Monday, 12 October 2015

Rolling Star - Red Sky at Night Quilt

Isn't this a treat of a quilt block? It was unfamiliar to me until I started researching for this quilt. Rolling Star was first published as early as the 1890s, and then several times under different names in the 1930s. It reminds me of the patriotic quilts I've seen in my book and internet travels this year, the ones made during the Civil War that women made to state their side in the fight. So I've spent a bit of time reading this week about quilts in the 1860s.

We've read over the course of this series about how women used their needles for political and social activism. They also used them for aid. In the mid 1800s, cotton was mostly grown in the South, and mostly manufactured in the North. So you can imagine how rare and costly even simple cotton calico became when the Civil War spread. I've been reading more of "Hearts & Hands" by Pat Ferrero this week, and she writes that women had to pay as high as $16 per yard in 1864! Women in the South had to relearn how to spin their own cotton, and women in the North held fundraisers and fairs where people could donate napkins, blankets, old clothes, anything that could be used to make quilts, sheets and bandages for the make-do hospitals in factories or schools. Sewing machines were set up in churches so that women could make in production lines. Quilts and cotton became prized possessions, stolen from homes by traveling soldiers and taken from dead bodies. Ferrero puts it nicely, "Textiles were the support, and also the spoils, of war."

Quilts put together for soldiers and hospitals were needed quickly, and didn't need to be decorative. They were often simple in their construction, even just a couple of layers of calico stuffed with cotton batting, and tied at regular intervals to hold it together. As you probably know, however, basic coverlets were not the only designs to come out of the era. Beautiful stars, baskets, ladders and applique quilts were made during this time. Made for their own family, or to be auctioned for the war effort. As we've seen before, though women were held back from voting, fighting or working. They could stitch. And their stitching was highly valued.


You will need:

Red: Four 3 3/8" squares, four 3" squares cut in half to make half square triangles, eight 2.5" squares.

White: One 4.5" square, eight 3 3/8" squares cut in half diagonally, four 3" squares cut in half to make half square triangles.

1. Sew the red 3" half square triangles to the white ones. Press and trim to 2.5"

2. Now take the 3 3/8" squares and white triangles. Sew the long base of the triangle to two sides of the red square.

3. Press outward, and sew the other two sides. Press outward again and trim to 4.5". Repeat with 3 other 'square in square' blocks.

4. Arrange your block as below.

5. Pair up the little squares in the corners and sew them together. Press and sew in to 4.5" squares.

6. Sew the block together in rows. Press.

7. Sew your rows together.

I found it interesting this week to read about how the scarcity of cotton or money didn't hold women back from quilting but drove women to it. One of the reasons I started this journey was to understand the place of quilting throughout history. I've always had an uneasy feeling that quilting was just a little too extravagant, especially for someone who has worked with orphans in Russia or disadvantaged kids in country Australia. Is it really OK to make time for this? To make this much time for this? But we have a long history behind us of quilts for the injured and needy, quilts for political activism or social comment, quilts for beauty and friendship and family, for weddings and babies and funerals. Is it not me at all that is too extravagant, but a whole culture that has over emphasised the academic, the profitable, the virtual, at the expense of the beautiful?


  1. Let us emphasize the beautiful!

  2. It is so lovely to start to see how you have joined the blocks and are quilting them! xx

  3. Great block it definitely has a historic feel about it. I was quilting my "art quilt"/mini quilt today and thinking how ridiculous it is that I'm spending so much time on the texture of something that is going to be hung on a wall. And also if we make one piece of art do we get to call ourselves an "artist"? When do we change from a crafter to an artist? And why are quilts so often discounted from the "art" criteria? Xxxx

  4. This is so great, Jodi! I've always loved studying Civil War history, and textiles really are such an important part of it!


I so love your comments! I read all of them and reply when I can. If you don't hear back, I'm lost under a mound of scraps or outside jumping on the trampoline with the kids. Jodi. xx