Quilt Fabric and Colors from 1940 to 1959


Explore the fabric prints and colors in the 1940's and 1950's in this insightful article.  We travel through those years and what made the quilt fabric amazing.

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Quilt Fabric and Colors from 1940 to 1959

Cheerios and M&M's! What a combination! But these two items were favorites being produced in the early 1940's. Families were beginning to find solace and comfort, feeling that the depression was over. Unfortunately, a different kind of change to the world was beginning - World War II, and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Quilt Fabric and Colors from 1940 to 1959


Technology was beginning to change family lifestyles as the microwave was introduced, and the Polaroid camera was invented. People were ready for a new phase in life after the last two decades, but were unprepared just how rigidly life would change. Women's lives were changed drastically as they found they had no choice but to work outside the home. The idea of glamour, fashions, and home decorating was pushed aside.


Magazines still published some quilt patterns within their pages, but most often the quilt patterns had to be purchased through the magazine ads. Both kits and individual patterns were available for purchase. Rural newspapers still published weekly and monthly full pattern quilt designs. Entering quilts into town fairs was a favorite pastime for avid quilters as they coveted that first-place blue ribbon!

During and after the war, quilting wasn't very popular. Once the war was over, society began to slowly become affluent again, and women wanted to show off this affluence by buying "products" of all kinds to show off: everything from kitchen products, clothing, and home decor - which included store bought bedding with matching curtains, bed skirt and lace pillows. The stuff of movies! This fall away from quilting lasted into the late 1950's.

Women in War Industry Magazine


This didn't mean that no one made quilts, but vintage quilts from the 1940's and 1950's (even into the 1960's!) are not as prevalent as vintage quilts hand made from the 1930's. It's considered quite a coup to find one in a garage sale or a great-aunt's attic! It's also often difficult to distinguish between fabrics from the 40's and 50's. There are a few clues to look for.

During the war in the early 1940's, fabric that was produced was very limited. Solid colors for clothing were a staple. But the colors of solid and print fabrics quickly leaned away from the pastels of the 1930's to more vibrant colors led by the reds, whites, and blues of Uncle Sam.

Fabric Patterns


Classic prints: Plaids in different sizes in muted colors were made with wool fiber, and used in children's school clothing. These wool plaid fabrics later became warm and heavy quilts. Narrow stripes, always a popular fabric choice, were usually found on a white background. And the small checks of gingham were still used as fillers in homemade quilts.

Polka dots were very common in the 1940's. You could find them in two or three sizes, but most women liked the smaller dots for clothing, and then in quilts. Colored dots on white background was the most common. As the dots grew somewhat larger through the decade, women became crazy over polka-dot dresses!

A favorite clue to know if you are looking at a quilt from the 1940's is the size of the flowers. Flowers were very common but were often small or medium in size. The colors were vibrant, but were not always realistic! Floral prints from this era often had a look about them that was called a "painter's brush" view. Flowers appear to look like they came from an artist's sketchbook.

40's/50's Floral Samples


1950's - The height of prosperity for families after two decades of struggles! The nation exploded in new cars, new appliances, and new homes in what would become known as the suburbs. Women enjoyed the ability to purchase stylish and elegant clothing, and portraying the most current fashions.

America became involved in the Korean War, and McCarthyism. Always on the mind of most men and women was the peril of possible nuclear war, but it didn't stop the growth of the good life. You could find "The Tonight Show" and "I Love Lucy" on TV, and the "Peanuts" comic strip in the newspaper. The world talked about Rosa Parks, James Dean, Jonas Salk, and Elvis Presley. Everyone felt like nothing could stop the boom of well-being.

Although quilting still wasn't a big part of the everyday woman's daily activity as they didn't feel the need to create bed quilts, some women still loved the art of creating the colorful coverings. Like vintage 1940's quilts, finding a vintage 1950's handmade quilt is a treasure.

Sewing machines made in the 1950's had more stitches available for the seamstress, and came with special feet that made quilting and sewing in general much easier. Quilt patterns were designed and sold by popular pattern publishers in fabric stores, and you could now find "how to" quilt books in stores and libraries. Quilting was now seen as a hobby by suburban and city dwelling women. Rural and farming women still used quilting as a necessity.

Fabric prints of the 1950's became vibrant, expressive, and a bit quirky. As television and movie westerns became a favorite with families, fabric manufacturers began producing cotton with elaborate cowboys, horses, and western scenes. As interest in outer space gained momentum, space inspired fabric was produced with astronauts, spaceships, planets, and atomic-looking galaxies.

Cowboys and Space


A fun wave of fabric became trendy quite fast when prints showing everyday kitchen appliances and futuristic kitchenware were originated. The look of these prints often tied in with the abstract galaxy features of the era. Flowers were large and bold. Some still had that air-brushed look, but most were realistic looking. Prints with roses and fruits were also quite popular.

Kitchen Themed Fabrics


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A construction technique in which long, narrow pieces of cloth are joined lengthwise, sometimes with long rows of quilt blocks, to form a quilt top. The term "strip" can be used to describe the long pieces of fabric between blocks (see Sashing) or to describe the small, narrow remnants used in string patchwork.

See Also: Sashing
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