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Amish and Mennonite Quilts
The many Amish and Mennonite communities in the United States all trace their religious roots to a strain of European Protestantism whose followers became known as Mennonites after the Dutch religious leader Menno Simons (1496-1561). The more conservative Amish, named after the Mennonite bishop Jacob Amman (about 1650-about 1730), broke off from the Mennonites in the 1690s.

Mennonite and, a few decades later, Amish immigrants came to Colonial America, establishing permanent settlements in Pennsylvania. From their Pennsylvania origins, both groups expanded westward over subsequent decades. A further split within the Amish during the 1860s and 1870s led to the establishment of the Old Order Amish, the group that most often represents "Amish" in the popular imagination.

Historically, each Mennonite and Amish community was guided by its own set of rules and regulations. Variations in community standards affected each community's use, rejection, or adaptation of technology, their clothing, and other practices, including their quilts. Today, Old Order Amish quilts from Pennsylvania are iconic symbols of "the Amish." However, Pennsylvania's Old Order Amish only began around 1870 to produce quilts in any quantity. Mennonite quilting traditions in the United States are older, dating back to the 1830s and 1840s. The surviving quilts of both Amish and Mennonite makers are invariably made using factory-produced textiles.
L2010.42.2
L2010.42.2
Log Cabin--Pineapple Variation, about 1890
Pennsylvania, probably southeastern area
Log Cabin--Pineapple Variation, about 1890
Cottons
Pennsylvania, probably southeastern area
78 x 65 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.2

A bold variation on the Log Cabin formula (that is, square blocks pieced from rectilinear pieces of fabric). The pattern, color choices, binding, proportions, and quilting all suggest a Pennsylvania Mennonite origin.
Log Cabin--Pineapple Variation, about 1890
Pennsylvania, probably southeastern area
L2010.42.2
L2010.42.39
L2010.42.39
Log Cabin--Barn Raising Variation, about 1890
Pennsylvania, probably southeastern area
Log Cabin--Barn Raising Variation, about 1890
Cottons
Pennsylvania, probably southeastern area
84 x 77 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.39

Like so many other American quilters, Mennonite makers in southeastern Pennsylvania fell for the Log Cabin pattern and its many optically dazzling variations. The region's Mennonite quilters also favored sawtooth effects like that on the quilt's inner border. By using plain cottons, the maker of this example brought some simplicity to the design.
Log Cabin--Barn Raising Variation, about 1890
Pennsylvania, probably southeastern area
L2010.42.39
L2010.42.40
L2010.42.40
Box, about 1890
Southeastern Pennsylvania
Box, about 1890
Cottons
Southeastern Pennsylvania
82 x 82 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.40

This quilt's bold design and colors connect it to southeastern Pennsylvania, where it could have been created by a Mennonite quilter.
Box, about 1890
Southeastern Pennsylvania
L2010.42.40
L2010.42.3
L2010.42.3
Bricks, about 1900
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Bricks, about 1900
Wools
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
84 x 85 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.3

During the late nineteenth century, some members of the Mennonite Church separated to establish more conservative communities. They became known as Old Order Mennonites and their beliefs aligned them fairly closely to the Old Order Amish.

This quilt likely came from an Old Order Mennonite community and is thus similar to Amish work from Lancaster County, notably in its use of wool, its subdued colors, and its wide border. The quilting, however, does not incorporate Lancaster Amish-associated patterns in the border or elsewhere. Nor does the quilt have the wide binding along its edges found on many Amish quilts from the area.
Bricks, about 1900
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
L2010.42.3
L2010.42.31
L2010.42.31
Mary Shrock
(American, dates unknown)
Tumbling Blocks, about 1910
Holmes County, Ohio
Mary Shrock
(American, dates unknown)
Tumbling Blocks, about 1910
Cottons
Holmes County, Ohio
78 x 85 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.31

