Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Value of Quilt Patterns

 I once wrote about quilt pattern booklets that were published in the later part of the 20th century before the second quilt revival of the 1970s.  You can read that post here

It's often been written that there was a lull in quilting after World War 2 until the 1970s.  I'm sure there was but what I have found fascinating lately is the number of women who sought quilt patterns, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s.  

A lot of study has been done on "quilt pattern collectors" who participated in Round Robins of patterns (exchanged by mail) or requested patterns via magazines.  Here is an abstract of an article that was published in 1994 that you can read on one pattern collector, Mildred Dickerson.

Copies of quilt patterns that a woman drew, colored and preserved on tissue paper.  

One of the interesting trends that I found was the request via the newspaper for quilt patterns, sometimes a specific pattern or patterns in general.  It makes me very nostalgic for the kind of newspapers that we used to get before syndication of local papers.

" Would like to receive some quilt patterns from others who enjoy quilting," wrote Mrs. Montgomery of Oklahoma to her local newspaper in 1960. "I haven't been piecing very long and haven't any patterns."

One woman's miniature copies of quilt patterns.
Maker and date unknown.  
Drawn on what appears to be tissue paper. 

Sometimes quilt patterns were used as what was called an "exchange" or substitute for currency.  

"I have quilt patterns and will exchange them for any discarded bed sheets, table cloths, and pillow slips, which can be used for making bandages for foreign missions," requested Mrs. C.E.H. of Indiana in 1963.

In 1962, Mrs. G. M. advertised that she had "Over 7,000 quilt patterns to offer Exchangers."  

Hand written quilt pattern for 
Mountain Mist's "Bowl of Tulips" pattern.

Also hand drawn on a thin paper.

Quilters are known for their generosity and apparently when a woman in Kansas wrote that she had patterns to share, she was inundated with requests:

"I said never again, after my last letter and quilt pattern offer," declared Mrs. Kearns in 1966, "but after 4 years and over 480 sets of quilt patterns sent out..."  

Mrs. Kearns cited that it was a lot of work.  I'll bet it was!  Most of the patterns were likely individually hand-written or typed  for the recipients--not to mention drawing or copying templates!

Cardboard templates are something I've collected through the years.

Although many of the letters occurred in the Mid-West, there were exchanges of patterns throughout the U.S.  

So here is my question?  Was the "lull" in quilting during the post World War 2 period due to lack of interest or lack of resources available?  Most advertising after the war focused on "new", "modern", "easier" products.

A few companies like Laura Wheeler and Alice Brooks patterns were advertised during this time period in some but not all, newspapers.

Even before I collected quilts, I amassed a pretty good collection of quilt related ephemera.  I always felt like if it was important enough for women to preserve, it was valuable enough for me to collect.  Consequently, I have binders and boxes of small and large slips of pattern pieces, ads and directions:

And some other images that women kept with their quilt patterns, perhaps as inspiration:

Wishing you a safe and happy day!


  1. I really like your thought, "if it was important enough for women to preserve, it was valuable enough for me to collect." (This touches my family-history-heart, being the person who saves what no one else in the family wants.) Because of you and others like you, we have so much history about quilting over many decades.
    I have no guess why quilting died down after WWII. My grandmother was a quilter (I just recently learned) but my mother was not. Yet, in the late 1950s-early 1960s, she cut and pieced two Dresden Plate quilts, one each for my sister and me, and she and my grandmother hand quilted them on a frame that took up half a bedroom. But then my mom had a waste not, want not attitude of frugality. Perhaps that attitude was not so prevalent in the general population of women in the 1950s when the economy was on the rise.
    Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. I think my mother 1925-1999 was more interested in the new things available after the war. These items were readily available and didn't require investing a lot of time as they were much less work. She was a child during the depression so after rationing and going without things as a teenager and young adult because of the War, she was ready to find new or modern, not old fashioned or used, bedding and accessories. My Mother-in-law, on the other hand, learned to quilt as a child and continued to quilt her whole life. Her attitude was more concerned with frugality and nostalgia.

  3. When I got interested in quilt making there was only 1 or 2 quilt magazines and they were something new in the stores. The only books I could find at the library were old, Marie Webster, or hippie inspired. Then in the magazines I loved the stories that came with the pictures, something that is missing now. Now too often the magazine patterns are designed to use a specific fabric line, and I hate that!