Thursday, March 29, 2018

Forty Years Ago This Month

A few weeks ago I wrote about Jinny Beyer as an inspiration for traditional quiltmakers over the past forty years. I looked up her ground-breaking quilt "Ray of Light" first published in Good Housekeeping magazine in March, 1978 as top prize winner in their quilt contest and realized we have an anniversary to mark.

It has been forty years since that contest, which was a big deal at the time. Nearly 10,000 quilters entered. Jinny's first prize of $2,500 was a lot of money. (My house cost $15,500 a few years earlier.) The contest undoubtedly added to the widening of interest in quiltmaking as an art form.

Chris Wolf Edmonds won the Kansas prize.

I knew some quiltmakers who entered and a couple of them won prizes, which were based on states and sections of the country.

And Erma H. Kirkpatrick the North Carolina first.

Quilt historians have used contests to get a snapshot of the community aesthetic at a certain point in time. Merikay Waldvogel and I studied the 1933 Chicago World's Fair contest fifty years later, so this is a good time to look at the 1970s trends.

The magazine published the 51 winners (50 states plus the grand prize) in the March issue with Dinah Shore on the cover.

Sunburst by Helen Downs of Indiana

Quilting, hard to see in the photos, must have had some influence in the judging. 
Of course, hand quilting was the standard. 
Machine quilting had absolutely no cachet at the time.

Caroline Riddle's "Quilted Montage" won the Tennessee prize.
Pictorial images were quite popular...

...Influenced no doubt by the 1976 fashion for pictorial Bicentennial quilts illustrating local scenery and history, such as the Rockport Bicentennial Garden Club's winner for Maine.

Of the 43 pictures I saw 26 were primarily applique. Two seemed to be of found objects (labels and drawings) and 1 was wholecloth. 11 were pieced and 2 were a combination of piecing and applique, as in this Engagement Ring or Whig's Defeat quilt by Margaret G. Brown of New Orleans.

If we throw the "pieced & appliqued" in with the pieced we have 26 applique and 13 pieced, twice as many applique quilts as pieced.

Vickie Milton's Five Star is pieced and appliqued.

White as a neutral dominates the color palette throughout the pages.

A few like the Flower Basket differed from the fashion for white.
Amy Gelbach's Sun (above) and Lisa Courtney's Confetti reflected oranges and blues

Not many explored color as well as pattern.

Very few were without white.

It's hard to see from the photos so I really can't say much about the choice of prints versus solids.

If the fabrics were printed they were generally prints that
read as solids.

Hats & Patches by Susan Jane Jones of Oregon was an exception.

This 1978 contest gives us a good view of what was valued and how things have changed.

Mrs. Jinny Beyer in a patchwork vest.

Here's a change. 
We don't refer to artists by Miss or Mrs. anymore. Marital status is not relevant.

I did some poking around in internet photos to get a wider view of 1978. I wanted some photos of interior decor to show how horrible it all was (as I recall.) My $15,000 house was a Victorian cottage and I decorated it into a period gingerbread concoction---a reaction to the sterility and shallowness of 1970s decorating of my parents' generations. So here are some photos of the 1970s decorating I abhorred.

Joan & Walter Mondale, Vice President and wife
Where are the Tchotchkes?

Ladies in hats

The nylons may never come back but I'd love to have that coffee table.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1972 
She's really more my generation but look at that living room!

My current house, built in 1970, looks just like this. Have we come full circle in forty years?
Certainly in interior design.

But in quilts too?
Lots of white,
Emphasis on solid fabrics

See an article about the contest at the Quilt Index:


  1. I entered that contest in 1978 and I remember clearly how awestruck I was when I saw Ginny's quilt. And as for the tchotchkes, I'm sure the Mondale's put them away for the photo! Let's just say, my house would never make Good Housekeeping, more like "Eclectic Monthly"!

  2. I thought the 70's were a disastrous time for fashion and decor! I'm sure there's a study somewhere about period nostalgia. Perhaps we abhor {x-style] if we were [this age] when it was the fashion. If [x-style] occurred ten years before we were born would we like it? If [y-style] was our grandparents' era are we inclined to collect it? The 1950's house I grew up in had Youngstown Steel kitchen cabinets. I once told my mother how neat I thought the wooden cabinets in my friends' mid-60's houses were. She said she'd grown up with wooden kitchen cabinets and preferred the clean, white all-steel. As an adult my first apartment was 1940's and when I married our house was a 1922 bungalow. Both had wooden cabinets. I liked 'em just fine. (Later we lived in an 1897 house with a post-WWII kitchen...and steel cabinets. I tolerated them.) ..... My mother was always surprised, too, at my penchant for vintage Fiestaware. (But she in turn had several pieces of vintage carnival glass.)

