A Beautiful Mystery

Have you ever seen a block like this before?

floral star block 1-001
It’s one of 30 blocks in this vintage quilt:

floral star quilt-001
The quilt belongs to Rexalee, my niece by marriage. It came to her after her mother died over a decade ago but Rexalee doesn’t know who made it. It may have belonged to her great aunt or her grandfather’s second wife, both of whom died in the 1970s. It was probably made in Michigan. Other than that, its provenance is a mystery. A beautiful mystery.

My husband and I just got back from a wonderful visit with Rexalee, her husband, and their extended family. The quilt was hanging on a quilt rack in the guest room of their new home on Dauphin Island, Alabama. I had an opportunity to examine the quilt in detail and photograph it in natural light.

Except for the binding, which was attached by machine, the entire quilt was pieced and quilted by hand. At first I thought the petals and center of each flower were appliquéd on top of an already pieced eight-pointed star, but no: the petals and stars were joined with seams. The inner edges of the petals (where they meet the circle in the center of the flower) were gathered and, to my surprise, so were the inner edges of the star points. Unusual, no?

Here’s a close-up:

floral star block center detail
Judging by the fabrics, I’m guessing this quilt was made in the 1930s, possibly 1940s. Each of the stars is made of a different print, with the petals and center of each flower made of solids. Although the round circles in the center of each block come in a variety of colors, the petals are either yellow or orange, unifying this very scrappy quilt.

The floral prints in the star fabric are fabulous! Some have a very modern vibe. Take a look:

floral star block 7-001

floral star block 2-001

floral star block 4-001

floral star block 5-001

floral star block 8-001

floral star block 9-001

floral star block 6-001
And here’s a bit of a rogue block: a lively check instead of a floral print:

floral star block 3-001
Actually, there’s another rogue block:

floral star quilt rogue block

Did the quiltmaker run out of fabric or did she add a star point of a different fabric to make the quilt less than perfect? Even the petals look like they were made from two fabrics.

The finished size of 66″ x 82″ is another oddity. The blocks are 12″ finished. The side borders are 3″ while the top and bottom borders are 5″. Was this a conscious decision on the part of the quiltmaker or did she simply not have enough fabric on hand to make borders of equal size? (No quick trips to the nearest local quilt shop for her.)

You can see from the next photo that the batting is very thin. When I held it up to the light I could see dark flecks in the cotton batting. They could be bits of leaf or boll (the husk around the cotton blossom).

floral star quilt draped-001

I wish now I had taken pictures of every single block. The fabrics are so interesting, and I see something new with every viewing.

floral star quilt folded-001

One thing’s for sure: I want to duplicate this block. I’ll puzzle it out on my own unless there’s a pattern out there somewhere.

Can anyone help solve this beautiful mystery?




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31 Responses to A Beautiful Mystery

  1. Lisa D'Andrea says:

    The age of this quilt just makes me swoon! Sorry I have nothing helpful to add solving the mystery.

  2. Julie in WA says:

    I love seeing quilts that utilize the old fashioned methods of piecing. In this quilt it is the set in seams…so hard to do with a sewing machine that most people will skip it and use HSTs (or in this case, using a rectangle and adding a triangle). I’m curious….what will you do?!!!

    • Dawn says:

      Good question, Julie! I think I will make the first block by hand, just to try it out. I’m not afraid of set-in corners, though. I made dozens of bowtie blocks in the 1980s, long before I heard of “the dreaded Y-seam,” so I didn’t know they were supposed to be horribly difficult. I’ve found a technique that works for me and maybe it will transfer to set-in corners. It will be an interesting challenge . . .

  3. Virginia says:

    What a delightful quilt! I like the gathering; it adds a dimension.

  4. Ana says:

    I cannot help you, I can just say this quilt is beautiful!
    Thanks for sharing and arising inspiration.

  5. Arden says:

    You might try sending a photo to Barbara Brackman. SHE might recognize it with her encyclopedic knowledge….

  6. Pat bennett says:

    I love the block, the center really makes it pop. Congratulations.

  7. ric seaberg says:

    wonderful color combos

  8. Could be any one of several variants appearing in Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. Kansas Sunflower (Brackman #275.5), Star Dahlia (Brackman #3428), etc., etc.

    Good book to have if you haven’t got a copy (maybe ask Santa if you don’t). 🙂

  9. Vickie says:

    What a fun quilt! Looking forward to seeing your version. Love the gathering and having the blocks pieced rather than appliqued.

  10. Sandy Vick says:

    What a beautiful quilt…a real treasure. I love it!

  11. Jeanne says:

    Beautiful! Wouldn’t the original maker be tickled to see her handiwork up for the world to see?

  12. Fawn says:

    That is a beautiful block, but how much you want to bet that the centers didn’t come out perfect, so she added the circle center and then decided to make a flower out of it!

  13. Colleen says:

    What an extraordinary treasure! I can’t wait to see what you do Dawn.

  14. Anne says:

    This pattern has been called Dahlia at the quilt shows and sales I’ve attended. It’s popular with the Mennonite quilters in PA. The pattern book I’ve used to make this is Cheryl Benner’s “Dahlia Quilts and Projects.” It’s a nice hand piecing project and looks especially nice with a little extra batting under the dahlias to give the petals a little more puff.

  15. Anne says:

    Here’s a link for the Benner book at Amazon.

  16. Leslie says:

    I know very little about quilt patterns. This one is gorgeous. I have sold a fair number of old quilts. The experts I knew loved to find the dark spots in batting. The explanation 30 years ago was that those were cotton seeds; the cotton had been hand picked and carded. Further research may have changed that thought. Good friends who specialized in quilts positively drooled when they found those lovely seeds.
    When you have the pattern made, you will have a ready market for it!!!! Quilt camp special!!

  17. Diane says:

    Truly beautiful quilt! How would you characterize the quilting motif?

  18. Kristi says:

    I would love to take a class on this quilt block, after you make your own (hint)! The quilt is gorgeous.

  19. Kimberly says:

    I have one of these I bought at an auction. I researched it and believe it to be the Kansas Sunflower block. I’ll try to figure out how to send you a photo.

    • marilyn martin says:

      I have a very similar quilt though the blocks appear to be a tad smaller in my quilt. My research, so far, make me think it’s a variation of the Tennessee Star. I’m still searching for a closer answer.

  20. Sharon says:

    Edyta at Laundry Basket Quilts has a similar pattern that is easy to make. The blocks may be smaller, I really don’t remember. Saw this made up in a quilt shop in Kansas many years ago, as a sunflower quilt and it was lovely.

  21. Sharon says:

    Edyta’s pattern is called “Shooting Star” and is similar, but more petals. I’ll be following to see what you come up with. Good luck!

  22. Lori Hardow says:

    My grandmother, Anna Kraus, made a bunch of these in the 1970’s. One for each of her grandchildren. She lived in Council Grove, Kansas.

  23. Jodi Brown says:

    I have a quilt like this as well. Judging from the textiles, I believe it is from the 30’s or 40’s. My quilt, I believe came from my great Grandmother.
    It too is all hand sewn. I want to recreate the blocks so I have made pattern pieces.
    I wish I could find out what the name of the pattern block design called but have not
    come across any information yet.
    These quilts are really beatiful.

  24. Nikki Howard says:

    I was given an unfinished Star Dahlia quilt by my mother-in-law. The blocks were made by her mother, but neither she nor any of her sisters wanted these blocks because they are made out of double-knit polyester! The blocks are very unusual and I love them. Thanks for the fantastic pictures and information here, as they will help me in my journey to finish this quilt.

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