Selling Optimism: Quilt Publications in the 1930s
~ quilting in magazines, newspapers and catalogs during the Great Depression ~
"Wedding Ring", "Grandmother's Flower Garden", "Star of Bethlehem", and "Dresden Plate"; these quilt names bring to mind country gardens and family gatherings. Created with soft pastels and joyful prints they radiate a warm homey feeling that leaves one delighted with their soft beauty. Yet these quilts were made during one of the darkest times our nation has known, that of the Great Depression.
If you were to read one of the popular women's magazines during the 1930's you could easily miss the fact that they were published during the depression years. Hard times and suffering doesn't sell magazines or products. In order to survive, magazines had to sell fashion and optimism. One way they did this was by including new quilt patterns, tips and stories in their issues.
Women's magazines continued to publish new patterns and innovative quilting aids in spite of the financial limits of the depression. Some even sold precut fabric so that all a woman needed to do was sew the pieces together. Though many women couldn't afford to buy patterns and other quilting items, sometimes several women would go together on such purchases. For example iron on patterns could be used by several people. Other women had to make do with drawing a pattern from a picture found in a borrowed magazine. The woman would then work out the size and shape to cut the pieces on her own. Beautiful quilts were made based on nothing more than a picture.
Magazines were not alone in promoting interest in quilts. Newspapers were a common source of quilt patterns during the 1930s. The Mountain Mist manufacturer of batting decided to print block and appliqué patterns on their packaging. Even the big catalog companies got in on the act. The Sears exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 included an exhibit of the winning quilts of their national quilt competition. This grand contest proved to be a great marketing ploy with $7,500 to be given in prizes. The competition started at the local level so almost every women in the country felt she could be a part of it if she chose. The response was an enthusiastic one with 24,000 quilts entered.
© 2001 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)
"From Colonial Revival to Depression Era Quilts of the 1930s",
"Mountain Mist: For The Nation's Quilters" Explore the Mountain Mist website.
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