The Solar System Quilt: In 1876, a Teacher Creates a Handcrafted Quilt to Use as a Teaching Aid in Her Astronomy Class

Ded­i­cat­ed teach­ers often go well beyond the call of duty, sac­ri­fic­ing large amounts of free time for the bet­ter­ment of their class­rooms and their pupils.

Any teacher who’s ever paid for sup­plies out of their own pock­et, then spent the week­end con­struct­ing an elab­o­rate bul­letin board dis­play, will appre­ci­ate the her­culean efforts of Sarah Ellen Hard­ing Bak­er.

Bak­er, a teacher and astronomer in Cedar Coun­ty, Iowa, is rumored to have spent 7 years embroi­der­ing a beau­ti­ful appliquéd quilt to use as a visu­al aid in lec­tures.

Fin­ished in 1876, the quilt is large enough that even a near-sight­ed stu­dent could see its plan­ets and moons from the back row.

Orbits are indi­cat­ed with silken threads against a black back­ground.

A comet in the upper left is thought to be Hal­ley’s Comet, whose last appear­ance would have been in 1835, 12 years before Baker’s birth.

The Smith­son­ian Nation­al Muse­um of Amer­i­can His­to­ry, where Baker’s quilt is housed, notes that astron­o­my was deemed an accept­able inter­est for 19th-cen­tu­ry women, which may explain the num­ber of celes­tial-themed quilts that date to the peri­od.

Author and quilt his­to­ri­an Bar­bara Brack­man includes a few on her Mate­r­i­al Cul­ture blog, while her His­tor­i­cal­ly Mod­ern blog vis­its some more recent exam­ples, includ­ing one that makes use of a stars-and-earth hot-iron trans­fer pub­lished in Good House­keep­ing mag­a­zine, to accom­pa­ny an arti­cle cel­e­brat­ing the win­ners of its 1939 World of Tomor­row Quilt Con­test.

Bak­er got just ten years out of her quilt before suc­cumb­ing to tuber­cu­lo­sis at the age of 39, the moth­er of 7 chil­dren, 5 of whom sur­vived her.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Mas­sive, Knit­ted Tapes­try of the Galaxy: Soft­ware Engi­neer Hacks a Knit­ting Machine & Cre­ates a Star Map Fea­tur­ing 88 Con­stel­la­tions

The Ancient Astron­o­my of Stone­henge Decod­ed

Too Big for Any Muse­um, AIDS Quilt Goes Dig­i­tal Thanks to Microsoft

Watch Nina Paley’s “Embroi­der­ma­tion,” a New, Stun­ning­ly Labor-Inten­sive Form of Ani­ma­tion

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this Decem­ber for the 10th anniver­sary pro­duc­tion of Greg Kotis’ apoc­a­lyp­tic hol­i­day tale, The Truth About San­ta, and the next month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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