Antique quilt patterns “link” two sisters

1930s quilt pattern from McCall's   Jeweled Wedding Ring quilt block
(Above: a packaged quilt pattern from McCall’s, circa 1930s; a fresh look at the quilt block from the book
Link to the ’30s.)

The authors of the popular books Fancy to Frugal and Link to the ’30s come by their passion for antique quilt patterns honestly. As young children, sisters Kay Connors and Karen Earlywine were already playing with fabric and learning to sew. As adults, they’ve let their love of fabric take them back in time—all the way back to the 1930s. Read our interview with Karen and Kay to discover how their love of 1930s fabrics and vintage quilts began. See a slideshow of quilts from both books at the bottom of this post.

Meet authors Kay Connors and Karen Earlywine

What can you tell us about your earliest sewing memories?

Karen EarlywineKaren: Sewing was always a part of our lives because our mother did alterations, and her mother made our clothing when we were children. Both were skilled seamstresses, although their areas of expertise were different. I don’t really think either of them did it for enjoyment as much as for necessity—one did it for income, the other for the economic value and satisfaction of a job well done.

It was natural that we would begin sewing for ourselves, since in our experience that was what women did. I was the last to teach myself because I was the youngest. From about age 11, Kay made clothes for me and Mother as well as for herself. I will always remember those matching purple gingham dresses we all had for Easter one year!

Kay: Our grandmother put me on her lap at about age 4 and let me sew seams while she pumped the treadle. I don’t ever remember a time that sewing wasn’t a priority.

When did you both first become interested in quilting?

Kay ConnorsKay: As with many quilters, sewing clothes left me with many remnants. Because I had always loved quilts, it was natural to utilize my scraps that way. In 1973, when I decided to start quilting, it was a solitary endeavor and so I was self-taught. Quilt guilds, quilt shops, quilt books and great fabrics were scarce!

Karen: I became interested in quilting in the early 1970s when my girls began to want clothes from the store. I was actually glad that I didn’t feel I had to keep their rapidly growing bodies covered in homemade clothing, but sewing was so much a part of my life that I needed another outlet for my habit. Quilting was a challenge then because of the scarcity of information and appropriate fabrics.

Where did you get your inspiration for the beautiful quilts in Link to the ’30s?

Kay and Karen: Writing this book was something we had talked about, but we needed time to research because we wanted to stay true to the old quilts. Then we got a little nudge. The box of old newspaper ads we were lucky enough to acquire gave us the opportunity to make quilts from that era that were not commonly seen. We were already collecting reproduction fabrics and had made a few quilts with them, so this new supply of ideas was a gold mine!

1930s antique quilt Rings-n-Things-quilt
A 1930s quilt, found faded and in tatters, gets a makeover in “Rings ’N’ Things” from
Link to the ’30s (get the ePattern for $4.99).

Why do you think Link to the ’30s resonates with so many quilters?

Link to the '30sKaren: I think readers enjoy being able to make the quilts that may once have been in their families but were worn out or discarded during a time when quilts were not valued as they are now. I always remember our grandmother who sewed for us, saying, “I just wish I could get rid of all this old stuff and go buy some new things!” Now we call that old stuff “antiques” and feel lucky that our grandparents were too frugal to discard anything.

Kay: Link to the ’30s allows people to share the excitement of taking quiltmaking back a step, slowing down, carefully cutting and piecing, creating something that isn’t “quick and easy.” A completed challenge is so satisfying!

What inspired you to write Fancy to Frugal?

Fancy to FrugalKaren: The reception to Link to the ’30s was gratifying. Writing a quilt book for the first time and making the quilts on a deadline is very hard work. I compare it to childbirth. Our mother always said that if you really remembered the process you would only do it once, but the child is worth the trouble. That is also true of a completed book. And there were more quilts we wanted to make, so why not do another book? Also, my husband needed something new to brag about—he’s my biggest cheerleader.

Kay: There was no way we could cover the subject with only one book! As of this writing, we hope to do a third book with more wonderful ’30s creations.

Nancy Page Starlight pattern Starlight quilt pattern
A Nancy Page Quilt Club clipping found in a Spokane, Washington, newspaper becomes “Starlight” in the book
Fancy to Frugal.

