Is it Reproduction or Authentic?

You’ve seen fabric such as this:

And this:

And even this:

In fabric stores or on websites.  In our quilting world, this is called Reproduction Fabric.  This means the cloth is an imitation of an older color palette and print produced by modern methods and with modern dyes.  Quilters tend to broadly categorize Reproduction Fabrics into three categories:  Revolutionary War, Civil War, and 1930’s Feed Sack designs.  This categorization tends to fit our quilting world pretty well as we muddle our way through patterns and applique.  However, what you may not realize is in some way, all fabric is reproduction fabric.  At some point in time, the colors and prints used now came from or was influenced by some other fabric in the past.  Even the wild 1970’s fabric was inspired by something else.  And in turn the 1970’s palette inspired this:

Which was designed by Maureen McCormick, who you may remember as Marcia Brady and who is also a quilter. 

The fabric playing field has plenty of Reproduction players and substitutes. And it’s fairly easy for cloth manufacturers to produce this material – and not just because of modern spinning, weaving, and dying methods.  What most quilters may not realize is a great many of the inspirational resources for the Reproduction Fabric are not copyrighted.  Much of the fabric from the Civil War Era and further back does not hold a copyright, which means cloth manufacturers are free to duplicate it without any fear of legal repercussions.  And if it did per chance have a copyright, it has long expired.  The exception to this copyright-free reproduction free-for-all begins with the feedsacks produced around 1925 and forward.  The feedsack manufacturers were very serious about their prints.  They hired artists to design their product and patents were held on the design of both the sacks and the prints – pretty much assuring the competition could not duplicate the feedsacks. 

So, what did the fabric manufacturers such as Moda and Windham do?  Any quick look at the larger quilting fabric websites such as Hancock’s of Paducah shows plenty of 1930 Reproduction Fabric and those fabric designs are still under copyright.  There is always the possibility these cloth producers contacted whoever owns the copyright and received permission to reproduce the fabric.  However, chances are better they took advantage of the copyright rule which states any design which is 35 percent different from the original is, in and of itself, its own and does not violate copyright law.  The designs on this Reproduction Fabric may be similar, and definitely holds the 1930’s color palette, but you’d be hard pressed to find a feedsack which looks exactly like the Reproduction Fabric. 

Another concept we quilters must remember is we are small fish in a large Reproduction Fabric pond.  Costumers are by far the largest consumer of this fabric – from all Eras.  While we tend to limit ourselves to the three categories of Revolution, Civil War, and 1930’s, costumers run the gamut. And I break “costumers” into two broad categories:  Professionals and Reenactors.  Professionals have given us breathtaking costumes for TV shows, plays, and movies such as Downton Abby, Outlander, Les Mes, Emma, The Great Gatsby, Mary Queen of Scots, Macbeth (2015), Little Women, Memories of a Geisha…and probably one you’d never think of:  The Muppets Christmas Carol.  Seriously…research the clothing during this period and then watch the movie.  It will blow you away…from the tiny smocking on the sleeves to the bonnet Miss Piggy wears.    

Reenactors – the second group of costumers – while smaller in number are no less passionate about accuracy of both pattern and fabric.  These are the folks who re-enact battles and time periods– which for us means primarily the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  I taught several of these young reenactors in school and was extremely impressed by their desire everything be as accurate to the time period represented as possible – from the food to the weapons to the clothing.  Inevitably at some point one of them would discover I sewed, and I was called on to construct everything from hoop skirts to soldier jackets (once even a wedding dress).  And while I may have the exact color of fabric needed in my stash, if it wasn’t representative of the time period, it was always politely declined until just the right fabric could be found. 

Yup.  In the Reproductive Fabric pond, quilters are indeed small fish.

However, there may come a time when you’re browsing Ebay or another auction site and come across fabric which the seller will authenticate as original to the time period – in other words, the Civil War fabric you’re interested in purchasing may actually be from the mid-1800’s.  How do you know if it’s really, truly material from this era?  There are several ways, and the first one to consider is the width.

Prior to 1915, fabric widths were under 24 inches.

From the 1920’s to the 1930’s, fabric widths were 30- to 34 inches.

From the 1940’s to 1950’s, fabric widths were 36- to 39 inches.

In the 1960’s, fabric widths expanded to the 44- to 45 inches we have today.  Also, please note these are generally American manufacturer widths.  European and Asian widths can be slightly less.

The dying process is another item which should be carefully looked at.  I realize some dyes in antique fabric will alter over time (and we will look at those later), but there are some general differences between 21st century dye processes and those used in older fabrics.  If a seller is claiming a piece of material is antique, the first action to take is flip the fabric over to the wrong side or ask to see a picture of the back of the fabric.  If the color saturated to the wrong side of the fabric (meaning the wrong side of the fabric is nearly identical to the front), chances are the cloth is authentic.  This is especially true of indigo fabric.  Reproduction fabric tends to have a definite right and wrong side and the difference is easily seen. 

Printing techniques may also give you another clue to determine if the fabric is authentic or a reproduction.  Older printing methods only allowed for printing one color at a time on the fabric, and often these colors didn’t line up perfectly, so you’ll find dyes “outside the lines.”  Today’s printing techniques are nearly flawless, so these errors in printing aren’t generally present. 

The last characteristic which should be taken into consideration are particular colors.  Broadly, there are three colors that should be closely examined.  In some instances, these colors do not exist in our palettes at all today.  In other cases, they exist, but because we may not use the same chemicals in the dye vats (primarily because we discovered they’re poisonous or just plain nasty), the colors in reproduction fabric may be just a tad different.  Specifically, these colors are turkey red, indigo, and some greens.  Let’s take a quick look at each.

Turkey Red – This name doesn’t describe the color so much as it does the process need to produce the red cloth.  Cloth manufacturers wanted a true red color and through a series of trial and error, the country Turkey (Levant Region) developed a process.  The reason fabric producers can no longer produce a “true” Turkey Red is because none of them would go through the process to have true Turkey Red fabric.  The process is arduous and well…gross.  After you read what goes into it, you’ll understand why modern cloth makers are happy to settle for close.  It begins with the root of the rubia plant – also known as madder – for the dye. 

Madder Plant

 1. Boil cotton in lye of Barilla or wood ash

2. Wash and dry

3. Steep in a liquor of Barilla ash or soda plus sheep’s dung and olive oil

4. Rinse, let stand 12 hours, dry

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 three times.

6. Steep in a fresh liquor of Barilla ash or soda, sheep’s dung, olive oil and white argol (potassium tartrate).

7. Rinse and dry

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 three times.

