Handmade Amish Quilts & The Hands That Bind Them

With nearly 1800 Amish communities throughout the United States, quilts have been etched in history for centuries. In Wisconsin, where the summers are short, and the winters long, beautifully crafted handmade quilts are still being made. Tucked in the landscape of this farming community, a group of Old Order Amish women are keeping the art of quilting alive.

Quilting has been an activity that allows Amish women to stay home and near their families. It’s a way they can help support their family while keeping the values they hold so dear close. Where households lack modern amenities such as telephones and electricity, they are rich in everything that binds them together. Lives that are solely focused on God, family, and community, quilt making reflects a history of simplicity that is at the core of Amish culture.

tine stiches

It can take hundreds of yards of thread to weave the small even stitches on a quilt top

In this rural community, it’s not unusual for up to sixteen women to pull their chairs up to a quilting frame instead of a table. For this group of women, a day around a frame means they get to forgo dirty floors and laundry to spend a day with mothers, sisters, and relatives they may not often see. Hands come laden with covered dishes and baked goods to share, along with needles and thimbles ready to make thousands of tiny even stitches.

What they talk about we may never know, but by the look of their quilts, their conversation doesn’t interrupt the stitches beautifully weaved into a quilt top. I would expect topics are similar to any other social gathering — children, community, food, and fellowship. It also serves as a learning tool for young girls as they stand beside their mothers waiting to take their turn to be the next generation of Amish Quilters.

When I asked my friend if she looks forward to Quilting Day, she said.

“We love getting together. We all bring a dish to share, and we talk.  Probably more than we should, but we enjoy it.  My sister lives eight miles away, and it’s a chance I get to spend the day with her. It’s good fellowship.”

quilt rack

A quilt frame tucked in a corner can be worked on whenever time allows.

Typically, the quilt stretched and waiting in the frame is pegged for a specific person. It could be for a wedding, a birth, or set to be sold to help cover the cost of medical bills. More often than not, they are precious heirlooms that will get passed down from generation to generation.

treadle sewing machine

Foot powered treadle sewing machines are used to piece tops together.

In this small community, quilt tops are pieced together for weeks by one or two women. They use treadle sewing machines to stitch a rainbow of colors and patterns together to make a stunning display of creativeness.

When I asked my friend where her inspiration comes from she said.

“It depends on how I feel that day.  I may have gotten a shipment of new fabric. Or I look for inspiration in a tub of old quilting books and magazines my mother passed down to me. It really just depends on my mood.”

quilt fabirc

Fabrics in all colors and patterns wait to become the next family treasure.

Much like an artist, quilt makers have a unique eye for color and pattern. The hundreds of quilts I got to see at this shop reminded me of walking through an art show.  Each one was more beautiful than the last.  The colors and patterns each told a story of their own.

Though our culture has changed a great deal over the years, the Amish culture has remained untouched. The techniques and history of quilting have been passed down from mother to daughters for centuries.

giant dahlia quilt pattern

This quilt, in a ‘Giant Dahlia Pattern,’ is the one that brings beauty to my bedroom.

When I sit back and think of all the hands that put my quilt together, and the attention to detail it received, my heart swells with gratitude to the women who gave me such a treasured piece. I can’t help but wonder what they talked about as my quilt was stretched between the frame. Whose fingers meticulously stitched hundreds of yards of thread to make the unique quilting pattern that now adorns my bed.  Every night I crawl under it, I am reminded that hands, not a machine took time out of their busy lives to make me a quilt that will be in my family long after I’m gone. From the first snip of the scissors on fabric to the last yard of thread, these women put their heart and soul into each quilt.

I can’t tell you what an honor it was for me to sit with this quilter and listen to the stories she told about each quilt.  From the hands that came together to stitch a design into its top to the hands that sewed the last piece of binding, the hours are priceless. Even though she felt she didn’t have a story to tell her quilts and the hands that made them do. If you want to hear the stories all you have to do is marvel at the tiny stitches, be memorized by the kaleidoscope of color and enjoy the familiar patterns to see the story unfold right in front of your eyes.

Wisconcin Amish Country

Quilting is becoming a lost art.

However, tucked in the landscape of red barns and cornfields is a group of talented women who want to go humbly unnoticed… and in that regard, I will keep their identity and location private.

I hope you enjoyed taking a peek into the hands that make an Amish quilt. I have been given rare permission to share the following quilts with you.  They were all handmade by Amish women in Wisconsin.  Each holds its own story preserved in the stitches that hold them together.

If you fall in love with one of these quilts, please know your purchase will be handled by me.  Once your order is placed, I will forward your payment and address for shipment. Please be aware without the use of email or telephone your order will take longer to process than our instant gratification society has spoiled us with. Typically orders shipped in 7-10 business days. 

You can expect a short letter from the Amish woman who made your quilt, and one of my latest books tucked safely inside.