Sunshine and Shadow
Image: Amish Quilts - Bars, Maker unknown circa 1920 Pennsylvania (c) International Quilt Museum.
An exhibition of Amish quilts from the International Quilt Museum’s (IQM) historic collection is one of the highlights of this year’s Festival of Quilts, taking place at the NEC Birmingham, 30 July – 2 August. The IQM’s exhibition, A World of Sunshine and Shadow, spans the dark, classic geometric patterns of the Pennsylvania Amish to the pastels and bright colours of the Midwest. Here we talk to exhibition curator Carolyn Ducey about her selection.
What’s the historic significance of these quilts and why are they museum pieces?
Amish quilts retain such a unique look and style. They are rarer than the more predominant patchwork quilts we typically find in the US and some of the most striking quilts made. Their deep colours and large fields of solid wool make them easily distinguishable from any other quilting tradition. Amish quilts, particularly those from Pennsylvania are also know for exceptionally fine quilting so, I think it is in part that they are so unusual, but also because they simply are so beautiful.
Image: Amish Quilts - Diamond Center, Maker unknown, Pennsylvania c.1935 (c) International Quilt Museum.
What are the trademark features of Amish quilts?
Amish quilts are known by their deeply saturated colours in large solid patterns, the predominant use of wool fabrics and their tiny quilting stitches used in very original designs. Each community follows their own guidelines and makes quilts that have a unique appearance. Some of these ‘rules’ are broken in Amish quilts in the Midwest, where you’ll see a much brighter and more colourful overall look.
When originally made, would aesthetics or function have been the priority?
Of course, quilts are functional in nature, so a woman stitching on a quilt was seen as being busily involved in a project that had merit and respectability. However, so many quilts were never used after they were completed. The maker took great pride in completing a quilt and carefully preserved it. In addition, often Amish quilts were made to commemorate a special occasion, such as marriage, so they were saved as a commemorative piece. I feel like quilts function on so many levels – many were used and used up, but many more were carefully preserved because they were symbols of pride and perseverance and a special memory.
Image: Amish Quilts - Center Diamond, maker unknown, Pennsylvania c.1910 (c) International Quilt Museum.
Carolyn Ducey is Curator of Collections at the International Quilt Museum, Nebraska. Carolyn will be giving a lecture, Uncover the World, at The Festival of Quilts on Saturday 1 August.
For more information visit www.thefestivalofquilts.co.uk.