Moments of Discovery # 5: Mother’s Quilts


Page from On Market Street, Anita & Arnold Lobel
illustration from On Market Street by Anita & Arnold Lobel

Bossler Mennonite Church was the hub of the Longenecker family’s spiritual life and the school beside it, Washington School, the place where the Women’s Sewing Circle fabricated comforters, baby clothing, blankets and quilts to help clothe the needy of the world. Some of these gorgeous quilts are displayed on a previous blog post. You can see and read about them here.


Quilt exhibited at the bicentennial of Bossler Mennonite Church
Quilts exhibited at the bicentennial of Bossler Mennonite Church

Even more than quilting I think Mother loved knotting comforters. For her, it was easier to see progress knotting a comforter. She liked the warm fluffy texture, and she could work on it by herself at home.


Last fall, on one of our trips to the attic cleaning out the house after her sudden death, we opened the yellowish, grain-painted blanket chest with turned feet where we knew we would find some of Mother’s prized quilts.

1999_0900_Mother L_holding up white quilt w circles

 Can you identify the design above? I need help with the name of this pattern please!

Crazy Quilt design, 1999
Crazy Quilt design, 1999.  Each of Mother’s grand-children received a quilt. This one now belongs to our son, Joel Beaman.


Joanne Hess Siegrist, one of my former students at Lancaster Mennonite School, has published a story in photographs from 1855-1935 entitled Mennonite Women of Lancaster County. In this pictorial overview of Mennonite life from this era, Joanne, who can trace her family back eleven generations, depicts the many facets of Mennonite women’s lives in chapters like these: The Tone of Their Lives, Motherhood and Children, Farm Life and Work, Faith and Family Outings.

Here is an excerpt from her chapter entitled “Quilting and the Arts”

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Mennonite women of Lancaster County spent many hours doing elaborate, colorful needlework. Young women worked especially on their dowries.


With a frugality that was part of their spirituality, these women often created handwork out of remnants and half-used materials. They crocheted exquisite lace tablecloths from the cord strings used to tie feed bags. They made hooked rugs using the unworn sections of old winter coats. They designed quilts with fabric from colorful feed bags found in the barn. . . .


Mennonite Woman_Quilt_p193

In a photo dated 1948, Joanne showcases Anna Huber Good as she adds tiny stitches to a Grape Vine appliqué quilt. Author Siegrist adds, “Anna quilted all her life; in fact, after rearing eight children, she became even more intent on quilting. Anna got up at 4:00 a.m. and quilted until 6 a.m. Then she made a large breakfast for her husband Daniel and sent him off to his market work. After doing a few cleanup chores, Anna returned to quilting. She quilted all day long until about 9:00 p.m., stopping only for meals.”

Anna’s retirement years were even more productive, making “forty-two quilts for her children.” Amazingly, she charged only 15 cents per yard of quilting thread if she quilted for people outside her family.

Mennonite Women_Quilt_p194_crop_300

Here are four friends quilting in the dining room of Enos and Annie Lefever’s home (1915). Their intent expressions (uh-oh, I see one smiling!) and nimble fingers are caught on camera by Annie’s son Harry, whose photography did not interfere with his membership at Mellinger’s Mennonite Church (Mennonite Women of Lancaster County,194). Just a mere ten years earlier, Mennonite farmer, John Kreider Miller, lost his church membership for running a photography studio (The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, Friday, May 10, 1996). Photographs, apparently, at the turn of the twentieth century, spoke of pride, a cardinal sin in the Mennonite system of values. (Mennonite Women of Lancaster County, Siegrist)

Amish and Mennonite hand-made quilts are now marketed as a luxury item and often used as decorative wall hangings. There are numerous websites advertising such handiwork for thousands of dollars.

Until recently, the Quilt Museum at the People’s Place in Intercourse, PA exhibited cleverly crafted quilts from all over the United States.

The Mennonite Central Committee, providing aid to the world’s forgotten and neglected, often sponsors quilt sales and auctions beyond Lancaster County borders. Here is a link to one in Ohio.

*  *  *

Buy Joanne’s book here!


Is there quilting in your family history? Has a quilt been bequeathed to you of quilt-essential quality? Are you a quilter?



