Quilting in The Filson’s Collections: The Mariners’ Compass Quilt

Quilt, Mariners' Compass Pattern. From The Filson Historical Society's Artifact Collection [1979.1.22]

Quilt, Mariners' Compass Pattern. From The Filson Historical Society's Artifact Collection [1979.1.22]

Today I want to talk about a Mariners’ Compass quilt found in our Artifact Collection. This quilt was a gift from Jim Buchart and was donated in 1979. Beyond that, we don’t have any additional information on the quilt. It is quite lovely with the added leaves around the compass blocks. From inspecting the photo, it's not clear if this quilt was pieced and quilted by machine or by hand.

The Mariners’ Compass pattern is a patchwork block that includes rays that radiate out from the center. It’s different than other star blocks because the rays radiate in a circular manner rather than off the edges of a square (like Sawtooth Star blocks). The pattern is difficult to piece because it requires accurate stitching for sharp points, curved piecing to set the compass into a square, and either appliqué or curved piecing for the optional center circle (as seen in the quilt above). It is likely that antique quilts in this pattern were intended to be “best quilts,” meaning they were for special occasions or part of a hope chest. The term “Mariners’ Compass” is quite new, only being commonly used since the mid-twentieth century. Other terms for this block are Slashed Star, Sunburst, The Explosions, and the Kansas City Star.

Because of the difficulty of this pattern, I chose to search out a paper-pieced version for my sample block. Paper piecing allows you to achieve very accurate sewing and crisp points. The pattern I am using is a free one from Trillium Design. The designer modified it from a traditional pattern but it still conforms to the standard 16-32 points (it has 32) and that the number of points is divisible by 4. My pattern also does not have the center circle that you see in The Filson’s quilt. It would be easy to appliqué a circle on top if you wanted, but I’ve never been fond of appliqué and my circles always turn out wonky.

From a prep standpoint, it was a bit annoying with the paper waste. I definitely think the designer could have fit more pieces on one page. The cutting was fussy too because like many free patterns, there isn’t a cutting guide for your patches. I tend to use this tutorial from Amanda at Crazy Mom Quilts to cut my fabric but this pattern had way too many pieces for that. You also have to sew each pattern piece four times and with paper piecing this complex, it’s hard to chain piece. There is also a lot of pressing involved between seams. Finger pressing can work but I prefer to heat set each seam so it's crisp.

How did this turn out? Well, I’m still working on it. I hope I can get this one done in the next couple of weeks and add it to my Filson sampler wall.

Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans is the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator at The Filson Historical Society. When she isn't working on publications for The Filson, you can find her behind her sewing machine or out on the roads training for her next big race.

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