Monday, 31 August 2015

Hovering Hawks - Red Sky at Night

I've been buried in the most wonderful book about quilting in the 1930s this week! I had so many questions about why quilting took off again during the Great Depression and I just couldn't find the answers online. So finally I took the plunge and purchased Merikay Waldvogel's Soft Covers for Hard Times. 
I was curious to see if there was more to Depression Quilting than just making do. In Australia during the depression, we made quilt-like coverings called Waggas, made from old knitwear, blankets, hessian, basically anything that could be sewn together into a covering, and then stuffed with chaff or flour sacks. They were utilitarian and rough and charming in their own way. While some were made from leftover dress fabrics, there was less emphasis on beauty or design. They are a striking image of what I imagine the depression to have been like. But when we think of American quilting in the 1930s, we think of pretty colours, a huge variety of blocks, and, now that I've learned a little through this series, an explosion in publications, pattern sales, and quilting competitions.

In her book, Waldvogel explains that the spike in interest in the handmade arts didn't begin with the stock market crash in 1929, but with the bicentenary of George Washington's birth, and a revival in colonial homewares. It became fashionable to style one's home with Early American furnishings. People started dragging out their long forgotten quilts handed down through their families to put on display, or copy with modern prints. 'Traditional' became a word tied with patriotism, family and identity. It was fashion, and not frugality that sparked the quilting boom in the 1930s.
The depression, however, still shaped how the boom played out. When flour manufacturers discovered that women were using the calico cloth of flour sacks for their patchwork, they decided to use beautifully printed fabric instead of the plain, stamped cream cotton, to give them an edge on the market. According to Robert Cogswell (author of the book's introduction), it's actually one of the very first instances of industry emphasizing packaging over product! Depression quilters started to look out for the various prints to collect, not just the best quality flour, or the most reasonably priced. I'd take up baking too if flour came in pretty fabrics!
This nostalgic connection with the past, the chaos of the present, and the necessity to 'make do', created the perfect opportunity for fabric manufacturers, department stores, newspaper owners and entrepreneurs to make money from handcrafts in this incredibly challenging decade. Patterns, marking tools, pre-cut quilting kits, reproduction applique designs were all sold en masse despite the crippling financial conditions. And I'm certainly not judging, or complaining. I love the quilts of the thirties. And I think quilting is the perfect thing to do when everything around you is falling apart. It did make me think though, that 'Hovering Hawks,' a block first published in 1929 by Ruth Finley, was a good choice for today's block!


You will need:

Red: Four 4" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles, four 3.5" squares.

White: Four 4" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles, four 3.5" squares.

1. Sew your red triangles to white triangles. Press open and trim to 3.5"

2. Lay out as above. Red squares stepping diagonally down the centre, bordered by half square triangles, followed by white squares and the white triangle facing in in the corners. Because you have equal amounts of red and white, you can also arrange the colours in the opposite layout.

3. Sew each square to the one next to it, so that you end up with a collection of pairs, as above. Press. Arrange these back in the right spot.

4. Sew those pairs to the one below to make 6.5" squares. Press.

5. Sew those squares to the one next door. Press.

6. Sew these two halves together to finish the block. Press.

I really am enjoying learning more about quilt history. I love looking deeper beyond our assumptions and finding out what really drove these women to create such beautiful works. For some reason I feel a little relieved that it's not as straight forward as "times were tough so they made do, and did an incredible job of it." There are more layers than that. Fashion and advertising, wanting beautiful things, the desire to create, needing to live simply, paying for pre-cuts. It means they're more like me than I imagined. Not just a card-board cut out of American Sainthood, but a person affected by the things around her, shaped by her circumstances, sometimes cutting corners, juggling responsibility and creativity and desire. It makes me appreciate their art even more.


  1. So interesting Jodi and your writing makes it easy to related to these women who wanted to create with beautiful things in hard times. You know that I've always loved there idea of creating with mainly opshopped fabrics, but always find myself giving into the consumerism of the quilting world. And I think a little of both is ok! But I saw a textile exhibit this weekend made completely from found objects (I'm talking drift would and video cassette tape) and it made me want to be more thrifty in my fabric collection, I think challenges in fabric availability could lead to interesting designs and creativity. Amazing to think quilters have long had that inner battle of need vs. want of pretty fabric. Xx

  2. I don't know if you have/are going to, but you should write a book about the history of quilts as you write so beautifully about them and the different squares!! xx

  3. So interesting to learn how George Washington's bicentennial resulted in a resurgence of quilting. Exactly the same thing happened again in 1976 for the nation's bicentennial, when Early American furnishings (and quilting) again became extremely popular.


I so love your comments! I read all of them and reply when I can. If you don't hear back, I'm lost under a mound of scraps or outside jumping on the trampoline with the kids. Jodi. xx