Saturday, September 4, 2021

Mariners' Compass #1: Names


The Mulvane Art Center in Topeka, Kansas has this quilt in their collection, a rather common pattern but uncommon in that is signed and dated and includes the name of the pattern.

Fourteen-year-old Vade Gay dated it 1878. They don't have anymore information about Vade. The quilt was one of 18 donated about 20 years ago by Linda Ward Mosier of Hays, Kansas. 
We'd probably call it a Mariner's Compass with it's four major red points geared to North, South, East and West. Vade's quilt, worn and faded today, must have been an accomplishment for a 14-year-old.
Did she make her own pattern?

These circular compasses are a good way to teach geometry, subdividing the circle into smaller and smaller triangles based on the basic division of 4. The patterns above from BlockBase+ are simpler than hers and also more complex. Vade's would fit right in the middle. The simpler version was published as Slashed Star in Country Gentleman magazine in 1933. The more complex design was first published in Marie Webster's 1915 book as Sunburst.


#3400 with different proportions has been published often.
Proportions vary because the patterns were

Ruth Finley called it Mariner's Compass in her 1929 book and that is the name that has caught on over the past 90 years. She also called it The Explosion (didn't catch on) and Carrie Hall called it Chips and Whetstones in her 1935 book.

You might recall I mentioned that Vade included the name of the pattern on her label. She called it Virginia Beauty, a name no one else seems to have recorded.
The pattern was popular if a challenge. At the Spencer Museum
of Art at the University of Kansas we have this variation attributed
to Susannah Richards Moseley of Pembroke, Kentucky. 

The rainbow prints in Prussian blues indicate a date of 1840-1860. The museum label calls it Chips & Whetstones probably because Eveline Foland published a similar pattern in the Kansas City Star about 1930.

    "This old pattern has several names, but the one given is as quaint as any...."

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History also calls
 theirs from about the same time Chips & Whetstones.
Gina asked on their site:
"Where does the name Chips and Whetstones come from? What does it mean?"
Bebe replied:
"The name comes from an old method of tool sharpening. A 'whetstone' is a round wheel of stone material that must be wet in order to sharpen a tool, such as an axe. The wheel is powered manually, like a potters wheel. The 'chips' are what may come off the tool as it's being sharpened on the wheel."

An antique whetstone

Thank you, Bebe!

From the Connecticut project & the Quilt Index: Impressive
early version maybe 1830-1850. No information from owner.

From the Virginia project and their book. Again Prussian blues.

Collection of Julie Silber Quilts

Mary Strickler of Bucks County, Pennsylvania signed and
dated hers 1834.

Virginia found Vade or Vada or Nevada Gay living not far from me in Fairview and Ozawkie, Jefferson County, Kansas in the 1870 & 1880 censuses. Born about 1865 she was about 14 in 1878.

She married John Hildebrand in 1884 when she was 19 and her second husband was named Smith. When her father died in 1913 she was living in Cimarron, Kansas, west of Dodge City.

Here's her tombstone from Find-a-Grave which tells us she was born in June, 1864
 in Oskaloosa, Iowa (but I'd guess it was Oskaloosa, Kansas) and lived to be 90 in 1955.

Tomorrow: Folding a Pattern


  1. I love the variations the different fabrics give the wheels in the 2nd from last quilt.

  2. “A 'whetstone' is a round wheel of stone material that must be wet in order to sharpen a tool”

    Not quite. “Whet” in “whetstone” isn’t related to the adjective “wet”. “Whet” comes from an Old English word meaning “sharpen” or “hone”. We see the same word in the term “whet your appetite”, meaning to sharpen your appetite.

  3. Wondering if Vade Gay could be the Vada Gay and Nevada Gay and mentioned in her father's obituary, William Gay as Pauline Nevada Smith of Cimmaron, Ks. His obit published in Oskaloosa Times, 4 December 1913.

  4. I feel the whetstones refer to the larger star shapes broken by the circle. I have a scythe and the whetstones to sharpen those are exactly like those points. Remove that circle and it would be like crossed whetstones. They are specifically shaped for the blade and they go in a container of water (horn in some cases - modern is plastic) so that the blade can be sharpened as you go - can't take a stone wheel in the field! The wheel whetstone is generally used for other blades.

    But the mariners compass under whatever name it is given is one of my bucket list blocks!!!

  5. My dad had a female cousin named Vada. I always wondered where that name came from.

  6. Personally, I think of Mariner's Compass blocks having the concentric circles pieced in, and Chips and Whetstones don't, but that might just be my distinction.