Post-Depression Quilting

qs_to doris from motherMost of us, at least in the US, have lived through at least one economic recession, if not two, or three, or four. We’ve all felt the pinch at one point or another of not having enough money to meet our needs. We’ve gone without; sometimes only the ‘extras’ that we’d like to have in our lives, sometimes it’s been without clothing or food. Many have experienced the devastation of losing a car, a home, or a business.

However we’ve suffered economically, it all pales in comparison to the Great Depression of 1929 and the post depression years that followed. 1934 was a turning point, with unemployment dropping to 22%.

The years were tough. Survival was the focus for most Americans. The years of continuing drought and the resulting horrific dust storms across the nation only magnified the economic woes.

People still needed to eat. People still needed clothes. People still needed to keep warm.

Housewives did what they could to clothe their families and keep warm bedding on the beds. Women patched and mended clothes, extending a shirt or dresses life far beyond what these pieces of clothing have today. When patching wasn’t possible anymore, any usable parts of the fabric was cut out and put in the scrap bag, gaining another life as a quilt square or an appliqué piece on a quilt block.

At the time, flour, sugar, cornmeal and other household commodities were sold in cloth bags. This was a time when nothing was thrown away that had another usable purpose. These cloth bags soon found themselves stitched into aprons, dishtowels, dresses and even “bloomers”.

qs_Maxine BownesSeeing how these food bags and feed sacks were finding utilitarian uses in everyday life, manufacturers soon began using printed bags with a variety of prints and designs.

Housewives were known to send their husbands off for feed with instructions to bring back two or three matching bags. There soon would be a new dress, shirt or apron in the house and, of course, excess scraps were soon stitched together creating a warm quilt for cold winter nights.

In Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide 1800-1960, by Eileen Jahnke Trestain, I read:

“The greens of the 1930s and 1940s are distinctive. Nile green or mint green, along with a rose pink presently referred to as bubble gum, are indicative of a 1930s quilt. These two colors were used in combination for thousands of appliquéd quilts with a white or off-white ground.”

(Taking about the popularity of navy blue in the 1940s: “Pastel blues were not as common as in the 1930s ….”

“Reds were either the clear bright chemical red of the 1930s ….”

Following right along with the indicators note in Dating Fabrics, there are lots of pinks, greens, pastel blues and bright chemical reds on the fabrics used in these quilt blocks. Thank you women of Athelstan for your little slice of history preserved in these calico appliquéd blocks.


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