Amish Quilts from Southern Maryland
Dear folks -
On August 29, 2009, Amy Rispin
presented a program on the topic “Amish Quilts, Southern Maryland Style.”
This program complemented a Textile Museum exhibition on Amish quilts that was hanging then.
Amy had bought quilts for a number of years from Magdalena Stoltzfus, an Amish quilter in southern Maryland.
Amy and Pat decided that it might be useful to cast light on the fact that the Amish still quilt for domestic purposes and for sale to obtain cash. They approached Ms. Stoltzfus about allowing them to use her community’s quilting practices to illustrate this program. (This was potentially a sensitive request because Amish people do not want to pose for pictures.)
Amy and Pat visited Mrs. Stoltzfus, who invited them to call her “Lena,” took lots of photos of her home and farm, and of her quilts and quilting operations in the community and talked to her in depth.
The map below gives you a sense of how far the Stoltzfus farm is from DC (look down the map for an orange mark).
This second map lets you orient yourself should you ever decide to visit yourself.
I was not able to attend their presentation, but I am going to summarize Amish beliefs in a less than authoritative way, since they strongly shape the Amish way of life, and even touch on their quilting. (I grew up in a fundamentalist Protestant home and feel that I have a “family” familiarity with Amish belief.)
Here is a kind of summary of modal Amish belief as I understand it:
1. The Amish believe the words of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible literally, and attempt to live by what they see as the direction provided there. The Amish are from from German or Swiss backgrounds and speak in German dialect among themselves. They tend to refer to the rest of the world as “the English” regardless of that world’s actual make-up. Most Amish also speak standard English, while sometimes avoiding “you” in favor of “thou.”
2. The Amish try to keep their communities separate from the “English” world.
3. The Amish dress in very plain, simple clothing and some describe themselves as “the plain people.” Likewise, when they make quilts for their own homes, they do not use printed fabrics, although they may create designs with embroidery.
4. The Amish do not make use of such things as “engine-driven” cars or trucks (animal-driven is OK) nor do they use electricity ( including any form of electric lighting, motors or appliances; they still use kerosene lamps and coal or wood-burning stoves and ranges). Some communities use gasoline powered motors to drive machinery such a pumps or washing machines. The Southern Maryland Amish community uses phones, but not in their homes.
5. Social life is very important within the Amish community. Families are very close-knit - children are expected to help out in the home and are given responsibilities when families market their farm goods.
6. Amish children do not usually attend public schools (there have been some important court cases) but are schooled in small Amish-taught school houses to approximately the eighth grade.
7. Amish quilts and some women’s stockings seem to be the only textile items in which rich colors appear. Painted Amish “hex” signs that are visible in some Amish communities are also colorful.
The Amish are good farmers and business people and are not reluctant to engage in business. They are known to be earnest workers and the quality of their work and products is widely respected.
One begins to see some signs of the Amish way of life as one drives along in parts of Southern Maryland, near Charlotte Hall and Mechanicsville in St. Mary’s County.
The farmers’ markets in Mechanicsville, pictured here, had bearded, hatted gentlemen
ladies in pinafores and small transparent caps,
and horse-drawn wagons.
A teen-age boy, helps his mother tend a produce stand,
dressed a bit differently than boys his age would be in Washington.
The architecture is simple and severe. Below is a typical unpainted tobacco barn with detachable slats for drying the tobacco crop.
While the Amish do not smoke, in Southern Maryland, tobacco has been a frequent Amish crop.
The avoidance of electricity is reflected in an outdoor clothes line, filled with one family’s laundry.
In Amish country one quickly gets “used to” open and covered horse-drawn vehicles, either out and in use, or waiting in the open,
or in a garage.
The image above is of the Stoltzfus’ buggy in their garage.
Amy and Pat pulled up in front of the Stoltzfus house and quilt shop.
Ms. Stoltzfus welcomed Amy and Pat and they began a tour of the house.
The main room of the Stoltzfus house is a great room with separate cooking, sitting, and sewing areas.
