The Quilt Kit: Quilting ‘Gateway Drug’

Some of us grew up with mothers or grandmothers that stitched. Others of us may have known a family friend or a distant relative that identified as a ‘quilter.’ But for many of us, we were not exposed to the art of sewing and quiltmaking through family, as others were. Which begs the question, what causes a person to take up quiltmaking and why?

The answer will vary from person to person. But whether the desire to create something new led you to quilt or the recreation of something you admire, there is no wrong or right way to quilt. 

The ways to quilt are almost as varied as the quilters who use them. Some people seem to have a natural gift to envision an original design and then jump right in and create it. To others, the task of creation can seem daunting or discourage people from even beginning a quilt. That’s why one of the ‘gateways’ into quilting for these later people is quilt kits. A quilt kit usually contains a pattern, the pattern fabric, and sometimes backing fabric. 

Quilt kits are not a new phenomenon. According to Teresa Duryea Wong’s article, ‘Little Known Facts: 1900s Appliqué Kits Set New Standards and Propel the Economy,’ quilt kits were sold as far back as the early 1900s. 

Intricate floral appliqué patterns were popular as the kit phenomenon grew. Patterns were often preprinted onto the fabric with little dotted lines indicating where to place the appliqué pieces. Kits often came with tiny printed numbers to show where to place fabric pieces. Some believe that the popular paint-by-number kits were inspired by these early appliqué kits.  

The quilt kit craze created opportunities for women to run their own businesses and created many manufacturing jobs. Wong says, “It is easy to assume that today’s quilt industry is a contemporary invention, but in the early 1900s these companies were serious contributors to the economy.” In a time when few opportunities were available for women to work and make money, jobs within the quilting industry would have been very desirable. 

Some people look negatively on the quilt kit because of its lack of originality. In many respects, however, the quilt kit is like a ‘gateway drug.’ No one, especially someone new to the art of quiltmaking wants to invest a lot of money and time in making a quilt that in the end, they decide they don’t like. The quilt kit provides a safe opportunity for a maker, usually one new to quilting, to invest in a project that they know they are going to like in the end. 

For most of us, a little experience under our belt helps us feel more comfortable branching out into creating our own original designs. And even if you never do, as long as sewing and quiltmaking bring you joy, then that is all that really matters when it comes to what you are creating. 

‘Little Known Facts: 1900 Appliqué Kit Quilts’ by Teresa Duryea Wong is available in Curated Quilts, Issue No. 11: Applique -- Get Your Copy Today!


Teresa Duryea Wong is the author of the books, Magic and Memories: 45 Years of International Quilt Festival and American Cotton: Farm to Quilt. She can be found on Instagram (@thirdfloorquilts) and you can learn more about her here.

by Brittany Bowen Burton


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