A Mini History of Quilt Magazines

With the Introduction of The Cutting Table, a digital mini magazine filled with sewing tutorials and articles, here is a mini history of quilt magazines and how they shaped quilting as we know it today. suzyquilts.com

On March 1 we will launch The Cutting Table, a new digital mini magazine from Suzy Quilts! If you're curious about why we wanted to launch our own digital publication, you’re in the right place.

Each issue of The Cutting Table is a themed collection of articles, tutorials, and videos from our creative team. Unlike our blog, we view The Cutting Table as a digital mini magazine in part because it is shorter than a typical magazine, but also because of the theme that connects all aspects of each issue.

Before our inaugural first issue, Meet The Cutting Table, we wanted to share more about the interesting history of independent publishing in quilting. We can't share an exhaustive history, but we're excited to give you a mini recap that focuses on some of the best and earliest indie quilt publications. 

A Mini History of Quilt Magazines

A Mini History of Quilt Magazines: Three issues of Quilters Newsletter from the 1970s. #quilting #TheCuttingTable suzyquilts.com

Quilters Newsletter: The Original Quilting Mini Magazine

If you were a quilter in the 1970s, it's possible you subscribed to the original quilting mini magazine — Quilters Newsletter. Founded in 1969 by legendary quilter Bonnie Leman, this 16-page mimeographed periodical was the first ever regular publication dedicated exclusively to quilting.

For many years, Quilters Newsletter worked hard to bring the latest news to quilters. And because of Bonnie and her team (including many of the most prominent quilt historians of the time), a new love of quilting swept the nation around the Bicentennial.

As Quilters Newsletter Magazine Editorial Director Bill Gardner said in 2016:

Many quilt historians agree that Bonnie almost single-handedly launched a quilting revival around the time of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 by researching and publishing information about a domestic pastime that had fallen out of vogue since the end of the Great Depression and the onset of World War II. No one can deny that she shaped and guided that revival during subsequent decades.

The team that published the Quilters Newsletter even had a Quiltmobile bus that traveled the country in 1976 to help spread excitement around the booming quilting revival!

Eventually, Quilters Newsletter became so popular that it was purchased by a large publishing company and became Quitlers Newsletter Magazine, a standard-length glossy magazine that circulated to around 200,000 subscribers in the United States alone before the final issue was published in 2016. But many quilters fondly remember the publication's early days as a mimeographed/photocopied mini magazine!

A Brief History of Zines: Quilt historian Cuesta Benberry holds up a quilt titled "Afro-American Women and Quilts" on a black and white Quilter's Journal issue cover.

Quilter's Journal: Growing Need for Independent Quilt Publications

Quilter's Journal was also a small, independently published, photocopied publication focused on quilt news and history. Published from 1977 to 1987 by Joyce Gross, you can still read the entire first issue and many others on the Quilt Index website.

Shortly after Quilter's Journal began, Joyce helped to found the American Quilt Study Group which, for years, has published the leading academic journal about quilt history, Uncoverings

Reading old issues of Quilter's Journal today is so much fun! The issues included profiles of quilters like the prolific Jean Ray Laury, articles about quilt historians like Cuesta Ray Benberry (make sure to click this one and check out the adorable hand-drawn cartoon on page 2!), and quilt history articles like this one about the 1933 World's Fair quilt contest by noted historian Barbara Brackman.

For anyone interested in quilt history, Quilter's Journal is one of the best resources for learning about the early days of serious quilt scholarship and early quilt publishing.

By the 1980s, glossy quilt magazines with full-color pictures become much more common as it was clear that there was a large audience for quilt magazines, and the DIY energy that started the quilt magazine trend faded.

But an independently published periodical that was much more like a book still fulfilled the ever-growing quilt community’s need for interesting quilt articles and information. 

A Mini History of Quilt Magazines: Three issues of The Quilt Digest from the 1980s. #quilting #TheCuttingTable suzyquilts.com

The Quilt Digest: An Independently Published Periodical Book

As glossy quilt magazines took off, The Quilt Digest was founded to fill a gap for specialized quilt information. By bringing together antique and contemporary quilts, quilt collections, and quilt artists in one annual publication, The Quilt Digest created a periodical unlike any other, published from 1983-1987.

