Depression Era Patterns

Quilting Patterns and the Great Depression

The Great Depression was an era that created quite a challenge for women who wanted to quilt. Not only was money very tight in households, but there were limited supplies nationwide. Women had to turn to creativity and resourcefulness in order to create beautiful quilts. Some popular quilts of today were actually born from The Great Depression.

The Great Depression, for those of us who weren't around at the time, was an economic slump in North America, Europe, and other industrialized areas of the world that began in 1929 and lasted until about 1939. Beginning with the collapse of agricultural prices in the 1920's, it's most well-known for the 1929 collapse of Wall Street. It was the longest and most severe depression ever experienced by the industrialized Western world.

Workers who could find jobs still struggled to be able to feed their families. With the total collapse of the economy, people found creative ways to brings in small amounts of cash while businesses had to become creative to survive by vying for a portion of that hard-earned money from their customers.

So it's easy to see why companies selling quilt fabrics, threads and tools had to find a way to create value in their products and encourage quilters to continue to spend such hard-earned cash. Luckily for them, quilts were a necessity that had to be created by hand because the severe economic times limited the ability to purchase them.

Women's magazines began offering similar quilting patterns for free with each issue to increase their readership. After all, most household budgets could not afford to purchase a magazine, let alone quilting patterns.

So to continue selling magazines and to promote the purchase of fabrics, many vendors chose to offer free patterns that would encourage purchases. Patterns such as the Star of Bethlehem, Wedding Ring, Grandmother's Flower Garden and even Dresden Plate are just some of the patterns we still use today that were actually the result of The Great Depression.

Often women would share one magazine. They would trace the quilting patterns or even a picture from a quilt photographed for the magazine to make their own patterns at home. The most popular magazines would occasionally offer iron-on quilt patterns. These were extremely well received since several women could share not only the cost of the magazine but could share the iron-on patterns for their quilting.

Thus, offering free quilting patterns actually became a common marketing tradition that is still used today.


Jan Myers at

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