The Old Order Amish of Holmes County, in east-central Ohio, followed their Pennsylvania counterparts by producing quilts that avoided representational designs and the use of printed fabrics. However, community norms among the Old Order Amish in Ohio allowed the use of a far wider range of patterns than prevailed in most Pennsylvania Amish communities. Thus one encounters vibrant patterns like this Tumbling Blocks quilt.
Mary Shrock
(American, dates unknown)
Tumbling Blocks, about 1910
Holmes County, Ohio
L2010.42.31
L2010.42.41
L2010.42.41
Diamond in the Square, 1915-1925
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Diamond in the Square, 1915-1925
Wools
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
79 x 79 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.41


The Diamond in the Square pattern was among the earliest produced in the Old Order Amish community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (located in the southeastern corner of the state). The pattern is also virtually unique to the Lancaster County Amish. The finest pieces, this quilt included, were made during the first few decades of the twentieth century. The Diamond in the Square design has come to epitomize Amish quilting traditions, although it was derived from non-Amish quilts that featured large, square center panels.

Along with its pattern, the quilt incorporates many other elements typical of Lancaster County Old Order work: its square format, its use of wool rather than cotton, its wide outside border and binding, and its extraordinary quilting.
Diamond in the Square, 1915-1925
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
L2010.42.41
L2010.42.9
L2010.42.9
Joseph's Coat, about 1920
Southeastern Pennsylvania, probably Lancaster County
Joseph's Coat, about 1920
Cottons
Southeastern Pennsylvania, probably Lancaster County
80 x 80 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.9

In the King James Version of the Bible, Genesis 37:3 reads, "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors." The colorful, strip pattern known as Joseph's Coat references this passage, one of many Biblical allusions associated with American quilts. The version of Joseph's Coat seen here was often used in southeastern Pennsylvania where it was made by both Mennonite and non-Mennonite quilter makers.
Joseph's Coat, about 1920
Southeastern Pennsylvania, probably Lancaster County
L2010.42.9
L2010.42.32
L2010.42.32
Mary Miller
(American, dates unknown)
Triple Irish Chain, about 1930
Holmes County, Ohio
Mary Miller
(American, dates unknown)
Triple Irish Chain, about 1930
Cottons
Holmes County, Ohio
90 x 74 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.32

From the 1920s to the 1940s, black backgrounds became popular in some Midwestern Amish communities, most notably with the Old Order Amish of east-central Ohio. The contrast between black ground and brightly colored fabrics produced vibrant results.
Mary Miller
(American, dates unknown)
Triple Irish Chain, about 1930
Holmes County, Ohio
L2010.42.32
L2010.42.10
L2010.42.10
Burgoyne Surrounded, about 1940
Holmes County, Ohio
Burgoyne Surrounded, about 1940
Cottons
Holmes County, Ohio
87x 77 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.10

Though Old Order Amish seek to set themselves apart, they do adopt and modify practices from the world that surrounds them, quilting included. The pattern used here, for example, was popular with the "English" (as the Old Order Amish traditionally referred to outsiders), having been published in several sources from the 1890s through the 1930s. The quilt's execution, however, follows Ohio Amish practices of the 1940s including the use of pales blues, striking contrasts between light and dark fabrics, and the use of white thread for its quilting.
Burgoyne Surrounded, about 1940
Holmes County, Ohio
L2010.42.10
L2010.42.14
L2010.42.14
Nine Patch, about 1940
Taylor County, Wisconsin
Nine Patch, about 1940
Cottons
Taylor County, Wisconsin
90 x 73 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.14

In 1925, an Old Order Amish community was established in north-central Wisconsin. Many of those who moved to the new community came from other Amish settlements in the Midwest, bringing their quilting traditions along with them. This quilt shares features with other Amish quilts from the Midwest, including the use of a black ground and the separation of the patterned squares by intervening plain squares.
Nine Patch, about 1940
Taylor County, Wisconsin
L2010.42.14

 
 
 


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