In summer, Lena uses only a small gas burner, so her large cooking range becomes an auxiliary counter. Notice the candles and the ballpoint pen.
Behind the stove is a push broom within easy reach.
There is a tub and a wringer washer the laundry area.
The washing machine is powered by a gasoline motor.
Notice that right behind the gasoline motor, there is a plastic- lined garage can. On the left side of the photo above, there is a modern fire extinguisher.
Beyond the washer is a box holding old newspapers for recycling.
Below is the quilting area in Lena’s great room.
The Amish sew the “pieces” that make up the “tops” or faces of their quilts by machine, while the sewing together of a quilt’s layers (the face, batting and back), the actual “quilting,” is traditionally done by hand.
Ms. Stoltzfus’ sewing machine has a more modern look on top
but notice that it is treadle-powered. Lena is also waiting for her son to have the time to convert a second-hand electric sewing machine to gasoline power.
Down the road from the Stultzfus’ farm, Amy and Pat also visited an Amish dry goods store, selling quilting fabrics and supplies.
Here’s what their business card says:
Locust Grove Drygoods
9839 N Rysceville Rd
Mechanicsville, Md, 20659
Open Mon – Sat.
Pressure Cooker Parts
Amy noticed that this Amish community permits use of pressure cookers.
Inside Amy and Pat encountered some of he advertised wares. First, bolts of quilting fabrics.
Here are more bolts, a cutting table and shelves of quilting supplies.
If you are going to make a quilt, you need the middle batting layer.
Amy examines an area of the shop with more supplies and a kerosene-burning heating unit.
Notice that there are blinds, but no curtains, in any of the windows.
The general store also stocks design guides for quilting.
The owner showed one guide applied to an all-white quilt.
The dry goods store also sells some books produced explicitly for Amish children. Here are two examples.
The first seems directed at girls and is about pet kittens and cats.
Here is an inside page or two.
The second book features both boys and girls, this time with ponies and a collie dog.
Again, two inside facing pages.
These children’s books are very like those produced widely in the U.S. in the 1940s and 50s, except that the children in these are all in Amish dress.
Here is an item that an Amish man caught out in bad weather uses to protect his straw or felt hat.
There are some boxes on shelves with intriguing labels describing items we can’t see.
We’re back at Lena’s house again. She has a collection of quilting books.
These books contain pictures of quilts that Lena draws on for designing quilts.
Near some of the books are some potholder pairs, also for sale.
Finally, we come to the finished quilts Ms. Stoltzfus and her friends and neighbors have made and that are for sale.
As you can see, the designs are traditional…no “art” quilts here.
Bride’s quilts are plain white pieces with designs that are entirely created from the intricate stitching. There are also some with “lit from within” designs with colors that arise powerfully, even a little unexpectedly, from their dark grounds.
Amy and Pat took a close-up of this very traditional “log cabin” design with borders that seem to move in another direction. Interestingly, this quilt top was sewn by Mr. Stoltzfus, while he was recovering from a stroke that affected his balance.
Below are details of a “leaf” design called “October Weekend.” Mrs. Stoltzfus obtained the pattern from a friend in Canada.
She said that, although, it is pieced in “blocks,” it was extremely complex to fit together.
Below is a somewhat unusual version of a traditional design.
Below is a detail of a design that features “star-like” devices. Amish quilters are known for their mastery of pieced quilt tops incorporating star designs.
Another, below, perhaps a little less traditional looking in this detail.
The quilt below looks more traditional. It alternates blocks containing stars with blocks drawn from the log cabin pattern.
Afterword from Amy: “Magdalena told us that her name is a long standing family name and has come down to her from her great grandmother.
When we showed Lena a picture of some of the quilts the TM had on exhibit,
She recognized them immediately as Lancaster quilts. Lena was born in Lancaster County, Pa and came to Southern Maryland with her family when she was 7 years old. Her mother brought 5 Lancaster quilts with her when the family moved.