As publishers Roderick Kiracofe and Michael Kile said in the introduction to the first edition, “This annual book is our answer to a need we have long perceived: a journal where quilt lovers can offer their thoughts and discoveries.”

Unlike Quilters Newsletter, which included quilt patterns and templates scattered throughout each issue among articles about quilt news and history, The Quilt Digest focused on articles and a quilt showcase that was a lot like a quilt exhibit in each issue.

In the first issue alone, readers could find a photo essay of contemporary Amish homes, a history of the log cabin block by noted historian Sandi Fox, and articles including “Surviving without Selling Out: Thoughts from a Quilt Artist’s Journal” by Michael James, and “Collecting Quilt Data: History from Statistics” by Jonathan Holstein. All of these are fascinating articles to read even today!

Quilting Websites & Blogging: Anyone Can Self-Publish!

As time passed, quilters increasingly turned to the internet to find information that would once have been more commonly passed down through generational knowledge. Once blogging became popular, it was easier than ever for anyone with a computer and internet access to share information about quilting, and that helped contribute to another great quilt revival, like the one Bonnie Leman helped spark in part with Quilters Newsletter all those decades ago.

As an early adopter of all things digital, the Suzy Quilts blog began and soon readers were hooked. Our blog has always focused on three core topics:

  • Helping beginner quilters build knowledge through tips and tricks, product reviews, and sharing other information that helps new quilters find their footing.
  • Guiding quilters through each step of making a quilt, start to finish, with our free sew alongs.
  • Showing quilters how they can use just one pattern creatively to make a variety of handmade objects like pillows, a stocking, or even a dog bed!

But we wanted to expand our offerings to Suzy Quilts readers and provide more opportunities for our team of creative contributors to share their ideas and talent. We decided to start collecting all of our great ideas into one new themed monthly publication. And that’s where The Cutting Table comes in! 

A Brief History of Zines: The cover of Issue 1 of The Cutting Table, showing Suzy looking at a laptop with a quilt next to hear and a quilted floor pouf at her feet.

The Cutting Table: A New Digital Mini Magazine for Quilters

We live in an increasingly digital world, and Suzy Quilts has always been a leader in digital quilt patterns. Our focus is on worldwide accessibility to quilt patterns, tutorials, and articles. This quilt pattern model is also eco-friendly as we do not use single-use plastic pattern protectors, shipping supplies, paper, or fuel for shipping trucks and planes.

So when we started planning our new monthly publication, we knew digital was the way to go. With a digital mini magazine instead of a printed publication, you can leave comments on any post in a previous issue of The Cutting Table and we will respond. That means this mini magazine is living and you can always interact with it! The ability to communicate freely and frequently with readers is a big reason why we wanted to stay digital.

As Suzy Quilts grows, we want to bring you more of the articles and tutorials you love. But we also want to bring you more videos! Our expert interview videos are only possible because of the digital format of The Cutting Table.

And most importantly, we want to create a space where the Suzy Quilts team can dream, create, and play by letting their imaginations run wild. Our new publication isn't long enough to be considered a full magazine. It's short, has DIY enthusiasm and energy, and is independently published by our team! In fact, we're proud to say that the contents of each issue of The Cutting Table are very similar to those early issues of Quilters Newsletter.

We can't wait to share The Cutting Table with you each and every month!

3 thoughts on “A Mini History of Quilt Magazines

  1. Donna Baker says:

    I’m so excited for March 1 it’s like an early Christmas! I so appreciate all you and your team do to unite quilters all over the world interested in cutting up pretty fabrics into tiny (or big) pieces and putting them back together again to make something creative!

    • Laura Hopper says:

      Absolutely excellent ones! I wish we had the space in this article to cover every single quilt publication, but that history would be so fun to dive into. Maybe someday we can write a follow-up!

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