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Indian Star Quilts

A Story, A Legend, A Tradition

The magnificent star quilt, striking in it's design no matter what colors it's maker uses, has a history that few of us realize. Researchers believe that the star design was born in the Dakotas, on the indian reservations where missionary wives gathered the Native American women together to teach them to make quilts from old clothing. With the traditional buffalo robes and blankets no longer available the star pattern was adaptable to carry on their beliefs and traditions. A Santee Sioux professer 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. Star designs have been used for centuries on painted buffalo hides. These hides were used as gifts in "give aways" and always a gift to newlyweds. The Star Quilt has replaced the buffalo hide in these traditions. A Sioux elder explains "When you give a blanket, you give the gift of warmth." "Give Aways" are gifts to honor a special person or a special occasion and are expressions of joy. They often are used to end a period of mourning, which sometimes lasts a year. At years end the mourners return to society with a "Give Away" celebration. A traditional story of the Assiniboine "Give Away" beginning is of the man who's son was gravely ill. The man prayed to the Creator for his sons return to health, promising the Creator that he would show great gratitude if his son were spared. Upon his son's recovery the man gave away horses, harnesses, farm implements, buggies, tipis and wall tents. People came from miles around to receive these gifts, and the man killed several cattle to feed them. Todays Native Americans, specifically the Lakota of Sitting Bull's Hunkpapa band carry on this tradition of the "Give Away" inspired by the Sioux tradition. The Lakota familes are encouraged to remember and honor the elderly, the widows, the orphans and the stranger. The Lakota have owned and operated a Star Quilt products business on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation since 1984. The modern "Give Away" even celebrates victory on the basketball courts at tournament time. The quilts are designed with the special event in mind. The ones made for the military people returning from duty may have eagle feathers on them, and those for the roundball heros may have a basketball in the design. There are probably no two quilts that are identical, either in design or color or in quilting stitch pattern. Author Linda Parker says "Indian Star Quilts have become an ethnic symbol as integral to some current-day Indian cultures as buffalo robes were to their ancestors. Among Northern Plains tribes, Star Quilts are one of the most honorable items a family can give away, or receive."

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LADY'S CIRCLE Magazine: January 1993; INDIAN STAR QUILTS by Roger Clawson


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