The business of American quiltmaking in the early 21st century is the most recent chapter of a 400 year story of global trade, technology innovations, and entrepreneurial imagination. The narrative began in Asia and moved west, and eventually leaped into the digital landscape. In other words, it is a story that spans across hemispheres to blogospheres.
Cotton is the “thread” that holds the story together. European traders brought home cotton textiles from Asia in the 1600s. The convenience and beauty of these vibrant, colorfast, and wash-fast textiles created a demand that eventually resulted in a textile industry that revolutionized manufacturing, advanced scientific knowledge of dyes and chemistry, and initiated the Industrial Age in Europe and North America.
Entrepreneurs saw opportunity also. In the 1840s, a few enterprising women in Baltimore, Maryland, were the source for elaborate appliqué kits using the abundant and affordable array of printed cotton fabrics. Fifty years later the Ladies Art Company of St. Louis, Missouri, became the first of many to offer catalogs of quilt patterns available by mail. By 1930 large publishing businesses and independent businesses—many of them woman-owned—offered patterns, kits, and completed quilts for sale through newspapers, magazines, and printed catalogs. Quilt business thrived in the United States more than any other place in the world.
As the 21st century opened, quiltmaking moved into the Digital Age. Online retailers offer specialty cotton quilt fabric, once again manufactured in Asia. Publishers communicate with subscribers via blogs and electronic publications. Instructors invite quiltmakers to their video tutorials using social media platforms. Quilt dealers upload digital galleries of antique quilts for sale and take electronic payment from anywhere in the world.
As at the beginning, quilt business is a story of global trade and innovation; a story still unfolding.