Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Boxes of Cotton Scraps

Gloria Nixon's Collection
Box of factory cutaways sold by Sears, Roebuck & Company
to promote their 1933 Chicago World's Fair quilt contest.

Over at the QuiltHistorySouth Facebook page we've been showing off our collections of scrap-filled boxes, mostly marketed in the 1930s. Gloria Nixon has quite a few.

Photo from my 1979 book Clues in the Calico. Helen
loaned me her box to photograph. She recalled buying it in the 1930s
and being quite disappointed that the pieces were small, almost useless shards.

The advertising was false. The box did not contain enough "for one side of
average size quilt."

Another design for the Sears box. The box showed four popular
patterns at the time with some dubious history.

Left-over boxes ? from a 1938 ad. 

The W.L.M. Clark Company of St. Louis using the trade name
"Grandmother Clark" sold many packages and boxes of cotton factory cutaways.

Gloria Nixon's Collection

They also sold stamped needlework kits and pattern booklets,
templates and quilting and patchwork pattern booklets.

Grandmother Clark was their main image
but for the more up-to-date...

...they used "Winifred Clark."
Both names sold "quilt patches," factory
cutaways from clothing factories.

Box from an online auction, mostly woven pattern rather than prints.

1932 ad

Gloria Nixon's Collection

"Uniform Cut" patches might be more useful, here 6" squares folded
into triangles.

The boxes are so fragile, it's a wonder any have survived.

I think Silin's was an apron factory---circles probably machine-cut from their cut-aways.

The business model was practical. Clothing factories cut yardage to fit the human shape; left-over pieces were recycled as "factory cut-aways." The clothing company might market these in boxes and packages but it is more likely they sold them to "jobbers" who did the packaging and advertising.

1923 letterhead
for the Dexter thread mill

William L. M. Clark of St. Louis was a "jobber," a whole-sale merchant, working for the Collingbourne Mills in Elgin, Illinois before he went out on his own in St. Louis about 1920. He followed the same model Collingbourne did, using a Grandmotherly image to market needlework supplies, patterns and cutaways.

Collingbourne's image

We're focusing on boxes here rather than bundles or packages of scraps and I haven't seen any Grandma Dexter boxes.

UPDATE: Laura Lane found one advertised.

This red dotted box may have been the best seller.

1941 ad from a Penney's dry goods department

"My Quilting Box" seems to be a product of the 1940s and the World War II shortage of cotton fabrics. 

2 pounds for 39 cents. War's inflation

Mea Clift's collection

1946 ad=89 cents 

Gloria Nixon's Collection

Paula Cochrane found this ad, probably from
the early '40s. "A sturdy box that can be used
again and again." Yeah, right.

Paula Cochrane has another box marketed to children.

If we expand our collection to fabric other than cotton we find silk and rayon factory cutaways.

This one from Grandmother Clark.

The New England Quilt Museum owns a Canadian box.

T. Eaton Company Canada

It's certainly a good marketing idea but I doubt Moda is going to be ordering thousands of cardboard boxes with my newest William Morris line Morris Meadow. The Charm packaging, Layer Cakes etc. work just fine.

It would be so cute.

Do ask to join our Quilt History South group. We learn the most interesting things....


  1. Looks like scrap boxes have been treasures way back in time. I personally love them as well.

  2. Grandmother Clark looks like a cameo of Whistler's Mother!

  3. I think a "quilting box" of your latest line would be sensational, even if they are more than 89 cents a box! LOL.

    1. The box itself would probably cost us more than 89 cents.

  4. I have the polka dot box!!!
    Love these posts

  5. Fascinating!

    I want one of these boxes, say from the early 30s. I guess it's too late to order now...🤔