1830 - 1850 Williams Family's Heptagonal "Sunburst" Quilt

This mid-nineteenth-century quilt, its maker unknown, is from the Williams family of Milton, Pennsylvania. It features an unusual seven-sided sunburst radiating from a seven-pointed star in the center. The skillful quilt maker combined precision piecing with mathematical proficiency to create this intricate geometric figure with its uneven number of sides of equal length. The number seven is echoed in the seven-petal-flowers on the vine encircling the heptagon.
Nine different assorted small print cottons in reds, greens, browns, and blues contribute to the radiating effect of the center. The heptagon sunburst is surrounded with appliquéd motifs of partridges and May trees cut from an early-nineteenth-century English furnishing chintz. It is quilted with various patterns: herringbone, clamshell, outline and parallel diagonal lines.
Fancy sunbursts adorn the centers of many mid-nineteenth-century quilts, but most of them have eight sides. The number seven, found significant in many cultures, myths, and legends, represents concepts of completeness, perfection, plenty, security, and safety. The Heptagonal “Sunburst,” donated in 1991, is a complex variation of the more frequently found eight-sided pattern. It is a tribute to workmanship and design in quilting.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Physical Description
fabric, cotton (overall material)
thread, cotton (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 92 in x 92 in; 234 cm x 234 cm
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Milton
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Domestic Furnishings
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.