Thursday, August 15, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, Nov/Dec 1986

A former member of our Charlotte Quilter's Guild who is no longer quilting was cleaning out her home recently and graciously decided to gift her entire stash of Quilter's Newsletter Magazines to a current guild member.  Her issues go from 1986 through the late 'nineties, long before I began quilting, so I snapped at the chance to do a little "time traveling" through these back issues.  Quilter's Newsletter Magazine has been my all-time favorite over the years, and I was a subscriber from the early 2000s until the magazine folded at the end of 2016.  

QNM Issues from the 2000s, When I Began Subscribing
I'm interested in the patterns that were published in earlier issues of the magazine, but I'm also interested in reading the articles and studying the advertisements to learn how the art, craft and industry around quilt making has evolved over the past 33 years.  

And so, for today's Throwback Thursday, we are traveling back to November/December of 1986!

QNM Issue 187, Nov/Dec 1986
When this magazine was published, I was a thirteen-year-old eighth grader whose primary goal in life was trying to get my spiral-permed hair to stick straight up in the air with hairspray.  Although my junior high mandated one semester each of co-ed shop class and co-ed home economics, all I got out of that was a little wooden stand that I built for VHS tapes -- and I learned how to cook scrambled eggs while dodging the airborn eggs that the boys were throwing at one another across the classroom.  

In the wake of Second Wave feminism, the traditional home economics curriculum had all but disappeared from the schools, and even though my mom did a lot of garment sewing when I was growing up, she worked full-time outside the home and, for one reason or another, didn't pass that skill set along to me or to my sisters.  I think the prevailing idea in the '80s was that it was backwards or anti-feminist to teach young girls to sew, since our generation was expected to go out and crush it in the business world instead of staying at home.  (Consider this article from the Dec. 30, 1986 New York Times, in which researchers studying data from the 1980 Census concluded that women's roles and social norms had not been in agreement since the 1950s).

That seems to be a key generational difference between those who began quilting in the '70s and '80s versus those who have taken up quilting more recently.  The earlier generation of quilters already possessed basic sewing skills and equipment that they could transfer to their new quilting hobby, whereas a typical beginning quilter today might not own a sewing machine or has never even threaded a needle when she or he first develops the itch to make a quilt.

Baby Boom (1987) and Mr. Mom (1986), available on Amazon here
Two films that were in theaters around the time this issue of QNM was on the newsstand were Baby Boom (1987) and Mr. Mom (1986), conveniently packaged as a Double Feature available for streaming on Amazon here.  I vividly remember watching both of these movies that idealized the new phenomenon of the "working mom."  I had no idea at the time that this seismic cultural shift in American family life was concurrent with a renewed interest in the traditional women's craft of quilting.  Despite the quilting Renaissance that was kicked off in the United States by the Bicentennial celebrations of 1976, I don't remember seeing any representations back then of quilters in popular culture.  This intrigues me, and I wonder who those women were who were resurrecting the art of hand quilting while Diane Keaton was building a baby food conglomerate and home economics classes were disappearing from the schools.  Did the new quilters of the '80s and '90s identify as feminists, or were they actively rejecting feminism by embracing and romanticizing the traditional needlework that women had engaged in during "simpler times," or do you feel that the renewed appeal of quilting as a creative outlet had no relation at all to the changes in American family life that were happening at the same time? 

If you were making quilts back in 1986 while I was still in the bathroom playing with hairspray, I'd love to hear from you in the comments.  

What brought you to quilting?  Were you a homemaker or working outside the home at that time?  Did you feel liberated by the new possibilities available to women outside the home, or did you feel that your traditional identity, values, and skills were being devalued?  Did you then, or do you now in retrospect, see any connection between the changing opportunities and expectations for women that were happening culturally and the pleasure that you and other women found in quilt making during the '80s and '90s?

