Amish Quilts from the International Quilt Museum
Amish quilts are among the most unique and easily recognised American quilts. Strict rules govern all aspects of Amish community members’ lives, including distinctive practices in dress, farming, work habits, transportation and – of course – quilt-making. Today, more than 300,000 Amish live in settlements in 31 states across the United States.
Amish women began making quilts in the mid to late 1800s, developing a style characterised by solid colours and geometric patterns. Classic quilts from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania are typically composed of overall designs in deep blue, purple, red and green colours. These dark colours and geometric patterns reinforce the stereotype that the Amish world was one of ‘shadow’ – plain clothing, strict rules and lives lacking modern conveniences. Virtually all Lancaster County quilts of the classic period of the late 19th century to the mid-20th, are made of fine dress-weight wools.
Midwestern Amish quilts – made primarily in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio – feature dark backgrounds highlighted with accents of pastel colours, highlighting that the Amish world was also one of ‘sunshine’ – brighter quilts that radiate the colours of family, friendship and spirituality. Traditionally, Midwestern Amish quilt-makers used cotton fabrics and adopted repeating-block patterns such as Baskets, Irish Chain, Bow Tie, and Log Cabin.
The large blocks of solid colours found in Amish designs showcase the fine quilting stitches that join the three layers of a quilt together. Lancaster County Amish quilt-makers stitched feathered wreaths, diamonds, large eight-pointed stars, roses and other flowers, pinwheels, hearts and other traditional designs in their quilting patterns.