1930s quilts for today’s quilters

Posted by on June 24, 2013, in quilting & sewing

Rose and Trellis quilt from Treasures from the '30s

Is it possible to sidestep fabric fashions? To make a quilt that won’t look dated in 10 years because of the prints you used? Yes indeedy. One approach is to embrace a bygone era’s favorite colors and motifs. That way, brand-new quilts come with built-in vintage appeal. And 10 years or more from now, that appeal will still hold.

All of which brings us to our love for 1930s quilts. Today, we salute a quiltmaking era that paired cheerful colors with make-do pluck. If a Great Depression quilt pattern sounds like your cup of tea, if you love to pore over Laura Wheeler quilt patterns, if you delight in contemporary quilt styles interpreted in ’30s fabrics, you’ll find plenty of inspiration in our roundup of ’30s-themed quilts.

And the bonus? Making a 1930s quilt doesn’t mean you have to replicate time-consuming Depression-era sewing methods. Popular designers like Kay Connors, Karen Earlywine, and Nancy Mahoney cleverly update vintage block designs so that you get an old-fashioned look via easier stitching. And quiltmakers like Cynthia Tomaszewski use reproduction prints as a springboard to entirely original, up-to-date designs.

From Quilt Revival: Updated Patterns from the ’30s by Nancy Mahoney

Chinese Checkers

1930s block pattern from Quilt RevivalIn a 1937 edition of the Kansas City Star, the pattern shown at right was described as "a lovely design. This quilt in dainty spring hues is an interesting piece of handwork." The original block was constructed using set-in seams and many odd-shaped pieces. I’ve revised the traditional design and updated the techniques, making the blocks easier to piece. With the addition of sashing, you don’t need to worry about matching the block seams between the rows. Of course, that makes the sewing easier, too!

Chinese Checkers from Quilt Revival

Quilts from Quilt Revival

More quilts from Quilt Revival: Updated Patterns from the ’30s

From Treasures from the ’30s: Cheerful Quilts with Vintage Appeal by Nancy Mahoney

Laura Wheeler applique block from Treasures from the '30s

Bell Flowers

This darling Laura Wheeler block was available from Needlecraft Service, Old Chelsea Station, in New York City. The postage on the original envelope is 2½ cents, dating it between 1931 and 1933. During the 1930s, realistic-looking flowers were a popular appliqué design. I particularly like the graceful stems and delicate flowers in this block. Surprisingly the block was unnamed, so I called it Bell Flowers. For each flower, I chose a different print in one color family, ranging from peach to red, and then used one green for the leaves and sashing to tie it all together. This delightful quilt will convey a touch of spring all year long.

Bell Flowers quilt from Treasures from the '30s

Don’t miss a slideshow of more pretty quilts from Treasures from the ’30s, coming in Wednesday’s Quirky Question!

From Fancy to Frugal: Authentic Quilt Patterns from the ‘30s by Kay Connors and Karen Earlywine

Fancy Dish

1930s McCall  Dresden Plate pattern from Fancy to FrugalThe Dresden Plate is a much-loved traditional beauty. A friend found this old envelope pattern while antiquing in Nebraska. The bonus is that the pattern has an added design element: a pointed wedge separates every four rounded wedges. Then when the “plate” is complete, four pointed ellipses are appliquéd over the edges of the inner circle, enhancing the visual appeal of the block.

We used a darker, bold fabric for those pointed wedges and ellipses to add emphasis. Deviating from the original pattern, we created our own border design, which replicates a portion of the block pattern. The quilting designs are shared between the blocks for a stunning quilt that is truly heirloom quality. The result is our “Fancy Dish.”

Fancy Dish quilt from Fancy to Frugal

Quilts from Fancy to Frugal

More quilts from Fancy to Frugal: Authentic Quilt Patterns from the ’30s.

