The Great Depression was an era that created quite a challenge for women who desired to quilt. Not only was money very tight in households, but there were limited supplies nationwide. Women had to turn to creativity and resourcefulness in order to create beautiful quilts. Some popular quilts of today were actually born from The Great Depression.
The Great Depression, for those of us who weren’t around at the time, was an economic slump in North America, Europe, and other industrialized areas of the world that began in 1929 and lasted until about 1939. Begun with the collapse of agricultural prices in the 1920’s, it’s most well-known for the 1929 collapse of Wall Street. It was the longest and most severe depression ever experienced by the industrialized Western world.
Bankers and other previously weather individuals who lost everything jumped to their deaths from buildings. Workers who could find jobs still struggled to be able to feed their families. With the total collapse of the economy, people found creative ways to brings in small amounts of cash while businesses had to become creative to survive by vying for a portion of that hard-earned money from their customers.
So it’s easy to see why companies selling quilt fabrics, threads and tools had to find a way to create value in their products and encourage quilters to continue to spend such hard-earned cash. Luckily for them, quilts were a necessity that had to be created by hand because the severe economic times limited the ability to purchase them.
Women magazines began offering similar quilting patterns for free with each issue to increase their readership. After all, most household budgets could not afford to purchase a magazine, yet alone several quilting patterns.
So to continue selling magazines and to promote the purchase of fabrics, many vendors chose to offer free patterns that would encourage the purchases. Patterns such as the Star of Bethlehem, Wedding Ring, Grandmother’s Flower Garden and even Dresden Plate are just some of the patterns we still use today that were actually the result of The Great Depression.
Often women would share one magazine. They would trace the quilting patterns or even a picture from a quilt photographed for the magazine to make their own patterns at home. The most popular magazines would occasionally offer iron-on quilt patterns. These were extremely well received since several women could share not only the cost of the magazine but could share the iron-on patterns for their quilting.
Thus, offering free quilting patterns actually became a common marketing tradition that is still used today.
I found it particularly interesting that what was used to market to women and sell women’s magazines in The Great Depression is still used today. Many companies even offer free patterns in their magazines for quilting and other crafts.
We offer the same service at www.QuiltingResourceCenter to people who sign up for the patterns, even if they don’t belong to the members-only section of the website. Of course, those who do join the members-only site regularly receive original patterns created just for our members.
But caveat emptor let the buyer beware really applies here when surfing the web for “free” quilt patterns. There are a few sites that offer free patterns and even manage to often score high in page ranking on Google that are merely scams to capture and sell email addresses. So be careful when you choose to subscribe to such a free service. Be sure it’s a website or company that really is in the quilting or sewing industry, not in the data collection and resale business or you could be subject to a flood of email marketing you think you’ve never requested.
All that aside, isn’t it fascinating that this particular marketing technique of giving away free patterns that we use so freely today really came into use during The Great Depression? You know what they say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”