#1 Friendship Star

Classic Block Series

Welcome to my Classic Block Series! I want to pay some respect to our fore-mothers who made what we now call “traditional” quilts. They mostly sewed and quilted by hand, but what amazes me even more is that they had to cut out all their pieces with scissors and handmade templates – no rotary cutters and acrylic rulers! Revisiting some classic blocks, and maybe tweaking them a little bit to give them an update, is my way of keeping tradition alive and even passing it on to the next generation of quilters!

First off is the Friendship Star. It’s an old block, from the late 1800s, but still a favorite of many quilters, including me! This star has a pinwheel effect, and seems to kind of twinkle when there are several sewn together. A little history before we get into how to make it:

In the photo above, taken from the National Park Service’s “Quilt Discovery Experience” at Homestead National Historical Park in Nebraska, you can see the signature in the center square. This would’ve been just one block from whole quilt of signature blocks. Friendship Star quilts were often made by a woman’s friends, in secret, as a going away gift for when she and her family packed all their belongings and headed west to relocate and start a new life. The friends’ signatures were embroidered in the center square, and then all the blocks sewn into a finished quilt. Imagine what a comfort such a quilt would’ve been to the woman and her family! They would be able to cover up with this quilt, and both literally and figuratively gain comfort and warmth – as well as remember friends and relatives back east who had embroidered their signatures into the quilt. The NPS website quotes one homesteader woman as saying, “When I get lonely, I read the names on my quilt.”

The Friendship Star block is easy to make and quite versatile. As it is essentially a fancy nine-patch, it is beginner friendly, but experienced quilters will enjoy making this one as well.

For each block in my Classic Block Series, you will find a block diagram, a cutting chart so you can make any size block you chose, and a tutorial for putting the block together. I also include a free downloadable coloring page so you can play with color placement before you cut into your fabric. And at the end of each post, I give you an idea for making a quilt or project with the block.

  • HST = half square triangle
  • RST = ride sides together
  • Use a 1/4″ seam throughout, unless otherwise stated.
Finished Block Size6″9″12″15″18″
Unfinished Block Size6.5″9.5″12.5″15.5″18.5″
Piece A (center square) CUT 1 square2.5″3.5″4.5″5.5″6.5″
Piece B (corners/background) CUT 4 squares2.5″3.5″4.5″5.5″6.5″
Piece C (half square triangles) CUT 2 squares of EACH color
Use squares to make 4 HST using “two at once” method
3″4″5″6″7″

Decide how big you want the finished friendship star to be, and use the cutting chart above to cut your fabric squares. In my example, I made a 9″ block, so cut my A and B squares at 3.5″ and cut the four squares to make the four HSTs at 4″. The construction process is the same for whatever size block you make.

Using the 4 C squares, make 4 HSTs by using the Two At Once method. Place one white and one purple right sides together, draw a line diagonally from corner to corner, and sew 1/4″ on either side of the line. Cut along the drawn line. If you need more clarity on this process, please see my tutorial on making HST – there is more detailed info with photos there (look under the Tutorials tab on the menu bar.)

Trim the HSTs and press open. The HSTs need to be the same size as the A and B squares, so in my case, since I’m making a 9″ finished block, I trimmed them to 3.5″.

Lay out the components of the block. I sew in columns first, then rows. But I won’t be insulted if you sew rows first. With a 1/4″ seam, sew the middle column to the first (left) column by chain piecing – leave the thread intact between the rows to help keep everything in the right order and orientation. Press these seams before adding the next column – either press open or to opposite sides so you can nest the seams. Then sew the third (right) column in the same manner.

The first photo below shows flipping the second column RST with the first column. The next photo is the third column RST with the first and second, and last photo is with the seams complete, pressed and ready to sew the rows together.

Now flip the top row down RST over the middle row and sew together with a 1/4″ seam. I do usually pin the seam intersections – particularly with such high contrast fabrics. You would really notice if the seams don’t line up with the dark star fabric and white background fabric – so I think it’s worth the time to pin. Again, press this seam before sewing the next seam.

And here is the completed Friendship Star block! At this point, square up your block to the UNFINISHED size on the chart – in my case, I squared up to 9.5″. Make sure as you square up, you leave 1/4″ beyond the star points so you don’t cut them off when you sew the block into your project!

I made another in the opposite color way to highlight how different fabric choices affect how the block looks. You can also do the center square a contrasting color as well, no rule says it has to match the HSTs or background! And you could do the whole block in scrappy fabrics – just make sure there is enough contrast between the star points and the background or you’ll lose the star effect.

Below is a free, downloadable Friendship Star coloring sheet. This star prints at 6″, so fits on regular printer paper. You can use it to play around with color and fabric choices before you cut into fabric. I often draw a block on graph paper, or print out a coloring sheet, then cut little swatches of fabric, and glue them onto the paper to get a feel for how I like a particular set of fabrics together. Or sometimes I just get my colored pencils or crayons out and play – and I can take that wherever I go, so it makes a nice portable project, and when I get back home I have a whole quilt planned out.

I thought you might enjoy a “modern-ish” layout of this very traditional block. So here is one idea, in three different color ways. This little wall hanging measures 30″ square and uses 6.5″ unfinished friendship star blocks.

PieceNumber to cutSize to cut
A46.5″ x 12.5″
B46.5″ x 6.5″
C46.5″ x 4.5″
D46.5″ x 2.5″
E16.5″ x 6.5″
6.5″ x 4.5″
  • Step 1: Make 8 – 6″ finished (6.5″ unfinished) Friendship Star Blocks as directed above
  • Step 2: Using the chart above, cut pieces A through E
  • Step 3: Layout the blocks as diagramed below.
  • Step 4: Sew the B blocks to their adjacent stars, press the seams open. Sew the A blocks to the B/Star units and press the seams open. Pay attention to the orientation of the A blocks – two are sewn to the left side of the B/Star unit and two are sewn to the right side of B/Star.
  • Step 5: Sew the D blocks to the remaining star blocks. Press seams open. On the opposite side sew the C blocks and again press the seams open. Watch this orientation as well – make sure you keep the smaller D blocks to the outside of the quilt and the larger C blocks towards the center.
  • Step 6: Lay all the units back down, or up on your design wall. You’re almost done! Essentially this is now just a giant nine patch, like in the diagram below.
  • Step 7: Starting at the top left, sew Unit 1 to Unit 2. Then sew that whole thing to Unit 3. Press seams open and put that completed row back on your design wall.
  • Step 8: For the middle row, starting on the left again, sew Unit 4 to Unit 5 (center block E). Then again, sew that whole thing to Unit 6. Press open of course. And put this second completed row back on your design wall.
  • Step 9: Finally for the bottom row, just like you’ve been doing, sew the units together (Unit 7 to 8, then that to Unit 9) pressing the seams open. If you want to make this into a Christmas wreath, use the appliqué method you like best to add some red holly berries.

All done! Your wall hanging quilt top is all finished and read to be quilted! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the Friendship Star block and maybe feel inspired to make one (or two or eight!)

Reach out to me if you have questions or comment, I’m happy to help. Use the “Contact” button on the website or email me at BlueBeagleQuilts@gmail.com.

Happy quilting!

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