9. Treat with gall nut solution

10. Wash and dry

11. Repeat steps 9 and 10 once.

12. Treat with a solution of alum, or alum mixed with ashes and Saccharum Saturni (lead acetate).

13. Dry, wash, dry.

14. Madder once or twice with Turkey madder to which a little sheep’s blood is added.

15. Wash

16. Boil in a lye made of soda ash or the dung liquor

17. Wash and dry.

I know Halloween is long gone, but somehow, I feel if you threw in Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, no one in the dye house would be surprised.

 Anyway, the red in this quilt is a true Turkey Red…

And this is about as close as manufacturers can get to it today.

It is necessary to note that as fabric manufacturers moved away from the traditional method of producing Turkey Red fabric, they employed synthetic dyes, which turned out to be fugitive.  The term fugitive in the quilt world means the original color produced by the dying methods eventually fades into an entirely different color.  With the early synthetic Turkey Red dyes, the fabric faded into pinks, as you can see in this quilt.

The stars made from “real” Turkey Red fabric are still nice and red.  The ones made from the synthetic fugitive dye have faded into a light pink.

So, could you possibly find actual, true Turkey Red fabric from an antique dealer? Perhaps.  However, I would definitely compare the antique red fabric to a swatch of modern Turkey Red.  And if the fabric has been folded, I would carefully search the fold lines for any fugitive dyes – the early synthetic Turkey Reds can fade at the fold lines or in places where the fabric has been exposed to sunlight.


For a lot of antique quilt enthusiasts, when the color green is thrown out, their minds immediately think about the color called Poison Green.  We will talk about this green in a bit, but for right now, I want to give an overall description of the greens used in old quilts.

Early dyes were either vegetable (the color came from plants), animal (shellfish, cochineal), or mineral (the color was derived from minerals).  It wasn’t until 1856 that William Henry Perkin accidently discovered synthetic dyes.  Perkin was working to produce synthetic quinine.  Real quinine was used in the treatment of malaria, but it was expensive to produce from natural ingredients.  Perkin thought if he could find a way to artificially synthesize quinine, more malaria patients could be treated, and their treatments wouldn’t be so expensive.  However, in the process, he accidently discovered a synthetic dye which produced the color mauve.  Therefore, prior to 1856, dyes were produced from plants, animals, or minerals, and the colors created were red, yellow, purple, and blue.  Even with all the greenery out there in the big world, no one could find a dark enough natural green to produce green fabric.  As a result, early green dye methods involved overdying fabric.  It would first be dyed yellow and then dyed again – the second time in the blue dye vat.  And it’s these greens which tend to be the most fugitive. 

The greens in this quilt block were probably much, much darker when the quilt was first made.

The dyes used were Prussian Blue and Chrome Yellow.  The problem with this is the blue can fade more quickly than the yellow.  As the green fabric fades, it can look as if it is lime green or yellow green because the blue disappears at a faster rate than the yellow. If you come across an antique quilt with yellow-greens or lime greens, chances are the original color was a darker green and the blue dye is fugitive.  However, if the yellow dye is the fugitive, we’re left with quilts like this: 

And the original green vines and leaves appear blue.  Evidently two different kinds of green fabric were used on this basket quilt, as we have yellow-green leaves and blue vines and leaves. 

Around 1870, a synthetic green dye was produced, and it made deep green, teal, and blue-green fabric available.  It was an aniline (coal tar) dye and was horribly fugitive.  It would bleed out in water and fade to a light khaki color. 

Aniline Green Dyed Fabric was used in the sashing. It’s now faded to a light tan.

It wasn’t until after 1925 a reliable green dye was produced. 

Now about those Poison Greens.  When that term is tossed out in quilt groups, this is the green which usually comes to mind:

However, that isn’t poison green.   This is poison green:

Poison green dyes were based on copper arsenate – arsenic.  Chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742-1786) discovered arsenic’s use as a coloring agent in 1778.  It became a super popular color and was used in wallpaper, upholstery fabric, clothing, and food.  It was decades before people learned anything produced  with this green dye made them sick and could even kill them (this was years before anyone in Washington thought about developing the FDA).   Scheele himself fell victim to the poisonous side effects of his own green dye and passed away at the age 44.  By 1860, folks became aware of the arsenic in this green and it quickly fell out of favor (to show you how popular this color was before 1860, even the White House had a Green Room comprised of poison green paint, wallpaper, and fabric).  Light green did not regain favor until the 1920’s when a safe, light green dye was invented, and it was dubbed Mint Green. 

The chances of finding true antique greens are iffy at best, unless the fabric is post-1925.  Prior to 1925, they were notoriously fugitive.  Most, if not all, of the real poison green fabric has been destroyed.  I wouldn’t want any of it, regardless.  


Natural indigo dye has existed for at least 6,000 years and was highly prized.  While raised primarily in Asia, it was discovered Pre-Revolutionary War, that South Carolina also had the resources for raising indigo.  I’d like to add this was discovered by a woman –  16 year-old Eliza Lucas.  While this plant was different than the one grown in Asia, it still produced the blue dye coveted by Europeans.  It was such a cash crop, when Benjamin Franklin sailed to France to procure their help in fighting the British, he took along 35 barrels of it to sell and help finance the war. 

Of all the dyes – even Poison Green – indigo has the darkest history.  The plants which produce indigo have to be treated with various chemicals (depending on which indigo plant is used) and the byproduct of chemical reaction is carbon monoxide, making the process extremely hazardous.  This coupled with the fact growing indigo is extremely labor intensive (it takes literally thousands of plants to produce a small amount of indigo), made it a crop expensive to grow regardless of where it was raised.  For many countries, including our own, this meant slave labor was key to its success. 

In 1865, work began on producing a synthetic indigo and by 1880 a fairly stable dye was formulated.  It was also much less expensive to make than traditional indigos.  However, the byproduct was still carbon monoxide when mixed with water.  There was a great deal of experimentation with liquids other than water – urine, for example.  The stale urine used contained ammonia.  The only byproduct of ammonia was zinc.  Anerobic bacterial liquids were also tried with varying results.  Eventually the molecule which produced the blue we’re used to now, isatin, was isolated.  When this occurred, synthetic dyes became readily available – and they were cheap.  So cheap that in 1873, when a couple of guys named Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss introduced a heavy-duty work pant for gold miners, they dyed them with this new indigo dye. 

