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

The Grandest Quilted Star of All

~ Star of Bethlehem, Morning Star, Mathematical Star,
Star of the East and Lone Star quilts ~

As cotton fabric became more available commercially in the first half of the 19th century women were freed to experiment with a wonderful variety of colors and prints in their quilt making. A good example of the creativity this made possible can be found in a distinctive star quilt made with one large star covering most of the quilt top. Quilt historian, Kim Wulfert, points out that the first known name for this quilt was Mathematical Star. This early name was in use in England and along the Eastern U.S. seaboard.1 Other names for this quilt include Star of Bethlehem, Morning Star and Lone Star and Star of the East. Each name is a reflection of the people and regions where the quilt was originally made.

Another quilt historian, Barbara Brackman, writes how,"Stars sprouted serrated edges called feathers and grew to cover the entire top in the 'Star of Bethlehem design.' " 2 Many of the quilts from the earlier part of the 1800s had appliquéd and pieced designs in the spaces around the star. Later some were made with the star alone giving the star a more prominent look.

Find this book at amazon.com As these quilts were made with a magnificent mosaic of little diamonds radiating out from the center of the star, the making of this quilt was not for the faint of heart. Long hours of cutting, deciding on placement of each diamond and piecing was required. Careful, accurate work had to be done to make sure the stitching was accurate. Wulfert notes antique shop quilt tops can be found that, "When laid flat, the center pouches up, or the sides are cock-eyed and the corners are crooked",1 proof that many a quilter has attempted this difficult quilt without complete success. Even with modern day equipment and techniques this giant star quilt is indeed a challenge. Visit the site, A "Star" is Born, to see how this quilt is made today.

This giant star has also been called the Lone Star relating to the state of Texas. The earliest known dated example of this quilt was made just before the fall of the Alamo demonstrating how it became a symbol of Texas independence and later a celebration of attainment of statehood in 1845. It is still popular as a statement of Texan pride.

Probably the cultural group best known to have embraced this difficult star quilt pattern is that of Native Americans. There are fascinating stories of these quilts being based on native legends including that of the Morning Star. In her article, "Morning Star Quilts", Tana Mundwiler writes, "For ages the star has been depicted in the Plains Indians' hide paintings, porcupine-quilled moccasins, leggings and clothing."3 When traders brought beads to Native Americans the star motif became common in beadwork as well. It only seems natural that stars would become a favorite theme in Native American quilting.

Star quilts do not, however, represent a pattern used by Native American women from the time they were first introduced to quilting. Initially they made much the same variety of quilts as American women in general. The Morning Star design wasn't adapted from the traditional Lone Star pattern by Plains Indian women until the late 1800s. Be sure to take a look at this poignant photograph of Chief Red Cloud's blind wife sitting on a bed that is covered with a star quilt. Taken in 1891 at Pine Ridge in South Dakota. It is one of the earliest pictures we have of a Native American star quilt.

Thank You to Diane's Native American Quilts

Gradually the Morning Star or Lone Star quilt became more and more popular but it is uncertain if this was directly tied to the Morning Star legends. For example quilt historian, Jill Hemming, tells of a Waccamaw-Siouan woman who liked the Lone Star quilt her sister made so much that she made several herself. Later when she went to a conference of tribes from North Carolina she was pleased to learn the Native American symbolism associated with her star quilts.4

As a result of the renewal of interest in going back to tradition among many Native American people the star quilt popularity has spread to many of the diverse Native American cultures found across America. For some time these star quilts have been made to honor veterans who fought for America in various wars. These star quilts are commonly used for special occasions from weddings to pow-wows.

No culture remains the same. As years pass ways change yet there are still ties to old traditions. A great example of this is the giving of star quilts to honor basketball players and coaches. High school teams from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana hold star quilt ceremonies at their tournaments.5 Imagine these colorful star quilts spread around a gym floor ready to be given to honored athletes. Montana isn't the only place you will find quilts made for this purpose; star quilts are made for athletes in many other regions.

No matter what their ethnic or regional background, it seems that those women able to meet the challenge have enjoyed making this intricate star quilt. Wonderful examples made by the Amish, Black Americans, Native Americans and so many others indicate the diversity of quilters who have created these star quilts.

© 2002 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)

References:

1 "The Lone Star Quilt Design Through Time" by Quilt Historian Kim Wulfert, Ph.D

2 "Clues in the Calico" by Barbara Brackman, p17

3 "Morning Star Quilts" by Tana Mundwiler

4 "Waccamaw-Siouan Quilts: A Model for Studying Native American Quilting", by Jill Hemming, Uncoverings 1997, p192

5 "To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions", by Marsha MacDowell (Editor), C. Kurt Dewhurst (Editor), p133

The Diversity of Native American Quilts, America's first people from the east coast to Hawaii

Websites:

The above star quilt picture is from "Diane's Native American Quilts" Be sure to visit this site to see more wonderful Native American star quilts.


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