symmetry is your thing)---as in the Seven Sisters arrangement (a central star with six more stars around it, touching points---see figures 3 )---or just thrown around in a whimsical way (as in figure 2). 
    Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this design is its  potential for depth and/or motion.    In a solid color, a six-pointed star is pretty static. But if all the points contain symmetrical patterns, either printed or pieced,  and/or  if the colors and values are arranged carefully,  these stars can start to pulsate, and spin, drawing the eye in and out again .    Thanks to modern quiltmaking shortcuts and tools, making kaleidoscopic stars like this is now ridiculously easy, and can be accomplished quickly by someone with the most basic quilting skills .
    Even more exciting is the potential for depth. Traditional six-pointed stars are traditionally composed of 60 degree triangles. Depending how you arrange the color values (dark and light) on those triangles, you can create 3-D illlusions, with cubes and stars appearing to  jump in and out of the quilt's surface.   The traditional Tumbling Blocks design is the best known, but infinite variations are possible. 
     In short, every six-pointed star quilt can be completely different from every other. Graphically, I find this design potential sublime, thrilling, even....spiritually uplifting! (Good choice, ancestors!)
    What's slightly less thrilling is the fact that,  as traditionally constructed in fabric, six-pointed stars against a background have a set-in Y shaped seam.  That is a serious pain in the neck. If careful assembly of dozens of perfectly accurate seams, each of which requires massaging fabric against its natural instincts,  doesn't frighten you as much as it frightens me, you can skip the next several paragraphs. 
   The good news: Some of the greatest minds of quilting have tackled this problem, and come up with some fun, fast and easy approaches to accurately assemble complex-looking star designs. Some of the best short cuts (as well as the long cuts) that I've found are listed below.

THE EASIEST

MAGIC STAR 6 by Mace McEligot
  This totally innovative approach  is by far the fastest, easiest, most flexible  and interesting way that I've found  to create  kaleidoscopic six-pointed stars out of fabric.  Each star  is a sort of fabric sculpture. The  system includes a template and  a set of instructions, and also---optional but worth it---a two-sided mirror, a point turner (if you have a hemostat, you don't need this), and an idea book (If you buy everything, it will set you back about $30).  You should own a rotary cutter and a self-healing cutting mat (but you could get by with a marking pen and sharp scissors). First, you slide the mirrors around on a piece of fabric, til you find a design you like. Then, you place the template,  made of heavy-duty plastic, to the desired location, and  cut out 6 identical  diamond-shaped pieces.  Then sew one side  of the diamond to the other, and  turn  inside out. Do the same for all 6 pieces, seam all six pieces together (just straight stitching), and---voila!
    There you stand, holding a cool little Jewish frisbee! Which won't damage framed art !  Actually, it's a  kaleidoscopic 6-pointed star which is neatly finished all around the edges, with points backed for an inch or so.  It's ready for a fast hand or machine applique, to one large piece of fabric, if you like. I used matzoh fabric with this system to make a simple matzoh cover ( Figure 1). If you create a lot of stars, you can make a quilt that's elegant for a wedding, or use fun and funky juvenile fabrics to make a quilt for a  baby.  (figure 2.). Since the top third  of each star point  is backed, I was able to create flaps with surprises underneath on 'Raining,'---the star at the lower right even hangs over the edge of the quilt.
        Figure 3, made by Sue Feinberg, could have been made using the system above. But it was actually a    Stack and Whack (see below) .
   There's one downside to this system: it may be difficult to achieve the   mathematical precision that you can with a more traditionally pieced quilt. It's hard to make the points absolutely perfect and flat.  If you care deeply  about the absolute perfection of your points, keep scrolling down.
    Otherwise, I recommend this system without reservation. It must be ordered from the inventor, a delightful woman named Mace McElligot at Mace Motif, 106 Manito Rd., Manasquan, NJ, telephone 908 223 4434.  At this writing, she did not have a website. Her Magic Star 6 book(TM)  has lots of good ideas, including one quilt that uses 6-pointed stars as flowers, climbing a trellis---it would make a  particularly nice, fast,easy huppah.

ADVANCED BEGINNERS AND BEYOND
STACK AND WHACK by Bethany Reynolds
To pull this off, you need a copy of the book "Magic Stack and Whack Quilts, by Bethany Reynolds (American Quilters Society, 1998), which is still widely available in quilt shops and bookstores. When she wrote this book, I don't think Bethany Reynolds realized she might become heaven's gift  to Jewish quilters in a hurry.  Stack and Whack is a ridiculously fun and serendipitous way to spend an afternoon,  in which you buy a half-dozen or so yards of one interesting  large-motif print fabric; cut it into several identically-patterned strips; cut those strips into triangles; and sew together the triangles---straight stitching only--- into kaleidoscopic stars (or hexagons, or both).  You have very little idea beforehand what your stars will look like.   Next thing you know, you got yourself an amazing quilt that looks like you are a genius who knew what you were doing!   I made an elegant blue-white-and-gold  huppah for my first Stack and Whack (It's in the July/August 2003 issue of Quilters Newsletter Magazine); my quilting partner Sue   used a colorful Judaic fabric, set against a  deep blue and orange Moda marble fabrics,  to make the  lively Chanukah wall hanging  in figure 4.
   If you have basic experience with quilting,  a sewing machine and a rotary cutter, and follow the book, it's not hard at all. If you are a total quilting beginner, enlist a more experienced friend to help you. Your local quilt shop may also offer Stack and Whack classes.