Now about antique quilts or possible antique indigo blue fabric.  What I’m about to write are broad generalities. To read about specifics on this dye and fabric, I would point you to Barbara Brackman. She is the expert in this field, and her website is :

Indigo blue is a very stable color – so no fugitives to worry about here.  And it reigned supreme until 1840-1850 when Prussian Blues gained favor with dress and quilt makers. 

Indigo Blue

Many of the indigo fabrics had small white or light blue dots or figures on them.  Thousands and thousands of yards of indigo fabric were produced.  And this is what makes indigo quilts a bit tricky to date.  Because there was so much indigo fabric in the market, quilters and dressmakers purchased a great deal of the fabric.  So much so, the indigo cloth could have sat in a stash for years not like any of us know anything at all about that….before it was put in a quilt.  So, to accurately date an indigo quilt, you have to look at the surrounding fabric, the quilting pattern, and possibly the blocks used. 

Can you find antique indigo fabric?  Yes.  To be sure it’s the real deal and not the reproduction, look at the wrong side of the fabric.  The dye should have completely saturated the back of the cloth.  If it doesn’t, chances are it’s a reproduction. 

Now let’s chat a little about Reproduction Fabric.  Today’s cloth manufacturers have done a wonderful job matching dye colors and patterns used in antique fabric without the hazards some of the original textiles produced.  And it’s super easy to find nearly any type of Reproduction Fabric you want.  I know quilters tend to gravitate to Revolutionary War, Civil War, and 1930’s Feedsacks, but costumers need fabric from all eras.  I’m happy it’s as easy to find Edwardian Fabric Reproduction as it is Feedsack Prints.  I think it’s wonderful I can make a quilt with modern colors and prints and then turn around and use Reproduction Fabrics in the next one.  As quilters, we are truly blessed to have such wonderful varieties of material.

As far as acquiring Reproduction Fabrics, I do think it’s important to know your time era – what type of Reproduction Fabric are you drawn to?  For me, it’s the Feedsack Reproductions.  I love the 1925-1950 palette.  I tend to cultivate those Reproductions as well as the real feedsacks themselves.  These take up about one-third of my stash.  I keep these fabrics together in one place, sorted by colors.  I’ve studied this time period and generally have a good idea about what is a good reproduction and what isn’t.  I also like Civil War fabric, but not as much as the Feedsacks.  I have a smaller stash of these (it honestly fits into a small, plastic bin) and it’s also kept separate from my general stash.  My advice is to know your time period well.  Know what prints and colors are authentic.  Purchase Reproduction Fabric from manufacturers who make quality and authentic prints.  My favorite website to purchase any Reproduction Fabric is Two Bees.

Quality product, fast shipping, great service.  They are awesome.

Now, how to use them in a quilt?  This depends entirely on what the purpose of the quilt is.  If I’m making a copy of an antique quilt, I stick solely to the Reproduction Fabric of that time period.  This just lends itself to an authentic look. However, if this isn’t the case, I’ll use them just as I would any other stash.  For instance, look at this Fall quilt hanging now in my entrance way:

This quilt has Civil War Reproduction Fabric, as well as fabric pulled from my general stash.  I made this quilt as part of my Fall decorations, not as a replica of a Civil War quilt, so it really didn’t matter what fabric I used. 

Find your time period and study it before purchasing fabric.  Be sure the material correctly reflects the era it’s supposed to represent.  You may find you have a real love affair with Reproduction prints and they become what you are as a quilter. It’s happened to quilters such as Kim Diehl and Judy Rothamel. The main thing is to find the fabric you love and then have fun making the quilts!

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Simply Beautiful

Sometimes quilters need a serious attitude adjustment.  Seriously.  We can be snobs if we’re not careful.  Take for instance a conversation I overheard a couple of months back at a LQS…

“I like that quilt, but it’s so…simple.”

Beg your pardon?  What’s there not to love about a simple quilt?  Not all quilts are destined to employ the same amount of detail as the Sistine Chapel.  Some quilts are designed to bask in their simplicity.  For instance, most Amish quilts could be deemed simple.  Few colors, simple shapes.  But I don’t think any quilter would turn their noses up at them.  They are beautiful in their simplicity and color placement – not to mention the quilting in most of them is exquisite. 

I’m not sure why some quilters think “easy” quilts are somehow lesser quilts than more complicated ones.  Not every minute of your quilting life can be tied up with demanding quilts.  Some quilts, due to their design work, are more complicated and take more time (think Lifers).  However, there’s not one quilter I know who wants their entire quilting life taken up by these more complicated quilts.  In my opinion, every quilter needs at least a few fast, simple quilt patterns in their inventory. Why?  Because these are the quilts you turn to when you need a quick quilt for a gift.  Just found out one of your fellow guild members is a soon-to-be grandparent?  You can pull out one of these patterns, alter the colorway to fit the gender or nursery, and have it pieced, quilted, and bound within a month.  And if the pattern is simple enough, it can be altered to fit a tabletop, crib, or bed size without a lot of thought.  This is harder to do with more complicated patterns. 

If you find yourself constructing a difficult quilt, sometimes an easy quilt is needed to keep your sanity.  Challenging quilts can require a great deal of thought and concentration.  After most quilters have worked on one of these quilts, they need a break.  Sometimes this break may only be a night or two away from the quilt, but sometimes you may need a little longer “time out” yet still want to quilt.  A simple quilt is the perfect project to have waiting in the wings.  After a few days of working on something “mindless” you’ll find yourself ready to go back to the challenging quilt.  And you’ll have been productive in the process, so it’s a win-win for both.

However, let me give you the two reasons I love simple quilts:  They’re stash busters and they’re perfect for charity quilt donations.  Let me explain.  First, stash happens.  You may have leftover chunks of fabric which are too big to trash.  And if you’re like most quilters, you don’t necessarily purchase material only with a specific quilt in mind.  As a result, you have what is called “stash” – extra fabric which has no specific, designated purpose.  Over time, this stash accumulates to the point a quilter needs to use some of it up just to keep his or her studio organized.  If you have a few simple quilt patterns, these can be used to “bust the stash,” or use all that extra fabric up.  The quilts produced from stash busting can be stored to give as last minute quilts or…and this brings us to my second favorite use for simple quilt patterns  — used as charity quilts. 

