Amish women have long been connoisseurs of fabric, skilled at assessing the differences in weight, hand, color, and texture. The Ordnung—or guidelines that govern church districts at the local level—has long limited Amish families’ fabric choices for clothing to solid colors. As a result, for much of the twentieth century Amish women typically executed quilts in the same solid-colored fabrics they used to make clothing.
Although I have been making quilts for the past 20 years, I am not an Amish quiltmaker. Only an Amish person can make an Amish quilt. But like many other contemporary quiltmakers, as well as other visual artists and designers, quilts made by the Amish inspire me. The design team at JHU Press shared this inspiration, and we collaborated to craft an Amish-inspired quilt to grace the cover of Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon.
After all my efforts writing, revising, and tracking down rights for over 100 images, I traded my computer for my sewing machine and checked in with a different part of my brain—that corner which can calculate fractions, recognize patterns, and troubleshoot a finicky sewing machine. JHU Press designer Martha Sewall and I selected a color palette based on what many Amish today refer to as “old dark quilts,” and museum curators and quilt collectors call “classic Amish quilts.” We collaborated on a simple rectangular one-patch pattern, with a graphical panel featuring the book’s title and author, pieced into place. I had this fabric custom printed by Spoonflower, a textile company that prints small runs of custom fabric, wallpaper, and decals.
We paired this graphical element with fabrics that would have made those Amish fabric connoisseurs from 100 years ago swoon. Michael Miller’s Cotton Couture line features the softest 100% cotton quilting weight fabric, in every imaginable solid color. I’m sure Amish quiltmakers from today and yesterday would agree that this fabric is a delight to work with.
After piecing the small quilt, scaled to 50% larger than the cover, I hand quilted it with tiny running stitches, leaving the needle and thread in place for the photography session. The resulting cover is an homage to the quiltmakers I write about, who created beautiful bedcovers that became revered as works of abstract art.
Janneken Smucker is an assistant professor of history at West Chester University. A quiltmaker herself, she is author of Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon, now available from JHU Press.