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.
I think that the only way to go there and be sure to see everything is to go with a few friends who also happen to quilt. Husbands and teenagers and toddlers can all stay home!
Thank you for this lovely description of such a beautiful part of the world. I also had a very brief visit to the Mennonite community near Toronto, but it was before my quilting life. I loved the quilting displays and shops and came home with an exquisite cushion cover. (I collect them on our travels and put an insert in them on returning home- a variation on buying tea towels as souvenirs.) Now that the quilting bug has bitten me, I’d just love to go back and spend a lot more time in either Lancaster County or Toronto. I’d appreciate the work so much more. Thank you again Amy.
I would love to vacation in that area sometime. There must be an interesting story behind how the towns of Bird in Hand and Intercourse got their names!
Too bad the museum above The Old Country Store closed. I was able to visit it some years ago.
I just started re-reading Plain and Simple. I visit Ohio Amish Country a couple times of year and am already looking forward to the Amish Country Shop Hop in November with my friend Julie. No kids of any ages will be with us. 🙂
That sounds like so much fun!!
I had a trip to America two years ago and did a day trip from New York to Pennsylvania and Intercourse – just for the quilting – dragged my sister along for the ride. Loved it, only trouble was my luggage allowance and budget wouldnt let me buy any quilts but I did get some fabric from the Old Country Store, I really enjoyed my visit there
Set among the serenity of this area is my Bernina dealer, top seller every year. His business is on a farm and sometimes I come home with non quilty items such as a dozen eggs or a basket of strawberries. I am so fortunate as to live an hour away from this lovely area.
That is fascinating!
My husband and I take a trip to Lancaster every fall. We just love the area which has great food, sights and many stores to visit. Like you, we love to drive around the area looking at the farms and stopping at the antique stores. I have a very patient guy who lets me look for as long as I want. Just love this place and we are already planning our fall trip.
You do have a special guy! That sounds like so much fun. And it must be beautiful in the Fall!
I have traveled extensively in that area and it’s very pretty countryside. My brother lives in a very pretty area of northern Indiana that is Amish and Mennonite and their quilts are truly beautiful too. Not so many quilt stores but if I need a special solid, that’s where I go.
I am so glad you enjoyed your visit here in Lancaster County. Even as a lifelong resident, I have yet to explore all that we have to offer. It looks like you did very well with the few hours that you had. As a quilter, I am so fortunate to have so many quilt and textile shops here. A must see on your next visit is the Esprit Collection of Antique Lancaster County Amish Quilts. This collection of 82 antique quilts has returned home to Lancaster permanently and is currently part of the LancasterHistory.org Museum collections. I hope you can return.
Oh! Thank you so much for that information. That is EXACTLY what I would love to see! Keeping my fingers crossed I can get back soon!
Lived about an hour away for five years…found myself ‘stepping off’ as often as I could, and just meandering..My quilt comes from a ‘farm sale’. Another woman was looking at it, so I stayed ‘around’ for part of the day, reapproached, and bought the quilt. It’s a ‘Boston Garden’ and I love it now as much as then! Loved the sound of a buggy coming down the road…and often left camera in the trunk…Thanks for ‘nudging’ my memories- you’ve ‘shaken my heart’ OPEN, Amy!!
Hi Amy, you are writing about my neck of the woods 🙂 . We are fortunate to live in Lancaster and so get to head “East” of town quite regularly. ( I actually just wrote about my latest excursion to some of those same quilt shops AND posted a “picture” of my very patient husband who accompanies me on some of my trips.
You are right, the quilt museum that used to be in the Old Country Store was amazing and it is a real shame that it is gone. There also used to be a great quilt museum in downtown Lancaster that featured Amish quilts, but it closed too. Next time if you get a chance, take an Amish bus tour. If you are lucky your driver will know the Amish families and they will take you inside an Amish home where you can see the family doing their chores and possibly their quilts ( that’s where I was able to by my real genuine Amish Trip Around the World quilt!)
OH that is such a great suggestion!! I’m putting an Amish bus tour on my bucket list!
I recently drove from VA to Ephrata, PA to Hinkletown Sewing Machine Shop to get my Bernina repaired. Great trip and wonderful, professional service. Everyone was so kind and helpful. Drove around the lovely countryside and visited a couple of local quilt shops. Made the trip in a day. Would love to take a summer quilting class at Hinkletown Sewing.
Amy, I visit Lancaster Co. all the time. I live not too far in NJ and the Log Cabin, Zooks and The Country Store are some of my favorite PA haunts. Another great place is Burkholder’s Fabrics in Denver PA – not too far from the area you were visiting. But the best place to find Amish Quilts if off the beaten path at some of the quilt makers homes! Hope you can make it again and truely emerse yourself in the Amish culture.
My daughter went two years to Messiah College. A wonderful college. So we drove up rt 15 from Loudoun County Va to see her often. We made so many trips into Lancaster. It is incredibly beautiful in Western Maryland and that patch of Pennsylvania.
Thank you so much for sharing your adventure
Thanks Amy. I’m going to save this post as my hubby and I are planning a trip near there in the fall. I would love to spend a day in Lancaster County. So your info will be helpful to pin down places to visit.
Amy, I loved seeing the images from Intercourse and Bird-In-Hand. One of the things I miss most about living in the D.C. area was the ability to get up early and drive up to Lancaster County for the day (about 3 hours from my house). I have spent many a happy hour at Zook’s and Nancy’s (and have eaten an Immergut pretzel or two) in my day. One of my fondest memories of Zook’s was a rainy weekday afternoon when I was the only non-employee in the shop and the staff were all chatting in their Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. I know enough German that I was able to eavesdrop on the conversation and learned that Amish teens are not that much different from the “English” ones, LOL. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us!
Haha! That’s so great, Susan! So great to hear from you! I hope all is well. xo
Amish quilts were what drew me into quilting in the first place many years ago via Roberta Horton’s “An Amish Adventure”. I found the quilts mesmerising and totally awe inspiring. I live in Australia – very far away from the traditional quilting community – but was completely transfixed by the quilts in an exhibition of part of the Esprit collection that toured here. Thankfully the curator of the exhibition was sensitive to the quilts and displayed them with subdued lighting. Magnificent! I can still feel the goosebumps. Amy, I love your quilts and have made quite a few of your patterns but Amish quilts will always have that je ne sais quoi. I know you know what I mean. You must have been really happy to have been “to the mothership” as it were.
That is so inspiring to hear! Which is why I’m dying to see (and disappointed I didn’t really find) any of the antique versions. I’ll have to hope for another day. I don’t know if you can get access to a copy of Sue Bender’s Plain and Simple book, but your feelings match her’s so beautifully. I think you’d enjoy that book. (I just ordered a copy from Amazon and started re-reading it today – for the first time in about 15 years. I’m loving it!)
I loved this post. I have been to this area about three times on my way to visit family in New Jersey but haven’t been there for a good ten years now. Loved the pictures of shops that I had wandered in myself. It is a great area and the quilts are an inspiration.
You did a beautiful job photographing the roads I frequent. When my family moved to Lancaster County I was not a quilter. After my children became adults and I started dabbling. I was gifted a new sewing machine and got a faster computer. Able to watch video tutorials I was hooked. I’ve only ever made little quilts. But my husband is encouraging me to make one for the bed. Someday. Dream.