The Mariner’s Compass Quilt Pattern

Mariner's Compass Quilt Pattern

Mariner’s Compass Quilt Pattern

The Mariner’s Compass quilt pattern is a patchwork block that is composed of pieced Mariner's Compass Quilt Patternrays that radiate out from the center, in a circular manner. The most prominent four points are like the four points of a compass that represent north, south, east and west. It is different from other star like patterns in that way, because the others radiate from a square. The center pieces that create the rays have sharp points and are set inside a circle, which in turn is set in a square to create the quilt block. The number of rays is variable, most Mariner’s Compass blocks containing from 16 to 32 rays, and always divisible by four.

The earliest dated Mariner’s Compass quilt pattern is a British quilt from 1726. The design had existed as a decorative motif earlier than that, in navigational charts. It is based on the compass used by sailors from the thirteenth century and on, and on an even earlier device, the windchart, also known as the windrose. As we see, it is a very old motif and it is Mariner's Compass Quilt Patternpossible that the pattern might have been used even before the sixteenth century. The windrose and the compass were often used as decorations on sea charts. The quilt pattern might have developed in the coastal areas of the Atlantic, on both sides of the ocean. According to historian Carter Houck, this quilt pattern has strong ties to the New England coastal area. Antique quilts display this block as the center in medallion designs. Others repeat the block in a traditional patchwork setting, often times with applique shapes stitched on the area where four blocks meet.

Variations of this pattern are known with other names. The name Mariner’s Compass is relatively new, but Slashed Star, Sunburst, Sunrise, Chips and Whetstones, The Explosion, and others are used in publications during the early twentieth century, such as the Kansas City Star, Carrie Hall or The Country Gentleman. Once again, the names might have changed as the pattern traveled westward, during the nineteenth century, to fit better with the life experiences of the women who made this quilt pattern.

It is a difficult pattern to piece, not suited for a beginner. It combines piecing that requires very accurate stitching to achieve sharp points, curved piecing to set the compass center into the outer square pieces and either appliqué or curved piecing to stitch the central circle from which the rays radiate out. It is likely that quilts made with this pattern Mariner's Compass Quilt Patternwere meant to be “best quilts”, to be used in special occasions or as part of a quilter’s hope chest. Many antique quilts made with this pattern have survived.

The number of fabrics used to make this pattern varies, depending on the number of rays used to piece the block. The rays themselves can be pieced with two fabrics, to give it a more three dimensional appearance. There are also examples of this block using just two fabrics, mostly red and white and blue and white in antique quilts. If using more than two fabrics, make sure there is good contrast between the rays’ colors.
The easiest way to create a pattern for this block is to use quilting software that prints accurate templates in the size block required to complete the process. Otherwise, a compass and protractor and ruler are needed. The block needs to be drawn to size then a circle that fills the entire square needs to be added with the compass. The protractor has to be used next to mark the points at the intervals desired depending on the number of rays (divisible by four, either sixteen or thirty two). Lastly, the center circle if desired, needs to be drafted again with the compass. The pieces then need to be labeled in the order one will sew them (easier to do if divided into quarters) and templates made with plastic or freezer paper.

Using the templates, draw the pieces on the wrong side of your selected fabrics. If using freezer paper templates, iron the templates to the wrong side of the fabric and draw sewing lines around them, adding one quarter inch seam allowance all around the pieces. Sew the spokes in units, either by hand or machine. Once the four quarter units are pieced, they can be joined to create the circle. This part of the piecing process can also be achieved by paper piecing. Find a paper pieced Mariner's Compass Quilt PatternMariner’s Compass block and paper piece the four quarters following the pattern instructions and piecing sequence. Sharp points are a must in this pattern, so paper piecing is a good alternative if you prefer to machine sew instead of hand sewing.

Once all the four quarters are completed and pressed, sew them together to form the circle. Depending on the pattern you pick, you will have to set the circle inside a background square. Alternatively, you can applique the circle of spokes onto a background square. If you choose to piece it, it is helpful to mark the background four pieces on the curved side as many times as necessary in order to be able to ease the circle and sew the curved seam. A curved seam requires careful pinning, and slow stitching to avoid pleats. Handle the pieces very carefully to avoid stretching (since you will be sewing on the bias). Pin at the beginning, the center and end of the curved seam and add as many pins as you need to keep the seam as smooth as possible. Some people prefer to stitch with the concave piece on top, others rather have the convex piece. Try sewing both ways and see which one works best for you. When the curved seams are sewn, clip the seam allowance if necessary to get the block to lay flat. Then just prepare the central circle if needed for your Mariner’s Compass and appliqué it to the center of your block.

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