If the term “charity quilts” is foreign to you, let me explain what they are.  Charity quilts are quilts that are given away to nonprofit organizations which need quilts for various reasons.  Project Linus is probably one of the best known NPOs for quilts.  They distribute child-sized quilts and afghans to children in need.  While it is a national organization, they do have local chapters and drop off points, so you don’t necessarily have to mail your quilt into their headquarters.  Quilts of Valor is another well-recognized organization which accepts quilts and gives them to Veterans of all ages and from all wars.  This is also a nationally run NPO.  If you would rather donate quilts closer to your home, check with your local Social Services and Police Departments who may want them for children they must remove from homes or victims of domestic abuse.  My local guild makes lap quilts for the chemo patients at our local hospital.  I have three simple quilt patterns I use to make charity quilts, so much so that as I produce “scrappage” from cutting my quilts out, I can immediately sub-cut the left-over fabric into the units needed.  I store these until I have enough to make a quilt.  This process serves two purposes:  it does eliminate my stash and it allows me to make quilts for those who really need one.  One note of caution before you jump headfirst into charity quilt production – check with the recipient organization to see if there are any special requirements for the quilts.  Some organizations want the fabric pre-washed or for you to wash the quilt after it’s completed.  Some may want all machine binding and no hand applique, as most of these quilts visit the inside of a washer quite frequently.  Quilts of Valor only accepts quilts with patriotic themes and colors and has their own quilt labels for you to use. 

A simple quilt pattern works best (for me, anyway) if I want to make a charity quilt.  I can make the quilts quickly, accurately, and get them into the hands of those who need them sooner rather than later. 

Simple quilts and more complicated ones are equally beautiful when the work is accurate and there’s a good color palette.  No matter if you’re working on an easy quilt or one which has over 5,000 pieces, if the basic quilting guidelines are followed, they’re both successful. 

  • Keep a consistent seam allowance (usually ¼-inch)
  • Press towards the darker fabric
  • Put the borders on correctly
  • Square the blocks and quilt up

All of this brings me to my last point:  which is better, a complicated quilt which is not as accurate as it could be or a simple quilt that has been made with great accuracy?

Well…it really depends on who you ask. 

If you ask a quilt judge, they’ll more than likely tell you the quilt with the greater accuracy is the better quilt because it shows mastery of the skill set.  If you ask a beginner quilter, they may say the complicated quilt is better because it’s harder.  If you ask a seasoned quilter, such as myself, more than likely I would agree with the quilt judge – the quilt which shows the better command of the basics is better than the other one.

Finally, I want to leave you with the steps I take when either a simple or complicated quilt becomes just a bit “too much” and I find myself riddled with frustration. 

  1.  I re-read the pattern.  Sometimes, because I have quilted a long time, I tend to skip reading steps I’m super familiar with – such as making four-patches or HSTs.  There may be specific instructions in the pattern’s directions I’ve missed.  A slow re-read of them may clear up the issues.  Then I lock in on each step to make sure I really understand the process. 
  2. I carefully examine each block unit as I make them.  This is true especially if I’m piecing a quilt verses appliqueing one.  If the pattern does not supply unit measurements, I will make a test block and during this process, write down what each unit should measure.  As I make the units, I can be sure they “true up”, so the block should come out the correct unfinished size (or at least pretty close). 
  3. I draw on past experiences for present success.  After 30 plus years of quilting, I’ve constructed all kinds of blocks, quilts, and units.  If I’ve made a particular unit or block before, and this same unit is giving me issues in the quilt currently under my needle, I try to remember what I did in the past with this unit which made that quilt successful. 
  4. I don’t work if I’m tired.  This is actually a tricky issue with me.  Quite often, even if I’ve worked all day, cooked supper, and undertook a few household chores, the minute I step into my studio and begin quilting, I feel revived.  Normally I can quilt for an hour or two before stopping for the night.  However, if I’m working on a challenging quilt and I don’t feel pepped up after a few stitches, the best thing for me to do is shut it down for the night or work on an easier quilt or do some handwork.
  5. If I get super frustrated, the BEST action I can take is simply walk away.  More times than not, after sleeping on the problem or just taking some time not to think about it helps.  The problem filters through your brain and a solution is found the next day.  And this is harder to do than it sounds.  You may want to keep working, sure the next time you rip out that seam or unit, you’ll sew it correctly.  However, chances are, you won’t, and you’ll just end up more frustrated.  Truly, the best action is to just walk away. 

Simple quilts are awesome.  They can be just as beautiful as more complex ones and display just as many skill sets.  They can be great stash busters and charity quilts.  They can provide relief from more challenging quilts and allow you some mindless sewing when its needed.  It’s always good to keep a few of these patterns tucked back in your files!

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


The Problems with the Quilts, the Sears National Quilt Show, and Re-inventing Applique

Welcome back to the second part of this blog! Buckle up as we talk about the problems with the quilts and the Mother of All Quilt Shows.

Problems with the Quilts

Quilt collectors and historians can easily spot Depression Era Quilts.  They’re scrappy, infused with every pastel fabric (both solid and print) imaginable, and white fabric is the neutral of choice.  Making the quilts was a popular pastime.  It was a cheap hobby which made use of scraps and feedsacks.  Both women and men enjoyed the construction and swapping feedsacks.  Therefore, there still are quite a few of these quilts around.

The biggest issue with these Depression Era quilts isn’t the workmanship nor the use of kits. The biggest issue is putting a date on them.  When you see a quilt obviously made from feedsacks, it’s easy to think, “Oh, that quilt was made in the 1930’s,” since feedsacks were used a lot during that decade.  However, this isn’t completely true.  Actually, feedsack use hit its height of popularity and usage in the 1940’s  during World War II.  When you think about Depression Era quilts, you really must take into consideration the years between 1929 through 1950, as women enjoyed making and using the bright scrappy quilts into the fifties.    This means even the name – Depression Era quilts – is wrong.  Unless a quilt as a solid oral or written history behind it, or is inscribed somewhere with a date, it’s very difficult to pin even a year with any accuracy.  We have to give it the vague time period 1929-1950.  Too bad there wasn’t a Quilt Day Project back then like we had in the ‘80’s.  Too bad people didn’t label their quilts (like the should be doing now). 

What We Do Know About the Quilts

There is a “snapshot” of these quilts — The Sears National Quilt Contest held 1933.  This contest was organized by Sears, Roebuck, and Company and was held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair.  The fair’s theme was a Century of Progress.  There were a couple of unique attributes about this fair.  First, was the prize money.  A total of $7,500 in prizes would be awarded, including a $1,000 grand prize.  Second, was the number of quilts entered: conservatively the number is 24,000 – the most any quilt contest has ever had on record to date. 

It began innocently enough.  The contest was announced in Sear’s January 1933 catalogue, along with the prize money amounts. The rules were pretty simple. 

