One July 20, 2013, Amy Rispin
gave am RTAM program on an Amish Quilt auction, she had attended in Charlotte Hall in southern Maryland, in November, 2012.
Amy’s husband, Paul,
took unobtrusive photos at the auction of quilts (Amish are sensitive to being photographed). He also used Photoshop to prepare the images.
I was indicated as co-presenter, but this program emerged from Amy’s experience and the program conception and conduct were very much her own. I was very much a side-line kibitzer.
Amy was introduced by Hattie Lehman, the TM’s assistant Curator of Education.
Hattie was well-suited for making this introduction, since she was raised in an Mennonite community, which has practices and beliefs similar to those of the Amish community Amy was describing.
Amy holds a PhD in Theoretical Chemistry, with emphasis on molecular symmetry and electromagnetic emissions. She spent 31 years at the US Environmental Protection Agency ,where she regulated biotechnology products and was the US negotiator at the UN for Health and Safety standards. Has a weekend home in Southern Maryland and has been dealing with Amish quilters in St. Mary’s County for 28 years. Amy is a long-time docent at the TM.
Amy has established a friendship with Magdalena Stoltzfus, perhaps the most skilled quilter in this southern Maryland Amish community and has, as a result, become knowledgeable about it.
She started with some basic information she has assembled.
First, this Amish group is part of what is called the
The red dot in the map below indicates approximately where the community is located in Southern Maryland (because they do not have churches Amish communities are a little dispersed and it is sometimes hard to find a particular community).
Amy said that the expression “Old Order Amish,” referred to the fact that this community is very conservative in its practices.
Some deviations are permitted in Old Order Amish communities. Electricity created by a small gasoline motor is sometimes permitted (being “off-grid” seems to be the primary objective here).
Some deviations from the Old Order Amish ways that are instances of compliance with the law are permitted. One stand in an Amish market, had a refrigerator, plugged into a public receptacle, in order to comply with state regulations for the sale of dairy products.
Riding in an automobile driven by someone else, might be OK (large vans are frequent), and use of a telephone outside one’s house might be permitted. Actual telephone kiosks have been built in Amish areas for this latter purpose.
The rear reflectors on a wagon and buggy. below, show how narrow such discriminations can be.
Some Amish would consider these colored reflectors too “decorative.” They would use only reflective tape in minimal compliance with the law. See the unobtrusive vertical reflecting strips on the buggy on the right in the picture below..
There are several “Old Order Amish” groups in the U.S.
Here is a directory of them for 2010 issued by the southern Maryland community.
Locations of Old Order Amish Communities
The plain dress of the boy (left, front) and the woman (right rear) in this market stall exemplifies male and female dress, generally (although the dress of the woman is hard to see).
One of Paul’s photographs at the auction (see below) lets us see dress of men and women more clearly.
The boys wear denim shirts and dark trousers. The men wear the same, but also dark coats buttoned up and hats, straw in the summer. Full beards are frequent. The women wear dark blouses, but often maroon skirts, plus black aprons and either head scarves or plain lace caps. I have heard that Amish girls wear bright colored stockings, when teenagers, but you can see that the two women on this side of the table are wearing black stockings.
Clothing for the family is sewn by the women. This is an Amish family washing hung out to dry. You can see the usual items.
Plain fabrics; no prints. Dark colors and, as we’ve seen, some pastel colors for shirts and blouses.
Amy took us into the Stultzfus home to let us see these Amish furnishing practices concretely.
In this house there is a “great room,” which has a kitchen area and a sewing area. Below is a view of this great room, looking into the kitchen area.
Notice that there are plain green shades, but no curtains,on the window. A large stove that is used for cooking, and in the winter, is a major source of heat. There are three red candles in holders and a push broom near the stove. The cupboard-counter-drawers system seems quite modern. We cannot see the source of water in the room, perhaps access to a well in or near the sink.
Looking in the opposite direction in this same room we see the sewing area.
Again, there are the green shades without curtains. A rather new looking sewing machine is operated with a treadle. There is a plain white textile, clearly handmade, on the edge of a window shelf on the right.
There is a family tree at the upper left. Family is important in Amish communities. Amy saw three family trees in this house.
The floor is messy. Perhaps there has been some recent sewing.
Now Amy moved to talk about the materials used by these Amish.
There are criteria that
A few years ago The Textile Museum presented an exhibition of Amish quilts. This image from it is what quilts made for their own use (and, therefore, with material like that described above looked like.
The Amish make a great many quilts for sale. To these quilts the restrictions on materials do not apply. They are described as quilts made for the “English” (the Amish speak a German dialect).
Amish quilters need material for quilts for their own use and quilts for sale.
Amish dry good stores, like this one, sell all kinds of quilting supplies, including both kinds of quilting material.
The dry goods store offers polyester batting, the middle level of a quilt, between the pieced front and the back.
Next is the material for making the pieced front and the back. Note that the “made for sale” material (patterned) is on the upper shelf except for the left end. And the “made for use by the Amish” materials (plain colors) are on the lower shelf and the left end of the upper one.
Below, is the pattern to be used in the quilting (that is, the pattern to be followed in the stitching of the pieced front, the batting, and the back of a quilt.And then a detail of the actual quilting that follows the design of the pattern held next to it.
Magdalena avidly researches books for interesting patterns to use in quilts to be sold. That’s what this shelf of books in her home is.
With this introduction of this southern Amish community and their ways, Amy moved to treat the quilt auction itself.
A poster advertising a previous quilt auction:
The auction is held in a large open building that is part of a lumber yard.
It’s November and chilly, and this large stove is the only heat in the building. This older Amish lady has noticed this and is taking advantage of it.
