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I am a quilter living in Woodbridge, Suffolk who has made quilts since I was a teenager. I also ring bells! Both are great British traditions....I will try to feature some of my antique Welsh and Durham quilts, the quilts I make myself, my quilting activities and also some of my bellringing achievements. Plus as many photos as I can manage. NB: Double click on the photos to see greater detail, then use back button to return to the main page.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Results - Star Quilts(Long)

Here are the general results from my measurements of the star quilts. I measured my own four quilts and also added the two quilts as set out in patterns in the two books mentioned earlier. I will give the full results in a paper that I am writing - and if anyone else has a star quilt, I would appreciate it if you would share it with me so that the database could be enlarged.

There are some older Sanderson Star quilts illustrated in books, and it is perhaps instructive to look at these and see how the pattern has evolved over the years.In FitzRandolph, Plate 12 is a Star quilt made by Sanderson herself(no date given) and passed down in the family. The quilt is square and the infill quilting simple, in that the background is covered with squares on point only, with no corner flower motif; there is a light sashing border around the star. Borders contain twist and Gardiner running feather, the corners are turned by roses or a block of infill. In Quilts and Coverlets (Beamish/Allen) there is a star quilt made by Elizabeth Allison c. 1890 in blue/white. Again square, with plain infill only on star background, patterns much as above but with a weardale chain on the outer border. Also in the same book, a later quilt c 1929 in pink and white, patterns much as above. So generally, it seems as if the earlier/standard, stamped star quilt was square, with a limited range of quilting patterns including the Gardiner running feather and twist; the corners were not turned but a separate motif was used. Later in the book is shown another, star centre in red and white, where the quilting motifs are nonstandard, and the star is bigger, similar to the pink and black star in my collection (no date here) but presume it is a later quilt.

So:Rectangular and wider range of patterns indicates a later quilt. From the late 18th c cast iron beds and cotton mattresses were available; in the 1930's innerspring mattresses became common.As beds became larger, so did the quilts. This progression from square to rectangular quilts has been well documented in Amish quilts.

Now to the results of my measurements: Firstly it is good to take the measurements as it does illustrate certain trends which are perhaps obvious on reflection, but not at a cursory glance (a bit like tracing quilting patterns). Secondly, this pattern might look simple but this is deceptive, it is actually quite a complex pattern. It is also a pattern that cannot be drafted with a bit of experimentation with squares, triangles and diamonds. It is a "one off" pattern and it is no wonder that skill levels had to be high, or a pattern carefully followed,to achieve this design. For instance, those corner squares in the central block are not squares at all - they are rhombuses; the outer corner is a right angle but the inner two sides are not "straight" at all. The "diamonds" making up the star are also different to ones seen in other patterns - they are truncated. The central star is not pieced, it is one single pattern piece. And there are a lot of inset corners - where the star points meet the central star, and also where the triangles and rhombuses meet the junction of the two star points. My guess is that a full size pattern had to be drawn up, or full size templates used, and many hadn't the skill to do this. In the pink and black quilt, notice how the upper end of the diamond shape is a different shape to the other quilt stars - it is blunter with the upper angle a more wider angle - this makes the central star shape much larger in turn and less dissected.

The star was usually sewn by machine and was undoubtedly difficult for many to piece - the pink/black quilt is hand pieced and some quilts do seem to have had hand sewing to finish off the inset corners.Cotton seems to be a very forgiving fabric, and the pattern is so striking that any minor imperfections are not important. Many quilters undoubtedly struggled to get the outer points of the star right - an inner border of the light colour helped to disguise any imperfections in the piecing - some of the points are rather blunt (ie cut off) but again this doesn't seem to affect the impact of the design.

Taking measurements also served to point out something else which should have been obvious - that is, the centre block is roughly square but the quilts in my collection are rectangular - so the borders are wider in one direction than the other to make a rectangle. This means that the borders on two opposite sides are not the same as in the other two sides. In most of the quilts, the dark borders are kept to a similar measurement or only enlarged slightly, but in the lighter coloured border, the borders in the longer direction are considerably wider - I think because this difference in width is less visibly different than if done in the darker colour.

