Waldvogel Archival Collection

Merikay Waldvogel has collected and researched quilts since the mid 1970s. Although she has also written about older quilts, her primary interests are in the 20th century: the 1933 Sears Quilt Contest, Depression Era Quilts, as well as quilt designers, authors and companies that propelled the 20th century quilt styles.

Waldvogel became an outspoken advocate for saving quilt ephemera such as quilt catalogs, newspaper columns, batting wrappers, advertisements, contest fliers, etc. when she wrote Soft Covers for Hard Times: Quiltmaking and the Great Depression and Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The ephemera served as reliable primary sources to authenticate the quilts she was researching.

In 19 ___, she acquired a major collection of quilt ephemera compiled by round robin pattern collector, Mildred Dickerson of Birmingham, AL. In the 1960s-1980s, Mildred spearheaded a nationwide network of women who shared ephemera they came upon by tracing (or photocopying) original pieces and mailing them to fellow collectors. Acting as archivists, they indexed and documented the patterns. Some women created lists for themselves while others sold pattern reprints or edited newsletters. Their goal was to compile the most comprehensive catalog of quilt patterns, not unlike what the Quilt Index is designed to do. Dickerson’s handwritten notations sometimes appear on the scanned items. For this project, Waldvogel chose pieces that supplement two other quilt collections she has written for the Quilt Index: the Mary Gasperik and the Sears Quilt Contest galleries, both of which focus on the Midwest in the 1930s.

The selected catalogs, published in the early 1930s, contain information on quilt patterns as well as quilt kits. They are also a rich resource of information on how quilts were made, what fabrics and colors were preferred, and what they cost. Some of the companies were used to producing fancy work designs such as embroidery, tatting, and crochet. It is interesting to see how they re-worked their catalog offerings to include quilts. The one embroidery catalog from 1889 is inserted as a comparison which included Crazy Quilt layouts while maintaining their emphasis on embroidery stitches.

Notice also how the companies portray an old-fashioned, some might call it "colonial" image, while trying to reach the busy, modern women. Companies used women with fictitious names to speak directly to the customers. Nancy Lee, Virginia Snow, Grandma Dexter, and Grandmother Clark are not real people. Mary McElwain, however, was a real person whose quilt shop in the Southeastern corner of Wisconsin sold quilt patterns, quilt kits, and finished quilts.

McElwain's quilts appeared not only in her 1936 Romance of the Village Quilts [scanned], but also in BOAG Quilts [scanned], Rock River Cotton Co. pattern sheets [scanned], and the Lockport Batting Co. pattern sheets [scanned]. Notice on the Rock River Cotton Co. patterns there is a "1934 patent pending notice." Mountain Mist batting was sold with a free pattern printed on the inside of the batting wrapper and the parent company had received a patent for the idea. Rock River Cotton Co. may have had to do something different to match the free pattern for a roll of batting.
Notice also how the templates and quiltING designs are handled. It is still tricky to fit a 12-inch template illustration on a page of paper or even on the computer monitor. Look especially at the "Martha Washington" patterns, most of which are appliqué. Although the templates for the appliqué components were too big to scan, read the instructions and see if you can figure out how to begin this quilt project. And finally, look for quilts in the Quilt Index that match these primary sources.

Merikay Waldvogel
Knoxville, TN
March 2012

Selected Writings by Merikay Waldvogel:

Soft Covers For Hard Times: Quiltmaking and the Great Depression (Rutledge Hill Press, 1990).

Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 World’s Fair (Rutledge Hill Press, 1993).

"Mildred Dickerson: A Quilt Pattern Collector of the 1960s and 1970s" in Uncoverings 1994, American Quilt Study Group, 45-72.

"The Origin of Mountain Mist Patterns" in Uncoverings 1995, American Quilt Study Group, 95-138.

"Quilt Design Explosion of the Great Depression" in On The Cutting Edge (Oral Traditions Project, Union County, PA, 1994), 85-95.

View all records in this project