  1.  Enter a quilt of your own making
  2. The quilt could not have been exhibited anywhere else before the contest
  3. There was a category which followed the theme of the Chicago Fair – A Century of Progress.  Quilters were encouraged to enter quilts into this category as well as the traditional ones.

While Sears realized the prize money was a big draw during the Depression, they didn’t realize how big of an incentive it was and how many quilts would be entered.  The prize money set a huge amount of quilting in motion.  People who had never quilted before decided to try.  Husbands, brothers, sons, and boyfriends helped.  A plus for Sears they didn’t see coming – they sold out of fabric, supplies, and patterns.  And in the end, the quilts were displayed in Sears stores from coast to coast. 

While the contest was announced in the catalogue and on radio in January 1933, the quilts had to be finished and turned in by May 15 – giving the quilters only four months to complete the quilts.  The top three winners at the local round were sent to one of the ten Regional Mail Order Houses for another round of judging – Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, Memphis, Kansas City, Dallas, Seattle, and Los Angeles.  The top three from each region was sent to the national round.  Of those 30 quilts, the judges chose the top three and an Honorable Mention.    

According to newspaper reports and the written records which remain, all 30 of the quilts were exhibited the first summer in 1933.  However, for quilt historians, it’s disappointing to note there are no pictures of all the quilts.  There were some publicity photos of the top three quilts with the judges and these pictures were sent to local newspapers.  The local paper may decide to interview the winner, such as the Lexington, KY newspaper did with Margaret Caden, whose quilt “Star of the Bluegrass” was awarded first place.

Star of the Bluegrass — the grand prize winner of the Sears National Quilt Contest. After the Chicago World’s Fair, it was given to Eleanor Roosevelt. Since then, the quilt has disappeared. The internet has been scoured, the Roosevelt family doesn’t have it in their possession, and it’s not in the Smithsonian.

Traditionally pieced and appliqued quilts won the big prizes at the Fair.  However, remember there was a particular category – the one which followed the theme of the Fair, Century of Progress – which deserves some particular attention.  Sears even offered the bonus incentive of an additional $200 if one of these original designs won the grand prize. Of course, this didn’t happen.  The quilt above is the one which won the grand prize of $1,000.  However, what is interesting is how quilters handled this theme.  Some quilters simply embroidered “A Century of Progress” across the top border of the quilt made from a standard pieced pattern.  Others dug into the topic, and thoroughly researched inventions and technological advances to include in their quilts.  Chicago quilters took the challenge and often incorporated aspects of the World’s Fair itself (remember it was held in Chicago).  The Fair commemorated the Centennial of Chicago, so the dates 1833 and 1933 were embroidered, appliqued, and/or quilted into their designs. 

Only two of the commemorative quilts reached the final round, and neither was one of the grand prize winners, so the $200 bonus was not awarded.  Chicago quilters grumbled loud and long that the local and regional judges had not treated the Century of Progress quilts fairly.  These hard feelings grew and festered among the local quilters, to the point letters of protest were sent to Sears.  By this time Sears had heard enough of the grumbling and issued curt response letters.  The local quilters were not happy.  A compromise of sorts was reached in the summer of 1934, when the Fair managers decided to keep the Fair open for a second season.  By this time, Sears had already returned the 30 quilts on display to their owners.  Sue Roberts invited the top 10 winners to send their quilts back to the Sears Pavilion, as well as invited all the local Chicago quilters to bring their commemorative quilts back for display.  At this time, Sears photographed the prize quilts and the commemorative Century of Progress Quilts. 

It is critical you realize how crucial this was.  At this point in quilt history, quilting was still considered to be “women’s work” and not deemed as important as the other displays of inventions and tools for crop improvement and mechanized industrial processes.  To have these photographs gives us a tangible history of these uniquely wonderful quilts.  It gives us a true visual of design and color.  It also went a long way in smoothing hurt feelings from the local quilters and Sears shoppers. 

In the late 1970’s, quilt historian Barbara Brackman lived in Chicago.  Well aware of the quilt contest, she visited Sears headquarters and asked about the contest archives.  Armed with a few photos and a catalogue listing the 30 winners, she decided to try to find all thirty quilters and document their stories and their quilts.  She reached out to local newspapers, mentioned the project in her lectures and workshops, and in all the various quilting publications she wrote for.    As word spread, she slowly began to get referrals.  Eventually through the work and research of Barbara Brackman,  Merikay Walvogal, and other dedicated quilt historians, a total of 150 quilts were located, giving us a verbal or written history as well as photographs.

If you think you may have inherited or come across one of these quilts, I’ve already explained how hard the “Depression Era” quilts are to date.  However, the contest quilts often had the theme of the Fair (A Century of Progress) or the date 1933 or 1833-1933 somewhere on the quilt.  If you locate a quilt with a contest entry tag or ribbon attached, you’re golden.

What the Sears Quilt Contest Taught Us About the Quilters

Research has yielded as much (if not more) information about the quilters as the quilts.  When digging though the written records, it is revealed women of all economic backgrounds entered quilts.  It was just as common to find women who were hard hit by the Great Depression – those who lost everything and had to move in with their parents or other relatives – as it was to find the social elite.  There are two groups not represented – women of color or immigrants and men.  Men may have helped with the quilts, but the quilt was entered under the wife’s/girlfriend’s/sister’s name, or their name may have been listed as part of a collaborative effort.  However, there was not one quilt listed as solely constructed by a man. 

And while a great number of these quilts were made from fabric scraps left over from dressmaking, there was a surprising number of original pieced or appliqued designs constructed from expensive cotton fabric purchased solely for the contest.  It’s easy to assume these quilts were made by women of monetary means (remember not everyone was poor during the Depression).  However, this assumption would be incorrect.  Working class and unemployed women managed to find the money to buy fabric off the bolt for their quilts.  Therefore, there is no real correlation between the quilts and the economic class the women were from. 

It also may be this contest birthed what we term the “art quilter” and “art quilts.”  The quilts which commemorated the Chicago World’s Fair theme – A Century of Progress – were original because most of those were pictorial by design.   This was a new form of quilting.  It was so new that the quilt judges had not seen this type of quilt before and didn’t know what to make of it.  They were used to traditionally pieced and appliqued quilts.  Because these “art quilts” were so new to the quilting world, it’s felt the judges didn’t give serious consideration to them when awarding prizes. 

The contest also yielded quite a bit of information about professional quilt makers.  Several of the women who entered the contest made quilts for a living.  The first prize winner was a group project, coordinated by Margaret Caden who paid professional seamstresses a small price to piece, stuff, and quilt her entry.