Quilting patterns do follow a usual sequence, the exceptions are the pink/black quilt and the one given in Chainey which is a white/yellow quilt. In the case of the pink/black quilt, given the different measurements, it seems as if a quilter was determined to make the striking quilt she had seem and drafted her own pattern - and used her own somewhat "country" patterns. Or was there an alternative pattern available? We know that many of the star tops were professionally marked and could be expected to be marked with a small library of quilting patterns,however this one uses a different repertoire of patterns. The pink/black quilts also uses two different patterns in one border - very unusual. The Chainey quilt also uses flower pattern with coins - perhaps the taste for quilting patterns changed too over time and the stamped patterns were considered old fashioned or not up-to-date. (For example, in the twenties and thirties you have more stylised "windblown" flowers - influence of art deco and art nouveau).

I have not included the statistical results here, but will include these (for what they're worth) in a paper. Also please note that normally scientific measurements are taken in metric; however as I felt the quilts had been made by people who worked in inches I decided to use the Imperial measurement system here.

Average measurements and range of measurements seen
Quilt size average 77 1/2 x 85 1/2
Star block - average 30" square range 28 - 33
Short side of diamond - average 4 1/2 range 4 to 4 3/4
Long side of diamond - average 10 1/2 range 8 - 14 1/2
Length of diamond average 11 1/2 range 9 - 12 3/4

B0 (sashing- light) average 2" range 1 3/4 - 2
B1 (dark) short side average 3 1/4 range 3 - 4
B1 (dark) long side average 4 range 3 - 7 3/4
B2 (Lt)short side average 4 1/2 range 3 1/4 - 8 1/2
B2 (Lt)long side average 5 3/4 range 4 3/4 - 6 1/2
B3 (dark)short side average 4 3/4 range 3 - 7
B3 (dark)long side average 5 1/4 range 4 - 7 1/4
B4 (light)short side average - 4 1/2 range 2 1/2 - 6
B4 (lt) long side average 6 range 4 3/4 - 10
B5 (dark) sort side average 6 3/4 range 5 1/2 - 9 1/2
B5 (dark) long side average 7 1/2 range 5 - 10

So the outer borders do tend to get wider, and there is a lot of variation in the measurements of the different quilts, as seen in the very large range measurements - for example, the outermost border varied from 5" to 10" among the quilts.

Angles of the diamonds- I measured these with a protractor and due to the flexibility of cotton these did vary a lot. But here are the average measurements: Side 120 degrees, top angle 80 degrees. The pink/black quilt had different measurements of 100 degrees for the side angle and 122 degrees for the top angle. All the quilts had a tip angle of 35 degrees.

In summary - although there is a basic pattern, the complex nature of this pattern causes the quilts to have a great variety of measurements. The advent of larger beds seems to be reflected in this square pattern becoming rectangular; this was achieved by making the light borders (and to a lesser extent the dark borders) wider in one direction. The later quilts have a wider variety of quilting patterns, and more decoration in the form of corner motifs in the infill, also turned borders rather tha separate motifs. There seems to be a later, alternative pattern in which the central star is larger and the diamond has a blunter inner angle. More quilt measurements should expand this research and allow us to see whether the stampers did have a standard pattern; also as to the existence of the alternative pattern.

Illustrations: centre of green and bronze stamped quilt; centre of the pink/black quilt; pattern as set out in Lodge's book as detailed in an earlier post.


  1. Hi Pippa, I found your blog from the BQTHL group and I have been enjoying reading about your beautiful quilts. I still remember the stunning green and white strippy from the Minerva exhibition.
    I do have a Sanderson Star quilt and I will get it out and measure the pattern for you this weekend.

    Sarah Griffiths

  2. Hi Pippa,

    Thanks for this indepth post about the Sanderson Star. It's been a quilt pattern that has caught my attention for several years...I always imagine that I'll find one when I am in the UK. None have found their way to my California home yet!


  3. Thanks for sharing all of that information. Currently I am hoping to finish up a few projects but the next quilt I want to make is this. I do not have my own to share measurements with you. This is all so very interesting.

  4. Thank you for doing all those measurements. I know it all takes loads of time. I've always planned to make one and then have more than a little apprehension with those inset points and the star fabric being on the bias on every other seam.
    The ones you show have far more elegant quilting than the one in the V and A show which I felt was singulary ugly in the quilting.