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS:  Stack  6 layers of  pattern-aligned fabric, the way Bethany Reynolds shows you, then use Mace's tool to cut out the points. Before you know it, you'll have a large pile of ready-for-applique stars!  
   

FOR EXPERIENCED QUILTERS 
SARA NEPHEW 
      When the day comes that you want to design your own  6-pointed-star quilt, replete with fascinating optical illusions (or not), you will discover that regular, square graph paper doesn't work--- you need an isometric triangle  grid graph paper to do it---a grid made of up 60 degree triangles (available at art supply stores, and some quilt stores). And when you start playing around, you will discover that the design possibilities are truly infinite. Books could be written about them. And many have been.  By Sara Nephew .
      Nephew has written a half dozen quilt books  featuring complex but relatively-easy-to-piece 6-pointed-star designs and other designs, with both a contemporary and traditional look,  based on equilateral traingles.. They are all excellent, and each of the quilts is more interesting,  and exciting than the last.. Her patterns do require a 60 degree quilter's template and rotary cutter. They involve cutting and precision sewing of a lot of identical triangles and diamonds.  But there's a break (literally); in most of her patterns (and all of the most recent ones), there are no set-in seams at all. She breaks the piecing down to straight seams only, making accuracy much easier.
       Her excellent titles---loaded with quilt designs that, imho,  would make great huppot, challah covers, wall hangings, etc.--- include 'Equilateral Triangle Patchwork,' Dover Books, 1986 (originally published as 'Quilts from a Different Angle' This is her first book on the subject, and some of the quilts have   set-in seams)  'Stars and Flowers, Three-Sided Patchwork' (Clearview Triangle, 1989) ( beautiful designs and simplified piecing)  and   'Sensational Six-Pointed Star Quilts.' (slightly more complex  than the quilts in Stars and Flowers, but  no set in seams).  Her quilt tops  can take four hours to piece and up---way  up. But they are worth it. They are magnificent. The books are not a light reading project; it takes time to digest and understand them. 
    Along with the books, she sell high-quality, reasonably priced, well-marked precision  templates . Enjoy her website  at www.clearviewtriangle.com. Her company phone number  is 888 901 4151 or 360 668 4151, address 8311 180th Street, SE, Snohomish, WA 98296. You might just get her on the phone. By the way, although her family is not Jewish,  she told me that her daughter married a Jewish person, and Sarah made the stunning huppa, a picture of which appears in the
Sensational book and my article in the July/August QNM.
     Another quilter with a simplified construction approach that's simliar to Nephew's is Sharyn Squier Craig, whose book, Pyramids Plus (Chitra Publications, 1997) also features lots of interesting triangle-based 6-pointed star and optical illusion quilts built on an isometric grid. Her piecing system also avoids Y seams. It's a rotary cutting system. Her  approach either requires that you buy  a 60 degree quilters rule, or  a plastic  triangles from the stationary store (with 30-60-90 degree angles ).

Similarly, check out :
Poster, Donna, 'Stars Galore and Even More: Speed Cut Quilt Designs Using Hexagons and Octagons' (Chilton, 1995).
Johanna, Barbara, 'Barbara Johannah's Crystal Piecing' (Chilton, 1993)

PAULA NADELSTERN
If you are a careful, patient person, you have a lot of time, and ambition,  and a lot of experience with quiltmaking---or, if you just want to gape at incredible beauty--- go directly to Paula Nadelstern's books. Her astounding quilts appear in Kaleidoscopes & Quilts (C&T Publishers, 1996), and the latest , and Snowflakes & Quilts (C&T, 2001). See her work at http://www.paulanadelstern.com/.  She has created some of the most dazzling 6-pointed star design quilts of all time.(Kaleidoscopic IV, The Crystal Canopy, is a huppa). These are labor intensive approaches---each star point is meticulously graphed and foundation pieced, using specialized tools. Yet still leaving room for serendipity---if you follow her approach you'll be in for some wonderful surprises.  They are truly masterpieces. If and when my children and I grow up, I want to be her. An astonishing huppa she made is in the July/August 2003 QNM.

 

 

Fig. 1. Matzoh cover. The central star is pieced from matzoh fabric (see Resources ) using Mace McElligot's Magic Star 6 (TM)  tool.

 



Fig. 2. Raining Cats and Dogs, a baby quilt. Sorry this scan is so fuzzy, but I think you can get the idea. I cut out stars from different cat and dog fabric,using the Magic Star 6 (TM) tool. I appliqued the stars to a  background  pieced from (starting at the top) dogs in space, white dots on black, clouds on  blue skies, then dogs among flowers at the bottom. Some of the  stars   overlap the edges  of the quilt, and a few star points are flaps with surprises underneath.

 

 



 Fig. 3.  A Hanukah quilt made by my quilting partner Sue Feinberg. Sue picked the colors and fabric, and followed  directions found in Bethany Reynolds' Stack and Whack book (see Resources or below). .

Fig. 5.  A  tallit case pieced from vintage necktie fabrics. The star is traditionally pieced.

 

Fig. 6. Tallis with pieced stripes and machine-embroidered atarah.

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JewishQuilter.com - All images and text copyright (c) Cathy Perlmutter, ajwcjp@aol.com 1996-2003