34 thoughts on “Moments of Discovery # 5: Mother’s Quilts

  1. I remember quilting bees as I was growing up on the farm in rural Alberta. It was always a fun event. More recently, I attended The Mennonite Fair in Abbotsford, BC where the most amazing quilts were on display. The Mennonite Women worked all year on these quilts and they were auctioned off as a fund raiser at the fair. People would pay a large amount of money for one of them as they are prized possessions. I blogged about them here:


    1. Darlene, I checked out your link, noticed my comment on the quilts, and realized that September 2014 is about the time we became blog friends. I met you in Canada, followed you to Spain, but still have connections in our love of Mennonite lore. I love how the digital age makes all this possible! (I hope my readers click on your link here.)


  2. Good morning, Marian! I think I had mentioned this before, but my husband’s grandmother was a quilter. She had a frame set up in her basement (which was spotless). She gave us two beautiful quilts as a wedding present, and other family members also had quilts. She and her sisters sometimes got together and quilted, and there was a quilt that incorporated family memory/places. I don’t remember the details, but I think each sister contributed significant squares and then they each made a quilt.


    1. Thank you for representing the idea of quilting as both a noun and a verb (Yes, the English teacher in me surfaces often – ha!). Quilts are lovely to behold, but the making of them collaboratively stitches together memories too . . . all a labor of love. Your grandmother-in-law’s spotless basement bespeaks her high regard for her art and her practical side as well. Thanks for refreshing my memory on your connection to quilting, Merril.


  3. This is a wonderful tribute to the tradition of quilting in the community where you were raised. As more information and photos surface, it will be so nice to expand it here on the blog for family to remember and refer to.

    My mother-in-law did a few pieces and my grandmother on my mother’s side quilted. And I have several friends who in retirement are producing some gorgeous pieces that they share on fb. That’s another reason I love fb, so we can ooo and ahh and yes, applaud their efforts. It’s wonderful they think of sharing that way because it’s a treat to see what they produce. I have copied this link and will ask two if they know the pattern you asked about.

    PS I can’t believe you found On Market Street! Isn’t it a delightful book? Not only do I like the gorgeous and detailed drawings by Anita Lobel but I have memorized the little rhyme by Arnold Lobel that starts off the book. Delightful post today.


    1. Yes, I checked out On Market Street from the library when you mentioned it on your blog. I also enjoyed Anita Lobel’s illustration of books. What talent! And yes, I did an earlier post that included quilting at our church’s bicentennial celebration, and this one adds to it. When we cleared out Mother’s house, we found more quilts that I haven’t inspected yet. So, more discoveries to come! One of them was even done by my Dad, which I showed part of on this post:

      Thanks, Georgette, for your contributions, past and present – so appreciated!


  4. That quilt looks like the Dresden Plate design. My Great Aunt Luna Bell made on out of men’s neck ties. There are many variations to it with both small and large plates. I love the comfort of a hand made quit. I feel so wrapped in love.


    1. Thanks, Susan. Someone on Facebook mentioned that design too. So out of a poll of two, I’m naming it Dresden Plate design. Wrapped in love and beauty, that’s the magic of quilts.


  5. I have several quilts, some old, some new. My oldest one was hand-stitched by my great-grandma. My newest one was hand-stitched by Amish women. I treasure both of them and my other ones too! Thanks for posting this reminder of an interesting art! 🙂


  6. I love to quilt and often wished I lived during such times. I’m sure I would have enjoyed being a part of a quilting circle. How wonderful it must have been to be privy to their conversation. Thank you so much for sharing this valuable history. I fear we are losing such art forms. I love laboring over my needlepoint, and my mother, who taught me to stitch also spent many hours creating with a needle and thread and yet now, needlepoints are cranked out on machines and cost far less to make and purchase. Still, needlework is meditative for me. The quilts are positively beautiful, as are the women in the photos. Thanks, Marian for sharing a slice of your life with us.


    1. You’re welcome, Dorothy. I’ve done knitting and cross-stitch, but never have quilted or done needlepoint. It is meditative and thus relaxing. Plus, think of all the hours of therapy women experienced as they sat facing each other, talking around the quilting table.

      Right now some mending is calling to me. Just behind me on the coffee table is a knit shirt from one of my grand-boys with a torn seam. Next on my list! I agree, we are losing such art forms, but maybe there will be a resurgence. Thanks, Dorothy.


