Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Nancy Cabot/Loretta Leitner: A Short History

The gang at Accuquilt has invited me to give a short lecture
on quilt history today about a new die for their cutting machines.

Click here:

(October 4, 2022 Noon Central Time)
Here's some background on my discourse.

Quilt show at Carson Pirie Scott, January, 1933

Chicago in 1933 was home to a quilt mania.

Illinois Historical Society
Quilt entered in a contest at the 1933 Fair

The Chicago Tribune saw an opportunity for a popular column selling patterns, assigning Needlework Editor Loretta Leitner to publish a regular feature under the pen name Nancy Cabot, beginning in January.

The column's name might remind readers of the often-described Colonial sources of American quilts, a history greatly exaggerated at the time.

1935 standard image of a New England colonial maid
in a ladder-back chair with a braided rug just finishing
up a "Colonial quilt."

Loretta Leitner Rising (1906-1958)

Over the next five and a half years the column published hundreds of patterns.

Scrapbook of Nancy Cabot patterns

Designs included modern ideas and traditional patterns,
some mailed in by readers. Loretta produced an attractive column,
undistinguished by historical accuracy.

A modern design given a dubious history,
dating "back to 1840 and a Hawaiian missionary."
Her flights of fancy were impressive.

May 22, 1935

Nancy Cabot was in tune with these Colonial Revival images, giving
trend followers mixed messages about whether they should
be looking forwards or backwards.

It's difficult to say how often the quilt column appeared. For example, for May, 1935 I found 9 clippings on these dates: 3, 6, 7 12, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29. The pattern column may have appeared when there was room. My Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns includes 775 attributed to Nancy Cabot, and that is just pieced designs and pieced designs where she generated the name rather than copying an earlier source.

For example, "Red Shields" is the odd name she gave this overall triangle pattern.
I bet she made a lot of those names up.

In 1938, pattern historian Wilene Smith tells us, the Cabot column changed sources from the Tribune building to New York syndicate Peerless Fashion Service. It all gets quite confusing after 1938.

Sunday spread, 1940

Whether she continued producing the Nancy Cabot column or not, Loretta Leitner continued with  the Tribune till her death in 1958. She wrote for the Sunday Department, creating needlework features like this one under her own name in the 40s.

We don't know much about her personal life. She was a Chicago native whose first job when she joined the paper about 1926 was processing letters to the "Embarrassing Moments" column. She married Morris Herbert Rising but never used his name in her career, remaining Loretta Leitner. She had one son Morris Jr.


  1. "undistinguished by historical accuracy" LOL

  2. Her historical accuracy reputation hit the skids when I saw poinsettia and Hawaiian missionary in the same sentence. At least the quaint but wrong image of patterns used in colonial times is sort of believable.
    DIdn't you comment in the past about whether or not some of her designs were actually sewable? Or were at very least so complicated that they were never made into a quilt? Or was that another blogger I read, or another designer that was widely published back then???

    1. Both nancy and Alice brooks designs were often diabolically complicated....graphic artists designing needlework.