Monday, June 26, 2017

Two Early Star Quilts

Quilt embroidered "H Warner 1807"
Thompson collection

We don't have many surviving quilts with dates before 1820 inscribed upon them. Lori Lee Triplett saw this Pennsylvania family quilt at a workshop she was leading recently and was kind enough to get me a photo.

I posted it to my database on date-inscribed quilts, which is public on my Pinterest page here:
I have a Pinterest page for each decade 1800 to 1840.

Quilt by Hannah John, inscribed 1797

Wendy Caton Reed sent a photo of an even earlier quilt documented by the Maine Quilt Project.

If you go to the links you will see the new/old star quilts are in familiar company. Style characteristics include color scheme (classic natural dye shades of pinks, blues and browns with white), pattern (9-patch stars)  and set (block-style).

With such a small number of examples it is difficult to accurately analyze early American quilt style. I was pleased to see these new additions to a small database do not upset any of my notions about quilts before 1820.  I gave a paper on the topic at Colonial Williamsburg a few months ago. Above is a slide from my speech looking at the stars in  quilts from the 18th century.

The 1807 Warner star is the same design used by Rachel Mackey of
Chester County, Pennsylvania, in her quilt embroidered with the date 1787.

That pattern is numbered 2141 in BlockBase and
my Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.

Ms. Warner's and Ms. Mackey's are shaded just like #2141c, the two color blue & white picture in BlockBase.

The star is also seen in the center Mary Stite's 1804 Pennsylvania medallion
recorded by the Goschenhoppen Historians project.

Here are published names I recorded in my Encyclopedia, differentiated by shading. The earliest published reference is 100 years younger, "Unnamed" in Farm & Fireside magazine in 1904. Wallace's Farmer called it Star of Virginia in 1928. The standard names today such as Variable Star or Ohio Star come from Carrie Hall's 1935 index to patterns. She also called it Texas Star, a geographical reference that was not yet invented in 1807. Too bad no one published it Pennsylvania Star, which seems to be the place the design was popular.

Hannah John's Maine star is a more
basic variation of the variable star
# 2138
With such a small number of examples, any addition to the database can upset the analysis. The two new examples do conflict with one idea I talked about in my speech.

I saw in the quilts before 1810 that the
stars were blocks, but generally not set block-style
---set more in medallion style format
as frames, borders or the center.

The Warner quilt in particular is classic American
block-style set: Repeated blocks alternating
with plain squares, framed by a border.

Very much like the quilt date 178X by R Porter
in the American Museum in Britain.

The two additions to the database give more support to the idea that when Americans began
making patchwork quilts in the last quarter of the 18th century they developed a uniquely American   block-style.

Thanks to Lori and Wendy. Any date-inscribed quilts before 1850 are welcome additions my database.


  1. Great post.I love star pattern and I enjoying your post.Thanks.

  2. Hannah Warner lived in Bucks Co., Pa. & was a Quaker. It was shown at the Penn Dry Goods Conference in May.

    1. Debby did a great job leading that presentation and facilitated the family sharing the quilt with attendees.