I wrote the below information for my lecture/trunk show about 5 years ago. So it may not be totally up to date. I have a large collection of kit quilts, both crib and full size. It is a passion. I love to collect a quilt and then find a reference or advertisement for the pattern. I have many, many notebooks full. How do you share with other who have the same passion? I am trying to make a stab at it with blogging, but I am not always motivated to get the blog done.
Bucilla, Progress, Paragon, Gold-Art Needlework Co., Lee Wards, Home Needlecraft Creations, Herrschner’s, Wonder-Art, Vogart, Marvil Art, Aunt Ellen, Franks, Ladies Art Co., Rainbow, Jack Dempsey and others are names you will hear associated with kit quilts.
A quilt kit is the material (stamped or die-cut) in the package for making the quilt. A kit quilt is the finished quilt made from a kit. There is some discussion about what is a kit. Some do not include stamped blocks in their definition. Rosie Werner stated, “Years ago, Shirley McElderry, Merikay Waldvogel, and maybe Cuesta Benberry came to the conclusion that a kit had to have some component(s) that remained in the quilt.” I personally think a kit quilt is when you find quilts that are exactly alike in design, color, fabric, quilting, size, etc. Stamped blocks alone do not make a kit in my opinion.
In 1935, Carrie Hall wrote that the kits popularized by “this hurrying age” were especially distressing for the “true quilter”.
Cuesta Benberry, eminent quilt historian and kit quilt authority, said in 1975 kit quilts made from precut or prestamped kits were one of the most controversial subjects in the quilt world of that time period. A noted quilt author compared pre-cut kit quilts to paint by number art kits. Kits have also been compared to the box cake mix and other instant foods.
In the 1996 book Art Quilt Penny McMorris and Michael Kile commented “ Professional designers made the creative decisions, leaving women with only the work of sewing the preordained quilts together…With the introduction of these kits, quiltmaking became as far removed from art as are paint-by-numberings.”
The International Quilt Study Center & Museum in 2003 held a quilt show “Modern Marvels-Quilts Made from Kits, 1915-1950. They stated quilt scholars were not aware until relatively recently just how many surviving Depression-era quilts were made from kits.
Lots of the negative comments on kit quilts comes from quilts made from kits entered in shows competing with quilts made-from- scratch.
I love kit quilts and my opinion on kit quilts comes from being a collector of kit quilts starting with the crib quilts in 1999 and in 2006 when I started collecting cross-stitch quilts which most were made from kits, I look at each quilt individually and I’m not judging it with another quilt. There are some really great kit quilts that in today’s market are bringing thousands of dollars and some quilts that are under one hundred dollars. And there are quilts in museum collections made by well know quilters that were made from kits. There must have been some very accomplished needle workers making kit quilts and some who had absolutely no experience with a needle at all. Most of the kits were either an appliqué or cross stitch with a few pieced patterns. I am not alone in noting they have a much overlooked place in the history of quilts.
Quilt kits started around the turn of the twentieth century. By 1911-1914 Ladies Art Company offered kits for quilts in their supplementary embroidery catalog. In 1922 they had a full fledged catalog of quilt kits “ Book of Applique Patchwork by Deaconess”. Early kits consisted of a background cloth, perforated paper pattern and stamping paste or power. Later, kits came prestamped with appliqué out line on both the background and appliqué piece. Even the quilting line is marked on the quilt. These markings are what to look for when trying to identify a quilt made from a kit. Most markings did not wash out of the early kits.
An early name associated with quilt kits is Marie Webster, the first author of a full-length book solely on quilts. “Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them”. She was the needlework editor of the “Ladies Home Journal” 1911-1917. Many quilt patterns in “Ladies Home Journal” during that period were original designs by Marie Webster. In 1921 Webster founded The Practical Patchwork Company. Webster’s highly successful business was a cottage industries and sold quilt patterns and kits from her home in Marion Indiana.
Other important early designers were Anne Orr, Ruby Short McKim, Mary McElwain, and Mrs. Scioto Danner. All had highly successful businesses from their own homes. Often overlooked is the importance of the quilt kit to the general economy of the time. These cottage industries provided livelihoods for their families and for members of the community during difficult economic times.
Magazines and catalogs that sold early kit quilts. Ladies Art Company, Ladies Home Journal, Home Needlework, Modern Priscilla, Needlecrafts Home Art.
As the quilt kit industry grew more were offered through general needlework sources such as Herrschner’s, Lee Wards, Virginia Snow, Aunt Ellen, Aunt Martha, Mary McElwain Quilt Shop and others. Kits were also offered through large mail-order houses such as Sears Roebuck & Co and Montgomery Wards. They could also be found in the popular five and dime stores such as Ben Franklin, McCrory’s and Woolworth’s.
A confusing practice that began in the 1930 was the offering of quilt kits under the name of a magazine, but also having it available in stores under the name of the company that produced it.
The largest commercial quilt kit manufacturers are Bucilla, Paragon and Progress. These companies but forth great efforts to obtain fine patterns, either from prominent designers or from museums. More on this later as we look at some of the quilts. They used the finest material available and most quilts have stood the test of time.
Quilt kits saw a decline in the early 1940’s with the beginning of WWII and the resulting shortage of fabric and paper. In addition, women were now employed by the defense industry.
McCall’s Needlework Magazines of the 1950’s advertised Bucilla and Paragon kits. And remained popular through the 1980. Some manufacturers started using Polyester blends in their kits which did not hold up to the test of time.
Quilt kit researcher Beverly Dunivent in Uncoverings 1994 concluded:
Kits continued popularity, independent of the changes and trends that occurred in twentieth-century quiltmaking. Large number of kit quilts shown in quilt shows, books and magazines. Kits offered women the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and to be recognized for their creative efforts. Kits provided quiltmakers the means to develop skills in various aspects of quiltmaking in areas with no other source for guidance. Some kit designs were copied from works in museums and private collections. Often first time kit makers went on to make other quilts.
NIMBLE NEEDLE TREASURES MAGAZINE
1975 Volume 7 No. 1-Quilt Kits-Present and Past by Cuesta Benberry
Collections: The Legacy of Cuesta Benberry, An African American Quilt Scholar
December 6, 2009 - September 5, 2010
LADIES ART COMPANY
UNCOVERINGS 1994 (15)
“Kit Quilts in Perspective” by Beverly Dunivent & Anne Copeland
UNCOVERINGS 1995 (16)
“Marketing Quilt Kits in the 1920s and 1930s” by Xenia E. Cord
CHILDREN’S QUILTS FROM THE 19th CENTURY (online article)
THE HISTORY OF 20TH CENTURY KIT QUILTS
AMERICAN KIT QUILTS - A BRIEF HISTORY
VINTAGE TINTED EMBROIDERED LINENS
GOLD-ART NEEDLEWORK CO.
Lee Wards, Home Needlecraft Creations, Herrschner’s, Wonder-Art, Vogart, Marvil Art, Aunt Ellen, Franks, Jack Dempsey
QUILTMAKING IN AMERICA BEYOND THE MYTHS By Horton, Laurel
ON THE CUTTING EDGE By Lasansky, Jeannette
“Quilt History in Old Periodicals” By Wilene Smith
Books and articles by Merikay Waldvogel
· Quilts in the WPA Milwaukee Handicraft Project, 1935-1943 - Volume 05
· Southern Linsey Quilts of the Nineteenth Century - Volume 08
· The Marketing of Anne Orr's Quilts - Volume 11
· Mildred Dickerson: A Quilt Pattern Collector of the 1960's and 1970's - Volume 15
· The Origin of Mountain Mist Patterns - Volume 16