Thinking Outside the Block Class Plan

by Sandi Cummings

Trust in your own creativity - it's there waiting to be tapped!

In this class you will lead your students in creating a Stars Afloat quilt with no patterns to follow, no templates to cut, and best of all, no rules to follow.

Combining Sawtooth Star blocks with inserted-strip and checkerboard transition blocks produces eye-catching, one-of-a-kind results. Students will learn to make the transition blocks and then put them together with the Sawtooth Star blocks to create a feeling of depth, motion and space for a more contemporary look.

Two 3-hour sessions provide time to teach the basic techniques. A third session can be included if you want to bring the student closer to completion.

The finished quilt is a combination of star blocks and transition blocks.

This is a quilt where the student becomes the designer. She decides the layout and the size by experimenting with the blocks on her design wall. The sample quilt layout on page 28 can be used if the student needs extra guidance.


  • Required text: Thinking Outside the Block by Sandi Cummings
  • Sewing machine in good working condition
  • Iron with steam
  • General sewing supplies, including scissors, thread, pins
  • Rotary cutter, cutting mat, and straight-edge ruler
  • One yard fleece for design "wall"

It is difficult to specify exact amounts of fabric to buy, since every student is encouraged to design her own quilt.

To make a variety of star blocks, start with 1-1/2 to 2 yards of background fabrics and 1-1/2 yards for the stars.

To make a variety of inserted-strip blocks, start with 1-1/2 to 2 yards of background fabrics, plus leftovers from making star blocks.

To make two irregular checkerboard blocks, cut 9" x 16" pieces of fabric, one light and one dark.

For further information about fabric requirements, see pages 24 and 27.


FIRST SESSION: Look at student fabric and discuss the importance of value (page 19) and variety in scale (page 20).

Demonstrate how to make a star block. As students make their star blocks have them put them on their design walls to decide what fabric combinations to use in the next blocks. Suggest trying them on point, placing them in groupings.

SECOND SESSION: Briefly look at the work they have brought back and critique. Find something positive for your first comments. Is there anything that they might consider to add interest? (See page 74.)

Demonstrate how to make inserted strip blocks (page 27). Some strips can be crossed. Some of those strips can be pieced. Since the quilt is based on a 6" finished block, some of the inserted strip or transition blocks can be 6-1/2" x 12-1/2".

Irregular checkerboards can be used as transition blocks. Demonstrate how to make irregular checkerboards (page 54). It is difficult to say what size their starting fabric pieces should be because they will all make a different amount of cuts. Hopefully they will be able to cut two 6-l/2" transition blocks out of the checkerboard made from 9" x 16" pieces.

The methods to put it all together are discussed on page 28.

Techniques in the book combine well to make other classes. You'll want to create a quilt to use as a class sample. As you design it, consider how you can encourage your students to make their own quilts using yours as inspiration.

Freeform Units with Inserted-Strip Blocks - see pages 27 and 35-38

Cutting-Double Baby Quilt - see pages 40-43

Square-Within-a-Square Blocks with Inserted-Strip Blocks - see pages 27 and 34

Sandy Cummings