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History of Conversation Prints

In the 1800s, manufacturers began printing fabrics with recognizable images, including plants and animals. This practice continued into the 1900s, when a whole new approach to these conversation prints began!

Elvis has Left the Building

Just about every endangered species, including Elvis, showed up on fabric to satisfy the demand for new—and for more!


In the Beginning

Early conversation prints, from 1900 through1940, were designed to appeal to children and, consequently, those who sewed for them. Nursery rhymes, alphabets, baby animals, children at play, and cartoon characters were recognizable to the juvenile audience.

Sunbonnet Babies Inspiration

In 1902, Bertha Corbett’s hugely popular illustrations for Eulalie Osgood Grover’s Sunbonnet Babies’ Primer appeared and were quickly translated into quilt blocks for embroidery. Following her lead, Grace Gebbie Drayton created Dolly Dingle, a charming moppet who bore a strong resemblance to the Campbell’s soup kids.

Intriguing Images

While amusing to look at today, many of the fabrics have lost their context and are difficult to identify. The images are intriguing but obscure. Who, for instance, is the hitchhiking youngster on this piece of feed sack?

Hollywood Comes Onboard!

By 1930, Mickey Mouse was appearing in comic strips as well as on film. Mickey and his friends Minnie, Clarabelle, Goofy, and Pluto soon appeared on fabric. Disney seems to have been the first, and most innovative, at marketing and licensing its successes in a variety of formats, including fabric.

Snow White

After Snow White was introduced, Disney Studios fully blended cartoons, children, and commercialism. They had fabric in at least seven different designs and a number of colorways, marketed as yard goods and in finished items.


In 1940, the movie Pinocchio was released, followed closely by fabric.

Alice, Popeye, and the rest of the Gang!

Alice in Wonderland called for additional fabric licensing, followed closely by Popeye and Olive Oyl, Swee’pea, and Wimpy. Many of these images were printed on feed sack.

Blondie and Dagwood

Even the Bumsteads—Blondie, Dagwood, Alexander, and Cookie—appeared on fabric. Charming and nostalgic!

Product-Logo Fabrics

In early 1940, Princess Fabrics introduced product-logo fabrics, including Bell Telephone, Maxwell House coffee, Mr. Peanut, and Greyhound Bus Lines.

Singer Sewing Machines

Singer Sewing Machine Co. created a line of signature fabrics in their trademark red and green.

Food Products Escape from the Kitchen

What kid from the 60s doesn't remember a shirt or pair of pajamas with Snap, Crackle, and Pop, or Tony the Tiger? Juvenile audiences loved having clothing and room furnishings made from their favorites. The fabric industry was quick to comply.

Patriotic Support

World War II limited textile production. Wearing patriotic clothing appealed to women and children, and because of this, fabric produced for the clothing and home furnishing markets tended to have a patriotic theme.

The Wild, Wild West

The post-war baby boom and a strong economy fueled a resurgence in sewing. Kid prints were popular again. Fantasies of the frontier and the American West were popular fabric images.

Teenage Buying Power

Just like today, teenagers drove the market! Sock hops, the jitterbug, and youth organizations, such as 4-H, were developed into lines of fabric.

World Events

Hawaii's statehood in 1959 was celebrated in cloth designed by Alfred Shaheen.

Out of this World

Sputnik in 1957, followed by Alan Shepherd and John Glenn in the early 60s, convinced the country that outer space was within reach, and fabric designs followed.

Ooh La La!

Jackie Kennedy’s conquest of Paris was reflected in fabrics showing French architecture, poodles, and gendarmes. The textile industry converted peace symbols and psychedelic flowers from counterculture to mainstream. Fabrics followed history’s events.

Souvenirs of Vacation

Fabric manufacturers followed along with travel themes, as Americans took to the road. Popular tourist spots were hot, selling fabric motifs for those who wanted to relive the great times from their vacation.

Elvis has Left the Building

Just about every endangered species, including Elvis, showed up on fabric to satisfy the demand for new—and for more!

A New 21st Century

A quick glance at the yardage on the shelves at the end of the 20th century makes it obvious that we will be treated to quilts with images of Y2K and 2000 for a long time to come!


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