Book Review: A New Deal for Quilts

Review by Scott Borchert

Janneken Smucker’s A New Deal for Quilts, University of Nebraska Press

Publication Date: December 2023

Janneken Smucker’s A New Deal for Quilts poses a question few might think to ask: what would happen if you organized a study of the New Deal and the Great Depression entirely around the theme of quilts and quilting? This illuminating, surprising, and beautifully designed book is the answer. With skill and nuance, Smucker explores how, during the Depression era, quilts became tangled up with ideas and myths about the American past—even while they became central, as material objects, to a variety of New Deal programs. She takes us into the WPA sewing rooms and FSA home economics classes where women produced quilts as part of a broader work-relief strategy, and she introduces us to the government photographers, oral historians, and artists who documented quilts as vital historical artifacts. She focuses, too, on the thorny interplay between federal agencies, politicians, and the public, by examining some memorable examples of quilts as thread-and-fabric expressions of political commitments and aspirations. A New Deal for Quilts offers a fresh perspective on how policies designed to combat the Great Depression shaped the daily lives of ordinary Americans—especially women—and how, in turn, domestic practices such as quilting influenced those very policies. Smucker’s clear prose and expert knowledge, combined with the book’s sumptuous visual design—featuring many striking black and white photographs from the 1930s alongside full color images of the quilts themselves—make this an exceptional contribution to the study of the New Deal.A New Deal for Quilts

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