The Story Behind Mountain Mist Historical Quilts

Gorgeous example of a Mountain Mist Historical Quilt

Every quilt tells a story, and the Mountain Mist Historical Quilts have a rather rich history of stories behind them.

In the 1938 publication, The Mountain Mist Blue Book of Quilts, the Mountain Mist design team explained that they wanted “to make available to the modern needle-women, patterns both old and new. The best of the time-honored antique quilts are carefully patterned, so they can be reproduced with suitable modern fabric, according to the methods of today. And we are also working constantly to create new designs, in tune with the newest in modern decoration.” As in 1938, the fourteen designs presented in Mountain Mist Historical Quilts were chosen for you to re-create, using updated quilting techniques and current fabrics.

A Bit of Mountain Mist’s Quilt History

For more than 180 years, generations of quilters have loved the Mountain Mist batting brand (affiliate link) and layered its batting into countless quilts. From the beginning, Mountain Mist battings were sold with paper wrappers around them, which protected them during shipping and on the store shelf. Mountain Mist started its quilt pattern marketing program in 1929 with small images of various patterns printed on the outside of the wrappers. On the inside the company included full instructions for one of the featured quilts. Directions as to how to make the quilt, color suggestions, and quilting designs were also included. As new patterns were developed, the outside of the wrapper was updated to display the additional patterns.

For more than 20 years, I had the joy of sharing the Mountain Mist model quilts at quilt meetings and shows as well as community events before the quilts found a permanent home at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at Quilt House at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. What amazed me time after time was how timeless the designs were. They appeal to today’s quilters just as much as they appealed to quilters in the 1930s and 1940s. The stories behind these beautiful quilts make them come to life.

Postmistress Mrs. Blaine Wilson’s Quilts

Mountain Mist had each of the patterns made into a quilt before bringing the pattern to market, and these quilts make up the Mountain Mist Historical Quilt Collection. Although the names of several of the quiltmakers have been lost, the stories have been handed down from co-worker to co-worker. Mountain Mist must have carefully chosen the quiltmakers, as the workmanship is outstanding. Each quiltmaker was given fabric, thread, Mountain Mist cotton batting, and a pattern. The company story is that it paid $25 to have each quilt sewn and quilted.

Original Mountain Mist Quilt, Snowbound, circa 1930, maker unknown.

Original Mountain Mist Quilt, Snowbound, circa 1930, maker unknown.

One known maker was Mrs. Blaine Wilson of Sturgeon, Kentucky. For years, I tried to find her and the town of Sturgeon—no such place was found on maps of Kentucky. (This was before the Internet.) Years later, one of her daughters contacted Mountain Mist. After interviewing her daughters, I learned that Sturgeon, Kentucky, was basically a post office that had closed in 1966. In addition to working as a quiltmaker, Mrs. Wilson was the Sturgeon postmistress. Her daughters explained that their mother ran the post office so that other area quilters couldn’t get the names of her quilting customers off the packages that were sent to her. The professional quilting business must have been quite competitive in this area of Kentucky!

Mrs. Wilson’s daughters stated that their mother kept the better-paying customers’ quilts for herself, and if she needed assistance, would have her sister-in-law quilt the lesser-paying jobs. Once, when Mrs. Wilson was delivering a quilt to her sister-in-law, her daughters noticed that their little cousin had started crying. When they asked him why, he explained that until the quilt was completed, he would only get oatmeal to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because his mom wouldn’t have time to cook.

Savvy Mountain Mist Marketing Changes Quilting As We Know It

When Mountain Mist started the pattern marketing program, officials thought it was a great marketing concept, but had no idea how it would grow and influence mid-century quiltmaking. It soon became apparent that quilters wanted to be able to order specific patterns. So a mail-order business was added. Quilters could order the quilt pattern of their choice for 35 cents each, including shipping.

Original Mountain Mist Quilt, Zig Zag, circa 1930, maker unknown.

Original Mountain Mist Quilt, Zig Zag, circa 1930, maker unknown.

