Amish Quilts - A Dying American Art
Amish quilting has been a tradition for more than a century
here in rural Pennsylvania. Amish women create quilts, often in
groups called quilting bees. This "bee" affords them the
opportunity to gather in a social setting as well as give a rare
opportunity to be creative and expressive in a community that
frowns on pride and fanciful possessions. Because the quilts are
a functional creation for use in the home, the women are
permitted to create these amazing pieces of art. They boldly
experiment with contrasting colors, exquisite designs, and a
variety of geometric shapes to create wonders that please the eye
and bring delight to those who appreciate the complexity of the
Since the Amish do not have electricity much of the stitching
is done by hand or with the aid of a treadle machine. The designs
of the quilt are pieced together from pieces of fabric cut into
various shapes and then sewn into what will become the top of the
quilt. When the top of the quilt is complete, the bottom fabric
and batting are added and then quilted together with intricate
stitching that form infinite numbers are patterns themselves. The
quilt is then bound at the edges. This process can take weeks or
even months depending on how many quilters are working on the
quilt and how much time is afforded to the project, depending on
the season in which it is being created. During harvest time, in
addition to their busy household schedules of cooking three large
meals, cleaning, raising the children, making the family's
clothing, these women are often involved in working along the men
to help in the harvest.
Today, however, I fear this wonderful tradition is becoming
slowly a thing of the past. The young Amish women I have spoken
with are becoming more involved in other areas of Amish life. In
what I perceive as a type of women's movement in the community,
many are learning the trades previously only taught to their
young male counterparts. Many are learning carpentry and help
their families crafting furniture and cabinetry. Some can be seen
driving team of draft horses along with their fathers in the
fields. Many are working in their family's stores, keeping books,
ringing registers, selling the goods that they have to offer.
They do not seem to have the interest in the "bees" as their
mothers and grandmothers did since it seems to be increasingly
accepted that they take a more active role in the family
There is also the ever present "English" world outside their
community which offers constant shortcuts to the traditional
Amish life. Recently, the big news in our little corner of the
world was that a Wal-Mart was being constructed about 10 miles
from our little community. When the store opened, I must say I
was saddened, but not surprised to see in addition to the vast
parking lot, there was a hitching post. What this meant to me was
that the retail world was sending a special invitation to these
simple folks to come and let us replace your century old
traditions with a $69 mass produced factory bedspread. It makes
sense for these women to accept this invitation. They have long
days filled with countless tasks and here is an opportunity to
send less money than they do on fabric and get a completed item
and countless hours back!
To further my concern about this, I recently met an Amish
gentleman at a local quilt sale. We began speaking as we both
sell Amish quilts. I was surprised to learn he had traveled here
to Lancaster from Ohio to buy quilts. When I inquired about this,
as I know Ohio has a substantial Amish community, he replied that
they aren't making many quilts there and he had better luck
coming all the way to my neck of the woods to find them!! How
long will it be until this happens in my community!
Well, that is all on this subject for now. I will close in
saying that if you, the reader, own an Amish quilt, cherish it!
You have a treasure that may someday soon become a rare
commodity. If you do not, and you love art, find one! Support
this artform before it is lost!
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