These are the things that stood out to me from the Nov/Dec 1986 issue of Quilter's Newsletter:

  • The ads are all for polyester batting
  • No mention of rotary cutting anywhere -- all of the patterns have templates instead.  That surprised me, because I know that Olfa introduced the first rotary cutters for garment sewing in 1979.  Seven years later, quilters were still tracing templates onto cereal boxes and cutting out every patch with a scissor?!  I'll be interested to discover when the first ad or article for rotary cutting finally shows up in QNM as I read through the decades of back issues!
  • None of the ads have websites listed, and many of them instruct readers to mail in $5.50 or however much with a SASE (Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope).  I had forgotten all about SASEs!
  • There was an interesting article about the difficulty that quilters in 1986 were having locating the fabric colors they wanted.  That seems bizarre to me, spoiled by local quilt shops that carry full ranges of solid colors and everything from the traditional Civil War reproduction prints to Aunt Grace to Kaffe Fassett and beyond -- and if I can't find what I'm looking for at my LQS, there's always the Internet to find that elusive out-of-print fabric that I need to finish my project!
  • All of the quilts in this issue appear to be hand quilted.   I saw no mention of machine quilting at all, many ads for different styles of hand quilting frames, hoops, and thimbles, and several photos of women quilting by hand in articles as well as in advertisements.  There was one small 1/6 page black and white ad for a "Nustyle Table Frame for Professional Quilting" that depicted a domestic Juki sewing machine mounted onto a small frame to do narrow width pantograph quilting, instructing readers to "Call or send 22 cent stamp for literature and prices."  Remember when a postage stamp only cost 22 cents?!
  • Another thing that stood out to me is that the quilters who are pictured in this 1986 issue all look so YOUNG -- three appeared to be in their late twenties or thirties, two who may have been in their forties or fifties, and one woman who might have been early sixties.  And they really WERE young, because 1986 predates the ubiquity of Botox...  Just sayin'.
  • The articles and patterns in this issue of QNM are still depicting very traditional quilts in terms of their design and color.  However, several of the quilts in the QNM Readers' Quilt Show section are starting to look more experimental and contemporary:

Readers' Quilt Show: More Experimental Quilts Made by QNM Readers
Traditional Quilt Patterns Written by QNM Staff
That was an interesting discovery -- I would have thought that readers' quilts would have been more traditional and the editorial content would have been introducing new aesthetics, new techniques, and innovation.  Instead, at least from this issue, it seems that the magazine was still pretty traditional in 1986 even as its readers were starting to explore new possibilities in quilt making.

Okay, so no actual quilting got done today, and I got off on quite the tangent with this one back issue of QNM.  Uff da!  Tomorrow is a whole new day -- hopefully one that involves loading an outreach top on the longarm and quilting it!


SJSM said...

In 1977 I took a quilting class at an adult night school. They were teaching how to use a rotary cutter to make a quilt. I purchased the requisite cutter and mat and still have the originals today. In 1986 I quite working full time after my daughter’s birth. I’m one of those women who elected to take college bound courses in high school who never had any home ec as a result. My sewing developed as a life skill as everyone I knew sewed and my mom felt you could learn those skills on the fly as it was prevalent. So I did. Yes, that first quilt was made with polyester batting and polyester fabric. There were tons of garment fabric shops and you purchased your quilting fabrics there. There was a section that had quilting type fabrics but it wasn’t the main part of the store.

My sewing was mostly Halloween costumes, with a bit of garment sewing, curtains and other home dec items and crafty sewing, ultimately I went the garment sewing route as that is where my interests lay. By 1986 I knew no one else who sewed except my moms generation and one friend in San Diego. The world was divided with women who worked and those who didn’t. In the women who worked group my peers were all male. One didn’t talk about family life too much. It was the time that professional women dressed in suits with a heavy leaning to pin strips, business solids, blouses that were shirt like and so forth.

When I joined the non-working crowd it was a different world. The women were mostly college educated and used their talents in the social realm and volunteering. Much of it revolves around causes and children. I sewed alone. I worked part time off and on usually in a support roll. My sewing took off in the 2000s. That’s when I found ASG, I was looking for like minded souls. That lead me to CaƱada College where I took up fashion sewing. By this time most garment fabric stores were gone and quilting stores were common.

I could go on but feel my diatribe is losing focus.

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

OH gosh - I would love to hear what others say about this - I of course really realize how much older I am then you when I read this stuff LOL - I remember 5 cent stamps and 27 cent a gallon gas for the car!!! I made just a couple quilts before 1986 (by hand) but really started in 1988 when I got very very sick and couldn't keep my part time job which I had finally gotten when my kids were 12 & 15 because they no longer needed me at home all the time. Yes I was a stay at home mom and after I got sick I reverted back to that and took up quilting to keep me busy and I really needed to get my stress level down from being sick. I cut everything by hand and I pieced by hand and quilted by hand. I cut log cabin quilts out completely with scissors. I never even thought of looking for new improved quilting tools until it was in the mid 90's - I don't know why - I just did it the old fashioned way because I liked it. I didn't even have a sewing machine that actually worked (I had machines off and on my whole life of course but cheap and broke down easily) until the mid 90's and then I only used it for binding.

