Memorial Star Quilt

By: Mary Reecy Fitzgerald
Dell Rapids, South Dakota

The Star Quilt was elevated to a tribal object in the 1950s by the Dakota women, with the cooperation of their churches, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It has since taken on even more tribal importance as an object of commemoration at sports events, graduations, political events, and funerals. These quilts are simply named Star Quilts by the tribal members.

The inspiration Lone Star quilt is a typical memorial quilt made to commemorate the death of a Dakota man in Sisseton, South Dakota. A tape label attached to the reverse states, “In memory of Johnny D. Cloud.” This quilt is representative of Star Quilts in that it is made of only solid fabrics in one simple star. While the actual presentations or displays of the Star Quilts vary from tribe to tribe, and location to location in the same tribe, the quilt fabrics remain the same. The unusual feature of this quilt is the arrangement of the jewel tone colors with the vibrant ground that leads the eye to see a twinkling quality.

It is likely each diamond was individually cut and sewn in the inspiration quilt but I chose to use the strip piecing technique for accuracy and speed. I followed the color arrangement of the original unknown quiltmaker. Formerly, these quilts were all hand quilted in the Methodist Fan pattern. I hand quilted mine following the outlines of the star due to the difficulty of crossing seam allowances but did use the Fan pattern in the corners and triangles. Most memorial quilts are now machine quilted since the number of hand quilters has declined and the demand for Star Quilts has expanded. The diminutive size of this study quilt is the biggest difference between it and other funeral Star Quilts. I have never seen one that is not bed size.