Quilting History From 1930 To 1939


Depression area was a unique time in the quilting industry. Explore the key aspects of quilts of this era in this article by the QuIlting Contessa.

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Quilting History From 1930 To 1939

The 1930's was a tumultuous decade. Many families were poor and living in a depression due to the 1929 stock market crash. The west dealt with a devastating drought and then horrible dust storms. The Lindberg baby was kidnapped, Babe Ruth retired, the Golden Gate Bridge was built, a sensational movie called "Gone with the Wind" was being shown in movie theaters, and Orson Wells aired "War of the Worlds" over the radio waves and frightened a nation.

Even though the depression existed through much of the 1930's, women still quilted, sewed the family's clothing, and did delicate handwork such as embroidery, crochet, and tatting. Quilting was done as a necessity and not as a craft or hobby. During this era many women had sewing machines. The biggest manufacturer of sewing machines was Singer. A familiar 1930's sewing machine that many of us quilters own today is the Singer 221.



Women's magazines were very popular during this time. Magazines took women out of their difficult daily circumstances for a brief time as they perused the pages of fashion, household decor, and stories from other parts of the country. Magazines stressed on keeping a good home, the art of looking fashionable on a small budget, and focusing on family.

A couple of popular farming magazines ran monthly quilting articles giving tips and hints on quilting, showing how to use quilts in a family's home decor, and even showing how to mix quilt blocks together to create new quilt designs. The quilts displayed in the magazine pages were offered as kits for around three to four dollars. If you wanted just the pattern you could purchase it through the mail for about thirty-nine cents. Some quilt patterns used transfer design for hand embroidery work and could be purchased through the mail for twenty-five cents. What hard-working woman wouldn't love to receive such an exciting package in the mail?

Farmer's Wife Magazine


The sale of quilt patterns was a blockbuster business for the farming magazines. Women could find the traditional quilt blocks to make, as well as some newer designs in the new, bold, yet somehow softer colors becoming available. Magazines even sold precut fabric kits so that all a quilter had to do was sew the pieces together to create her block!

Embroidered quilt blocks were very popular. Embroidered outlines of birds, state flowers, floral baskets, and children's animals were favored. Some of the more in demand quilt kits were those with hand applique floral designs. Even the applique kits became available as precut!

Newspapers realized that quilting was a popular trend and jumped on the bandwagon. Many newspapers then began offering actual patterns to make a quilt block within their pages. A woman could depend on receiving a new quilt block design once a week from her local newspaper. A husband must never return home from a trip into town without that week's local newspaper!

Double Irish Chain


Life in the 1930's was all about reusing everything and using it up. Feedsacks that held livestock feed suddenly became popular as women discovered that the feedsack fabric was of a quality that could be used to make clothing for themselves and their children. The cloth used to make the sacks was not necessarily rough and uncomfortable since the cloth was often cotton.

Manufacturers of livestock feedsacks discovered just how often women were using their bags for clothing and began printing the sacks in a multitude of colorful prints. The colors used were the softer, muted shades that were trending in the popular magazines and women were delighted over this fact. No longer did women find the previously used up colors and shades of the late 1800's and early 1900's which were dark and dull.

Color Samples from the 30's


A 50 pound feedsack measured 24 x 38 inches, and a 100 pound sack measured 39 x 46 inches. The sacks had instructions on how to wash out their company's printed logo which was done in ink. And, often the sacks offered special designs through the years that had printed patterns on them to make children's stuffed toys.

Printed Feedsack


By the late 1930's there was such competition between feedsack manufacturers that many began hiring designers to create beautiful prints. Magazines and pattern companies took note that feedsack clothing was prevailing and began publishing patterns for women to use with feedsacks. When the clothing that had been made from the all-popular feedsacks began to wear out – the fabric would be reused. Grandma would make quilts!

Cotton fabric was always readily available to purchase off the bolt. Early in the decade, clothing seamstresses or quilters could find everyday shirting fabric, floral prints, stripes, gingham, and solids. When the softer, lovely colors of the 30's were introduced, cotton manufacturers also began to design prints that had fun, playful designs such as small animals, clowns, toys, children playing, and storybook characters. Disney studios used some of their popular characters from their famous children's movie "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in fabric.

Snow White Fabric Image


Instead of the typical purples, women could now find an appealing shade of orchid. Greens were no longer deep or stark; instead they were softer and paler. Reds were a cherry red, pinks were demure, blues were soft and playful, and yellows had a hint of gold. You could still find blacks, whites, and brown but in a chocolate shade.

The colors of fabric in the 1800's and early 1900's had nothing on the 1930's!

Sample Printed Fabrics


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Attaching individual pieces of fabric to a background to form a design.

Same As: Appliqué

See Also: Freezer Paper Applique, Needleturn Applique, Machine Applique, Reverse Applique, Shadow Applique
The basic unit of a quilt top, usually square but can be rectangular or other shapes. Blocks can be pieced, appliqued or plain.
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