Margaret Caden — she paid professional seamstresses to piece and stuff the grand grand prize winner “Star of the Bluegrass.” She paid these professionals a pittance and they received none of her prize money.

There were other quilts entered in the contest which were either made by professional quilt makers and entered under their own name, as well as quite a few quilts which were made by professional quilt makers, purchased by another woman, and was entered into the competition under the purchaser’s name. 

What Does All This Information Mean?

After sifting, reading, analyzing, and re-reading all the information, what can we learn from this Sears National Quilt contest?  If you’ve my previous blogs about Grandmother’s Flower Garden, Sunbonnet Sue, and the Double Wedding Ring, you may remember these Depression Era quilts weren’t necessarily made for frugality or warmth.  A good many were (such as my great-grandmother’s quilt), but a significant number were made for entertainment, competition, and pleasure.  It’s truly important to remember the quilts made from 1929-1950 were a product of social and cultural factors far more complex than the cliches which surround the Great Depression.  Those quilters were like us in many ways.  They liked sewing.  Many of them enjoyed competition.  They believed pretty fabric is a wonderful thing.  And sometimes we pinch pennies and save  — just like they did — to purchase material we simply must have. 

What the Depression Era Quilts Did for Applique

If you’ve followed my blog long enough, you know my favorite quilting technique is applique.  Couple that with Depression Era Quilts and I’m one happy quilting camper.  Applique is the quilting technique by which you sew pieces of fabric onto a quilt block to form a picture.  The sewing can be either by hand or machine.  The picture can be as simple as this

Or as complicated at this.

Applique has been around since 980 BCE in Egypt – at least that’s when we can actually document it.  And this technique had been going strong in American quilts since the 19th century.  So, this technique was not new to the Depression Era quilter.  However, what they did with applique was new and, in many cases, ground-breaking.  Let’s start with the woman who I consider the founder of the Modern Applique Movement, Marie Webster.

Marie Webster

If there is one individual who championed this quilt technique and in her own quiet way pushed the limits on an early woman-owned business, it’s Marie Webster.  Born in 1859 in Wabash, Indiana, she attended public schools.  When an eye condition kept her out of college, she read widely and took Latin and Greek from a tutor.  It’s interesting to note she had no real art training.  Like many women of her day, she loved to garden and held a special affinity for flowers.  As a young girl, she was taught fine hand sewing by her mother.  Hand sewing remained a hobby for her until around 1909, when her husband became ill.  She took up quilting to pass the time while she cared for him.  Then at the age of 50, she designed her first quilt, a Rose of Sharon.

 Marie’s friends encouraged her to send it to Good Housekeeping.  The editor was impressed, and she was asked to design quilts as well as write articles. She became well-known (she was really the first quilting celebrity of her time) and her quilts were displayed in various places across the United States.  She continued this line of work until 1911 when she launched The Practical Patchwork Company, which sold quilt kits – primarily applique kits.  Her plan was unique.  She and her sister, Emma Daughtery, pre-stamped the applique figures on fabric so they could be easily cut out.  Also included were colored tissue patterns allowing the quilter to play with applique placement.  The company also offered full quilting services – from making a quilt for you, to basting, to quilting.  The company became so successful Marie had to hire local quilters to keep up with the demand.  And while her son eventually helped her (and took over the business when Marie decided to retire at the age of 83), The Practical Patchwork Company was a woman-owned and woman-run business.  Most of the quilt kit companies during the time period may have had a woman’s name on the letterhead, but they were owned and run by men.  And in the middle of all this, Marie found the time to write Quilts:  Their Story and How to Make Them – the very first book on American Quilt History.

 Webster designed dozens of quilts and became a leader of the early twentieth century quilting revival.  Webster’s designs rejected the bright colors and heavily embroidered Crazy Quilt patterns of the late nineteenth century in favor of the simple, appliquéd quilts that were popular in the mid-nineteenth century. The Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 1900s also influenced her simple, handmade appliquéd quilts. The hallmarks of her work have been characterized as “balance, harmony, restrain, elegance, and above all, simplification.”

Webster frequently used a palette of soft, muted pastels and modern designs that were less elaborate and more realistic, as opposed to the stylized forms and bright colors of the late Victorian era. Her appliqué quilt patterns became especially known for their beautiful, mostly floral designs, done in pastel colors. These qualities also made her designs unusual for that time. Her quilt motifs were typically inspired from nature, especially flowers from her garden, with popular pattern such as “Iris,” “Poppy,” “Daisies,” “Sunflower,” “Poinsettia,” “Morning Glory,” “Pink Rose,” and “Grapes and Vines.” Webster’s modern quilting designs and her patterns, published in women’s magazines and in advertisements for her mail-order quilting business, inspired adaptations from other quilt designers, pattern makers, and quilt producers, although they did not always attribute her for the original design idea. The biggest culprit who stole her designs and did not give her credit in my opinion?  Mountain Mist.  For instance…this is Marie’s Sunflower pattern.

This is Mountain Mist’s.

Marie’s Practical Patchwork Company fed the Colonial Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement through the 1920’s.  By the time the Great Depression rolled around, and Sear’s announced its contest, quilters were very familiar with applique.  When the special category “Century of Progress” was announced, quilters didn’t miss a beat.  They designed applique like this:

And this:

Without so much as a hiccup. 

The clear pastels Marie used easily fit right into the scrappy look and color palette used from 1929 – 1950.  She also was one of the first (if not the first) quilt designers to develop a Sunbonnet Sue pattern.  Marie suffered at stroke from which she never fully recovered and died on August 29, 1956, at the age of 97, leaving behind a quilting legacy of applique and fine handwork which was finally recognized in 1991 when she was inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame – which is now housed in her former home in Marion, Indiana. 

We can see her work and dedication reflected in today’s applique artists such as Kathy Wiley, Esther Aliu, Deborah Kemball, Kim Diehl, Alex Anderson, McKenna Ryan – the list could go on and on.  Every time I work on floral applique Marie comes to my mind and I’m thankful she had a vision of what quilting could be and was daring enough to simplify applique so anyone could enjoy it. 

The time of the “Depression Era” quilts was truly remarkable on so many levels.  The pastel colors lightened and brightened homes, pushing back the darker colored fabrics of the Victorian Era.  Quilters challenged themselves to make blocks smaller and use more pieces of fabric.  They made do with feedsacks yet managed to purchase the fabric they wanted.  Applique changed and developed into a technique less fussy, with clean cut lines and beautiful floral arrangements.  Art quilts were birthed, and Sears, Roebuck, and Company held the mother of all quilt shows.  From 1929 – 1950, quilting was an ever-changing art field.  However, by 1955 enthusiasm for quilting waned as more women entered or remained in the workforce after World War II.  The majority of them no longer had time to make quilts (even though we know the really cool women kept quilting).  There wasn’t another such quilting revival until our Bicentennial in 1976. 

