Friday, January 27, 2023

Star of North Carolina: AccuQuilt vs. Electric Quilt Software

Happy Friday, Quilty Peeps!  I took a little design detour yesterday, playing around with a historical quilt block called Star of North Carolina in an updated color scheme of Kona Solid fabrics.

My 58 x 74 Star of NC Design, Using 8 Inch Blocks

I became aware of this block recently when AccuQuilt reintroduced their limited edition 12" North Carolina Star BOB (Block On Board) die as a permanent offering.  "Block On Board" (BOB) refers to AccuQuilt dies that are designed to cut all of the shapes needed for a particular quilt block with a single pass through the die cutting machine.  (By the way, all of AccuQuilt's BOB dies are on sale 20% off, now through January 30th.  This post contains affiliate links).

AccuQuilt's 12 Inch North Carolina Star BOB Die

Barbara Brackman's definitive reference book, the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, 3rd Ed., identifies this as Block #473 in the Ladies' Art Company Catalog that was published from 1889 through the 1970s.  

Further research revealed that this particular block debuted in the 1928 edition of the catalog.  

Thumbnails of Quilt Block Patterns from the Ladies' Art Company Catalog

Quilters would pick out a quilt block design from the catalog and then purchase cardboard templates and instructions for piecing the block by mail order.  As you can see in the catalog illustration above, AccuQuilt's 12" finished North Carolina Star die is exactly the same size as the original 1928 pattern.  However, AccuQuilt has followed the current fad of "simplifying" quilt patterns to eliminate all set-in seams or "Y-seams," as you can see in the diagram below:

AccuQuilt Has Added 24 Seams to Their NC Star Block!

Why oh why oh WHY?!!!  There are 28 fabric patches in the original vintage quilt block design, and AccuQuilt has "simplified" the block by making a version with 56 patches and 24 additional seams needing to be sewn.  I was so excited about this BOB die until I realized that!  AccuQuilt is wonderful for saving tremendous amounts of time in the cutting stage of quilt making, churning out even odd-shaped patches and curved shapes with superior accuracy and speed.  However, in order to dumb-down the block construction for this die, all of the time saved during cutting is going to be wasted in sewing all of those additional seams that will detract from the appearance of the finished block and add lots of unnecessary bulk from all of those extra seam allowances.  Boo, hiss!  

Annoyed with the AccuQuilt BOB die but still intrigued by this block design, I turned to my EQ8 Electric Quilt software and found the Star of North Carolina block in the Block Library.  As you can see below, there are only six shapes needed to piece this block:

EQ8 Templates for Piecing Star of North Carolina Block

One of my favorite things about EQ8 software is that I have so many options about how I want to cut and piece a quilt.  The photo above is a print preview of templates that I would print onto heavy card stock similar to the cardboard templates that quilters would have purchased from the Ladies' Art Company catalog in 1928.  I can choose to print my templates with or without seam allowances (if I was piecing the blocks by hand, I would choose "without seam allowances" and trace around the templates onto my fabric so the pencil lines would guide my hand stitching).  I can also choose to print my templates at any size I want, whereas the original 1928 pattern and the current AccuQuilt die is only available for a 12" finished block size.

My other option for this block with EQ8 is to foundation paper piece the blocks in sections, remove the foundation paper, and then join the sections of the blocks together with set-in seams.    That's one of my favorite ways to piece complex blocks.  In the screen shot below, each of the different colored sections of the block would be FPP'd by itself, then I'd join the purple-red-pink sections together to form one unit, join the olive-green-aqua section together to form one unit, and then each of those pieces gets sewn to the large bowtie-shaped blue unit in the center of the block:
Foundation Paper Piecing Star of North Carolina in EQ8

When printing foundation paper piecing patterns from EQ8, I use this Sax School Smart newsprint paper from Amazon.  It's so much more economical than the foundation paper piecing paper sold in quilt shops, about $5 for 500 sheets with free Prime shipping.  I last purchased a ream of this paper in 2016 and I still have a ton of it left.