How would you describe the difference between the utility quilts and fancy quilts of the Depression era?

Kay: Utility quilts were made for warmth and reflected the economic deprivation of the Great Depression. No concern was given to palette or pattern, and often the quilts were stuffed with another quilt or raw cotton or perhaps an old military blanket. The fancy quilts were planned out, and fabrics were chosen with more care, even though they may have been remnants. Other quilts were made from mail-order kits of die-cut pieces. Hard times could not stifle the desire to be artistic, to create something bright and cheery.

Antique teddy bear

Has writing Link to the ’30s and Fancy to Frugal increased your appreciation for the quilters of the 1930s?

Karen: I don’t think my appreciation for quilters of the past could be increased. When I think about all the modern tools I have, as well as the living conditions we are so fortunate to have now, I am even more impressed with the work those long-ago quilters did to keep their families warm.

(Right: A teddy bear made from an old “folksy” quilt shows an example of quiltmaking in which every scrap of fabric was used, without an apparent pattern or plan.)

Kay: When you write a quilt book, you spend a lot of time on math and geometry (triangles, arcs, etc.), and you marvel that the old quilts were so precise without the tools and techniques that we have today. And really, don’t we all applaud the spirit that overcame those dismal times and produced such gorgeous quilts?

Are you drawn to quilts from another era? What is it about them that appeals to you? Share your story in the comments.

Weekly Wow banner 10/29

1 from Link to the '30s

"Double Windmill" from Link to the '30s

2 from Link to the '30s

"Stroll around the Garden" from Link to the '30s

3 from Link to the '30s

"Chain Link" from Link to the '30s

4 from Link to the '30s

"Reunion Memories" from Link to the '30s

5 from Link to the '30s

"Stars in the Attic" from Link to the '30s

6 from Link to the '30s

"Sweet Insanity" from Link to the '30s

7 from Link to the '30s

"Star Flower" from Link to the '30s

8 from Link to the '30s

"Jeweled Wedding Ring" from Link to the '30s

9 from Fancy to Frugal

"Mayflower" from Fancy to Frugal

10 from Fancy to Frugal

"Spring Flower" from Fancy to Frugal

11 from Fancy to Frugal

"Bubblegum" from Fancy to Frugal

12 from Fancy to Frugal

"Deco Spin" from Fancy to Frugal

13 from Fancy to Frugal

"Butterflies" from Fancy to Frugal

14 from Fancy to Frugal

"Winged Arrow" from Fancy to Frugal

15 from Fancy to Frugal

"Fancy Dish" from Fancy to Frugal

16 from Fancy to Frugal

"Posies and Pickets" from Fancy to Frugal

17 from Fancy to Frugal

"Lizzie Jane's Pansies" from Fancy to Frugal

21 Comments (leave a comment)

  • Quits from the 30’s draw me because they are the backdrop to so many family stories. My mother would tell me stories about clothes and dishtowels and, of course, quilts made from feed and flour sacks. My aunt would tell about putting stitches in the quilt on the frame when she was little. She was small enough to have to climb on a chair, put in the needle, climb down and pull it through. Imagine how her mother kept a little girl busy with just a few stitches while making her feel part of things! I’m not a "one era" girl, though, I love the quilts from the civil war, the early 1800’s and the forties, too!

    Beth Strand on October 30, 2012
  • I was born in the ’50s, so the ’30s is not that far removed. I inherited some old and bedraggled quilts from my mother, passed down to her from her mother and mother-in-law. One was a "biscuit" quilt where every little right triangle was stuffed individually. But it was falling apart. I have since repaired it by hand, but it’s not what I would call a beautiful quilt because the fabric is not matching and it’s quite stained. But I like the fabrics (probably from the ’30s) if they had been pieced in a more interesting way. Another one was indeed stuffed with an old Army blanket and had also fallen apart. Even the Army blanket was frayed. These 2 were quilts definitely made for necessity and warmth, but I still love them. I feel very grateful for all we have today, the tools and the beautiful fabrics and books. Indeed an heirloom craft made easier in the 21st century.

    —Trish Wall on October 30, 2012
  • I have a bee-friend who doesn’t like the "bunchy" or lumpy look of a quilt. When I see a quilt that has "lumps" in it, I see a loved and warm quilt! There is just the knowledge that a whole bunch of love went into those quilts!

