Design History

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An Appliqued Solar System Quilt Used as a Teaching Aid in the Late 19th century

November 29, 2018

Kate Sierzputowski

1876 Ellen Harding Baker’s “Solar System” Quilt, via The Smithsonian National Museum of American History

In the late 1800’s, teacher and astronomer Sarah Ellen Harding Baker spent seven years embroidering a star-covered quilt for her classroom in Cedar County, Iowa. In lieu of satellite images, the wool appliquéd quilt was created as a visual aid for her classroom to try to visualize the broad expanse of the universe. The design of the quilt is similar to illustrations in astronomy books of the time. It features a bright sun at its center, with several planets moving around the large star with their own orbiting moons, and Halley’s Comet streaking into the upper lefthand corner.

The piece was finished in 1876, a time when astronomy was presented as an “acceptable” interest for a women. This might have been the reason it was a popular theme for quilts of the time according to The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where the quilt is currently stored. You can find several celestial examples in quilt historian Barbara Brackman’s Solar System Quilt post on her blog Material Culture. (via Open Culture)

 

 

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