The Art of Quilting

An Amish tradition for generations

By Catie Noyes • Editor Published:

The frigid wind blows outside your window, swirling falling snowflakes and makes you glad you chose to stay inside today. As you settle down to your favorite book you pull your hand-stitched quilt in tight and tuck yourself in for a well deserved afternoon of reading. As your hands run over the intricate design stitched into the fabric, you start to appreciate all the hard work that went into making this very special piece of art.

"Quilting is a strong tradition in Amish families," said Viola Hershberger, manager of Helping Hands quilt shop. Entering into any Amish home you are most likely to see a quilt on every bed or as a small wall hanging. In every Amish family, when a daughter gets married she receives three quilts while a son receives one.

Hershberger explains that early Amish quilting (and even early American quilting) was born out of necessity. People needed blankets to keep warm from harsh winter nights so the women of the household would take sentimental scraps of material and piece them together into creative patchwork blocks.

Today, quilting still remains a sentimental work of art but is often created for just that purpose…art. Quilters select fabrics based on colors that flow well together and create visual interest.

In an older order Amish home you may find quilts made of darker, more plain fabrics while not so strict orders will use more modern quilting practices and create themes to match different rooms within their home, explained Hershberger.

"Amish girls learn to quilt from their mothers . It's passed down within their families," said Miriam Miller, a local Amish women and owner of Country Creations in Apple Creek. Miller was 19 when she sewed her first quilt.

Hershberger grew up in an Amish household and has always loved quilting. Although her and her siblings are no longer a part of the Amish faith, Hershberger said she is the only one who still enjoys to quilt. While some might say quilting requires an act of patience, Hershberger does not feel this is so.

"If it's something you love it's not really patience, it's just what you do," said Hershberger. "For me, baking cookies requires patience."

Hershberger compared the process of making a quilt to making a "three layer sandwich." There is the top, the batting and the lining. Once you have chosen the fabric and pattern you wish to pursue, you start to piece the blocks of material together.

Miller said there are thousands of patterns to choose from and new patterns are being designed all the time. Some of the more popular patterns include: the Star pattern, Double Wedding Ring, Log Cabin, Dahlia and the Trip Around the World (Miller feels that this pattern is the easiest of the patterns she has pursued.)

Once you have decided upon your pattern you can begin to piece the material together to form the individual blocks. Next the blocks are sewn together, which Miller said is often done by sewing machine. "It's like a puzzle putting all the pieces together," said Miller.

"Piecing is better to do by yourself," said Miller. "An eighth of an inch can make all the difference from block to block." But the process of quilting is often done in groups where Amish women can enjoy the company of one another and make the process much faster and efficient. Miller said a group of ladies from her church will meet a couple times a month to work on quilting projects.

Miller has found that she can piece a quilt top in two days, which comes in handy as she creates large orders of quilts for a business. "It gets easier if you use the same pattern," said Miller.

Hershberger, on the other hand, enjoys a more leisurely approach and takes time to really enjoy and appreciate the different designs and patterns of quilting. "I rarely ever do the same pattern twice," said Hershberger.

Now that the blocks have been pieced and sewn together, you have created the top of your quilt. The next step is to cut your batting and lining and stack the pieces on top of each other. You will then be stitching the quilting design of your choice through all three layers of your quilt. This process is where the true art of quilting comes to life and a steady hand can create the most beautiful of designs.

Quilting can be done in a variety of ways. In embroidery quilting, the quilter is using a needle and thread to create the main design or theme of the quilt versus using fabric blocks. In appliqué quilting, the quilter sews pieces fabric over the base material to create shapes and patterns. In other quilting methods, quilters will use the patterns within their selected fabrics and quilt around them or stencil their own designs.

Now the pieces are sewn and the quilting is complete. The final step in the process is to put a binding around the edges of your quilt. The binding secures the three layers and ties your pattern together by giving your quilt a beautiful border.

Hershberger hopes that the art of quilting will continue to grow and develop with newer generations. Many new techniques have been developed while many chose to stick with more traditional techniques when it comes to quilting.

While you are snuggled up all warm and cozy under your favorite hand-me down quilt, you can have a new appreciation for the labor and care that went into creating it. You know that it was truly made from the best quality material, as this particular quilt has been passed down within your own family for generations. You may even decide to root through that old scrap pile you were thinking about tossing and consider piecing together a special quilt of your own.

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