Amy and Pat thanked Ms. Stoltzfus for providing a window on contemporary Amish quits in Southern Maryland and began the long drive home.
Before we end our virtual version of this presentation, there are some quilts that Amy and Pat own that are related.
We’ll begin with Amy’s.
The first is a “double wedding ring” design.
Amy’s comment: “The green and white double wedding ring quilt is signed by (Mrs. Noah Kinsinger, Oakland Maryland ( Oakland is inWestern Maryland in Garrett County. Oakland lists an Amish community in its town.) I purchased this quilt from a Southern Maryland dealer who bought it at a quilt auction in Southern Maryland, so I presume that Mrs. Kinsinger has relatives in Southern Maryland.
“Ms Kinsinger used only plain colored fabric so the quilt could be used by an Amish family or put up for sale. I think the effect is very modern without the use of printed fabric.”
The next piece of Amy’s was a quilted wall hanging with a version of the “nine-patch” design.
Amy’s comment: “The blue and white nine-patch quilted wall hanging is very like one I saw an Amish woman sewing while she minded her stall in the Mechanicsville market. The pattern in the white squares is embroidered. As mentioned before, Amish people do not incorporate printed fabrics when sewing garments or quilts for their own use. But they may embroider their quilts.”
Here are some closer details of this piece.
First, one of the embroidered squares.
Then a close look at the embroidery, all done using simple cross-stiches.
The dark squares are only decorated with the quilting stitches, but these form designs.
Amy also had a quilt with a blue star design, Amish, but not from southern Maryland.
Her comment on this piece: “We were driving through Ohio about 20 years ago and saw an Amish lady who had strung a clothesline of quilts near an interstate highway. My husband obligingly to the first exit and we purchased this small quilt hanging from her.
“The coloring is typical of the yard goods they purchase for their own clothes. The star design is one for which Amish quilters are well-known.“
“And the use of hearts in the quilting pattern is typical of patterns from quilts from Pennsylvania.”
Here is a closer look at the dramatic center of its star.
Another similar piece of Amy’s was the one below.
Amy’s comment: “The crib quilt with 5 stars is from Pennsylvania.
The elaborate central star is typical of the fine piecing done by the Amish women.
As we noted with the previous star quilt, the presence of hearts in the quilt stitching is typical of Pennsylvania quilts.”
Amy also had a quilted throw pillow and two quilted potholders made by Magdalena’s daughters.
Amy also had a crib quilt with a pinwheel design. This is a southern Maryland Amish quilt.
Amy’s comment: “I wasn’t really looking for another crib quilt or wall hanging when I saw this pinwheel quilt in Magdalena’s shop. I was struck by the way the border framed the pinwheels in an endless array manner, cutting through the centers of these field design elements at the edges, a usage also seen in some Central Asian bags.”
“Magdelena said that this edge effect had to do with the construction of the individual quilt blocks.”
“As you can see, the backing of the quilt is a soft flannel printed in a nursery design.”
Amy had one final quilt.
Amy’s comment: “I commissioned this queen-sized double wedding ring quilt from Magdelena Stoltzfus several years ago, during the spring.”
“She said she was very busy with her bedding plant business at the time, but would start collecting swatches of material in the pastel tones we discussed.”
“That summer she began to piece the quilt top.”
“Completion of the quilting itself had to wait until Magdelena and her family were finished with preparations for Christmas. I finally picked it up in early spring. As you can see, it was well worth waiting for. I particularly like the choice of edge detail, as well as the choice of quilting design within the rings.”
This is the end of this virtual version of an imaginatively conceived RTAM by Amy and Pat that complemented a Textile Museum exhibition on Amish quilts that was hanging at that time.
I want to thank Ms. Stoltzfus, Amy and Pat for permitting this virtual version of the Rug and Textile Appreciation morning on this topic that Amy and Pat presented.
Amy and Pat also helped a great deal in the editing of this virtual version of their presentation.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the world of traditional Amish quilts, and especially into that of one Amish quilter in southern Maryland.
R. John Howe