If you would like to read more about Depression Era quilts, I’ve included my sources at the bottom. It’s truly a fascinating period of quilting.

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 World’s Fair by Merikay Waldvogel and Barbara Brackman

Feedsacks:  The Colorful History of a Frugal Fabric by Linzee Kull McCray

Softcovers for Hard Times  by Merikay Waldvogel

A Joy Forever:  Marie Webster’s Quilt Patterns by Rosalind Webster Perry and Marty Frolli

Marie Webster’s Garden of Quilts by Rosalind Webster Perry and Marty Frolli

The Sears National Quilt Contest in the Journal of Antiques and Collectibles online edition

The Quilt Index – Depression Era Quilts


Depression Era Quilts

I love quilts made during the 1930’s.  This is a fact you may have tuned into, as some of my longer blogs this year have dealt with Sunbonnet Sue, the Double Wedding Ring, and Grandmother’s Flower Garden.  All of these quilts came to prominence during the Depression years.  Why do I like 1930’s quilts so much?  Two reasons.  First, I love the color palette during this time.  While times may have been dark, desperate, and depressing, the colors were anything but.  Bubble gum pinks and bright pastels ruled the quilting roost.  Second, I fell in love with the idea of “making do.”  And by this, I mean making the most out of everything you had, not just fabric.  String was saved, paper was collected, and every nail and screw was hoarded with a religious fervor.  The folks who were able to hang onto their homes learned to grow vegetable gardens and knew what “weeds” in their yards were edible.  Money may have been in short supply, but ingenuity wasn’t.  People bartered and traded and “made do” until better times came.  Naively I thought this also included fabric…and it did, but not to the degree I thought.

The Feedsack

You can’t begin a discussion about quilts made in the 1930’s without discussing feedsacks.  There is a common misconception floating around in some quilt histories which gives you the idea cloth feedsacks were invented and used exclusively during the Depression Era.  That is patently false.  The idea is kind of romantic – women could take something so lowly and make beautiful items out of it during the dark days of the Depression.  However, feedsacks were used for sewing years before the calendar flipped over to the 1930’s.  As a matter of fact, the feedsack by itself is a marvel of American ingenuity. 

The story of the lowly feedsack begins in the early 1800’s – at least 100 years before the 1930’s economy went bust.  During the early 1800’s, items such as food staples, grain, seed, and animal feed were shipped in barrels, tins, and boxes.  This wasn’t ideal.  Tin would rust and boxes and barrels could leak or be damaged. They also were bulky and difficult to transport.   Someone (I never could find out definitively who) decided sacks would be a far better way to ship these items.  Slowly, between 1840 and 1890, these sacks replaced their counterparts.  Initially they were heavy canvas bags. Flour, sugar, meal, grain, salt, and feed were shipped in them.  With the invention of the “stitching machine”, double locking seams were sewn along the sides, making the bags heavy-duty and reusable.  A farmer would stamp the bag with his mark or brand and bring them back to the mill to be refilled. 

This worked well until the late 1800’s when northeast mills began weaving inexpensive cotton fabric.  Feedsacks (or feed bags, as they were known then) were printed on plain white cloth that matched barrel sizes.  For example, the standard one-barrel bag could hold 196 pounds of flour.  A smaller bag – such as 1/8-barrel bag — only held 14 pounds.  The brand name was printed on the side and many of the logos were circular, a throwback to when the emblem had to fit on the lid of a barrel.  Since these bags weren’t as heavy duty as the canvas bags and couldn’t be reused, women quickly discovered these sacks could be used in the place of fabric for quilts and other needs. 

And this was good.  The basic needs, such as a quilt back, under garments, dishtowels and such could be constructed out of these cotton sacks.  You see, until around 1929, cotton fabric was on the expensive side of household needs.  Cotton was king and ruled exclusively until sometime between 1914 and 1929 when the bottom dropped out of the cotton market.  Synthetic fabric, such as rayon, became popular for dresses and underwear.  The price of cotton dropped.  As a result, more and more companies used cotton sacks for packaging. 

Eventually, feed and flour sack manufacturers realized what women were up to, and the cloth bags they had meant only to be used for packaging were taking on a life of their own.  An opportunity jumped out at them, and they grabbed it with both hands.  First feedsacks were produced in solid colors.  Around 1925, the printed feedsacks we’re more familiar with were produced.  If women liked the solid colored feedsacks, they fell in love with the printed ones.  Dresses, aprons, shirts, and children’s clothing were made from the printed sacks.  Prior to this, the manufacturer’s logo was stamped on the feedsack, and most of the time it was difficult (if not impossible) to remove. Now they were pasted on with paper labels, so they were easier to get rid of.  By the late 1930’s there was a great deal of competition to see who could produce the most attractive and desirable prints.  Feedsack companies hired artists to design the cotton sacks and colors were carefully chosen.  In the end, this was a win-win situation for the women and the manufacturers.  Women would pick out flour, sugar, beans, rice, cornmeal, feed, and even fertilizer based on which fabric print they wanted.  These feedsacks came in different sizes and the quality of fabric depended on what it held.  Sugar sacks had a much finer weave.  Sacks with feed had a coarser weave.  By 1914, sacks came in 10, 6, 4, 3, 2, and 1-pound sizes, but there wasn’t any consistency in them.  The sizes were determined by the manufacturer and there were no standards.  In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt standardized the sizes – a 50-pound feedsack measured 24-inches x 38-inches and a 100-pound sack measured 39-inches x 46-inches. 

Besides causing competition among feedsack producers, the popularity of the cotton bag had an unexpected side effect – a black market of sorts.  Women not only traded them among themselves, but many were also able to sell them back to the store where they purchased the feedsacks and the store owners could re-sell the empty bags.  Chicken farmers – who went through a lot of feedsacks – often developed a nice side hustle selling their extra empty bags. 

Like most significant historical objects, their time in the spotlight is not so neatly bookended.  When the term “feedsacks” is used among quilters as well as non-quilters, most folks tend to think of their use from 1930-1939.  We assume once their popularity peaked during the Depression, they slid into obscurity in the 1940’s. 

That assumption is wrong.