    —Lynn on October 30, 2012


    —LUCERO on October 30, 2012
  • I am very drawn to both 30’s and 19th century. I believe it is because traditional patterns are my favorite. Traditional patterns work so well in a two block quilt.

    —Diane W on October 30, 2012
  • The ’30’s quilts look so pretty with the pastels against the white backgrounds…………like a sunny summer day with a cooling breeze. I like them because they remind me of my childhood and my grandmother sewing butterfly quilts, by hand, for our twin maple beds. But most of all I am drawn to an earlier era of two-color quilts. An antique burgundy and white Single Wedding Ring top, found at a flea market, glows in the lamp light. No wonder quilts like this are so loved.

    —Nancy on October 30, 2012
  • I started quilting when a friend wanted a tagalong at a class she was interested in. Halfway through we were hit with a four day blizzard…. There’s something to be said about a scrap bag, a quilting magazine, and a house full of kids!

    Fast forward to an auction where all I wanted was the four Sunbonnet Sue blocks in a box of fabric. Yep, the auctioneer grouped them all together and I took home 50+ yards of fabric for $7.00! And there in the bottom of one box was a large set of eight-pointed stars made from feedsacks and muslin. Most were complete, but there in the middle was a little sack of half-blocks and HER NEEDLE was still in the seam….

    I am drawn to vintage quilts because I can almost feel the presence of my grandmothers, aunts, cousins, some of whom I grew up with and some of whom I have only distant memories of.

    Nancy Fry on October 30, 2012
  • I picture my grandmother, with scissors in her hand cutting her worn out clothing, feed sacks, and tablecloths to hand piece a quilt. With each stitch of her needle, often by candlelight or kerosene lantern, she brought forth a warm bedding for those long snow filled winters, she and her family had to endure. While most of her quilts were sampler patterns of the 1800’s, I have one that has circles cut from pants legs and/or shirts, complete with the double seam in the middle, applique’d down on a heavy muslin sheet. It still needs to be quilted, and a judge told me to simply fold over the outside edges, making my own binding, hand stitch it down and I wouldn’t take away the originality of it.

    I do not like "art quilts" and while there is a lot of work involved with them, and possibly, someday, they will be called vintage quilts of their era, it is the "oldies but goodies", I love the best.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on October 30, 2012
  • I have been drawn to old quilts from the time they were ‘new’. When I was small, we were at a Grange function where there was a raffle quilt. I asked my grandmother to buy the quilt for me, being young not understanding the concept of ‘raffle’. She gave me a dime and told me to go buy one ticket and if we won the quilt would be mine. The beautiful butterfly quilt hangs proudly on my quilt rack to this day. I fell in love with quilts that long ago day and am still drawn to quilts of my childhood era. I have collected many quilt block sets from the 20’s, 30’s & 40’s that I am slowly setting and finishing with reproduction fabrics. The love and care that went into making the blocks is a treat to see. And to think that I hold in my hands a piece of someone’s life gives me goosebumps. I am truly fortunate and priviledged to have these blocks to finish for someone else. For whatever reason they were tucked away, one can only speculate. If the old quilt blocks could only talk…….

    —Cindy R. on October 31, 2012
  • My Grandmother made my dresses from the feed and flour sacks in the 1940’s. Never thought much about it until I started quilting 12 to 15 yrs.ago. Last year I purchased 82 old feed sacks from the 1930’s. Some
    still had sprinkles of feed attached. This month I made "Fancy Dish".
    It is at the quiters now and will hang with approx. 20 other quilts I
    have done in a quilt show the month of November. Also made another
    quilt out of the feed sack. More of a throw size. Really enjoy the
    quilt book that Fancy Dish was in. Also made a 1930’s reproduction
    quilt. Enjoy your website and own tons and tons of books.

    Sherrill Hardcastle on October 31, 2012
  • I think that the bright, uplifting palette of the 30’s is so inspirational because I have heared the stories, from grandparents and parents who lived through the difficulties of the 30’s and 40’s.
    The Great Depression, WWII, and the aftermath; it took such a long, long time to get through those years.
    Those bright prints were a woman’s way of pushing the darkness back and saying, "Yes, times are tough. But here, by my own hand, I will cover my children in happy colours so they can dream of a brighter future."

