Monday, 26 January 2015

Red Sky at Night - Ohio Star

It has been said that history is told from the viewpoint of the victors. So when I studied my history degree in my former life, focusing mainly on Western, Twentieth Century history, I got a great sense of the significant men (historians wrote mostly about the men) that helped form our world today. I loved learning about the contexts that gave rise to various decisions, the pressures on different politicians, the hard winters that lead to wars won, the influences of wives, or worldview, or a single quiet woman who refused to move from her bus seat. The more I understood, the more colourful were the scenes in my imagination.
But in a way, it's made becoming an ordinary mum, with an ordinary family, sometimes seem, well, grey. Because what do I know of ordinary women in history that I want to be like? I kind of have this vague idea of women in history that fit with our usual stereotypes, like 'denied an education' or 'stuck in the home', or trapped in marriages with unfaithful husbands. In fact, I don't think I learned once in my history degree about strong, creative ordinary women who didn't make the papers. I guess if they weren't in the papers, there's nothing left of their lives, right?

Well, because I've always wanted to be an historian, and I'm now a quilter, I thought I'd do a bit of research about the different blocks in this series just because I would find it interesting. But as I read about the stories of these women, ordinary women before the mass manufacturing of fabric, I became completely fascinated with the way they put fabric and shapes together in their home, with their daughters and friends, because it wasn't really all that different to the way I put fabric and shapes together, and enjoy sharing it with you, and hope to pass it on to my children. For them, it seemed much more from necessity. And today it feels a lot like a luxury. They needed protection from warmth, they needed to preserve the good parts of the warn out clothing and other household items. But the functional reasons for these quilts didn't stop many women from thinking about design and colour and beauty, regardless of family income or education. Squares and triangles were the simplest ways to use small pieces of fabric, but they could also be made into stars, a whole plethora of stars, as we'll see this year, along with other shapes inspired by ordinary household items and even political ideals and social commentary. These women may not have made it to my American History from the Civil War to the Present class, but some of their quilts, and even more of their block designs have survived. And as a creative person who grew up in a very functional family, I find this extraordinary, and very exciting. 

I'm starting off our quilt with the Ohio Star, popular since the mid 1800s and known by several other names including Eastern Star, Western Star and Texas Star. It was used as a political symbol during various presidential campaigns and during the annexation of Texas. The fact that it has been known by so many names is also reflective of the influence of migration westward across the American Frontier. This star was used in quilts prepared for travel, as gifts to bid farewell, and probably also during the many long miles travelled to their new home. As different people used the design, it became familiar in their region, and named accordingly.
I chose this one because I find it striking that the social and political climate so influenced quilt design in the 17th century, and perhaps vice versa, but also because it's a quick, simple, yet beautiful way to dive in. And I like this method. It feels a bit like a magic trick.


For this block you'll need:
RED: 1 x 8" square and 4 x 4.5" squares. (I'm using Kona Rich Red)
WHITE: 1 x 8" square and 1 x 4.5" square. (I'm using Kona White)
1. Start by putting the 8" squares right sides together, if they have a print, and sew around each edge.

 2. Give the square a little press so it sits together flat, and then cut across both diagonals.

3. Next, cut into each of these triangles again, through the middle, making sure the base of the triangle you're cutting lines up with the lines on your ruler.

4. Open up these triangles and press them towards the dark side. Find their opposite pairs and sew those together.

5. At this point, I usually press the seam open to avoid bulky seams. You should now have 4 hourglass blocks.
6. Trim the hourglasses to 4.5" by lining up the 45degree line of your ruler through one diagonal, and the 4.5" marks at each end of the other diagonal.

7. Lay out your block with your red squares in each corner, white square in the middle, and your hourglass blocks forming a red diamond and white star points.

8. Sew together in rows. Take the first two blocks in each row and chain piece them. Then add the third square to each row. I press seams away from the bulk here (towards the plain square), but you can press how you wish. Then sew the first row to the second, and then add the third. Press seams open.

And we've made our first block! If you blog about yours, come and add a link in the comments because I'd love to see. If you're on Instagram, don't forget the #redskyatnightQAL tag. I'll be happy to answer any questions in the comments and via email. You'll be able to check back and find old tutorials on the Red Sky at Night page tab, and in the Red Sky at Night album on Facebook.
Thanks for sewing with me!

Jodi. x


  1. Now I have goosebumps reading your lovely post! I'm off to stitch my Ohio Star, if I can find some willing helpers. I've decided I'm going to work on this quilt with my daughters, if they're interested at the time.
    PS: You might want to mention to your readers that if they decide to go with a red solid, it may be a good idea to prewash it. I bought my red from Spotlight, and washed three times (two colour catchers each wash) before i got all (most??) of the dye out. I intend to load up the machine with colour catchers once I wash the finished quilt, too.

  2. I have just sewn my Ohio star. I am new to quilting, and the tutorial you gave was a fantastic way to make it -- you're right, it does seem like magic! I am so glad that you're doing this sampler idea -- I've wanted to make a sampler for awhile, but it seemed too overwhellming to choose blocks and sizes, etc. This is the first time I've ever followed along with someone's quilt! I don't have a blog, but if I can figure out how to do it, I will try to post pictures on pinterest and link up. I used blue and cream.

  3. Great tutorial. I love how the Ohio star looks in red and white. Absolutely beautiful.

  4. Oh Jodi what a fabulous tut! I can't wait to give it a go (but slowly handstitching!). I especially love your instructions on the 45 angle trimming seems like a simple concept but for some reason I'd never thought to use the angle marking?! Thanks :)

  5. Oh I can't wait for my sewing machine to come home from it's service. What a great "Magical" block to start off with. It looks so complicated when finished but your instructions make it seem almost sneaky simple to get such a fantastic finished block.

  6. Working on this now and I do NOT get using the ruler and 45 degree angle to cut. Seems like I have it cutting off all one side which will make the hourglass 'off'. I folded the block in half and used my bloc loc ruler. Maybe you could clarify those directions? But then again, maybe it is just me. ;)

    1. You line up one diagonal on the 45 degree angle line and then the other diagonal points should be at 4.5" at either end. Hard to explain but you will get it. Im sewing my last row :)

  7. Should the block be 12" unfinished or 12.5" unfinished?

  8. I just found you on IG and LOVE red and stars so I'm going to follow along with you and make a red and white quilt too.
    Peggy in NJ, USA

  9. Congrats on your new qal, Jodi. It's a great concept and I love how you're sharing history behind blocks. Enjoy!

  10. You're right! That was magic, awesome trick :)


I so love your comments! I read all of them and reply when I can. If you don't hear back, I'm lost under a mound of scraps or outside jumping on the trampoline with the kids. Jodi. xx