Discover Vintage America - MAY 2016

Stars are the undisputed stars of quilting

The beauty and mystery of the stars have long fascinated mankind: from sailors navigating the seas, to artists and daydreamers of all ages. Is it any wonder that stars are the most popular quilt patterns of all time or that the Lone Star pattern that quilt historian McKim called "one of the most ambitious projects in quilt making," still draws us in? The pattern is comprised of hundreds of small diamonds that are pieced into larger diamonds. They are then joined into an oversized eight-pointed star, often measuring more than 100 inches. With patience, planning and careful color placement, a quilter is rewarded with a dazzling, radiating starburst.

Bethlehem Star with satellite stars Pieced c. 1855 (quilted later) Berks Co. Pennsylvania
Sandra Starley Collection

This medallion star is one of the earliest formal quilt patterns, dating to the early 1800s in the eastern United States where the pattern was called Mathematical Star (due to the precision required) and Rising Star or Rising Sun (referring to nature and to America becoming a "rising sun" among nations). The large star was sometimes the only element in the quilt (a true lone star) or might be surrounded and highlighted with satellite stars or decorative appliqué pieces.

Early quilt names are usually hard to document, but a quilt similar to the one shown here with red appliqués was called Rising Sun in one will dating from 1860 and another was featured in a short story in Graham's Magazine in 1844. The heroine "became absorbed in the idea of a piece of needlework more elaborate and difficult than anything that had been accomplished in the village – something that required art and genius, a good eye for form and colors. (She) became fascinated with the idea of piecing a 'rising sun'. A counterpane of red, green, yellow, blue and white calico, cut into infinitesimal atoms, sewed together and forming a star-like centre which radiates over a white ground in rays of purple, azure, pink, and every variation of rainbow colors."

The block is also commonly known as Lone Star or Texas Star referring to the state of Texas. It is also identified as Star of Bethlehem, a biblical reference to the Star of the East, which guided the three wise men. It is easy to visualize that night sky when looking at the central star and satellite stars in the blue quilt shown here. The pattern continued to have very detailed pieced and appliquéd backgrounds throughout the 1800s.

The pattern and its variations have been and remain very popular across the United States and have been embraced in particular by Native Americans especially the Sioux/Lakota. Native Americans have really made this pattern their own and have created several interesting and graphic variations that incorporate their cultural imagery with the traditional pattern. Examples of this include Lone Star or Morning Star quilts that are carefully pieced to create a variety of eagles, as well as buffalos, teepees, chiefs, and maidens. They have also adopted the appliqué star tradition and often add floral, animal, or other decorative touches to the basic eight-pointed star design.
Collecting note

The popular pattern is a great addition to any collection and the striking design looks wonderful on a bed or as a wall quilt. Lone Star/Bethlehem quilts can be found in many styles and for modest amounts with fine examples commanding medium to high prices. The collector can easily discover newly made Lone Star quilts to purchase and with a little hunting, antique and vintage quilts, as well.

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

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