Quilting Traditions I Grew Up With

Items on shelves in store in High Amana

My mother sewed all our clothes growing up. I have three sisters and one brother so that kept her busy. The brother had only the occasional homemade shirt but we girls rarely had a store-bought outfit. I have vivid memories of standing on a chair so mom could get the hem of a new dress or skirt pinned up. I remember leaning forward just slightly, imperceptibly, so that when I stood up straight, the skirt would be just a tad shorter than our mother desired it to be. Or so I thought.

Years later, I identify dresses made by Mom that have ended up as various shaped pieces in one of the beautiful handmade quilts that my mother makes. I remember the dress I wore on my first day of high school, or the one I wore for a special Christmas party. Other pieces are from clothes Mom made for our daughters and sent to us when we lived in Africa or in New York.

Mom is a fabric artist and has made many quilts for relief sales and benefit auctions as well as at least 3 quilts for each of her children and 13 grandchildren (the pieced quilt for a child’s single bed, the “cheater quilt” (pre-printed fabric) for college dorm rooms, and the queen-size tops she distributed on her and Dad’s 60th wedding anniversary a few years ago. Born of frugality, her quilts almost always use scraps from old sewing projects rather than newly purchased fabrics that perfectly coordinate.

I enjoy the actual quilt stitching itself. I have many memories of a large quilt stretched out in frame in our living room at home, taking up nearly all the space of the room until it got “rolled in” enough times to become smaller and smaller until it was finished. I like wearing a thimble to push the needle through until it just pricks my finger held underneath the quilt. I can make tiny acceptable stitches; I had to learn because my mother has high standards for what kind of stitches pass. Quilting was, and is, a social event with refreshments served mid-way through the afternoon and lots of community and family news exchanged.

I treasure the quilts my mom made and, while I myself don’t piece quilts, I’m happy that my daughter wants to continue this artistic craft. She has already embroidered, sewn together, and knotted (not the fine stitch quilting) a baby quilt for a friend, with the help of her grandma.

Since I like the quilting part, I am excited to “put a quilt in frame” at our Next Door Event Center building here in Homestead. I bought an old quilt frame at a family auction and want to start quilting the tops that Mom gave the kids a few years ago. It sounds like a good winter project for here in the Amana Colonies when everything slows down.

I know the Amana quilting traditions are much different from the ones I grew up with in my Mennonite/Amish community, so in my next blog I will explore the history of the Amana Quilts.

I know that quilting is currently a very popular craft too, but I think it is done differently than my mother or the Amana women. Here at Die Heimat Country Inn we are offering a warm and comfortable space three weekends this winter for quilting retreats. We provide a comfy bed, tasty breakfast and lunch and a table for crafters to work on their quilting projects Next Door. See our Craft Retreat page for all the details and special discounts.