So, back to the question of block size: As I said earlier, AccuQuilt's 12" finished block size is historically "correct" if my goal was to create an authentic vintage version of the Star of North Carolina.  However, then as now, savvy quilters on a budget would have been able to use the thumbnail images in the Ladies' Art Company catalog as a reference for drafting their own block pattern at whatever size they wanted.  Playing with the block in EQ8, I discovered I really like combining Star of North Carolina with a 4-Patch Chain alternate block, like this:

98 x 98 Star of North Carolina with 12 Inch Blocks

I think the 12" block layout looks pretty cool at that size, but not every quilt needs to be bed-sized.  Keeping the blocks at 12", a throw sized version would look like this:

50 x 62 Star of North Carolina with 12 Inch Blocks

Meh!  I think the chain effect from those alternate blocks looks a lot more interesting with more blocks rather than fewer.  You also have a lot more wiggle room to get a quilt to finish at a specific size when the blocks are smaller.  If I reduce the block size from 12" to 9", I can fit a lot more blocks into a similarly sized throw quilt to see more of that secondary pattern formed by the alternate chain blocks:

56 x 65 Star of North Carolina with 9 inch Blocks

By the way, the very first image at the top of this blog post would use 8" finished blocks, which I quickly decided against.  My alternate block is based on a 3 x 3 grid, so the only way I'll get "ruler-friendly" numbers for rotary cutting the alternate blocks is if my finished block size is a multiple of 3.  I could make those alternate blocks finish at exactly 8", 7", or even something really odd like 11 11/16" if I used templates or foundation paper piecing, but why make things so much more complicated than they need to be?  Been there, done that, NOT going there again any time soon!  😂

Is your brain frazzled yet, because mine is!  If I spent half as much time making quilts as I do designing them, I would have a lot more finished quilts to show for myself.  But on the flip side, if I spent that much time actually making quilts, I'd be spending a lot more money on fabric!  Okay, I have now determined that my Dream Version of the AccuQuilt North Carolina Star die would be a 9" finished block that would be drafted just like the original 1928 version for Y-seam construction with far fewer patches and far fewer seams.  It's actually possible to order custom dies for AccuQuilt -- have any of you done that before?  I had no idea how much that would cost, so I sent in a request for a no-obligation quote out of curiosity.  

Updated Jan. 31, 2023: The custom die quote from AccuQuilt partner Custom Shape Pros came in at $179.99 plus $25 shipping for a custom 9" finished NC Star BOB die that would be a 10" x 24" die board containing the six shapes needed (one each of three patches and two each of the other three patches, to facilitate cutting out the entire block in one pass).  I did not order it because I have so many other projects in progress, but it's good to know this option is available.  

There is something magical about cranking fabric through that AccuQuilt machine and having it spit out all of those perfectly-cut shapes for you in seconds!  

I'm curious -- do you use AccuQuilt dies to cut out your quilts?  Do you use EQ software?  Do you prefer patterns that "update" traditional quilt blocks by adding additional seams to eliminate Y-seam construction, or do you prefer to piece blocks with fewer patches and set-in seams?  Anyone out there still using templates to cut out quilt blocks on a regular basis, or am I the only one?  ;-)

Meanwhile, it's not as though I have nothing to do...  I am midway through cutting out my bed size Deco quilt finally and I'm looking forward to getting a new project up on my design wall soon!  I'm linking this post with my favorite linky parties, listed on the left sidebar of my blog.  Happy quilting, everyone!


Chris said...

I ordered some custom dies 9 years ago. They were expensive, yes, but they worked with me back and forth until I was happy. The saddest part was they shipped here to Canada by UPS and I had to pay $105 extra at the door after paying the shipping up front.
I had several boards with several sizes of just leaves made for applique. If I was doing these again, I would try to get the cutting shapes closer together to waste less fabric. But the whole idea was to cut a lot more leaves faster. I used them to cut a gzillion leaves for my Beyond the Cherries Trees quilt. I got them to cut pre-fused fabrics for machine applique. The idea was faster cutting and faster sewing.

Chris said...

Also, I got one of those 500 sheet newsprint packs but find that paper does not tear off as easily as the quilt shop variety.

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I got a quote once on a custom die - I don't remember what it was- but the price was too high for me and I turned it down. I like not having to do the Y seams and it is nice for the Carpenter's Wheel that I am doing - yes extra seams but I didn't even think about it when I ordered it or started to make it as I hadn't looked at other patterns of the same block at the time. I'm being more careful thinking before I order as I have plenty I have not used yet and really decided to wait to make sure I will use the dies I have.

JustGail said...

Quilting math can get complicated when combining blocks with different grids.

That's a good point about needing to sew and press more seams vs. learning to do Y seams. I'll need to keep that in mind as I look at the BOB dies from now on.
I might be odd, but I didn't find the Y seams I've done particularly difficult as long as I didn't rush, and treated the fabric gently so the cut edges didn't get pulled out of shape. I've had more trouble ending up with non-lumpy intersections.

I've never checked into custom dies. The only one I can think of that I might want made is the gem shape to go with the hexie Qube set. Though a die with leaves for applique sounds intriguing too.

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

I don't own any AccuQuilt dies, I used one at work for paper but not with fabrics. I sewed, a long time ago, Y-seams and I don't remember them as painful. With me, adding more seams can be bulkier, and less accurate at the end ;) J'aime bien jouer avec EQ aussi.
Thank you for sharing, and linking up! said...

