What are “haps”? Janneken Smucker explains

We’ve seen plenty of examples of beautiful Amish-made quilts, treated as artwork and displayed in galleries.

But what about the heavier, less-stunning bed coverings, the ones you might want to actually wrap up in rather than hang on a wall?

Today, Janneken Smucker explains “haps”, which, depending on where you live, you may know by another name entirely.

This time of year my bed is piled with quilts and comforters—thick tied (rather than quilted) bedcovers. Most of the historic Amish quilts which have ended up in the hands of collectors and museums are very thin, with just a minimal layer of batting—the inner layer of the quilt sandwich.

What about the heavy quilts, the ones I call comforters but other families and communities may call comforts, comfortables, haps, or simply quilts? These generally do not have fancy piecing and typically are made from heavier fabrics.

Nine-patch Four-patch Pieced Quilt Amish
Nine Patch Four Patch Pieced Quilt; Unknown Amish Maker. Lagrange County, Indiana, c. 1920. Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

Jeannette Lasansky has written about these heavy bedcovers within both the Amish and “English” communities in central Pennsylvania, drawing on evidence from 19th-century estate inventories listing the items in a deceased’s possession, along with surviving examples.

Lasansky observed in her fieldwork in Pennsylvania that tied bed covers were appealing not only because they did not require the laborious quilting stitches, but because one could untie the knots in order to better clean the parts of the sandwich and reassemble with a new batting.

Two-sided Nine-patch Comforter Amish-made
Nine Patch Bars Pieced Comforter; Unknown Amish Maker. Shipshewana, Indiana, c. 1925. Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

In contrast to the better-known quilts of the Amish, few examples of Amish haps or comforters have made their way into museum collections. Indiana State Museum has great examples from Amish communities in northern Indiana, including this circa 1920 tied four-patch quilt made from denim and this two sided nine patch comforter, circa 1925. But I suspect many similar ones existed and were used up, especially if they were indeed washed regularly.

What other regional names do you know for similarly warm, utilitarian bedcovers? What do Amish people use today to keep warm on cold nights?

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    18 Comments

    1. OSIAH HORST

      Comforters

      In our part of Ontario they are known as comforters. During the winter, youth in our community get together several nights a month for Comfort Knottings. Sometimes they do their own cutting and piecing as well as knotting (or tying the knots with yarn) while other times some of the mothers have prepared comforters beforehand. These comforters are then sent to Christian Aid Ministries for distribution in eastern Europe.

    2. Each of our beds had a heavy comforter during the cold winter months in our unheated bedrooms. All of the comforters had a slip cover,similar to a pillow case. The slip case was washed a few times a year while the actual comforter was washed every couple years.

    3. Terry from Wisc

      What are haps?

      As a boy I was raised beside a quilt frame, and we raised our four children and now two grand children, at that same frame that was my grandmothers, but never heard of a haps. We “tie” not “knot” a quilt as I have heard Amish ladies say. In the quilt world a quilt is quilted not tied…maybe. Tying is faster and you are finished with it and on the bed it goes.

      Having a room to set the frame up can be a problem. My grandmother tied quilts over the dining room table, as did my mom, and us too. If gramma planned to quilt a quilt the frame went up in her parlor…the only place she had to leave the frame up for weeks at a time. But, quilted or tied it was still a quilt.

      If we have a pieced top that has been a lot of work, we use a neutral colored crocheting thread to tie it. That way you see the pattern of the quilt and not colored yarn jumping out at you. That policy has come down the line from my own dear grandmother!

      I came across a web site “men who quilt” and I have been wowed at the projects the guys have turned out! Nice to know I’m not the only guy sitting at a sewing machine! Go men! 😉

      In our neck of the wood in Wisc we have a -30 or better wind chill this morning to start the day out with. Our kids grew up in a house that was built in 1854, slept under a stack of “tied quilts…not haps” on their beds, in a cold upstairs with hardly any heat. Well, they all survived! 🙂

      Stay warm friends, and I’m anxious to read the comments and stories people have about their quilts.

    4. Naomi Wilson

      My very favorite baby blanket from my own childhood has a soft flannel backing tied to a top of alternating squares of wide corduroy and well-worn men’s flannel shirts. I never knew it was a comfort knot quilt until we joined a plain church. The ladies in our church gather one day a month to make comforts for various charities. Recently we had a service project night which involved everyone. Mostly men gathered around the quilt frame tying knots while the ladies did other sewing projects or helped with children’s activities.

    5. Trish in Indiana

      I have an old tied comforter from my mother’s family that is probably in the neighborhood of a century old. It kept me warm through the lean years of graduate school when I kept my apartment’s thermostat as low as I could! The cat I had at the time would poke me and cry until I lifted the edge for him to crawl under it with me, and when I poked my nose out from under it each morning, I would snuggle down into its warmth for another few minutes. Amazing how warm you can keep with nothing but body heat, if you have a warm enough blanket! No wonder these comforter were and are used so much in houses without central heating.

      However, the last time I had it laundered it spent too much time in the dryer, and the batting (cotton?) “felted” so it has a lot less “loft” and is no longer nearly as warm as it was. Still a very warm blanket by modern standards, but not like it was. Also, a lot of the cloth squares in it have lost so many threads the cloth is almost nonexistent.

      That’s all right. It was never made to be a work of art, but a workhorse that would do its job, and it has done its job for a whole lot longer than I ever will. I still take it to deer camp every year and lay it on top of my sleeping bag for extra warmth, and probably will until it finally falls apart.

      If I could have a new one just like it, I would love to, but I’m sure it would cost a fortune now. I’m not ever 100% sure what the batting was. Again, my guess was loose cotton fibers, but I’m not sure. It was long before that silly modern “fiberfill” stuff that isn’t really very warm.

