Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Happier Times in America?

Does this 1930s pictorial quilt tell a story of happier times in America, or does it simply long for happier times? The stock market crash of October, 1929 set the tone for the 1930s, the Great Depression, when widespread poverty and unemployment devastated American families.

a cheerful, 1930s quilt from Kansas
The 1930s were also known as the "dirty thirties" because of the Dust Bowl, a severe drought with dust storms, which affected ecology and agriculture throughout the plains and prairies of North America.

1930s Double Wedding Ring
Cheerful colors and patterns such as Double Wedding Ring and Grandmother's Flower Garden were on trend in the 1930s. Popular pastel colors were tangerine, lavender, sky blue, pink, Nile green and butter yellow. Considering how difficult life was, it is intriguing to think about the happy colors in American quilts.
Bicentennial quilt by Barbara McKie
The 1970s may seem like happier times almost 50 years after the fact, but it was another tumultuous decade. The Bicentennial in 1976 was a high point, but there were significant low points such as the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and the energy crisis.

Pieced star, c. 1976
Patriotic quilts were popular in the 1970s, in large part due to the Bicentennial, but the feeling of patriotism was not the general tone throughout most of the decade.

1850s floral applique quilt

Elegant quilts were popular during the Civil War period, even though it was among the most bitter periods of American history.

Popular colors were Turkey red, overdyed green, cheddar orange and double pink-- and of course, a lot of white.

sunny, 1930s Giant Dahlia quilt
Some of the most beautiful quilts were made in troubled times, and I find it so interesting. It is almost as if quiltmakers decided the world was not beautiful enough, so they had to make it better with gorgeous quilts.


  1. When I am troubled, I seek needle & thread. Could this have been a therapeutic & meditative exercise for folks.

    1. It was certainly a way to pass the time, keep the hands busy, and for many women it was a way to gather together with the goal of making things, while communicating with each other and exchanging ideas.

  2. My theory has always been that color and pattern become brighter and more cheerful in tough times. Certainly the Depression era fabrics brought happiness to everyday life. The times they are a changin' 60's brought eye popping color to fashion. And today? Well perhaps that is why designers like Kaffe Fassett and Tula Pink (to name a few) are so popular. I've really enjoyed your recent posts! Thanks for sharing.