What do kaleidoscopes have to do with Amish quilts?
Plenty, I just learned. I went to the Shelburne Museum (Shelburne, VT) yesterday and saw a great quilt exhibit, All Star Quilts: The John Wilmerding Collection that features Amish and Mennonite star-themed quilts dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The quilts featured the Star of Bethlehem design, one of the oldest and well known designs and one of the few to come from Europe to America (around 1855), according to quilting.com
Here’s the surprising part
The geometric designs were influenced by the symmetrical and colorful patterns that folks saw in kaleidoscopes. The kaleidoscope was invented in 1816 by Scottish physicist, Sir David Brewster who was interested in studying optics.
The kaleidoscope’s optical shapes are created by fragments of broken glass viewed through a rotating mirror-lined cylinder. The kaleidoscope (which means “beautiful form to see” in Greek) had a great effect on popular taste and culture and even spawned a phenomenon know as the “Fancy” style. “Fancy” quilt makers used cloth and thread to translate the complex designs they saw in the kaleidoscope. Who knew?
Kaleidoscopes: Science of Optics and Fun
The kaleidoscope is the result of Sir Brewster’s scientific study of optics which also included light prisms. However, we enjoy it as a fascinating toy. People find the patterns relaxing. Some even give it credit for healing through “color therapy.”
Use the kaleidoscope to explore patterns, color, reflection, light, mirrors and angles. Use a light prism and try to create a rainbow!
If you and your kids are looking for optics science projects or just want to enjoy some optical fun, check out our very beautiful kaleidoscope that is wrapped in leather (7″ long, 2′ wide) and our crystal light prism (made in the USA!). With care, both will last a very long time. Leave them out on the table so your kids (and adults) can enjoy them any time the mood strikes.
Next time, I’ll share some experiments you can do with light prisms!
Kaleidoscope Photo credit: krazydad / jbum / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)