In the 1930s and 1940s Mountain Mist products were sold in department stores with large fabric sections. The company encouraged the stores to display quilts in their windows and to boost local interest by borrowing quilts from customers who made them with Mountain Mist quilting cotton. Company officials also suggested stores sell quilting bundles containing everything a quilter would need to complete the pattern inside any Mountain Mist batting wrapper they had in stock. Mountain Mist lent its model quilts for stores to display in their windows. They were shipped in wooden boxes with the quilt number stenciled on the outside.

Additionally, in-store demonstrations were encouraged. Another suggested marketing approach was that stores ask ladies’ aid societies that made quilts for fundraisers to participate. The theory was that the aid societies would benefit from taking quilt orders and stores would profit from the increased interest in quilts as well as the additional yard goods sold. Moreover, company officials thought it would encourage many women to make quilts when they saw how easy it was to do.

In addition, Mountain Mist supplied merchants with information on how to give and judge quilt shows, and they provided a free booklet, Presenting the Store Quilt Show, which had chapters on planning and publicizing events, securing and displaying quilts, judging, and prizes—basically, everything that a merchant would need to conduct a successful show.

The company encouraged larger stores to create department displays featuring a quilt or two, samples of gingham, a few rolls of Mountain Mist batting, and the pattern inside the wrapper. It told the stores that the 50-cent retail cost of the Mountain Mist batting could create five dollars’ worth of sales for the department, noting that the batting would constitute the smallest part of the sale as the quilter would need twelve to fifteen yards of fabric and other materials to make a quilt.

Quilting Reaches Larger Audiences

In 1930, Mountain Mist began advertising in Women’s World, a national magazine with a circulation of 1.2 million readers. One out of every 21 women in the United States saw Mountain Mist advertising. A company sales sheet stated, until 1929, quiltmaking was largely confined to farm homes, small towns, or to those who had once lived on a farm or in a small town. But the sales sheet went on to say quiltmaking had gained a universal appeal. Not only farmwomen liked it; apartment dwellers in big cities had taken up the craft, too.

The sales sheet goes on to state the best evidence of this claim was to be found in the editorial content of the magazines and newspapers women read. A 1934 survey showed that at least 400 metropolitan newspapers were publishing quilt material regularly. A Gallup survey taken in six large cities that same year showed quilt articles were the most popular Sunday feature, with 32 percent of women reading them.

Thoughtful Design Leads to Timeless Patterns

Mountain Mist ads spoke of the charm of quiltmaking and the ease of quilting with Mountain Mist quilt patterns. Later ads would also emphasize the inherent goodness of the Mountain Mist quilting cotton. Each ad featured a 15-cent coupon toward the purchase of the patterns shown.

Most of the quilts were made of solid fabric; very few prints were used because the company didn’t want the quilt to become outdated when a print was no longer available. Done in a solid color, the quilt could be used to promote Mountain Mist for years. For a few years, each wrapper had a small cellophane envelope stapled to it containing a penny square of the various color recommendations for that quilt.

Original Mountain Mist Quilt, Guide Post, circa 1934, maker unknown.

Original Mountain Mist Quilt, Guide Post, circa 1934, maker unknown.

Mountain Mist designs came from several sources. At first they were heavily influenced by traditional designs. According to Stearns & Foster company legend, Mountain Mist Sales Manager Fritz Hooker would travel around and purchase antique quilts to copy or use as inspiration.

Familiar, well-loved designs, such as Jacob’s Ladder, Double Wedding Ring, and Tumbling Blocks were re-created and became part of the collection. One traditional pattern was given a new name, New York Beauty (pattern X). Before being published by Mountain Mist, the pattern was known as Crown of Thorns or Rocky Mountain Road. Today, those names are all but lost, and New York Beauty is the name that everyone knows, which shows the importance and influence of the Mountain Mist mid-century designs.

The Benefits of Quilting

To make and own a beautiful quilt is a pleasure and gives you a sense of accomplishment. A quilt is about more than its beauty. The fun of planning and the relaxation of the sewing are more than double the rewards of the activity. Whether you make a quilt as a gift or for your own pleasure, each one you create is an original because it is your adaptation of the design and the colors. You can follow the patterns exactly as presented in Mountain Mist Historical Quilts or adapt them, as we have done in some of the quilts. Either way, you will have a truly distinctive quilt that is all your creation.

-Linda Pumphrey
Author, Mountain Mist Historical Quilts

Quilt a piece of history with more from Linda Pumphrey!

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