There are foodstuffs to sell beforehand.
This is Amy “catching up” with her Amish quilter friend, Ms. Stoltzfus who said that there was a good chicken soup for sale and Amy said she should go buy some to take the chill off the morning. Her friend reached inside her voluminous coat, pulled out an empty jar so that Amy could also take some homemade soup home.
So now the auction begins.
There is a front-of-the room staff.
The quilt being auctioned is on the upper right, It is hung on a beam that can be raised and lowered. The man on the right is a professional auctioneer.
The man on the platform with the blue jacket and the straw hat is a representative of the Amish community who assists the auctioneer.
The younger man with the beard, glasses and straw hat is also a watcher for bids. As we will see, he also holds up smaller quilts for display.
The lady on the right side near the quilt is also a watcher. The lady sitting at the table with a lap blanket to keep warm records the proceedings of that auction.
So here we go.
We begin with them.
The young man brings out a smaller quilt for auction display.
The back is plain. The front is shown in the photo below.
A crib quilt patterned after the Irish Chain design
Here are a few more smaller quilts.
One more small patterned quilt, clearly for sale to a non-Amish customer.
Amy said that the cartouches on the border of the quilt below are printed, not pieced. Quilters call this kind of usage “cheaters.” Despite its name, it is a legitimate quilting usage.
A young man models a colorfully decorated vest.
Quite a bit of teamwork is required to display the large quilts efficiently for auction.
The horizontal beam can be raised and lowered with a rope-pulley arrangement.
The quilts are attached to the beam, then raised with the rope to be seen.
Here are a few slides that shows the teamwork involved.
In the photo below, you see the beam attached to a rope system that permits it to be raised and lowered. Although you can’t see them clearly in this image, there are several clips (orange) that can be clipped to the top of the quilt to be shown.
Here are a few images that show how this work proceeds. Amy said these men doing the attaching, work without consulting one another at all.
These men can work without consulting one another because they are used to working in teams as they farm in their community.
The quilt is up! (top, center)
Here are a few more quilts sold in this auction. Only occasional comments.
This first one is entirely white. The only designs are the quilting stitches themselves.
Out of focus, but you get the idea.
A comprehensive, flat image of one we saw earlier.
Unusual, curvilinear effect, below, but constructed entirely from small squares. Focus problem again.
We finish at the auction with this Escher-like design.
With these glimpses of this Southern Maryland Amish community and this quilt auction, Amy moved to some quilts she and others had in the room.
This first piece is a pillow made from four squares of quilt face in a “log cabin” design.
Amy said that she believes that comparison with some pot holders she owns indicate that it was made by an Amish quilter in this southern Maryland community although she bought it somewhere else.
The next piece was a small quilt.
This quilt is one an Amish person could use. It has circular decorations, but these are embroidered, a permissible mode.
A second quilt was in the “double wedding ring” pattern. that Amy likes. It is signed by an Amish quilter from Oakland, Md, a Mrs. Noah Kinsinger.
It has a narrow color palette, green and white, all solid colors.
Here is an unobstructed view which shows off the scalloped borders.
This may seem like a quilt that the members of this Amish community could buy for their own use but it is likely not. The colored wedding ring devices may be disqualifying.
A second “double wedding ring” quilt is more opulent. This quilt was made for Amy by Magdalena Stultzfus.
Here are some detail images of this quilt.
Curved design elements that are not quilting or embroidery are present. And a closer look (below), reveals that the squares used to fashion the “rings” are of printed cloth, another area of prohibition.
The next quilt was small, wonderfully composed with rich coloring and skillful white quilted scroll border.
Amy said that one of the things that took her eye was the seeming “never ending” field implied by the partial “gul” forms at the edges. She said this seemed an unusual Amish usage. But her Amish quilter friend indicated that while many may see the pattern as organized around the medallions,
in fact, the “design block” the quilter is working with necessitated the truncating the octagon at the border.
Since this block is the basic building block of the design there is nothing incomplete at the edges.
This is an interesting example of how differences in perception can shape our visual experiences.
Here are a couple more details of this beautiful small piece.
Amy asked me next to treat a quilt-faced pillow that has the “patterned material” and curvilinear usages that would disqualify it from Amish home use..
This quilt design is called “cathedral windows,
Here is a closer look. My sister, who is a skilled seamstress, but not a quilter, says this design is very difficult to make.
It is not entirely clear to me whether the curved usage falls within the permissible.
A few additional quilts had been brought in.
This first one has an Amish-for-use-at-home look. Straight line sewing everywhere and unpatterned material.
Here is its back.
The next piece was very simple.
BUT, look at the sophistication in the design made by the quilting stitches.
Another brought-in quilt was this one.
This quilt uses close colors, exhibits beautiful quilting and a vertically effective use of a contrasting red. Notice that the overall design is reflected horizontally. That is, a line drawn horizontally across its middle will have devices below the line in what we would likely see as the usual orientation and the design elements above that line would be read as oriented up side down.
Here are two devices taken for this middle line.
Here are some additional details of this lovely quilt.
(color adjusted to reveal quilting stitches)
(back view of detail of face panel)
Amy took questions
and brought her session to a close.
Participants stayed a while, examining the quilts.
I want to thank Amy for her notion that a look at the Amish community and its quilts might be enjoyable and informative. It was.
Thanks to Amy’s husband Paul for the auction photographs (that had to be taken unobtrusively) and for his Photoshop work supporting Amy’s lecture.
I hope you have enjoyed this look at a Southern Maryland Old Order Amish culture, its quilts, and an auction of them.
R. John Howe