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How the Amish Work

        Culture | Subcultures

Quilts and Barn Raising

It is most interesting that the Amish would become famous for quilts, since quilts are not an Amish invention. If you are a descendant of a rural North American family, you may well own a quilt or two "made by my great grandmother." Quilting may well have been the premier rural woman's craft, and the Amish were quick to pick up on the virtues of this craft. Quilting occupies long winter nights. By tradition, quilts are thrifty, being made from sewing scraps. Quilting is an excellent creative outlet and it can be a great social activity. One can work on a quilt while alone, with family or with friends, or a group can collaborate on a single quilt.

At one time, Amish quilts could be had for a pittance. That was before the Amish understood the value that "The English" tend to attach to handmade products. Thus began a rapid rise in quilt prices that peaked during the late 1980's before settling down to a stable level. Today, the Amish quilt business is a steady one, with its center in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. An average quilt is now in the $1,000 dollar range, with larger and more intricate quilts selling for much more. Old quilts are available, too. The old quilts often cost less because they show signs of age.

Traditional Amish quilts feature a lot of diamond shapes, which in turn can be organized into larger diamonds, circles or starbursts, bounded by squares. The edicts of the Ordnung make these quilts rather dark, but quilts have emerged as one artistic expression that can stretch the rules to the limit. A lot of the quilts available today are much brighter and feature a wide variety of designs.

A common myth has developed that all Amish quilts contain a deliberate flaw because to make something perfect would be to challenge God. Some individuals may do such things, but it is certainly not a requirement. It would be unusual to find a large handmade item without a single imperfection.

A barn raising is simply the act of getting enough men together to do the heavy lifting required to erect a barn. Barn raisings are organized to build a barn for a newlywed couple or to replace a barn destroyed by wind or fire. At one time, all barns were erected this way, but nowadays, a crane is employed. Strictly speaking, the Ordnung allows a member of the Amish church to hire a crane and operator to lift beams for a barn, but the barn raising is a unifying community event. There is something of everyone in each barn. Although the barns are built in the traditional manner, materials can be ordered from a lumber yard. It is not necessary to make boards, nails, paint and shingles.

Many components of the barn, including the foundation, are prepared in advance so that all of the heavy lifting can be done with the full crew present. All able-bodied men pitch in. The older, experienced men direct the activities, and the boys act as "gofers." The women and girls prepare and serve food and drink, prodigious quantities of which will be consumed. They are also available for first aid.


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