  3. Wow, quite a stroll down memory lane for us -- the quilt contest, and also our own 70s experiences! I do have lots of "stuff" around the house now, including knick-knacks dating back more than 40 years(!!!) which I need to get rid of so my kids won't have to later. Curious: Barbara, what quilts are included in the d├ęcor of your (current) 70s home?

  4. Great post! I was a junior in college, quilting was far-far-far from my mind; that was something my grandmother did! And yes, we have come full circle. My 33-year-old daughter and her husband want to buy a mid-century home that hasn't been "fixed" in the last 40-50 years. She wants the original house. Wow. Anyone in Columbus, OH, have one for sale??? Thanks for the great trip down memory lane!

  5. Awesome post Barbara! Thank you very much. You are a treasure of knowledge, history, and ideas.

  6. wow blast from the past....chris wolf edmonds was a guest at our guild and everybody did seminole patchwork...lol...40 years doesn't seem possible at all...

  7. Its fantastic to see these quilts. In '78 I had graduated from college after working my husband through grad school. I wouldn't make q jilt until 1991. But I did buy a small book of quilt patterns and saved up 1x3 inch squares for a quilt. One move I tossed my shoebox of oeoces figuring I'd never make the quilt. Good thing as they were mostly polyester...

  8. I had the good fortune to find some quilting magazines from the late 70s to early 80s and I was struck by all the solid or nearly-solid fabrics used. It also seems odd how lightly quilted many 70s quilts were, but quite understandable since most were hand-quilted. It *seems* show quilts were about the only ones that had nearly the amount of quilting many of today's machine-quilted ones have. I'm working on hand-quilting a bed quilt (in the 5th year?), so I can totally understand doing as little of it as possible, or using a machine!

  9. I too graduated from college in "78. Wow, those were the times....LOL Both my grandmothers "quilted"; one did utility quilts from polyester and tied them and the other one did use cotton (or whatever suspect fabric that might be cotton) but by that time did mostly doll quilts or Barbie clothes. We just started a home remodel project so have been looking at what is "in style" and I am amazed. White cabinets only painted wood not the metal ones I grew up with and gray is the new white. And if you don't like the finish on your furniture, paint it and then distress it. I shudder at the thought of anyone putting paint on my hand made wooden pieces. However, my 25 year old daughter tells me it is only those old people in their 30's that do that. She likes wood AND macrame so I am with holding judgement on her decorating style. Now it is tacky to have your trinkets out. Just a thought about the quilts from the 70s. What people would make to enter a national show might not have been characteristic of their normal quilting style. One would apm it up a bit when you entered a national contest. I do still have a log cabin pattern made up of one block to cover the entire bed. I still giggle about it.

  10. I remember that cover so well, and some of the quilts are still in my memory. Jenny Beyer was so young! Amazing what 40 years does to us. Come to think of it, I was a fairly young mother myself, with 10 year old and a child less than 2. I was teaching on the Navajo Reservation, and I had been quilting for more than ten years! This was a great post with lots of interesting thoughts about the 70s.

  11. Fascinating post. Thanks, Barbara. I think the vest Jinny Beyer is wearing is a pattern by Lesley Claire Greenberg. I made one very similar, although it no longer fits, lol.

  12. Thanks for the interesting post. I recognize a lot of the quilt photos. I was a very young mother and quilting fascinated me.
    I read whatever I could find about quilts. And made my first quilts for my babies.
    The 70's in my memory was a strange time. The media made us so self aware, in a lot of ways we lost track of reality.
    That's my take.

  13. You'll be interested to know that Lisa Courtney's "Confetti" quilt is now in the collection of the New England Quilt Museum. We also have her medal and certificate and a copy of the magazine.

  14. Thanks for mentioning the 1970s trends and pictorial quilts! The first quilt book I wrote and published was America's Pictorial Quilts, published in 1985 by AQS. By then, many quilters were creating some glorious pictorial quilts, and many of them were published in magazines and books by some very talented quilt artists!

  15. Let's bring back some great, NEW pictorial quilts!

  16. Great article. It’s scary that the 70’s are becoming so popular again.

  17. I am trying to find a copy of the magizine for my 75 year old mother she has wanted the pattern for the confetti quilt by Lisa Courtney back in 1978 she tore the picture out of a magizine thinking she could figure it out she has looked for years for this pattern of Mrs.Courtney if anyone should have a copy of the book are if some one could make me a copy of the directions to this quilt it would make this mother of mine a happy lady ! This is my name and address Arlene Mayfield 163 cr 459 Carthage Texas 75633 if anyone would help me out with this pattern !It's her dream to make this quilt before she passes !

  18. Thank you for sharing this great article and all the photos, as well as your insight. Wouldn't it be great if Good Housekeeping would publish a commemorative edition with the quilts!