Yes, feedsacks were used by women for clothing and bed coverings during the economic hard time of the boll weevil depression in the south in the 1920’s and the Great Depression that followed it.  However, feedsacks continued to be used for sewing before these times and afterwards, well after World War II.  Even though the economy improved during the 1940’s, World War II caused the need for us to conserve our resources for the war effort.  Using feedsacks for sewing was now not only a nod to thriftiness, but it was also patriotic.  So feedsack manufacturers continued to produce bags with attractive prints and colors.  Dress, apron, children’s clothing, and household linen patterns were printed.  One feed sack could easily accommodate a child’s shirt or dress and three identical feedsacks could make a woman’s dress.  Often the patterns came with directions for using the string pulled from the sides of the sack for crocheted or knitted items.  A 1942 estimate showed that three million women and children of all income levels were wearing print feedbag garments. 

Fast forward to now, and we can still find feedsacks at auctions and some yard and estate sales.  A quick glance at Ebay showed 3,752 listings.  Feedsacks are still available for purchase, but with 1930’s reproduction fabric on the market, how can you be sure you’re buying an actual feedsack?  First, don’t depend on a label being present, even on the older feedsacks.  The paper labels were easily removed.  A coarse weave isn’t a good indicator either, as this fabric could also be purchased off the bolt.  The best way is to look for this somewhere on the bag:

This line of holes and stitches are from the chain stitching which held the feedsack together.  Even better than the line of holes is finding the actual thread present somewhere on the bag.

The Myths Surrounding Depression Era Quilts

There are several quilting myths surrounding the Depression Era quilts.  The first one being why they were made.  The idea these quilts were made to keep people warm because blankets were either too expensive or unavailable is correct.  However, that is not the only reason they were made.  As I mentioned in my blog about the Double Wedding Ring Quilt, they were also made for entertainment.  Women (and some men) became pretty competitive in quilt construction.  They competed against each other to see how many pieces they could fit into a block like the Double Wedding Ring or how small they could make the blocks.  So, besides being a source of warmth, these quilts also served as a source of fun and a distraction from the sometimes day-to-day survival of the Great Depression.

The second myth involves the exact time frame of these quilts.  It’s easy to believe that the Depression Era quilts began on January 1, 1930 and gradually dwindled out by December 31, 1939 because this is roughly the time period of the Great Depression (although historians run the Great Depression from August 1929 – March 1933).  By the year 1940, most historians and quilters turn their attention to World War II.  It’s important to remember the quilts made during the Depression were inherently scrappy quilts – bright, beautiful scrappy quilts which were usually set with white as a neutral (which even today with all our fabric choices, if you’re making a scrappy quilt, white is the go-to neutral to make all your fabrics play nicely together).  And these scrappy quilts were actually birthed in 1925 and their life span ran into the 1950’s.  But because of the wide use of feedsacks during the 1930’s, they tend to be lumped into a 10-year span. 

This quilt movement began around 1925 with the fascination for “colonial” antiques.  This interest came from a growing nostalgia for an imagined American past as well as a developing pride in American arts and crafts.  This movement has been called the Colonial Revival, but there’s great speculation on just how accurate the nostalgia was about our past.  This revival included furniture, rag rugs, and patchwork quilts.  Decorators and magazines encouraged folks to dig through their attics and see if any old quilts were up there and use them as bed coverings.  “And if you can’t find any, surely it will be easy for you to make your own” (Chicago Tribune. 1933).  Trendsetters encouraged a return to handwork, including applique and fine hand quilting, which had fallen out of favor in the 19th century when the sewing machine was introduced for wide consumer purchase. 

However, the one thing decorators and magazines changed about these older quilts was the color scheme.  Instead of the darker, muted, grayed-toned or black-shaded fabrics in the antique quilts, they promoted lighter pastel colors – the 1920/1930 color palate we’re familiar with. 

New quilts were made from old patterns with lighter, brighter fabrics. 

With the 1920’s Colonial Revival pushing the art of quilting, by the time the Great Depression did arrive, quilt making was in full swing, with scrappy quilts playing front and center.  Quilting was a hobby for both rural and urban women of all classes.  Some quilt historians believe this scrappy look can be explained by a desire for a variegated look in nearly everything. It was even found in the dishware during this time.  This tableware was designed by Russell Write in the 1920’s and included simple dishes in a variety of bright or pastel shades. 

Russell Write Dinner Ware

Fiesta Ware is probably the best known of this style dishware, but several other china lines also included the “mismatched” plates. 

The third myth involving these quilts is the one of frugality.  The scrappy look was a trend.  The fact was the more pieces of fabric in a quilt during this time period wasn’t a statement of thriftiness but an indication of the quilt maker’s access to abundant fabric.  The small scraps in a quilt are rarely bits leftover from sewing but have been deliberately cut down from larger pieces of material.  And the white fabric which was used as a neutral in these scrappy quilts generally was not leftover from plain feedsacks or other sewing – it was purchased off the bolt. 

Furthermore, it was possible to buy the scrappy look if you didn’t have your own feedsack and fabric stash.  Magazines advertised packets of small scraps and factory leftovers.  Sears, Roebuck, and Company sold boxes of cotton prints pre-cut for patterns such as the Double Wedding Ring and Grandmother’s Flower Garden.  A quilter could also purchase pre-cut kits for Trip Around the World, Butterfly, and the Fan.  What we now call the Big Box Stores quickly realized while quilting was a necessity for some, it was still just as much of a hobby then as it is now.   The Ladies Art Company offered the first pre-cut kits in 1922 and the idea spread like wildfire.  The kits served several purposes.  First, it eliminated choosing fabrics.  With a kit, the quilter could rest assured the material harmonized.  Second, the fabric was already cut – a clear win for quilters like me who really dislike this part of quilting.  Marie Webster started the Practical Patchwork Company which also sold kits (more on Marie later – she was so awesome).  Then Sears, Roebuck, and Company sponsored a national competition for the 1933 World’s Fair.  Anne Orr took two of the prizes.  Ms. Orr wrote a column for Good Housekeeping.  Several of her designs –including “Autumn Leaf” and “The Lincoln Quilt” — were developed as patterns for sale by Orr Studio which she owned. Eventually these kits were picked up by Good Housekeeping who offered them for purchase through the magazine.  Another firm, the Frederick Herrshner Company of Chicago sold a kit for a Double Wedding Ring quilt with die cut pieces ready to stitch for $3.95 in 1932.  So, if you had the cash, the scrappy look could be bought – pre-cut and ready to rock and roll.

Next week we’ll take one more deep dive into the history of these quilts, and take a look at the largest ever quilt show.

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam