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.

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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?



Plain and Fancy @ Bossler Mennonite Church

When I was about 6 weeks old, my parents took me to church–Bossler Mennonite Church close to Elizabethtown, PA. I was born in July–9 months, almost to the day, from my parents’ honeymoon night the previous October. When I got older and could figure out such things, my mother simply said, “Nothing happened before we were married.” She said it, so it must be true. In those days, abstinence was the professed norm for engaged couples, and a white dress almost certainly meant the bride was a virgin. A couple whose first child arrived too soon after the wedding date had to appear in front of the congregation and confess their sin of fornication.

Ray and Ruth Longenecker_5x7_150            Marian_as baby_5x5_72 19-05-17

The Christian Mingle of the 50s and 60s happened after the Sunday night service with girls and guys in separate groups lingering, a girl hoping for a guy to break out of his circle and ask her for a date. Weddings were frequently held in the fall, not in summer, after crops were harvested and the family and relatives had more time for big social events.

RuthL.bride Here is Dad’s first cousin, Ruth Longenecker, all decked out in her caped, white wedding dress and black shoes gazing at her tall, blond groom who wears a plain suit and no necktie. She carries a lacy handkerchief, something fancy, inserted into a white Bible (flowers were forbidden then) as she walked down the aisle.

Bossler Church, which celebrated its bicentennial in 2011, was not at all fancy: white building with no steeple and a separate door for the women to enter at the left of the main entrance.


The interior too was spare with a middle aisle separating two rows of benches, the one on the right for the men. The other on the left for women. When Mr. Christian Clown Daring Do visited with me one Sunday, he plopped down on the women’s side, mortifying everyone including me.

Bossler Interior_mod_

The separate sections, however, made for a wonderful blend of voices when we sang a capella in four-part harmony. No piano or organ in sight.

hymnbooks  Screen shot 2013-03-23 at 8.46.30 AM

Of course, no fancy garb for members or minister: plain coat and sometimes a beard for the men, and a caped dress with a prayer veiling for women. Usually the older women had black ribbon attached to the veiling while the younger ones had white ones.

PastorFred plainCoupleBlack plaingirl

Next to the church was Washington School grades 1 – 8 with our church deacon once serving as schoolmaster: fancy bell tower, plain interior embellished only with replicas of

SchoolBell     Gilbert Stuart’s painting of Washington and Lincoln, an American flag, and little cards for each letter of the alphabet, printed lower and upper case set above the blackboard.

schoolexterior   schooldesks  original desks                                                                                                                       on display

For Mennonites, the church was the hub of social life. When Howard Longenecker’s barn burned down, twice, men were on hand for the barn raising. Women gathered regularly in an anteroom at the church, or, later, at the school for sewing circle where they made comforters, baby blankets, and quilts.


Plain or fancy? Which do I choose?  I choose both–as long as they are beautiful. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”      John Keats, Endymion

To some, my story seems quaint and odd. To others, it resonates because you share a similar heritage. What experiences in your childhood or teens do you think curious readers would like to know about?