Illuminated Star Quilt

Illuminated Star by Paula Nadelstern

Illuminated Star, designed and pieced by Paula Nadelstern. Quilted by Claudia Clark Myers and Jessica Torvinen. 35 ¼” x 35 ¾”. 2015

I like to work in a series because, inevitably, you ask yourself lots of “What If” questions. The perk is that the questions you ask get more complex but the answers get simpler.

Illuminated Star is the third of three small quilts I made based on the traditional Thousand Pyramids quilt pattern. All three are included in my new book FABRICADABRA: Simple Quilts, Complex Fabric. The book demonstrates how quilts made of simple shapes can be transformed into complex-looking quilts that are easy to piece using gorgeous, intricate fabric. Some, but not all, of the quilts are traditional patterns, gift-wrapped with charismatic fabrics.

Thousand Pyramids, courtesy of quilt historian, Barbara Brackman, is an antique version of it. The quilt belongs to the Bresler Collection, Mint Museum. BlockBase #111a.

Illuminated Star began as an inkling: what if I used the same characteristic layout—but started the design from the center out instead of concentrating on the rows of triangles. I didn’t have a preconceived notion and I didn’t start out purposefully designing a star—certainly not one intended to be perceived as a Jewish star reflecting my family’s background. I didn’t begin with a palette and I didn’t foresee that triangles of cotton quilting fabric would spin into glimmers of regal gold, stately against a patterned but tonal ground. And yet, here it is: a resplendent cultural symbol in time for the holidays.

I’m going to show you the other two quilts I made first that have the same layout and then I’ll go into specifics about my design process for Illuminated Star. Of course, making this quilt took longer than I expected—in my experience, designing something good always does. Designing goes forward and back and wanders around in all directions. It’s not always a fun place to be. But ultimately the act of creating is a satisfying, if sometimes laborious, process. (It’s no secret that I’m one of those who celebrates artwork created in as much time as it takes. But just because how long it takes doesn’t matter to me doesn’t mean you shouldn’t figure out how to get “there” faster.) But, I’m getting ahead of myself….

Here’s the quilt layout and the layout key for the first two quilts in the series: Kaleidoscopic Marbles and The Pyramids of Fabrique-istan

Illuminated Star by Paula Nadelstern-Quilt Layout

Quilt Layout Key

1-14   Kaleidoscopes
B = Border fabric used in the triangles along the four edges of each quilt

S = In KALEIDOSCOPIC MARBLES, S=Multiple black tonal prints
In THE PYRAMIDS OF FABRIQUE-ISTAN, S=Scroll pattern in multiple colorways


Designed and pieced by Paula Nadelstern, quilted by Marlene Hiltner, 40″ x 40″. 2015


Designed and pieced by Paula Nadelstern, quilted by Linda Leathersich. 36″ x 36″. 2012

Even though Illuminated Star appears more like a radial than a horizontal design, its underlying structure is like the other two quilts: horizontal rows 3 1/2″ high with 60° triangles. In a radial design, the elements develop around a common central point. Like a mandala which signifies closure and unity, a radial design directs the viewer’s attention into the important center, the primary focal point.

Here’s the quilt layout for Illuminated Star, very much like the quilt layout of the 2 quilts that came before it.

Layout Illuminated Star

But unlike the other two, Illuminated Star is designed starting in the middle. Look for the six Patch 1s. Despite this, the piecing sequence for all three quilts is the same. Sewing can’t begin until each row is completely designed and decided. The process is to sew all the triangles in row 1, row 2, etc. Then connect row 1 to 2, 3 to 4. Next, the 1 + 2 unit to the 3 + 4 unit, and so on.

Patch 2 was intended to be Patch 1, and it wasn’t until I let go of this notion and switched the patches around that I had my first aha moment. As the quilt’s persona evolved, as the fabrics bewitched me into auditioning more and more, it felt like I was sculpting a three-dimensional object rather than collaging. It was a satisfying, hands-on, patch-by-patch creative act of fabric.

40 discarded fabrics auditioned but not included in the final quilt
I considered more than 40 triangles before narrowing the collection down to the 12 selected fabrics, with some used more than once. Here are some of the 40 discarded fabrics auditioned but not included in the final quilt.

Note that Illuminated Star is a symmetrical quilt except for the top and bottom edges, which are treated differently from each other. This creates the illusion that the quilt is wider than it is high although, in fact, it is practically a square.

Top Edge Illuminated Star Quilt

Top EdgeBottom Edge Illuminated Start Quilt

Bottom Edge

It’s probably difficult for you to see one triangular patch from another in this quilt. That’s because my design strategy is to camouflage seams and create seemingly seamless connections. This encourages an interrupted flow of color or design from one patch to the next. The viewer’s eye does not see the seam and stop.

You can read more about this seamless design approach in my WeAllsew blog Seamingly Seamless Quilting.Illuminated Star by Paula Nadelstern - four 60° triangles Each of the six star points seems seamless but is composed of four 60° triangles made from three fabrics (one fabric is used twice).
If you’d like to learn more about how to create quilts that look dramatic and complex but are easy to piece, please refer to FABRICADABRA: Simple Quilts, Complex Fabric by Paula Nadelstern. C&T Publishing, 2016.

Images and book give-away courtesy of C&T Publishing.

Hanukkah starts today


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