    —Kayt on November 4, 2012
  • I remember as a young girl that my Aunt Louisa ("Weesa" to us children), my Mother’s sister, would sew quilts. Every one of the "squares" (shapes) were hand cut using scissors (no fancy equipment then). I would sit on the floor at her feet as she did this. Also she constructed EVERY one of her quilts by hand. I have been fortunate to have 2 of these quilts. I have still to complete ONE full quilt. I am not giving up this ambition. She made many, many quilts, and many of them are still out there, this I am sure of!

    —Margery Krantz on November 8, 2012
  • I have always loved the 30’s prints and mostly because of the warm colors and the sweet little designs they had on them. This summer I went to a garge sale and I seen all these prints with much smaller designs that you get in the reproductions. These were 30’s prints the real ones from the 30’s. I have not decided what I want to do with them and would welcome any ideas. I do have the books of the 30’s patterns but,I guess I am not ready yet. These had belonged to a elderly lady and were in mint condition.

    —Virginia Brown on November 11, 2012
  • I have 14 quilt blocks that appear to be from a friendship quilt with the name of the quilter embroidered on the block. Through, I’ve traced these ladies to a small farming community-Hygiene, Colorado. Based on this research I think the blocks were made sometime between 1935 and 1945, probably with grain sack prints. Most blocks were hand sewn, a few were machine sewn. I need advice on putting the squares together into the quilt they were intended to be. Some pieces need to be stitched; no problem. Some have raveled to the point of there being no seam allowance to stitch. What to do? The blocks are not real consistent in size. How can I "square" them before sewing?

    I’d appreciate any help or anyone who has finished a quilt such as this.

    —Debi G on February 3, 2013
  • i have an old quilt top that was my grandmothers, i have no idea how old this piece is (i’m in my 50’s) it seems to be in great shape. the pattern is similar to the "fancy dish" in your fancy to frugal book. the edges of this top are all scalloped and I’m not sure how to finish them. I’d like to keep them scalloped some people have suggested just cutting them straight off, but I feel this would change the whole look of the quilt. any suggestions. thanks

    —Nancy Brauberger on October 16, 2013
  • Can you please tell me where to get the quilted teddy bear pattern? I just love the teddy bear shown on your web page.

    Hi Becky, the teddy-bear photo is from the book Fancy to Frugal, but I’m afraid there is no pattern for it in the book. The bear is shown in the book as an example of the frugality of ’30s stitchers. ~Jenny

    —Becky on January 18, 2014
  • Teddy bear looks a lot like a Dream Spinner Pattern.

    —joanne recla on April 22, 2014
  • What is the black feedsack fabric used in FANCY DISH from the book, Fancy to Frugal? I love it; I want to make the quilt, but I am having trouble finding black feedsack fabrics. There seems to be many more pastels. Would you be able to help me with this?

    Patty McClellan

    —Patty McClellan on May 28, 2014
  • In response to Becky on January 18, 2014–

    The quilted teddy bear pattern featured in the Fancy to Frugal book is a DreamSpinners pattern by Great American Quilt Factory, Inc. Their address is 8970 E. Hampden Ave., Denver, Colorado 80231 and the phone # is 303-695-0593. The pattern is #136–"I Wish I might".
    Hope this helps.

    Patty McClellan

    —Patty McClellan on June 5, 2014
  • Do you sell the pattern for the patchwork teddy bear, had one years ago but gave it away.

    No, Aline, I’m sorry, but there’s no pattern available. You can use any teddy bear pattern and an old "cutter" quilt and you would have something very similar. ~Cornelia/Customer Service

    —Aline on October 25, 2016
  • Would like a copy of the quilted teddy bear pattern. I have the pattern and have made the bear for over 35yrs , and my pattern is worn out, I have copied over and over , I’d like a new one …..if you could possibly send me a copy, I’d so appreciate,if you would email and let me know how much the pattern is and I’ll send you the $, Ill give you my address: 44020 FM 3021; Brownwood, Texas 76801..

    Debra K Shannon on April 3, 2020

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