The history of the Amish patchwork

The origin of the Amish patchwork

Patchwork is often mixed up with quilting in France, and their origin is often linked to the Amish. But they are two separate needlework techniques, and serve different needs and design ideas. Both go back hundreds or even thousands of years.

We’re here to tell you more about the difference between patchwork and quilting.

At the end of the 19th century in the United States, the Amish discovered the art of quilting through contact with “English” peasant women. The Amish never make appliqué quilts for themselves, considering them too “worldly”. However, it is possible to find them in Amish stores, designed exclusively for tourists. These are always hand-quilted, pieced and quilted with either wool or cotton flannel (for antique quilts) or batting since around the 1950s.

Quiltmaking as a tradition

Creating a bedspread decorated with carefully hand-stitched patterns, that is to say, a quilt, requires a lot of patience and a lot of work.

Oftentimes, for the Amish originally and nowadays for the many associations who practice quilting around the world, a quilt is the result of a collective work reuniting several women of the community, especially for stitching.

Traditionally, a quilt will be made for special occasions such as a wedding (with the famous double wedding ring pattern) or to celebrate a new birth with a baby quilt.
A bride-to-be should know how to make at least one of the three types of wedding quilts.

How to recognize an Amish quilt

The main characteristic of an antique Amish quilt is that it is made from fabric offcuts from Amish garments. An authentic Amish quilt is easily recognizable by its plain colors, as printed fabrics are never used. Even today, clothes are made in Amish thatched cottages, and scraps are carefully preserved, often for years.
For religious reasons, the Amish never depict faces, animals or any figurative forms as prescribed in the Bible: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Exodus 20:4). Instead, they focus on the beauty and complexity of geometric patterns and color combinations.
Traditionally, the wedding is an occasion to make three quilts for the girl and two for the boy:      “It’s normal, since the bride-to-be makes one herself, the other two being made by sisters, aunts and cousins”, according to Ida Miller, in Indiana. The colors are often dark, but also light, depending onwho makes the garments: grandmothers or young girls. Crib Quilts are made for the many newborns.
Co-founder of the EPM, Jacques Légeret describes these patchworks in greater detail in his book “Les Amish et leurs quilts, Passé-Présent”, Edisud, Aix-en-Provence, 2006.

Famous patterns for Amish quilts

Amish quilt patterns are based on geometrical figures: squares, triangles and diamonds. The pieces of cloth are then put together in endless combinations of various shapes, sizes and colors.

Tenths of patterns can be found in traditional Amish quilts.
Here are some of the most famous ones.

Center Diamond 

The best known, often made for weddings as early as the 1910s.


Furrows, as in the fields.

Sunshine and Shadow
A play on dark and lighter patches. This pattern is widely used among beginners.

Log Cabin
It is one of the most common and well-known patterns.

Bear Paw
Inspired by a bear’s paw.

Double nine Patch

Each square is made up of nine squares.

A pattern looking like a fan.

Baskets are a reference to a simple farming life.

Broken Star
Representing the Star of Bethlehem, this pattern can be found in many shapes, some very complicated in the making.

Quiltmaking and patchwork as arts

Amish patchworks and quilts are famous for their beauty and their complexity, through the USA and around the world. They widely contributed to spreading these needlework techniques. The most beautiful and most complicated works are regarded as true pieces of art.

However, the Amish do not necessarily consider making quilts and patchworks as a form of art. According to their religious and traditional way of life, only God can create beauty.

Patchwork and quiltmaking have evolved with the current times, along with trends and fashion. Whether it’s regarded as a decorative craft, a hobby or a true art, patchwork is definitely a way to express yourself creatively!

By visiting fairs such as the European Patchwork Meeting, you can discover pieces of textile art that have had an impact on various techniques along the years: patchwork, embroidery, dyeing, lacemaking…

Attend our event to meet up with professionals, experts and lovers of the textile arts!

Log Cabin, C. Bontrager, 1998. Coll. J. Légeret