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 could purchase as a kit with die-cut pieces, was published and named “Broken Star” in a 1925 issue of Capper’s Weekly, a farm magazine from Kansas, and later offered as a free pattern inside a roll of Mountain Mist quilt batting.[1] Attributed to rural Arkansas, closer examination of this particular quilt reveals the maker’s reuse through the repurposing of a feed or flour sack. On the quilt’s back is a faded printed label.[2] The integration of dual-use packaging—cloth bags that once held feed, flour, sugar, or other staples— into quilts has become synonymous with the thrifty ingenuity of the Great Depression. The reuse of sacks, typically dyed or bleached to remove the labels (which often stubbornly remained, as did this one), is a prime example of how farmwomen creatively made due with what they had, even as the participated in the quilt revival by executing quilts in fashionable commercially published patterns.[3]

Unknown maker, Broken Star, c. 1930-50, possibly made in Arkansas. International Quilt Museum.

[1] Merikay Waldvogel, Deborah Rake, and Marin F. Hanson, “Repackaging Tradition: Pattern and Kit Quilts,” in American Quilts in the Modern Age, 1870-1940: The International Quilt Study Center Collections, ed. Marin F. Hanson and Patricia Cox Crews (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 310; Barbara Brackman, “A Few Broken Stars,” Material Culture, June 5, 2014, ; Stearns & Foster Company, Stearns & Foster Catalogue of Quilt Pattern Designs and Needle Craft Supplies. (Cincinnati, Ohio: Stearns & Foster Co., 1900s); Merikay Waldvogel, Soft Covers for Hard Times, (Nashville: Rutledge Hill, 1990), 4.

[2] International Quilt Museum, “Class,” World Quilts: The America Story | International Quilt Museum, 2013.

[3] Susan Strasser, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 1999), 211–15; Lu Ann Jones and Sunae Park, “From Feed Bags to Fashion,” Textile History 24, no. 1 (1993): 91–103; Shaw, American Quilts: The Democratic Art (New York: Sterling, 2009), 234.