    6. Barb Zimmerman

      I have a small one from my grandmother. The story was that they used it as a lap robe before cars. I remember using it as a blanket when I was a kid and slept at their house, but now I just keep it in a bag to keep clean. It’s not big enough for a bedspread, but maybe a twinbed size. It’s kind of pretty, but not fancy. My family was not Amish, and these were made by farm wives at the time. I’m not sure who made it. My grandmother was a great cook, but I don’t remember her ever sewing anything.

    7. Ashley

      My great-grandmother simy called hers a quilt, but it was one of the comforters like above. It was made with the thickest, warmest but scratchiest wool that I don’t even know how she managed to sleep under it.

      1. Ashley

        *please ignore the word simy in my comment, autocorrect corrected something and I’m not sure what it was trying to correct. Sorry!

    8. Karen Johnson-Weiner

      Swartzentruber Amish refer to them (in English) as “tied quilts.” Every child gets three quilts from home: a “plain” (or solid color) quilt, a pieced quilt, and a tied quilt.

    9. Terry from Wisc

      The ugly quilt

      How could I forget the ugly quilt that my mom made out of a men’s suit samples? I never liked having it on my bed because it was all wool and scratchy. Mom used to say that that quilt kept her and dad from freezing to death when first married in 1938. Well, who had any money in 1938? So, one had to use their “resources”, and I don’t remember if mom worked at the Men’s Store or not. Unfortunately she has passed away, so I am guessing at some of the details. Anyway, she ended up with the suit samples from that store and created the ugly quilt with colors such as black, navy, light blue, gray, brown etc. The good thing was they were free, and anything free in 1938 was gobbled up! Often times I heard from my parents that line about “The good old days” and they used to say, “What was so good about them?”

      Most often in those tough times quilts were made from used clothing, or used anything that could be cut up into quilt pieces, not new material. It’s those quilts that have such a sentimental value to family members when they recognize clothes that they wore, or that some other family member wore, that were cut and sewn to make the top. What scraps that were left over were cut and sewed into carpet rags. People were “green” and didn’t know it! 🙂

    10. Alice Mary

      Help me, Erik!

      Erik, I hope you can find the actual Polish spelling of the word I’m looking for.

      I don’t know the Polish spelling of the word for the huge, thick, goosedown comforters we used to snuggle under in my youth, Erik, but it SOUNDS something like “p’yeh-ZYHN-uh”. When my grandmas (first the fraternal one, Anna, then the maternal one, Mary) lived upstairs from us in the house we all grew up in in Chicago, there was always one on grandma’s bed in the winter (the flats were cold—coal burning pot bellied stove in the dining room, coal cook stove in the kitchen. Later these were replaced with gas space heaters, gas cook stove.)

      There was a local, small dept. store in our neighborhood then that still carried these goosedown quilts and pillows well into the ’70’s when it closed. A goosedown “p’yeh-ZYHN-uh” was an expensive, but highly sought-after wedding gift for many girls in my neighborhood (of mostly Polish, Ukranian or German descent).

      Alice Mary

      1. Alice Mary I think the word you want in Polish is “pierzyna” but the word I don’t think is used so much anymore. More often they say kołdra to mean your everyday comforter, I think the pierzyna word might still be used though to refer more specifically to a heavier one stuffed with down.

        1. Terry from Wisc

          The pierzyna

          Erik, After reading the post I called my Polish friend and you are right about it being filled with down.

          We called something filled with down or feathers a “tick”. I will never forget the day my folks made pillows out of an old tick. Our back yard looked like it had snowed! Somethings you do only once..and that was a one time deal! lol

    11. Jerry

      Yes, we had those quilts as well. Mom used a new but cheap blanket for the batting. The fabrics were denim, corduroy and wools. Both sides were pieced and hand knot tied. She also made fancy quilts for sale and the quilting frame seems to have been in every room in the house at one time or another. These hand tied quilts were our every-cold-night go-to warmers. Sometimes is was hard to move under them as they could be a bit heavy. She always stitched in year it was made in one corner.

    12. Having grown up in the sub-tropics, I only ever had 1 child size quilt.. and actually think it was a hand-me-down from my sister. One of my great grandmothers made it I believe.. I loved that quilt.. but I dont know where it disappeared to or when. Sigh.. I would love to have it today.

      I do remember my grandmothers who lived in N Texas having thick heavy quilts adn they also called them “filled with ticking”. But I remember my grandmother also telling me that she & her mother saved all their old blankets to use to fill a quilt with. They didnt use batting like they do these days.

      I save my own old blankets because someday Im going to take up quilt-making again. 😉
      I used to help my grandmother-in-law make all of her grandchildren (and there were many) quilts before she passed away. It was great fun and I loved spending time with her.

      I’ve made some baby quilts by tying them off instead of truly quilting them.. so much faster.

    13. Garnet barkley

      Tied quilts

      My grandmother made tied quilts and we all slept under them. None of them were done on a machine. She most often used the grandmothers flower garden pattern. I can remember lying on top of a quilt with my sister and picking out the pieces of clothing or aprons that we recognized. She always used new fabric that was left from her sewing. I still have a quilt top she made me but have no one to quilt it for me.

    14. William M. Brenneman

      How to make haps?

      Very, very late to this post (it’s 2020), but does anybody have any information on how to make a hap? My Dad had a very heavy one on his bed (hell, you could hardly move under the thing, but it kept you warm); looked like it was made out of cut pieces of old sport coats or any other scraps of material that were hanging around. It was tied together as evidenced by knots (and tails). Any info anybody might have would be appreciated. Books, how to’s, internet URLs, people; anything would be appreciated.

      Thank you very much,

      Bill

    15. KimH

      https://www.motherearthnews.com/diy/crafting/hap-blanket-zm0z15djzkin