Chris said...

I never considered myself a feminist. Ever. I was aware of the bra burning thing but kept mine on until recently when it is too much work to wiggle my way into it and then out of it. I did not take home ec in school because I took typing (they call it keyboarding now) and Latin (must be able to spell correctly). I learned how to sew on a brand new 1958 Singer Featherweight (that I still have) in 4-H. I majored in home ec in college and that is where I saw my first quilt. One of my classmates made a Colonial Girls top and had her church hand quilt it for her. She handed it in for an assignment and got faulted for getting someone else to quilt it. I knitted a scarf.

I made my first quilt in 1977. It was hand embroidered nursery rhymes and hand quilted. I made it for our son when he was still in diapers. My youngest granddaughter has it on her bed. I actually completed the first 2 quilts I made. In 1986 I was busy parenting 2 young children and I made a quilt out of Care Bear Coisuns panels and tied it. My daughter still has it. She used it on the couch all the time until they came out with those minky blankys.
I got my first rotary cutter in 1991 and had no idea what to do with it. I got a Quilt-In-A-Day book and made the first of many quick Log Cabin quilts. I did not get a cutting mat until 1992. Seriously, I cut out all those strips on an old wooden table.

I was self taught and scoured quilt magazines for insights. I saved magazines for years and bought hundreds of books before I sound all one ever needs on you tube. I have piles and piles and several bookshlves filled. What is a girl to do?

Rebecca said...

Yah I was one of those "quilters" who transferred from clothes sewing to quilting. I had home economics classes for 2 years in high school, but more importantly I had a mother who sewed and had her own business and raised 4 kids with a Navy father/husband. For me it was never a question of one or the other it was just doing what needed doing and playing with and getting enjoyment and creative with Cooking, Sewing, Working, when I could.
Olaf may have been around but for most of us the price seemed a bit high by the time you got the blade, cutting board and ruler/rulers for projects a couple of times a year. You could buy a lot of fabric for that kind of fabric layout. I still cringe at the cost for a new beginning quilter when I add the cost of those up. And now I cringe at the cost of fabric also. I will often let a new maybe quilter come play with my "quilting toys" until they decide to if and when to "go for it" .
On the hand or machine quilting question I tied most of my quilts cause thats what my mama taught me....

Shar said...

You asked for comments from quilters quilting in 1986 or before. I began quilting in 1981 although I grew up sewing by hand and treadle & electric sewing machines. Grandmother and Mom sewed and quilted. I worked for and managed a fabric store for 6 years prior to marriage. I mostly garment sewed or made bags/purses and other accessories. I had customers who quilted and purchased ginghams (then 100% cotton), solids and the lines of calico prints that were in every store. Occasionally they bought other prints that might fit into the styles of the late 70s. They asked why I didn't quilt. I just said I had no desire to cut up fabric into little pieces and sew them back together again. I did help my Mom make a quilt for the first grandchild into the family - appliqued something. Fast forward, I got married, had a child and moved to a Ranger Station in the middle of the wilderness of Idaho. A year after I got there, another family moved in and Mavis quilted. I started looking at some photos and patterns I had saved from magazines and thought it might be fun to make a quilt. Mavis was hand sewing her quilt that was pink and maroon. Can't remember the pattern anymore. At that time many magazines like Woman's Day had pattern kits you could mail away for. I had a photo of one that was a log cabin pattern in off white and tan. I bought calicos (this is 1981 and I was a long way from nowhere) and unbleached muslin. I think I might have made templates. But I had been sewing so long, I thought that 1/4" seams were too small. I made one block and discovered the error of my ways. I had to recut everything. The quilt turned as I wanted and it took me a few years to get it hand quilted and I won a first place in the Idaho County Fair in the mid 80s. Well, by the end of the log cabin (still one of my very favorite patterns because of it's versatility) I was smitten and I pieced and quilted when ever I could. I ordered fabric from several places (one was the Cotton Club in Boise Id (check out FB page - couldn't get the webiste) and Keepsake in NH. Whenever we traveled I visited all the quilt stores I could find. I learned more about quilting by watching PBS shows like Georgia Bonesteel. (We had very basic TV and thankfully PBS was one.) You could get cotton batting from some of the quilt or fabric stores. Fairfield came out with a batt that was more cotton like that I used for years. Poly batting was much easier to quilt than cotton. But of course the real look of quilting was to look like all the early American quilts which were flat. We moved to Helena MT in 1987 and I joined a guild. That was a lot of fun and I learned a lot. We got a quilt store a few years later. I also took a class as they became popular.
You don't need to post this - I wrote it for your interest. I enjoy following your postings. You remind me of myself a number of years ago. I'm now 69 and prefer art quilting - landscapes, stitching pieces, using hand dyes and other created fabrics.