While I have some AccuQuilt dies, I haven't used them like I thought that I would. I'm not afraid of Y-seams. I had the EQ-7 software; but, found I didn't use it either. . .While I stitch a lot of traditional blocks, I also like free form/art type designs that "happen" on the design wall. . .perhaps, this is why I didn't get into the software or the die products! I do agree with you about more blocks being more interesting and I do like your design!

Gale Bulkley said...

I don't like the dumbing down of blocks to avoid y-seams, and I don't understand why so many people avoid them. With a bit of practice they are totally manageable. I don't have AccuQuilt or EQ-8. If the seams are all straight and the angles for the pieces are all available on a ruler, I'll do that as opposed to using templates.

The Colorful Fabriholic said...

I love EQ for designing and use it frequently. I'm not afraid of curves, templates, or Y-seams so like you I prefer to keep the number of seams in a block to the minimum. I have the big Accuquilt Studio cutter and I've used the basic dies a few times, mostly HSTs. What I use the most are the 2-1/2" and 2" strip dies. I'm currently playing with something using the Chisel die, which I'll post about when I get farther along with the project. I should have read the directions. The Chisel die makes mirror image pieces when you cut fabric wrong sides together as it comes off the bolt, a problem when your design needs all the Chisel shapes going in the same direction!

Chopin - A Passionate Quilter said...

Well, no AccuQuilt here, But I do love my EQ 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8! Maybe I can become more familiar with it since I sent the majority of quilting to you. LOL. It is neat that you can get paper piecing, cutting instructions, templates, and of course play with colors!

I was wondering why I did not get an email on your last 2 posts! So I re-subscribed! Hugs

Anonymous said...

I just found your site while reading a comment in the Bernina users group. I’m so happy to read posts from another AccuQuilt, EQ8, Block+ user. I have been using all those tools for years, and am on my second longarm. I knit and quilt just about everyday, totally as a hobby, and for mental health. It makes me happy. I’ve never sold any of my projects nor done any work for others.

Thanks for posting such fun interesting stuff on your blog. I look forward to reading them all. They look very interesting.


Suzanne said...

I've never used AccuQuilt. I really like the feeling of slicing through fabric with my rotary cutter -- it's so satisfying! I also love math and playing with numbers, so I find measuring fun too. I use EQ8 all the time! Designing is at least as enjoyable as all the other parts of quilting. Sometimes, I'm playing with an idea in my head and cannot do much else until I put it into EQ8, at least as a way to bookmark my idea and iterate on later. I don't love Y-seams, but I also don't tend to choose many quilts/blocks with them. I've simplified Y-seams myself, but only if it isn't adding much work or detracting from the overall look (e.g., a block only had 1 y-seam anyway, so it's adding only 2 more pieces). I love love love paper piecing because of it's accuracy! I've used templates occasionally but pretty rarely. This is a fun post, and these are fun questions to think about our "how" of our own individual quilting!

Susan said...

Enjoyed your post Rebecca Grace! A die cutting machine can be very addictive, spitting out perfectly cut pieces but the dumbing down part to make a block easier to sew definitely can ruin the look of the block. Personally, though I'm not afraid of Y-seams, I would avoid the block your working with. Yet, I'm guilty of designing blocks that have some pretty creative cutting methods or seams to achieve what I want. Guess it all depends on your comfort zone!

Judy Hansen said...

Hi Rebecca,
Re simplifying blocks, I don’t care what others do, but some blocks, if made by me, have to be made the old fashioned way. For instance, a bow tie block looks strange to me if it has more than five parts. I like the “knot and the 2 bows” and two pieces of background. It is fun to make and if it has more pieces, it doesn’t look like a bow tie to me. To each her own, however. Hugs, Judy

Preeti said...

Oh I do like the Irish Chain type alternate blocks. Gives some breathing room and better viewing to the Carolina Star blocks. Once upon a time, I tried making a block with Y-seams and it was supremely fugly. If I had to make this design, I would go the Accuquilt 12" route. Paper piecing AND Y-seams!!! No thank you. However, you do you. I am always rooting for you!

Linda White said...

I just discovered the Star of North Carolina in the Greensboro Guild's submission to QuiltCon. It intrigues me but I didn't want to do a quilt just using this block.
I'm intrigued by your design with Irish Chain look. Do you have this available as a pattern? I love the look of it.

Rebecca Grace said...

Hi, Linda. I don't write patterns, but AccuQuilt has a free PDF pattern download on their website for making the Star of North Carolina block using their BOB die: