With the advent of rural free delivery in the 1890s, mail-order catalogs became a popular way for rural women to shop for the newest fashions. Quilt design companies and retail outlets began to include quilt patterns, quilt kits, quiltmaking tools, and finished quilts in their inventories. Evidence collected during quilt survey projects verifies that in the early 20th century quiltmakers across the country had access to the same fashions and materials. Technological advances such as the railroad system and rural mail delivery sped up the transmission of trends as well as increased the availability of products.
The first quilt pattern company, the Ladies Art Company pulled together 400 pieced quilt patterns in its 1898 catalog. Stearns and Foster’s Mountain Mist Blue Book of Quilts is probably one of the most well-known mail-order catalogs from the 1930s. Readers could order patterns, but they could also read advice on fabric selection and quilting designs from Mountain Mist’s designer Phoebe Edwards.
In addition to patterns, quilters could purchase kits or completed quilts. Sears, Roebuck and Company, with one of the most widely circulated catalogs, offered a full range of quilt and quiltmaking products. Marie Webster and Ruby Short McKim built their businesses through mail-order of their patterns, kits, and sometimes finished quilts. Wilkinson Art Quilts and Eleanor Beard Studios sold completed quilts from luxury fabrics.
Magazines developed special editions for needlecraft patterns, advice, and mail-order. Newspapers served as outlets for purchasing patterns as well as for advertising companies that sold them. In 1905, McCall’s, a fashionable dress magazine for women and children, began its first mail-order needlework catalog that grew into a magazine of its own, McCall’s Needlework, by the mid-1920s. The Omaha World-Herald added mail-order patterns to its services in the 1930s.