Gretchen Weaver said...

I always have to laugh about the comment "in 1976 there was a resurgence of interest in quilting because of the bicentennial". Where I live in northern Indiana, in Elkhart and LaGrange counties, quilting was always happening. If you wanted fabric for quilting, you went to Yoder Department Store in Shipshewana. They had all the latest fabrics for quilting, they weren't all cotton fabric but they had what was manufactured then. Northern Indiana is Amish country and maybe that is why quilting was always "in". My mother taught quilting classes at the local YMCA and the Extension Office also had classes on piecing quilt blocks then hand quilting them. By the way, I married in 1976 so I guess I'm one of the 'older' quilters.

I grew up in a quilting family, my mother quilted along with both of my grandmothers. I thought everyone grew up with quilting in their 'blood'! Enjoy the old magazines!

Anonymous said...

I too am one of those quilters who started in garment sewing with Home Ec in the '70's. I purchased a Singer Sewing machine with my High School Graduation money. I have a minor in Textile and clothing and sewed quite a bit for myself. I remember getting bored with garment sewing and looking for something more creative and the late '80's. Everything was hand quilted and it was hard to find 100% cottons. In about 1990 I took a class from Harriet Hargrave on machine quilting and that really spoke to me. I have been hard core quilting ever since.
I purchased my first Bernina 900 in 1979. Early 1990's I graduated to a 1090 that I still have. Now I own a 790 and a midarm quilting machine. The first quilting book I purchased using a rotary cutter was a log cabin book and the rulers were unmarked strips of plexiglass in various widths depending on the size of strips you wanted to make. I don't believe I would still be quilting if everything had to still be cut out with templates and hand quilted.
It still amazes me that young women do not know how to put a zipper in or do a button hole. Guess that just shows my age.

Katie said...

In 1986 my children were 8, 6, and 2 years old. I was itching to quilt because my mother was quilting. (I'd been sewing since I was a little girl.) Mom joined a quilt group at our church. All of their quilting was by hand and much of the piecing as well! I made a log cabin quilt in the living room at night when the kids were asleep. Very 80s colors of peach, copper, and green. I didn't measure the lengths of my strips either, just sewed them to the sides of the block and whacked off the extra. I have no idea how I managed to get the blocks all the same size, but I did! I lay out the blocks on the floor in all different configurations and stood on the arm of the sofa to take photos. I couldn't wait to get that roll of film developed!! I hand quilted the border and tied the log cabin blocks. It's hanging over the loft railing right now. A bit stained and worn, and the colors are not to my taste anymore, but it will always be special to me. :-)

And you don't want to hear me on the subject of Home Ec. in school. I hated it!

Anne-Marie said...

I'm very close in age to you. I took Home Ec and Shop in middle school in the 80s. I did not know anyone who made quilts. In the mid 90s I decided I wanted to make a quilt, went to the craft store, and bought a book called "Teach Yourself to Quilt". Once I discovered quilt guilds, I was always the youngest by decades. Now most of my fellow guild members are either 10 years younger or 30 years older. Anyway, the older magazines are fun to look through. I always find the advertising to be the most interesting--it always used to be the poly battings and "new, computerized" machines. Now it's almost totally long arm advertising.

PaulaB quilts said...