From Quilting Those Flirty ‘30s by Cynthia Tomaszewski

Quilts from Quilting Those Flirty '30s

History, Traditions, Heritage

Quilting is steeped in history. The skills, styles, and traditional designs have been passed from generation to generation and continue to survive. I still remember the first time I saw a 1930s quilt. I thought what odd, quirky little prints. Dancing rabbits, Scotty dogs with bows, Little Bo Peep and her sheep, perky flowers…what wonderful shades of color! The prints reminded me of a roll of Necco candy wafers. Each fabric was cute in its own right, but gathered together like a floral bouquet, the effect was charming and heartwarming.

The designs in Quilting Those Flirty ’30s will be tomorrow’s traditions. They’re firmly rooted in the past with the use of 1930s reproduction prints, but the designs are distinctive, open, and carefree to fit comfortably with your sense of today. If you like traditional with a twist, these designs will speak to you. If you want to make your own new traditions that reflect the modern quilter you are, then you’ll take pleasure in these designs.

1930s fabrics and reproductions are all just as charming and beguiling today as they were in past decades. For most of the quilts I used 1930s reproduction fabrics. In others I took the liberty of adding a few fabrics that aren’t 1930s reproduction prints, but fabrics that portray the feelings and times of the 1940s and 1950s as well. Like all quilters, I like to inject my own interpretation of the times into my quilts. Please feel free to do the same. Reproduction fabrics mix lovingly with many other fabrics. This mixture will give your quilts an updated edge.

More quilts from Quilting Those Flirty '30s

More quilts from Quilting Those Flirty ’30s

Do you have any 1930s quilts in your collection? Are they vintage or recently made? What story do your 1930s fabrics tell? Let us know in the comments!

17 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I just finished a quilt patterned after an actual 1930s era quilt. It is a drunkards path variation called Turtle stampede. My fabrics were ones I thought looked 30s not necessarily real reproductions.

    —Claire on June 24, 2013
  • Love those fabrics! While I don’t have any ’30’s quilts, I do use those fabrics a lot.

    —Lynne on June 24, 2013
  • I have a twin size quilt that was my mom’s or my aunt’s – my Mom is not sure. It has a sunny yellow background with partial dresden forming a fan shape. I also am working on a quilt using blocks – mostly pinwheel/hourglass given to me by a friend that is 89 years young. I have pieced them into a cross shape with soft printed neutrals as the background. I am calling it "intersection between past & present".

    —Cindy Wienstroer on June 24, 2013
  • I just love that "Fancy Dish" is there a pattern for that? It’s totally gorgeous

    Hi Ellen,
    It is in the book, Fancy to Frugal by Kay Connors and Karen Earlywine.

    Ellen on June 24, 2013
  • I love the quilts of the 30’s. I am fortunate enough to have several quilts that were made in the 30’s. They are in good to fair condition and are safely kept away from sun, dust, animals, etc. I also have some made of reproduction fabrics, both small and large. The quilts in these books make me want to sort through my stash and start stitching another one. Thanks for such wonderful publications that keep us creating.

    —Cindy on June 24, 2013
  • I have 30’s inspired fabrics in my stash and a double wedding ring quilt in my head. Now all I have to do is find the time to make the quilt a reality!

    I’ve spent the last two years making quilts for others, so I’ve made the decision that 2014 is the year for making the quilts I’ve wanted to make since I began quilting. The double wedding ring, a log cabin and a storm at sea! Hmmm, sounds like my last relationship, LOL! 😀

    —Kayt on June 24, 2013
  • "Thank you for asking!" I have an unfinished, hand-pieced pillow
    top from my maternal grandmother. It tells me the story of her
    dresses and aprons. Grandmother Agnes had everyday dresses and aprons
    and special dresses and aprons. The pillow top was created from
    fabric from the dresses and aprons. Mary Arline

    —Mary Arline Smith on June 25, 2013
  • Sadly, most of my 30’s quilts, with the exception of two, were stolen by the Rose Hill, former friend. One of the two remaining quilts was made by my aunt and the other has a story within a story about it. The big on the open road semi’s have many small places where cold air and dust can enter into the cab and my truck driver husband often got cold and had several blankets on him, while sleeping. I suggested he use one of Grandma’s quilts to cover and "hold in the heat" of those blankets while he slept. He was so proud, thinking, how well he had cared for Grandma’s quilt while on the road. Every week when he did his laundry, he washed grandma’s quilt, and unfortunantly given its age and washings, the cotton batting is now held together by thin thread lines. The backing is intact, and every hand stitch can be seen, but whatever the pieced top design originally was, it’s now gone. The quilt or rather, what’s left of it, is now hanging on a quilt rack away from the sun and graces my fabric room. It is a reminder of how blessed we are to have all the machines and gadgets to finish our quilts faster than what Grandma did.

