Made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, United States
Wool and cotton
79 x 79 1/4 in. (200.7 x 201.3 cm)
Purchase, Sansbury-Mills Fund, 1973
Not on view
The top of this quilt is pieced of dark green, dark red, and cadet-blue wool. The backing is a navy-blue cotton shot through at random with colored threads. All the stitching, aside from the quilting, was done on a sewing machine. The center diamond is quilted with a seven-pointed star, which is enclosed by two feather wreaths. The narrow red inner borders are quilted with pumpkin-seed flowers, while the wide outer border is feather quilted.
The Amish religion is a Protestant sect founded by Jacob Amman (ca. 1644–ca. 1730), an extremely conservative Swiss Mennonite bishop who split with the Mennonite Church in the 1690s because of his belief that it had become too lenient in both church ritual and discipline. Both the Mennonites and the Amish differed with the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, in that they believed in voluntary adult baptism rather than infant baptism. These believers, called Anabaptists, were victims of religious persecution in Europe, but both groups eventually found a safe haven in America.
The Amish immigrated to America in two distinct waves. In the years between 1737 and 1770, about five hundred Amish arrived in the colonies, settling primarily in Pennsylvania. A second, larger group numbering about three thousand, came here during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. While some members of the group stayed in Pennsylvania, many continued to move west in search of good and inexpensive farmland. They eventually formed large settlements in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa, as well as smaller ones in other states, and in Ontario, Canada. Most of these communities have remained vital; currently, about one hundred thirty-five thousand Amish live in North America.
Today, as in the seventeenth century, the Amish attempt to keep themselves at a distance from those leading what they see as a "worldly" existence. In order to live their day-to-day life in a properly simple manner, they follow a set of church strictures called the "Ordnung". To varying degrees, depending on the community, the Ordnung instructs them to reject modern conveniences, most notably cars and municipally provided electricity. The Amish have separate schools for their children, who are only educated through the eighth grade, and believe strongly in upholding their traditional agrarian lifestyle. Their style of plain dress, a holdover from at least a century ago that serves as a visual boundary to separate them from the rest of the world, is an important factor in the appearance of their quilts.
Quilts made by Amish women differ from other American quilts in their choice of color palette and in many of their piecing and quilting patterns. By using many of the same fabrics used in their clothing, Amish women intentionally create quilts that are clearly distinctive—these quilts are another visual statement that sets their community and traditions apart from those of the world at large. By using only solid-color fabrics in the relatively somber color palette that is prescribed by their religious laws and, in some communities, like those of Lancaster County, only certain traditional patterns, Amish women proclaim their belief in the ways of their faith.
This Diamond in the Square pattern is a favorite of the Amish of Lancaster County. Patterns such as Sunshine and Shadow (1973.94) and Split Bars (2004.26) are also closely associated with the Lancaster County Amish, who are considered among the most conservative of the Amish communities. Like the quilts we see from the period before 1850, this pattern has a central focus. In the same way that Amish dress looks back to the simpler version of worldly costume from before the Civil War, perhaps the conservative Amish of Lancaster County preferred the early nineteenth-century quilt designs as well.
A Diamond in the Square quilt is made with fairly large pieces of fabric, which are likely to have been purchased specifically with the quilt in mind. The simple composition of a work such as this quilt made it a perfect canvas for the elaborate quilt stitching that is one of the hallmarks of an Amish quilt. This piece has the most accomplished quilting of all our Amish quilts. As with most quilts of this type, a star is placed at the very center of the diamond. In the Pennsylvania German tradition, eight-pointed stars are the norm, but our star only has seven points. The star is surrounded by two feather wreaths. The narrow red borders are filled with pumpkin-seed quilting, and the wide outer border contains a gracefully curving feather pattern.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]