What colors will you find in a “true” Amish quilt?

When I attended Amish quilt expert Janneken Smucker’s presentation on the topic, I was surprised to learn that the use of color by Amish quilters was much more flexible than I’d assumed. These weren’t just the bold reds, blues and dark tones we often associate with Amish handiwork.

Today Janneken explains how Amish quilters of another era incorporated popular colors that most people wouldn’t think of as “Amish”.


Back in July, I had a conversation with two bloggers from Pantomerica, who are traveling across the country exploring regional color. While they were in southeastern Pennsylvania, they visited Amish country in Lancaster County, and also came to interview me in Philadelphia. I don’t want to give away all of our conversation, but we focused on the use of color in Amish quilts.

It might be easy to assume that Amish quilters from the early twentieth century were far removed from the color trends and fashions of the dominant culture. But I think we can’t simply state that they were completely unaware. Many were actually connoisseurs of popular colors, including, for example, the common Easter egg pastels of the 1930s, like bubblegum pink or Nile green.

The fabrics in colors popular with mainstream quilters were also sold to Amish quilters, sometimes by the traveling merchants who had loyal Amish customers. What Amish quilters did differently was pair these colors in ways unpredictable in the world of mainstream quilts.

For example, this appliqued floral quilt shares a lot in common with other quilts from this era – cheerful pink flowers in a basket. But most non-Amish quiltmakers would have set these baskets on a white background fabric, instead of black. The dark ground and wide royal blue border give this quilt a certain Amish spin.

basket-of-flowers-quilt

Basket of flowers, unknown Amish maker, c. 1935. Possibly made in Ohio. International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska — Lincoln.

Another quilt of the same era uses the ubiquitous Double Wedding Ring pattern, popular among Amish and “English” quiltmakers alike. This crib quilt almost reads as a typical pastel version of this popular pattern, but what sets it apart is the splashes of atypical colors, like black, brown, deep red, and navy blue—colors that make frequent appearances on Midwestern Amish quilts.

double-wedding-ring-crib-quilt

Double Wedding Ring Crib Quilt, unknown Amish maker, c. 1935, LaGrange, Indiana, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

If you are lucky enough to live near an Amish settlement, or have enjoyed wandering the back roads while visiting, you have surely noticed the array of colors blowing in the wind on the clotheslines of Amish homes. Here too, you see the variety, and the unexpected pairings, that have long characterized Amish color choices.

dresses-on-line

Bethany King, Amish Clothesline, Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Read more from Janneken:

“Church Amish” quilting in the 1940s
PA German Fraktur Art
Quilt Innovators Mary Lapp & Hannah Stoltzfoos
All About Quilt Stitching
What are Haps?


Janneken Smucker is Assistant Professor of History at West Chester University, consulting curator for the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and author of multiple publications on quilts and quilting including Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon.