In the 1930s, during the early years of the Great Depression, Jack and Clara Tillotson started the Colonial Readicut Quilt Block Company in Kansas City. The company began as a cottage industry specializing in cut-to-size quilt blocks and patches. Due to the tough economic climate it became more feasible to sell paper patterns for a dime each rather than finished quilts or pre-cut quilt kits.
The Tillotsons began advertising their designs around the country in newspapers and magazines. The ads resembled a normal newspaper column but included some charming quilt lore and instructions for buying a pattern or booklet through the mail from the couple’s newly renamed business, The Colonial Company. The company’s nom-de-plume, Aunt Martha, became their trademark after a Chicago editor decided the newspaper features needed a grandmotherly name with the right touch of Colonial history. Aunt Martha reminded readers of both Martha Washington and everybody’s quilt-making Aunt.