Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

Blue Star Banners and Quilts

~ a symbol in the window honors service men and women ~

2 star banner

Blue Star Service Banners sometimes called Blue Star Flags have long been a part of our wartime history. They have been hung in the family's windows of service men and women since World War One. These banners first became a way for households to indicate they have family members in the service in 1917. At that time World War I Army Capt. Robert L. Queissner designed this symbol in honor of his two sons who were serving on the front line. It quickly became traditional for a gold star to represent a soldier who had died serving his country. Theodore Roosevelt's family had a banner with a gold star in honor of their son who was shot down over France in 1918.

This tradition was most common during WWI and WWII though it has been carried out by some in more recent wars. The stars are placed on a white background with a red border. If a family has more than one person in the armed service the stars are put one below the next on the banner. When a soldier dies in action the blue star is replaced with a gold star. Another method is to put a smaller gold star on top of the blue star so the blue still surrounds the gold.

Quilter, Judi Fibush, tells of her grandmother replacing the blue stars with gold as her uncles had died at Pearl Harbor. This banner had two stars one above the other. Judi reminded me of the old WWII movie about the true story of the five Sullivan brothers who all died aboard the same ship. The banner was shown in the window at the end of the movie. This incident resulted in the passing of an act ruling that no more than one family member could serve in the same troop or on the same ship. I find myself wondering if this tragic loss of 5 brothers on one ship is why there can be no more than 5 starts on the service banner. Certainly it would reflect a hope that there would never be a need for so many gold stars in one family again.

blue star quilt made by Allison Hooper

Textile history writer, Joan Kiplinger, recalls this about the blue and gold stars."I remember most of the houses on my street had one or both in their windows -- ours had a gold star for my uncle killed at the outset of war. We were patriotic children, mostly elementary school age, and saluted those homes when we passed them and were always in awe of our friends whose relatives were in the service and looked forward to letters they sent. We in turn wrote them notes of good cheer."

As we can see these banners hanging in household windows were common during World War Two. Another example of how important this symbol was in people's minds is a heartbreaking poster of a sad eyed dog with his head on a sailor uniform. Behind is a service banner with a single gold star. Obviously the deceased soldier had been this lovable pet's best friend.

You can learn a good deal more about these star banners on the American Legion site. Their Blue Star Service Banners Fact Sheet includes information on this tradition both yesterday and today. This document points out, "The banner displayed in the front window of a home shows a family's pride in their loved one serving in the military, and reminds others that preserving America's freedom demands much." It is very important that we realize that, by law, these banners are to only be used for this purpose. In 1967 an act of the US congress officially authorized this banner telling how it should be used.

thanks to Marcia Hohn for this picture

There have been Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers organizations since World War Two and they continue today. The members volunteer in various ways in support of our nation's soldiers. In the webpage article, Blue Star Mothers Offer Constant Care, one woman explains, "We work in physical and emotional rehabilitation, help with medical supplies, transportation, food, clothing and friendship, gratitude and love." During wartime members send newspapers, cookies and many other appreciated items to service men and women.

If you are interested in making a banner or quilt using this flag go to the Quilter's Cache to learn how to make an Armed Services Flag. Also the Military Mom's website has the instructions to make a Blue Star Banner Quilt. It is important that you make these only for families of service men or women, as this symbol is a very special one reserved for this purpose. These flags or banners are only to be displayed during periods of war or hostilities. Of course we can all make other patriotic quilts to show we are thinking of those people who are serving our country in these difficult times.

© 2003 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)

Thanks to Marcia Hohn of the Quilter's Cache for the above picture of a Blue Star Quilt pattern.

For more on Blue Star Banners go to That star in the window marks a proud -- and concerned -- family. It's a great article on how Operation Iraqi Freedom has brought about resurging interest in displaying these banners.

quilting on blue star quiltAllison Hooper has kindly given permission to put the picture of the two blue stars banner at the top of this article. She also shared the making of this Blue Star banner. "My second-ever quilting project was a Blue Star Banner made to honor my son and daughter-in-law who are both members of the armed services (Navy). It had been an awfully long time since I’d done any appliqué work, so my stars have lots of “character”! The white ground is actually a tone on tone design with a seashell design (I thought this was an appropriate nautical theme!). The red border is a “marbled” fabric, and the blue stars are also tone on tone with dark oak leaf clusters. Once my little quilt/banner was sewn together I got quilting ideas and advice from my quilting mentor, Jan Brown, who suggested I use a stencil of a star in a random all-over pattern. I used clear thread on the top and red, white and clear thread in my bobbin for the all-blue backside. The finished size is 11.5 x 15.75."

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