Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to find the quilt, clothing, craft and other patterns newspapers offered our ancestors for home projects.
We often think of the newspaper as a place to get news. But the newspaper offered so much more to the community it served. Newspapers were an important avenue of entertainment for generations of our families, and appealing to an entire family of readers helped ensure the ongoing success of the newspaper. In some cases the newspaper sold or gave away products, and provided readers a reason to keep the newspaper long after the news stories were old and dated.
Previously on the GenealogyBank Blog, I’ve written articles about the recipes and cookbooks printed by newspapers. Another way the newspaper appealed to women readers and subscribers was by offering sewing and crafting patterns. Patterns were provided for free, printed right in the newspaper, or offered for a minimal cost through mail-order.
Sewing Patterns Used for Newspaper Marketing
There’s no doubt that offering sewing patterns appealed to our women ancestors. The advertisement below from a 1914 newspaper is meant to flatter female readers – and the over-exaggeration of its text demonstrates that print advertising hasn’t changed much over the years. This newspaper advertisement proclaims:
Our announcement of the Big Gift to Women Readers has already made a stir. Trust the women in any community to recognize a real opportunity. They know that Embroidery Transfer Patterns cost at least ten cents each and every woman knows that a chance to secure 165 of the latest and most select patterns practically for nothing is a real opportunity. To have at hand this wonderful and complete outfit of embroidery patterns will contribute much to the happiness in the home.
At the bottom of the ad, under the heading “How to Secure Your Gifts,” instructions are given making it clear why this embroidery pattern give-away was such a clever promotion for the Macon Telegraph newspaper:
Bring to this office six of the Ideal Art Pattern Coupons. (One coupon is printed each day on another page of this paper.) You must bring six of different dates (they need not be consecutive) together with the small expense items amounting to 68 cents. The 68 cents is merely to cover cost of packing and shipping the package.
That’s just one example of sewing patterns provided by newspapers to their readers. Other examples include everything from needle arts and quilting, to clothing and crafts. While pattern companies advertised their latest offerings in newspapers, newspapers themselves also offered patterns for sale.
Bible History Quilt
One type of pattern offered by newspapers was for quilt blocks. A quilt containing numerous blocks ensured that readers would want to purchase subsequent newspapers to get each pattern. And if a reader missed a week? She could then order that quilting block pattern from the newspaper for a small fee – in the case of the pattern below, 10 cents each. The following example is the Bible History Quilt, a design by prolific quilt pattern designer Ruby McKim which included 24 blocks, each one published by the newspaper on consecutive Sundays.
This news article shows a crude drawing of what the finished Bible quilt would look like, and includes some general directions about how to transfer the pattern to blocks of fabric.
Block 1 of this quilt, with its scroll design and the words “God, Heavens, Earth, Air, Water, Life,” symbolized the creation story in the book of Genesis. Each Sunday a new block was introduced that symbolized a well-known Bible story and characters.
Here’s a picture of a Bible History Quilt showing the first block.
Audubon Bird Quilt
Another example of a quilt block series is the Audubon Bird Quilt. Here is block #10 from that series.
Patterns for crafts and the decorative arts were plentiful in the newspaper, but they didn’t represent the only kind of pattern available. Practical clothing patterns for your family could be ordered from the newspaper as well. These patterns differ from the quilt patterns mentioned above (which were actually printed in the newspaper and didn’t have to be ordered). The clothing patterns were advertised in the newspaper for purchase, and then mailed to the reader.
This sewing pattern, advertised under the heading “Today’s Pattern,” is for overalls and a playsuit.
In some cases multiple clothing patterns can be found together, like this example from 1946 that has a slim-looking “smart-house frock” to sew and mittens to knit, tucked in between articles and the comics section.
While the quilt patterns shown above were offered for free, most newspaper patterns were for sale and as such they read like an advertisement. Newspapers did what they could to market these patterns for sale to their readers. Good examples of their marketing prowess are this World War II-era summer dress pattern and a “colorful new Pattern Book” for 10 cents that is touted with this advertising copy:
It’s filled with simple, fabric-saving designs for active service, for ‘on leave’ glamor, for the home front.
Home Décor, Memorials & More
Newspaper patterns weren’t just limited to sewing or needlework. Craft patterns were also offered, which differed depending on the time of the year and what was happening in the world. During World War II, for example, these patriotic figures for outdoor memorials and lawn decorations were advertised for the “home craftsmen.”
Did your ancestors purchase patterns from the newspaper? Do you have a family heirloom that was made from one of those patterns? Share your stories with us in the comments below.
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