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Haptic Lab

Journal H.A. Reys

A Map of the Stars: Cartography and the Constellation Quilt

The Constellation Quilt is among our earliest designs. They really launched Haptic Lab as a company after a successful kickstarter campaign in 2013. Our fascination with the stars has only grown since.

The Constellation Quilt maps an October night sky from a NYC vantage point (40.7 longitude).

Constellations are made up of the stars that we can individually see, mapped on our quilt in linework using hand embroidery. But why are some of the stars notated differently from others? Where do the lines between the stars come from? And if almost everything we’re looking at is stars, what is a “constellation,” anyway?

What is a Constellation?

In the most basic sense, a constellation is an area of the sky viewed from Earth in which a group of visible stars forms a perceived pattern or outline, typically representing an animal, mythological subject, or inanimate object. The origins of the earliest constellations likely go back to prehistory; humans have picked out perceived patterns in the night sky and used them to relate stories of their beliefs, creation and mythology, as well as to navigate on the Earth. In this way constellations serve both as a narrative “map” related to different cultures’ beliefs, and also as a literal map! For navigating! 

Different cultures and countries adopted their own constellations, which changed over time. Constellations appear in Western culture through ancient Greece - the traditional 48 constellations, consisting of the Zodiac and 38 more are listed by Ptolemy, a Greco-Roman astronomer from Alexandria in Egypt, in his Almagest. Due to Roman and European transmission each constellation has a Latin name.

In 1922, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) formally accepted the modern list of 88 constellations, and in 1928 adopted official constellation boundaries that together cover the entire celestial sphere. 

Traditionally, constellations were shown “allegorically” - meaning instead of showing lines between the stars themselves, they’re represented as the outline of the character around them. Johann Beyer’s Uranometria is a great example of this, which inspired our own Star Stuffies.

These diagrams are beautiful and evocative, but they make it difficult to find the actual constellations in the night sky; they’re more artistic representations of the constellations than maps of the stars themselves. Enter H.A. Rey.

H.A. Rey "The Stars: A New Way to See Them"

In addition to being the creator of the popular children’s series Curious George, H.A. Rey had a lifelong passion for astronomy. 

In his 1952 book The Stars: A New Way to See Them,  Rey set out to create a simpler way for the stargazer to connect with the night sky.  Rey redrew the constellation diagrams using straight lines connecting the stars into stick like figures, making them more intuitive and easier for the amateur astronomer to find.  H.A. Rey’s diagrams were widely adopted and are used in many astronomy guides today.

H.A. Rey developed the Graphic system of illustrating the constellations, making them easier to find in the night sky.

Just as traditional cartography uses a key of symbols, Rey used the star magnitude scale to chart star brightness within the constellations. In the star magnitude scale zero represents the stars with the most visual magnitude, down to five being the smallest or faintest stars.

We use the same graphic system of illustrating the constellations and the star magnitude scale to represent the constellations and the relative brightness of the stars as seen from Earth in our Constellation Quilts. Our Constellation Quilt is not simply an artistic representation of Northern Hemisphere constellations, but a true map of the stars.

A detail shot of our navy Constellation Quilt.

We create goods that fuse craft and science to create a sense of connection between people and the world around us. Our hope is that when you wrap up in our Constellation Quilt it can help center you in this vast universe.

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