{Classic Quilt Blocks} Sawtooth Star - An Introduction

For my August Classic Quilt Blocks series, I've decided to shine my spotlight on a block that is every quilters favorite. We all know it, we all love it and we've probably all sewn one or a hundred in our quilting journey - its the gorgeous Sawtooth Star.

My first full sized quilt was a mix of these quick and easy stars. I was new to quilting and had no idea how to mix colours and prints so I used two small prints (a soft blue and a soft pink) and two solids (a soft blue and a soft pink) - I kid you not, it took me two hours to select these four safe fabrics because I was so overwhelmed ;)

Regardless of my demure and safe fabric choices, it was a gorgeous quilt and it was used and loved for many years. The Sawtooth Star is stunning, elegant and one of my favorite Classic Quilt Blocks so let's have a look at it in a little more detail.


The Sawtooth Star received its name because the right-angle triangles are reminiscent of the teeth on the saws cutting edge. We learnt last month that block names were based on household items or things observed in pioneer homesteads, and what tool would have been more valuable to the pioneer men than the humble saw? 

In 1884 the pattern was published in the Farm and Fireside magazine and it was called the Sawtooth Star but since then it has also been referred to as the Variable Star, North Star and the Morning Star just to name a few.

There are theories that quilts were used as code for the Underground Railroad during the American Civil War, and a quilt using these blocks would tell slaves to follow the North Star to find safety - hence the block name North Star. I like to think that quilts were used this way because it shows how brave and ingenious women were and that humanity existed in a time of oppression.

For Native Americans the star is a sacred symbol equated with honour. Their sawtooth star quilts (called Morning Star) were a symbolic way to honour and protect the recipient as their travelled through life. A star quilt was given to a bride and groom to show honour and respect for the marriage, to newborns to guide its young life, to young warriors to protect and show admiration, and to families of the dead to show respect and sympathy.

Regardless of the blocks name, the Sawtooth Star is one of the oldest quilt blocks that has stood the test of time. It will continue to be used in our modern quilting world because of its simplicity, its beauty and its colourful history. 

Block Design:

The Sawtooth Star block is drafted using a 4 x 4 grid and the star points can be constructed as HST's or as a flying geese unit - the easiest and most popular method is the flying geese unit and I'll show you how in next week's step by step tutorial.

The block consists of one large centre square (perfect for fussy cutting), four corner squares and four flying geese units.

Here's how its drafted using the 4 x 4 grid:

This block works in every size (no pesky 1/8" units) and to determine your finished unit sizes you simply divide the block size by four to calculate the size of each the sixteen grid squares (4 x 4) and add a 1/4" seam allowance all around.

As an example, for a 6" (finished) square:

  • each grid square would measure 1 1/2" square (finished) or 2" (unfinished) This is the cutting measurement for the four corner squares.
  • to determine the size of the flying geese units, they are one grid square high by two grid squares wide so the measurement would be 1 1/2" x 3" (finished) or 2" x 3 1/2" (unfinished) - you will have to determine the cutting measurements for the triangles to complete this unit (I might do a tutorial on this at a later date).
  • to determine the centre square size, it is two grid squares high by two grid squares wide so the measurement would be 3" square (finished) or 3 1/2" square (unfinished). This is the cutting measurement for the centre square.

If maths is not your thing or if that sounded like another language, then I'll give you a chart of cutting requirements for six sizes next week in my step by step Sawtooth Star block tutorial. :) 

Colour Values:

Changing the colour values of the Sawtooth Star block is always fun. One dark colour on a light background will give you a dramatic star that is reminiscent of the beautiful antique quilts.  Alternating the dark and light fabrics gives the illusion of a shining star amid the night sky and combining both blocks results in a stunning quilt.

I played around with a few different colour combinations to give you some inspiration for your next Sawtooth Star quilt or project. Don't they look lovely? It's any easy way to add impact to a simple block without changing the design.

The centre square is ideal for larger prints and you can fussy cut your favorite fabrics to add some visual interest to the block.

This block has so many possibilities so don't be afraid to play with colour or prints - its simple design gives you the freedom to be creative and create a stunning block! To get you started I've provided a colouring sheet so you can plan a block ready for next week's tutorial:

Print as many copies as you need, grab some colouring pencils or markers and get creative! Its lots of fun and very therapeutic. :)

Antique Inspiration:

Aren't these antique quilts gorgeous? You can gather so much inspiration from looking at old quilts and these are beauties. The makers have chosen simple settings to make the starts shine in these quilts. Most of them have been sewn using one dark and one light fabric, and they've been set with solid squares to make those stars pop!

They all look so homey and inviting, don't they? What stories these quilts could tell! How many weary family members or travellers spent the night under the warmth of these quilts? So precious!

You'll always find a variation of the Sawtooth Star in a sampler quilt. It's the most basic of stars but it's the most recognisable and the most loved.

So that's my introduction to the Sawtooth Star. Here's what you can expect to see in my Classic Quilt Blocks posts during August:

  • Week 2 - A step by step tutorial for a 6" (finished) Sawtooth Star block plus a chart of cutting requirements for six common sized blocks.
  • Week 3 - Lots of inspiration for adding a traditional or modern twist to the Sawtooth Star block, plus a free block pattern with my own twist (and it's a pretty one!)
  • Week 4 - A step by step tutorial for a quick and easy modern nine patch Sawtooth Star block that is suitable for beginners and it's impossible to lose any points (YAY!).

A busy month with tonnes of inspiration to make you love this Classic Quilt Block as much as I do!

Happy sewing :)
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  1. Enjoyed reading your post and learning some history about the sawtooth star. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it Teresa. There's lots of fun stuff coming this month that I hope you love as well :)

  2. I agree with Teresa. Thank you very much.

    1. You're very welcome. Its a gorgeous block and so fun to sew! :)


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