Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Few Feathered Stars: Names

The Illinois Quilt Research Project found this quilt assembled later from blocks and borders. The blocks are pieced in the pattern we'd call Feathered Star. In the border is appliqued:

& Married*September*26*1844

Leah Thornburgh's blocks and appliqued borders were put together by a descendant in the 1990's but we can assume the words Jackson*Star*Quilt* refer to this design we would call a feathered star.

The Illinois project and authors Duane and Rachel Elbert assume that Jackson referred to President Andrew Jackson who died in 1845. He'd been an important politician and national hero since he won the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Elected President in 1827, he served two terms until his chosen successor Martin Van Buren was elected in 1836. Although Leah Thornburgh was a child during Jackson's presidency she may have supported his Democrat party where his name is still invoked as a hero and founder.

"Plain Sewing Done Here," Clay trying to inhibit President Jackson's rhetoric
in a cartoon from the Library of Congress.

The political connection is a pretty good bet as numerous patterns have come down to us with partisan references to the Jackson/Polk Democrats and the Henry Clay Whigs. Jackson and Clay were bitter rivals from the western states of Tennessee and Kentucky. Clay never won the Presidency. He ran against Jackson in 1832 and against Jackson's protege James K. Polk in 1844. 

Beauty of the Forest

History from the Heart also includes a second feathered star with a pattern name inscribed on it.
In the top left block of this undated quilt are the words "Beauty of the Forest," which may refer to the pattern. In the lower center border is a coat of arms of sorts, two horses facing an oval which may have a cornucopia of vegetables or fruit. In there are the words "Agriculture and Industry." 

Clay and Jackson differed over many things but one big issue was Clay's favoring American industry, supporting manufacturers with tarrifs on imports while Jackson preferred to support an agrarian culture with no taxes on European imports. Clay used the phrase "agriculture and industry" in some speeches and writing although a more important slogan was  "Protector of American Industry" or "Protector of Home Industry."

Here is a Clay ribbon from the 1844 contest with Polk.

At the top a form of a coat of arms with two horses.

And this Clay ribbon has a single horse at the top.

The use of horses as a Clay symbol seems rare, but perhaps the Beauty of the Forest quilt was made to show support for the Whig candidate, Henry Clay. The pattern may have been used as a political symbol. The name Beauty of the Forest may have meant a fancy star in an appliqued wreath too, another rare image.
So one could make the pattern whether one was a Democrat or a Whig.

The name I often see is Feathered Star, which I found first mentioned in Ruth Finley's 1929 book Old Patchwork Quilts. Earlier names were Feather Star with the likely earliest published source of the Ladies's Art Company's pattern catalog going back to 1889. 

If you sent off a coin for the pattern
you received a sketch of the finished
Feather Star

Their 1898 catalog showed several versions with different names.

I looked through Google Books of the 19th century to see if Feather Star had any meaning then that has been lost. I did find numerous references then and into today for a Feather Star as an echinodermata (one of my favorite words) related to star fish.

Feather Star
Quite a pretty echinodermata...

That looks a lot more like a Princess Feather quilt pattern than a Feather Star.

Another name is Feather Edged Star, which Ruby Short McKim published in the late 1920s.

This variation has another star in the center.
(BlockBase #2260)

Perhaps made from McKim's pattern.

Similar pattern in a silk quilt with Masonic symbols, about 1850
by Eliza Hussey, Indiana, in the collection of the Smithsonian.

One more name:

Several years ago at a quilt documentation day in Kansas City, Kansas, a family brought in a mid-19th-century example somewhat like the quilt above and told us they'd always called it Tobacco Worm. With its green triangles the block did look something like the horny lime-green insect.

You may have seen these pretty things in your tomatoes.
They are called Tobacco Worms, Tomato Worms or Horn Worms.

Tobacco Worm is a quilt pattern name that never caught on.

A few more with green triangles that might qualify as Tobacco Worms.

From Fourth Corner Antiques

Dated 1937 by Elsa McEwen Pelton
From the Michigan quilt project and the Quilt Index

Howard County, Maryland

In these two the darker feathers are on the outside.


  1. I recently discovered your blog and just want to tell you how interesting it is and how much I enjoy your posts. Thank you so much!

  2. Love the stars. I need so much practice to make good stars especially using the flying geese. We had one of those worms on our tomatoes. Gave it to my chickens.