Lakota Star Quilt

Before the evolution of star quilts, traditional Plains Indian blankets were made from painted, quilled and beaded buffalo hide. When the buffalo herds were exterminated this craft largely died out, but some Plains tribe artists still make buffalo robes and blankets today from the hides of animals raised in captivity.

Quilting was one of many crafting techniques that Native Americans borrowed from European traditions and adapted into something unique to their culture. Presbyterian missionaries are said to have introduced quilting to the Plains Indian tribes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Young Sioux women in boarding schools and mission churches eventually began using the star in their creations. Today both men and women are creators of Star Quilts.

The Star Quilt is used in "Honoring" Ceremonies for those alive and cover caskets during funerals. Jeanne Eder, a Dakota Sioux woman, says, "Dakota and Lakota children are given quilts throughout their lives and you see this during rites of passage like birthdays, graduations, naming ceremonies, marriages, and even at basket ball tournaments." Basket ball team members often give rival team members and coaches Star Quilts at tournaments in northeastern Nebraska.

The Plains tribes hold a special ceremony about one year after the death of a loved one which is the time to come out of mourning. Pall bearers, drummers, singers, friends of the deceased, and others who helped with the burial are given Star Quilts by family members to thank them.

The Star Quilt Tradition explained: Well worth reading

"A Santee Sioux professor says that while whites see a star on these quilts, the Native Americans see a circle surrounded by points. The circle represents the earth and cycles of life, and is the most sacred of forms. The triangle represents the buffalo skin tipi, once considered both shelter and mother."

A Star Quilt can be completed in about 24 hours by an expert quilter. It takes about 8 hours to piece together the top. Patience is required to make the star lie flat. and match up with the other diamond shaped pieces. Often several quilters gather together to make enough quilts for the ceremonies and giveaways.

How the Star Quilt is made in pictures:

The beautiful Native American Quilt with a Lakota Historical Star Design (shown below) uses an intricate multi-colored, 8 point star within a 16 point diamond halo quilt. This item was custom quilted on the Pine Ridge Oglala Indian Reservation in the South Dakota Badlands, and is a unique artistic rendering of Lakota sacred heritage traditions.

Eder explains, "Personal touches by the quilter, the colors or design, are often unique to a tribe or family. The triangular points of the star symbolize the quilter's reaching out from the middle star, which forms a circle. They reach out to loved ones, drawing them back to the sacred circle." When you are given a Star Quilt it is truly a gift of "warmth. and honor."

"Star quilts hold several symbolic representations of life, spirituality, and community for the Native Americans. The star quilt tells a story, just like the painted buffalo hides. The colors red, black, white, and yellow are symbolic to the Lakota. Black Elk is quoted as saying, “Black is for the west where the thunder beings send us rain. White is for the north, where the great white cleansing wind comes. Red is for the east where springs the light and the morning star. Yellow is for the south, where summer comes along with the power to grow.”

Native American quilters usually prefer solid, bright color fabrics, the brighter the better.

My Star Quilt pictured below is called the "Broken Star" pattern.


Quilt tip: Do not fold and store a precious heirloom quilt as the fold lines weaken the fabric. It is best to always use the "stuffing" method to store these fine works of art to preserve them the longest.


Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Summer 2002; Star Quilts: Gifts of Beauty and Tradition

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