Last week I shared a little bit about the beginning of our eastern states road trip starting in Virginia. One of the places I was most interested to visit during our drive up the east coast was Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. My particular goal was to see some antique Amish quilts.
Lancaster County is the home of many traditional Amish and Mennonite communities where they prefer a more simple lifestyle without cars and electricity. They also prefer more traditional dress styles with the Amish in particular choosing to keep their clothes in very plain, solid colors.
Driving through Lancaster County we saw lots of beautiful working farms like these that looked just picturesque in the rolling green countryside.
Pennsylvania Dutch (really Deutsch – as in German) is another common term to describe settlers in this part of Pennsylvania, referring to their German heritage which they brought with them when they settled in the 17th and 18th centuries. You can see some of that influence still evident in these buildings.
That’s the traditional heritage of Lancaster County in a very small, brief nutshell. These cultures and traditions are definitely much more complex than that and worth reading and learning more about.
It was a very hot afternoon as we drove through Lancaster County. I loved seeing this young mother and her children doing something so universal – trying to cool off in the water and keep small children entertained on a hot afternoon.
The traditional (and simpler) lives of the Amish in particular are definitely intriguing. Hence the reason there are lots of tourists in this area. There are some kitschy attractions that capitalize on that culture. For me, my favorite part was driving through the farms and small towns of Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse that we enjoyed most.
Our time was short (and to be honest, not as well-planned or researched as I’d hoped) by the time we got there. We only had a few hours as we made our way from Gettysburg to Philadelphia. And with a husband and 4 kids in tow I knew I wasn’t going to see everything Lancaster had to offer, but it was definitely worth the effort to see what we did.
My real goal was to see some antique Amish quilts. The Amish are known for their own style of quilts. (More history about Amish Quilts here.) Very traditional and simple blocks (Nine-patch, Trip Around the World, and Sunshine and Shadow) are definitely most common and quilts are made out of all solids. Many of the very traditional quilts also feature black. Those elements – solids + black – give the traditional Amish quilts a very clean, almost “modern” (by our standards) feel. The hand quilting is also a prevalent feature. Over the past 30 years traditional Amish quilts have become popular with serious collectors.
The Amish have also created a cottage industry around producing and selling quilts to tourists. One place I visited was Hannah’s Quilts – and had the chance to meet Hannah herself. She was lovely and spent time telling me about the history of the traditional Trip Around the World quilt (displayed on the bed.) She carried a wide selection of quilt in the traditional Amish style, as well quilts in more contemporary fabrics. They make quilts in a wide variety of colors and prints for customers and tourists.
The area also has a high density of fabric shops – making it a great spot for quilters. Above is Log Cabin Fabric and Quilt Shop in Bird In Hand. They carried a big variety of quilting fabrics, patterns, and notions, as well as handmade quilts and gifts.
Down the road from Bird In Hand, is the town of Intercourse. (Yes, that’s really it’s name.) This is home of the Old Country Store – a beautiful contemporary fabric shop that also features handmade crafts and a gift shop.
This is a well-stocked store with lots of notions, popular contemporary fabrics, and patterns.
Kitty-corner across the street from the old Country Store is Zooks Fabric store. This store had a lot of bolts and some great markdowns.
Helpful hint when traveling with a husband and teenagers: Immergut Handmade Pretzels is right next door. You’re welcome.
Also in Intercourse is Village Quilts which sells a wide variety of handmade quilts and other quilted items. They did not allow photography inside the store – but you can see more of their inventory here. ( Also notice stereotypical husband waiting patiently outside. I wonder if he knew about Immergut’s pretzels?)
So there is a little bit of quilt/fabric availability in Lancaster County. I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface here and this was really all we had time to see in our time frame. (Many thanks to all who made suggestions and recommendations on my Instagram post!)
My real hope was to get to see some traditional antique quilts. The only other time I’d been to this area was 14 years ago (on a very rainy day with two toddlers in tow that time!) I’d remembered how much I loved the quilt museum on the upper floor of the Old Country Store. Apparently, it’s not longer there, which was sad. The store closed and was sold a few years back and the quilts on display were returned to their owners.
In case you too, are looking for a place to see antique Amish quilts, I asked the kind owner of Village Quilts if she knew of any other places to see them. She recommended the museum at Wheatland in Lancaster. (We didn’t have time at this point.) If you readers know of any others, please share in the comments! Because maybe one day I’ll go back without toddlers OR teenagers! 😉
My other recommendation from our afternoon excursion: Lapp Valley Farm ice cream. It’s made from the milk of the Jersey cows that live on the farm and was possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever consumed. (It is another great form of bribery, I mean, cultural experience for husbands and teenagers.) There is also shop at Kitchen Kettle Village, but if you have time, the drive through the countryside to the farm shop is so beautiful! (Just don’t roll down your window to take a picture of the farmer using his horse-drawn farm equipment to spread manure on his fertile fields. Trust me on this one. Especially if you have said teenagers in the car.)
I didn’t purchase any quilts (mainly because I already make my own) but I did buy this little handmade potholder as a souvenir. I think I’ll hang it on my wall as a mini quilt reminder of our visit.
If you are interested in learning more about the Amish and Quilts, I recommend the book Plain and Simple by Sue Bender. It’s about her time living in an Amish Community and talks about her quilting as well. I also love Gwen Marston’s lectures about learning to quilt from her Mennonite neighbors who invited her in and taught her how to quilt when, as a young mother, she found herself in a new town without friends. Further proof that wonderful people make quilts.