Monday, April 7, 2014

A Few Feathered Stars on a Large Scale

Star quilt from the collection of Susan Parrish

Baltimore's quilters must have been in a tizzy in October, 1851, waiting for the judging results at the fourth annual Maryland Institute fair. These city fairs were primarily commercial exhibitions to show the latest in manufactured products from the area.Women were invited to display their home manufacture of needlework.

This exhibit was the first in the new home for the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts on Baltimore Street. 

The catalog, online at Google Books, lists about 1,000 needlework entries, among them many quilts including  four "Mathematical Star" quilts.

From the collection of Conner Prairie Museum
We guess today that a mathematical star is what we might call a Star of Bethlehem or perhaps a Lone Star.

I'm showing here a subcategory of the style: Large central stars with feathered edges. Some spectacular examples survive, the one above with Turkey-red half-square triangles outlining the star points.

From the collection of the Bowers Museum

We really have no idea what pattern the fair's Mathematical Star referred to, but these seem a good guess. Giant feathered stars seem as competitive as a show quilt can get.

From the cover of Dolores Hinson's Quilting Manual,
 a watercolor from the Index of American Design.

Corners and edges often contain cut-out chintz applique.

Detail of quilt attributed to Anna Chambers Deacon, New Jersey
From the James Collection, International Quilt Study Center and Museum
See the whole quilt here:

A sketch of the Maryland Institute hall's interior a dozen years later as the site of the Baltimore Sanitary Fair during the Civil War. The balcony offered walls for quilt display.

A description of the 1852 fair noted: "Along the galleries to the north end, the visiter has an opportunity of examining a great collection of quilts, table covers, &c. which are hung along the walls above the galleries."

The 1851 fair's lists of entries:
#33.  l Mathematical Star Quilt, made and deposited by Mrs. Wm. M. M. Turner, Baltimore.
#491. l Mathematical Star Quilt, made and deposited by Mrs. Deady.
#585. 1 Mathematical Star Quilt, made and deposited by Mrs. M. A. Addison.
#938.1 Mathematical Quilt, made and deposited by Mrs. E. Hersche (note this entry omits the word star: a typo or a different pattern?)

From Baltimore, about 1830. Sold by Stella Rubin. 
See details here:

 Quilt by Frances Boltz Woodward, Jefferson County, Virginia
 from the collection of the Museum
of the Daughters of the American Revolution

See the record here:

Quilt by members of the congregation of the First Baptist Church, 
Perth Amboy, New Jersey, late 1840s.
Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

See a larger photo here:

As cut-out chintz applique became old-fashioned we find mid-century examples with conventional appliqued patterns in the corners.

Here's a later version, perhaps end of the 19th century, on the blue background often seen in southeastern Pennsylvania quilts.

In the section announcing exhibit prizes on page 26:
"Mathematical star quilt, made and deposited by Mrs. Wm. M. M. Turner, is prettily arranged and excellent wrought, considered best of that kind of deposite.”

Mrs. Turner won a silver sugar stand as her premium.
It's unclear whether she triumphed over the other Mathematical Star quilts or all the cotton quilts.

I haven't been able to link any of the makers above with any specific quilts. One would hope these mathematical star quilts were so prized they have survived the centuries.

A different scale.
Sold by Pook and Pook Auctions in 2010.

Above a detail of one from an unknown source.

By G. S. Acker from  Pook and Pook Auctions
And a rare example of a Lone Star with feathered edges.

A quirky variation, perhaps from New Jersey.
Those long triangles may be appliqued.

Possibly from Philadelphia,
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum

More complex feathers above. See the quilt here:

Sold by Laura Fisher
And a variation containing everything but the actual star, outlined in negative space.
Check out Laura's site here:


  1. You certainly have found many beautiful - different - but the same sort of stars... thank you for showing us.

  2. Love the New Jersey version, something different.


  3. The last quilt is on the cover of "Chintzes Quilts from the Poos Collection", Kay & Lori Lee Triplett and Xenia Cord,Quilt Mania Editions, 2013. It's a beautiful book with a terrific essay by Xenia Cord.

  4. Those quilts are utterly amazing!

  5. when/where did prairie points originate?