Historian and collector Xenia Cord defines “quilt kit” as “commercially prepared fabric components for some design aspect of a quilt top.”1 The introduction of kits for making quilts revolutionized the quiltmaking process. Home Needlework Magazine published the earliest advertisement for a quilt kit. Promoted as time-savers, they appealed to the modern woman living in an industrialized world who had little time and less interest in drafting patterns, cutting templates and pieces, or choosing colors.
Companies provided both appliquéd and pieced kits. Kits came in a variety of shapes and sizes designed for all levels of needleworkers. Makers could purchase pre-stamped appliqué and embroidery blocks, pre-stamped quilt grounds, and pre-basted blocks or quilts. Appliqué blocks and quilts could arrive with sample color fabrics, un-cut stamped appliqué fabrics, or pre-cut appliqué fabrics. Ready-cut pieced or appliquéd kits came with all of the pieces pre-cut and appealed to makers unwilling to cut hundreds or thousands of small pieces. Some companies even stamped the quilting pattern onto the background fabrics. As the Great Depression deepened in the 1930s, kit companies such as John C. Michael Co. offered pay-as-you-go arrangements for certain patterns, allowing quiltmakers to purchase sections as they could afford to.
Companies with successful product lines established national pattern names, shifted the focus of quiltmaking from one of expertise to one of surface design and nostalgia, changed the design aesthetics of American quilts with modernized patterns, and encouraged a new generation of quiltmakers to take up the craft. Women like Marie Webster, Ann Orr, Mary McElwain, Ruby Short McKim, the Wilkinson Sisters, Ruth Finley, Rose Kretsinger, Marion Cheever Whiteside Newton, Phoebe Edwards and others made names for themselves as independent businesswomen through the marketing of patterns, kits, and completed quilts.