Publishing Explosion

Women’s periodicals published patterns for needlework throughout the 19th century. Godey’s Lady’s Book contained a pattern for a hexagon quilt in 1835.1 By the early 1920s, newspapers, magazines, mail order catalogs, batting companies, and even retail stores inundated women with quilt designs, old and new.

Marketing took advantage of the cultural influences of the Modern Era. Despite growing collector interest in Americana, quilts did not make the list until the 20th century. Virginia Gunn writes that “placing quilts in Colonial-style rooms also put the women who made them into the story of history.”2 If they did not own quilts, they were encouraged to make or purchase one as an heirloom. Ladies’ Home Journal announced in 1894 that patchwork quilts were back in style. By the early 1920s, both traditional and innovative quilts were featured in a variety of women’s magazines. Modern Priscilla, Good Housekeeping, McCalls, and Woman’s Home Companion all competed for readers with features on patterns and history.

Newspaper editors capitalized on the new hype. They hired women such as Florence LaGanke (aka Nancy Page), Loretta Leitner Rising (aka Nancy Cabot), and Ruby Short McKim as regular columnists. They provided patterns designed by themselves or submitted by readers. They often provided advice on quiltmaking, and readers may have developed loyalty to columnists. An effective marketing ploy was serial quilt patterns that ended with an exhibit or contest. The earliest syndicated newspaper quilt pattern series is the Mother Goose Quiltie series designed by Ruby Short McKim in 1917 for the Omaha Daily News.3

Colonial Revival authors wrote the first quilt histories during this period. Marie Webster’s 1915 Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them mixed her modern patterns with a nostalgic rhetoric of pioneer women quilting for their families. Carlie Sexton, Ruth Finley, Carrie Hall, and Rose Kretsinger followed with books in the 1920s and 1930s. Finley’s 1929 Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them featured quilts from her collection and information gleaned from interviews with quiltmakers.

1. Elbert and Elbert, History from the Heart.

2. Virginia Gunn, “The Colonial Revival,” American Quilts in the Modern Age, 232.

3. Merikay Waldvogel, “Quilt Design Explosion of the Great Depression” in On the Cutting Edge, 90.