Lancaster County, Penn., is home to one of the oldest and largest Amish communities in the United States. The quilts made by the Lancaster County Amish are among the most distinctive - and strikingly contemporary in appearance - of all antique quilts. Characterized by sophisticated juxtaposition of solid colors, bold geometry, and exquisite quilting, these quilts were usually limited to three patterns - Center Diamond, Bars, and Sunshine and Shadow - but the variations within the limitation can be staggering.
The aesthetic that guides these quilts is rooted in the religious and communal beliefs of the Amish. This group fled religious persecution in Europe and settled in what is now Pennsylvania throughout the 18th century. Dedicated to a simple, devout life with minimal influence from the "outside world," they govern their daily lives by a strict and literal adherence to the Christian Bible and sets of guidelines regarding such things as clothing, styles of houses and their decoration, and the adoption or rejection of technology. These guidelines vary somewhat from community to community, but any newcomers are expected to follow them. In order to demonstrate their submission to God's authority, the Amish embrace a manner that is modest, calm, and quiet - which makes the vibrancy of their quilts all the more striking.
The best-known Lancaster County pattern is the Center Diamond. The Amish did not begin making quilts in this pattern, based on the Center Medallion quilts popular in mid-19th century, until nearly the end of the century. Lancaster Amish quilts share other distinctive features: they are square, have wide borders and bindings, and often include corner blocks. Almost all of the tops were pieced on foot-pedal-powered sewing machines, and the bindings were at least partly applied by machine. The often-lavish quilting was always done by hand. Only solid-color fabrics appear on the quilt top, but there may be small patterning on the backing. The Amish used patterns other than those mentioned, but such quilts are atypical. When this pattern is made without corner blocks, it is called Floating Diamond.
Diamond in a Square is the most iconic of Lancaster County Amish quilt patterns. This exceptional example highlights all of the most desirable features of the pattern. The quilt is made with fine wools and a cotton backing. The center diamond is quilted with concentric stars surrounded by a wreath. The purple inner border is done with "pumpkin seeds" and four adjoining hearts in each small green corner block. The outer borders are done with the graceful scrolls seen in the early, fine Lancaster quilts. This Diamond is in excellent condition. It measures 76 inches square. The lighter green next to the darker center diamond gives dimensionality to this striking pattern, Made 1920's. View this quilt.
The Sunshine and Shadow pattern is composed of a single patch - a small square - repeated in concentric, diamond-shaped rows in graduated light and dark colors. In the best examples, the lights and darks are deftly arranged to create visual movement; they seem to shimmer outward from the center. Although established much earlier, this pattern appeared most often in later examples. The name Sunshine and Shadow is used interchangeable with Trip around the World. In both patterns, blocks can be set either square or on-point.