Thursday, June 15, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Cottons in the 1970s

Stars with Bowtie orphan blocks, c. 1970
In the 1970s, polyester was the fabric of our lives, but what about cotton? Quiltmakers who were active in the 1970s recall quilting cottons were not always easy to find, and there wasn't much selection.

Stars, Janis Pearson, Gresham, Oregon, 1972
Four years ago, I wrote an article about the 1970s quilts for American Quilter Magazine. In the article, I asked Janis Pearson, maker of a lovely Star quilt made of calicoes, about the availability of cottons. She produced a list of every shop in Portland, Oregon that sold cotton fabrics at the time. There were not many, despite a lot of sewing activity.

Crazy Quilt, Harriett Carlton Swett, Carthage, Maine, c. 1970
I was curious, so I counted the 1970s quilts in my collection. There were almost 200 quilts, and roughly 20% were made of cotton. A lot of the cotton quilts were calico, but there were other cotton fabrics such as solids, corduroys and even barkcloth and upholstery weight fabric.

Interacting Pyramids, Barbara McKie, Connecticut, 1974
corduroy quilt, c. 1970
Upholstery fabric samples, c. 1970
One-patch with calicoes, c. 1970
There were other observations about the cotton quilts, entirely unscientific but interesting nevertheless. A number of the cotton quilts were signed or identified by maker. Several of those makers were still active in 2017.

"Modern Peony" Fern Polk, Arkansas, c. 1970
Considering the effort it took to find cottons in the 1970s, the makers of cotton quilts were particularly invested in keeping their information with the quilts, as well as maintaining a long-term involvement making quilts.

Nine patch with hearts, c. 1970
Through the huge uptick in American quiltmaking during the 1970s, cottons were making a dramatic comeback. Serious quiltmakers demanded cottons. They went to the shops, bought all the calicoes and other cottons normally used for garment making, and ultimately made cotton the fabric of our lives.

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