Classic Blocks: Friendship Star

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

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.

All done! Reach out to me if you have questions or comments, I’m happy to help.