Since the Lancaster Amish tended to be more prosperous than those of other
areas, there was less concern about using scraps in quilt making. While we
may see many pieces in some of these classic Lancaster quilts, other
quilts of that time were often made up of some several hundred or even
thousands of pieces from saved scraps of cloth. But classic Lancaster
Amish quilts consist of large pieces of cloth in solid colors, and Amish
women would simply buy the same fabric they used to make shirts and
dresses for their quilts. These broad expanses of color, elaborately
quilted, gave Lancaster Amish quilts their special quality.
quilts were usually 72 to 88 inches square, and the color of the quilting
thread usually blended with the color of the cloth. Later quilts of the
1940’s used more floral designs and fewer abstract and geometric
patterns in the quilting. They may be less densely quilted because more
synthetic cloth was then being used, and making fine, tiny stitches in
such material was more difficult.
Thus, as fabric
changed, so did the quilt colors. Before 1900, browns and darker colors
were most common. In the early 1900’s, more colors became available, and
rayon was being domestically produced by 1910. By the 1920’s, intense,
bright colors were seen in Amish quilts in Lancaster.
Many people think
every part of these old quilts was done by hand. This was not necessarily
the case. Many quilts were top pieced on sewing machines. (The treadle
sewing machine was in use by the 1870’s.) The quilting, however, was
done by hand and "Lancaster Amish women were long considered the very
finest quilters anywhere."
Amish also appeared to be the least experimental of the Amish groups. When
there was innovation, it tended to be in the form of combining the most
common designs—the Diamond in the Square, Sunshine and Shadow, Center
Square and Bars. Where the individual quilter’s personality and
creativity did show forth was in the proportion, colors, fabrics and
quilting patterns. The casual observer may look at 20 quilts of this time,
all in the Diamond in the Square pattern, and comment that they are all
the "same." Yet closer examination to the colors, details and
design elements shows a marvelous diversity within a limited design range.
Indeed, during this classic quilt period, the Diamond in the Square
pattern was unique to the Lancaster Amish. Yet what Amish women did with
the colors and quilting is astonishing, even to our modern, jaded eyes.
Indeed, these quilts "deserve our attention and abundantly repay
examples of classic Amish quilts can best be seen in museums and
collections. The stories of the makers and families of these quilts are
now lost in time. Quilts made today for the general public are different,
and the Amish are quick to adopt new designs they see becoming popular.
For many, quilting is now a business, a source of income. Yet these same
women make special quilts for their family and friends, particularly as
wedding gifts for their children. A quilt, whether old or new, remains a
feast for the eyes, a celebration of color, and a work of love, patience
When I look at
the old quilt I have hanging in my house, I celebrate the colors and lives
of its creators…my mother and grandmother. That quilt had long been
tucked away in a drawer, out of sight. One day my mother
"discovered" it in a drawer. As the two of us unwrapped it,
these scraps of cloth took on a new life. It is not a work of art,
perhaps, but now it is where it deserves to be. Its varied pieces of cloth
are a daily reminder of the love that binds family and friends. It is my
family’s "patchwork heritage."