Sunday, August 29, 2010


I'm currently writing KATIE'S WAY, the fifth book in my Pleasant Valley Amish series, and in this story Katie Miller, the protagonist, runs a quilt shop in the village of Pleasant Valley. One of the most delightful aspects of writing this book is that it gives me a wonderful excuse to visit Amish quilt shops!

Quilting isn't restricted to the Amish and Mennonites, of course. It's popular around the world, probably beginning as a way to make good use of the small scraps of material left over from other projects. Although quilters now often buy the materials they use, planning the color effects as carefully as any other artist, there's something very special about those old quilts made from scraps. We have a lovely Double Wedding Ring quilt that was made by my mother-in-law's aunt in the early 1900s, and when I look at it, I can easily imagine which pieces came from a little girl's pinafore, which from a man's work shirt. It's the story of a family, told with love in stitches and scraps of fabric.

I don't think that anyone would argue about the quality of quilts made by Amish and Mennonite women. The quilts are functional, befitting a community which values making things for use, not just 'for pretty.' But they are also often works of art, with each bit of color, each element of the design, each stitch even, an expression of a woman's gift.

The Amish tend to use traditional designs, although some newer patterns have worked their way into their repertoire, especially in quilts that are made to sell. The Log Cabin, the Double Wedding Ring, the various Star patterns are used over and over again in endless combinations. The quilt on my bed, handmade by an Amish woman from Lancaster County, is a lovely combination of Log Cabin and Star, done in shades of blue and yellow with touches of white. The older Amish quilts, which were made for use by the maker, were typically made with scraps from clothing fabric, always plain, and in the deep, rich, saturated colors used for clothing. Background and binding were typically done in black.

If you're interested in Amish quilts, you definitely want to plan a visit to the People's Place Quilt Museum in Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Their displays change from time to time, but they are always enthralling. On my most recent visit I was captivated by a Tumbling Blocks pattern so designed that it almost made me dizzy to look at because of the effect of movement it gave. The People's Place Quilt Museum is on the second floor of the Old Country Store, which sells a huge variety of quilted items handmade by local residents, mostly Amish and Mennonite women. It also has what has to be one of the best collections of quilting fabrics I've ever seen. I can never go in there without buying something!

And if you're near New Holland in Lancaster County, you must visit the Witmer Quilt Shop. Emma Witmer runs the shop she inherited from her mother out of her home. The day I visited with her, Emma had over 150 quilts in the three first floor rooms of her house. She has a number of women who do the actual quilting, but Emma herself picks out every color and every fabric that goes into the quilts. Emma's shop is open every day except, as is the case with all Plain-run businesses, on Sunday.

I'm not finished yet. I have several Amish quilt shops yet to visit, and I hope I can resist the temptation to buy more than I can afford while I do this research!

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