I grew up in New England where is the major industry was textiles. Most of the bed coverings were woven coverlets and I never saw a quilt in my life until I went to California after college graduation. As a new bride I got my first machine, a Sears Kenmore. I made a pair of pajamas for my husband for a Christmas surprise. He kindly told me that he never wore pajamas, just T-shirt and shorts. I did sew many of my mini skirt dresses during the 70s. With two young children I started back to work half time and did very little sewing. In 1979 we moved to Spokane Washington where they have a large quilt exhibition. It was there that I met and joined a group of local quilters. I made a twin size Irish chain quilt for my daughter and cut up every square by hand and stitched them back together. In 1980 we moved to the Seattle area, where I joined the Block Party Quilters. I made wall hangings of my own design, using a wide variety of fabrics from satin to velvet to lame’. The one I have treasured most still hangs on my bedroom wall, a 5 x 5‘ design of stars and crosses, again cutting each piece by tracing a coffee can lid template. During the week before the annual show, I managed to machine quilt it entirely with half-inch spacing. I returned to work full-time in the medical field until retirement. In 2007 we moved here to Madison Wisconsin, where I was invited to join a quilt guild. So now I am back in the world of quilting and also blogging with other Quilters online. My real interest is in modern improv quilting, although I make small Project Linus charity quilts as well. I spent one year buying fabric online like crazy. That was followed by a year of complete fabric fasting. I am now happy with my stash and an occasional splurge. said...

I began my quilting adventure in the mid 80's... hand piecing with templates, (although I did have a rotary cutter, which I still have) and I recall the era of looking for just the right color or print (other than a mauve, aqua, brown ditsy print) and then came HOFFMAN!!! QNM was also my favorite magazine for higher-end articles, a whole series on 'doing the math' and design concepts, as well as the Quilting Today magazine. Unfortunately, informative magazines have died and they all look the same now, inside and out! Looking back, with you and your observations, was kinda fun today.

Vivian said...

While I was not a quilter in the 80s (as you already know), I came to sewing from the "old days" of Home Ec in school in the 70s. I got my first rotary cutter in the 80's though --- it was offered as a free gift for pre-viewing a craft book and as far as I can remember it wasn't a quilting craft book either! I had read about rotary cutters in Threads magazine and was curious. I tried it with clothing patterns but found it hard to use -- perhaps because at the time no one mentioned you needed the acrylic rulers to cut with it, Lol!! It's not surprising that the quilts in early 80's QNMs were mostly hand quilted because back then that was "the prevailing norm" even though people did machine quilt some quilts. The first machine quilted quilt to win a Best In Show" award in a major show was Caryl Bryer-Fallert's "Corona II: Solar Eclipse" in the 1989 AQS show. I've read there was a big hullabaloo in the quilt world when that happened! However, by the time I started quilting in the early 2000s, machine quilting had become the new standard to the point that I started out vowing to ONLY machine quilt. Now I enjoy mixing it up and let the project decide whether it wants hand stitching or not. I love my collection of QNMs and still troll eBay periodically to try to find issues I'm missing. They are a wealth of information and a treasure trove of project inspiration to this day! Enjoy and treasure them!!

Anonymous said...

I was quilting back in the '70s when I was in middle and high school. Knew very little about quilts but I wanted to make them. I went to my first quilt show in 1986, soon after I graduated from college, and I promptly joined a quilt guild and subscribed to QNM. I have the issue you show in the blog post (and many, many others) and I've been quilting ever since. I still prefer to piece and quilt mostly by hand, though I can use a machine.
Regarding the Olfa cutter and mat, we had them in the late 80s for sure. I remember going to one guild meeting where we were cutting pieces for a good works project and someone sliced her hand badly and wound up in the ER for stitches and a tetanus shot. Also had one friend who tried a stack-and-whack project (sew, stack, cut apart, sew the pieces together) but whose machine was broken so she sewed the strips by hand and then tried to cut them apart and rearrange them for the second round of piecing. You can imagine how well THAT went.
I still love the old copies of QNM.

Rebecca Grace said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and memories! I feel like your friend who earned an ER visit an tetanus shot with those early rotary cutters has major « Quilter’s Street Cred! »

Christie Farris said...

That particular issue has a heard to find quilt pattern called a Tea Box Quilt. This magazine is out of print. UT Austin has the publishers notes and all back issues in the archives but cannot access unless you are a UT student. Any chance you could scan the pattern and share it?

Rebecca Grace said...

I’m sorry, Christie, but I don’t have it anymore. It was part of a large donation of old quilting magazines that I went through, scanned only a handful of things from a few issues, and ended up recycling all of the magazines because I didn’t have room to keep them and couldn’t find anyone else who wanted them. I suggest finding a UT-Austin student and hiring them to get you a copy of the pattern from the university library. College students always need money !

Anonymous said...

Good idea! Thank you.