These interpretive pieces explore the role of quilts during the Great Depression.

Thrift and style

A cheerful pastel pieced Broken Star quilt shows how a quiltmaker could execute a pattern with clear inspiration from the literature celebrating “colonial”-style quilts while drawing on the Depression era values of thrift and reuse. The pattern, a favorite during the 1930s that consumers...

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The Quilting Bee and New Deal Collectivism

In the early years of the New Deal, some federal administrators aimed to develop experiments in cooperative living and farming. In 1933 the government established the Federal Subsistence Homesteads Corporation, which created subsistence farm homestead communities. The FSA sponsored cooperative loans for its clients...

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Migrant Grandmother

Dorothea Lange, perhaps the most famous FSA photographer, took the most iconic Great Depression photograph, known as “Migrant Mother,” which along with the plight of the Joad family depicted in John Steinbeck’s 1939 The Grapes of Wrath, made the migrant families now working in...

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Pie Town

In 1940, Russell Lee ventured to Pie Town, New Mexico, to conduct what his Farm Security Administrator supervisor Roy Stryker called a “small town study.”  Stryker sought to capture the regional differences of what he called the “American institution” of  the small town, including...

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Laura Wheeler Encourages Thrift

While many design companies published and sold mail order quilt patterns through newspaper columns, Laura Wheeler patterns were particularly popular because they encouraged the use of scraps and creative thrift, acknowledging that making a quilt an economical way was desirable. These regularly occurring features...

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A Colonial Quilting Party, for Children

In 1937 the School District of Philadelphia offered a line drawing of an old fashioned quilting bee as a coloring sheet in its Bulletin for Teachers for grade 4, which provided source material for studying the “colonial people.” Of the colonial woman, the Bulletin...

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Harry Kaplan Makes a Quilt

Interestingly, photographers did not only feature women with quilts. Here Russell Lee posed Harry Kaplan, a previously unemployed garment worker, with his quilt assembled from scraps of suiting at the garment factory in  Jersey Homestead, a cooperative established as part of New Deal to...

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