  7. I am not a quilter but my mother, grandmother and many aunts definitely are. My mother could definitely name that pattern for you and Dresden sounds very familiar. That is a treasure for sure! Mom made quilts for each of her grandchildren and just finished the last one for the youngest, my youngest daughter. She had to hire some help to get it finished but so tickled she got it done. Such a great art; I’ve done comforters but I have difficulty sitting still to do those tiny tiny perfect stitches (maybe I felt I could never match up to Mom’s stitches. My Aunt Susie was probably the biggest quilter in the family and I wrote about her here.


    1. I just checked the link to your blog post on your awesome Aunt Susie and left a comment there. It seems to me your “quilts” are the collage of photos and posts your are preserving for your children online and in the books you have published. “Whatsoever thy hands find to do . . .”


    1. You can thank the research of Joanne Hess Siegrist one of my former students, now a documentarian of Mennonite history, particularly of women. And thanks for commenting, Shirley, documenter of family life in mid-century. Also, I believe you wrote a book about quilting for children. Right?


  8. Marian — I always enjoy the photographs you share. And I love the one woman caught on film, smiling as she works. I’m pretty sure that God appreciates a joyful heart; especially when we’re working on an extremely detailed task that might seem like tedious work.

    My maternal grandmother (my mom’s mom) was a knitter. In fact, she belonged to a knitting group known as “The Knit Wits” (which usually gets a good laugh). But she also quilted and taught me how to make (one and only one) “Apple Core” quilt. It took me a year (yes, 12 months) to make, and I gave it to my sister as a wedding gift. She still has it these almost 40-years later.


    1. I love quilts, but like you the idea of quilting with those teeny stitches seem so tedious. I’d have to do it with quilters all around me – maybe someone like you with some experience. Huh?

      Knit Wits goes along with the name game too – ha! And I’m trying to visualize the Apple Core design. What an heirloom you created. I made a cross-stitch with the names and birth-dates of all Mother’s grand-children which hung above her buffet. When we were trying to find a suitable “home” for it, my brother Mark said he wanted it, and I was glad to pass it on.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Our family does have a quilting history and I still have a quilted baby’s blanket – given to me on the birth of our eldest daughter 43 years ago. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos and memories, Marian. 😉


  10. My sister Jan is a quilter , in fact , when I saw your blog I forwarded it over to her because I know it would interest her . She has always been the ‘crafty’ one in the family , sewing ,knitting ,tatting ,spinning, crocheting and over the last ten or more years… quilting . We always say she takes after our Nan who was into needlework and knitting . I think in those days it was the only way if you wanted a new garment …make it yourself . Obviously now it is more a recreational pastime .

    My sister made us a beautiful quilt that I will always treasure . It’s a work of art isn’t Marian .
    She has just completed one for sister -in – law ‘s 80th and I am sure she will adore it .
    Thank you for such an interesting blog that not only interests me but also my ‘crafty ‘ sister.


    1. Thank you for forwarding this to your crafty sister, Cherry. I always like when my readers spread the joy. I too have a sister named Jan. My sisters and I grew up learning how to embroider and make our own clothes. My Aunt Ruthie taught me to knit, but I’ve never learned how to spin, crochet, or tat. You sister Jan sounds like a whiz!


    1. These Mennonite ladies would probably have thought about quilting and making comforters as being frugal. Recycling was a word introduced into Mother’s vocabulary only in her later years. But, you are right – it is giving a second life to old material.


  11. Another delicious and nutritious blog. This time I learn a little more about the importance of quilts. They are beautiful, Marian. All the images are beautiful from the first one to the photos of your mom and the old-time photos. So much beauty and you’re sharing it with all of us. My paternal grandmother created gorgeous crocheted pieces, often mandalas. The wall behind my bed is covered with her work. Sleeping under Grandma’s creative love–but I could have used a quilt this winter.


  12. Loved this post, Marian. My grandma was a big quilter and I have several of her creations. She even taught me how to do it and many of the women in my family helped make my wedding quilt. I have a Dresden Plate quilt (like the one you asked about) and it’s also bound in yellow! It’s been keeping me warm this winter!


    1. It’s inspiring to know that quilting is being passed on through the generations in your family and that one is keeping you warm this winter – what a heritage. Bound in yellow too, the promise of spring! Thanks, Jenn.


    1. Handwork always yields something useful, and I think knitted sweaters, crocheted doilies (or something else) do the trick. Quilts are very beautiful, but also very time-consuming. Also, it’s good to have strong eyes for those teeny tiny stitches!


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