    My husband has since retired and became a quilter. He now knows and understands why we only wash our quilts once a year after the cold weather is over, or if there’s an "accident", and use non-agitating machines.

    What I love most about the 30’s quilts is with each and every stitch, one can feel the "LOVE" in the quilt while it was being made.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on June 26, 2013
  • I have a Sunbonnet Sue quilt that my grandmother made and SS had thirties dresses on. I just love it..

    Sandy (aka Stitches) on June 28, 2013
  • 1930s reproductions are some of my favorite fabrics to collect. I made a doll quilt for my daughter with some of them. She loved her dolls very much and played with them alot. Now that she is in college, I think of the love I put into making her little quilt. I plan to make a queen-size bed quilt for my husband and I soon so I can enjoy seeing these treasured fabrics every day!

    —JLouise on June 28, 2013
  • I have several 30’s quilts. The most spectacular on is very large double 9-patch. The small 9-patch blocks are about 3″ and made old a floral and as matching solid. What both awes me and makes me wonder about how anal the maker was, is that all the one inch pie as have the flower centered. The quilting is exquisite.

    The other one is a yo-yo quilt. They are about 1 or 1.5 inches across. The quilt is big enough to be a otopper on my queen sized bed. Best part is the label saying made in the 1930’s by Minne ?????

    Just love the 30’s repros

    —Paule-Marie on June 29, 2013
  • I am making a 1930’s reproduction quilt for a client, and am wondering what backing prints were commonly used at the time? Or was it simply muslin? Please help.

    Charlotte Bueckert on November 6, 2013
  • My mom always used muslin (could have been the economy; it was the 30’s) it’s color was ecru. There was another
    Fabric like muslin; very thin and very white. I was too little (6) to know. I love the old quilt patterns.

    Vonnie Becker on December 20, 2013
  • I started quilting a year ago and love it .I had been looking for a vintage quilt to take home and love. Well I found one in an antique store way in the back on a bottom shelf,I almost passed it up .My curiosity got the best of me .I pulled it out and opened it up and to my surprise it was this beautiful Dresden plate pattern .It is identical to the Fancy Dish , looks identical to the McCalls pattern ,that you show .I really feel very lucky to have found it and will give it a good home . Karen

    —karen stalter on September 7, 2014
  • I inherited a quilt top from my great great grandmother. She made it in 1933 as a wedding gift to her granddaughter (my grandmother) but never quilted it. It is the Grandmother’s Fan" similar to the one above on the McCalls pattern. The pieces are hand stitched together.I wanted to quilt it, but I heard if I quilt it now then it would be dated for now and not 1933. Do you know if this is true? Would it be better to leave it as is? Lisa

    Hi Lisa, that’s a good question, probably best answered by a quilt historian or appraiser. You may be able to find one near you at this link: http://www.quiltappraisers.org/. Thanks for your question! –Jenny

    —Lisa Swank on February 12, 2016
  • Lovely just what I was searching for. Thanks to the author
    for taking his time on this one.

    Alan Dinsmoor Contracting Services on June 5, 2016
  • I found a 2004 Quilter’s Newsletter magazine and it had a quilt called Granddaughter’s Flower Patch, but I see you have named it Bell Flower. I am trying to see how it was quilted and am having some issues with that. I am also doing mine with a very scrappy look to it with only 12 "Bell Flower" blocks and then setting squares and on point like the quilt is shown in the magazine. Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance. Sherri Kennedy

    —Sherri Kennedy on May 10, 2017

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