This delightful project uses threads from your stash that you pick out in specific colors. It’s reprinted from my book Scrap Bag Needlepoint (available here).
Maybe it is because I associate them with summer vacations to Lancaster County, or maybe it is because I love the bright colors and bold graphics of Traditional Amish quilts, but in any case, these old but new quilts are far and away my favorites. Today you’ll learn how to “think Amish,” as Roberta Horton says, and to translate those ideas into two projects; a Roman stripe pillow top.
Amish Ways and Amish Quilts
The Amish are members of a German Protestant sect which strives to move closer to God through a simple life and the avoidance of “proud” or vain things like phones, cars or electricity. A Plain people, they drive horse and buggies and wear simple, unadorned clothing made of wool or cotton.
And from the scraps and worn out clothing, they make quilts. The quilts we think of as typically Amish are characterized by solid color fabrics, simple quilt blocks, cool color palettes, and extremely fine quilting. The many sites and books on Amish quilts give you a good idea of their range.
A traditional Amish quilt never has orange, white, or yellow in it. More modern Amish quilts and quilts from the Mennonites will have all colors included. So the colors used are pure red, pinks, all shades of blue and purple, blue-green, and green. While bright pure hues are often associated with this kind of quilt, pastels and muted shades are also found.
Designing your Project
Amish quilts are first and foremost made for utility: to use up the fabric available, so that’s what I did with this project. My ideas and design came from Roberta Horton’s wonderful book for quilters — An Amish Adventure.
For the Roman Stripe pillow you will need:
- 8-12 colors of wool for the stripes and borders, selected from the Amish color palette
- 6 skeins crewel wool, 5 black, 1 charcoal for the background
- 13″ square 14-count mono canvas
For all but two of the accent colors, you don’t need much thread. Using your stash of leftover threads is my recommended way for doing this project.
Pick six colors you like from your pile and arrange them in an order which looks nice. These will become the stripes of the first block (1). Write them down so you don’t forget. Now arrange the same colors in a different order. Write these down, this is your second block (2). Now replace 2 or 3 colors with new ones (3). In the sample pillow I replaced Magenta with bright red, the Persian Blue with a pure bright blue, and the sky blue with a more muted shade of the same color. Arrange them in a pleasing order, and write them down. This is the third block.
Here’s the arrangement using these three combinations:
first row: 1,2,3
third row: 2,1,3
Now think about colors for the borders and corner squares. Amish quilts often have a narrow inside border with one set of corner blocks, and a wider, background-colored outer border with more corner blocks. write down your preliminary choices for border colors, but don’t worry about them now.
Stitching the Pillow Top
Begin stitching about 6.5″ from the left side and about 5″ inches from the top with the first color (bottom stripe) for your first block. Use Gobelin stitches over three threads and follow the pattern in this stitch diagram, below. Follow this with striped of the other five colors. Then fill in the block with stripes of your background color, stitching according to the diagram. Continue doing this with the other eight blocks, following the setting described above.
One of the blocks has a charcoal background instead of black, as does part of the border. This is typical of Amish quilts. If you ran out of one color making the quilt top, then you just “made do” and substituted. However do not put this block where it will draw attention to itself (in this design that would be the center). It is also OK to have more than one odd block.
The borders on this pillow set off the blocks and through their use of Waffle and Gobelin stitch variation imitate the quilting of a fabric quilt. The Amish do not miter corners, so often they use corner blocks instead to make a nice finish and add some more complexity to the design.
At this point you should look at your initial choices for borders and see if you still like them. If you do great, if not pick another three colors. These do not have to be colors which appear elsewhere in the quilt. Also the color chosen for the outside corner blocks should be a pure color, not one that is muted or grayed. These pure colors against black seem to “sparkle” and really add to the design.
Following the stitch diagrams work the narrow inside border in Beaty, above, (called Cliff’s Stitch by Father B) and the corner blocks in the Waffle Variation, below top. This is a bulky stitch, so you may want to thin your yarn a bit.
The outer border corner blocks are worked next, in four Triangle Stitches, above bottom, set in a square. Finally the outside borders are done using the Chevron Stitch, below. If you use a second color on the outside border, make the dividing line a straight line, as in the model. The zigzags of this stitch represent quilting stitches, not fabric. All the stitches used in this project came from Father B’s Book of Stitches, Fifth edition.
When this gets made into a pillow, it will have a black wool backing and cording in a bright color (probably purple) which does not appear elsewhere in the design. Finishing a quilt in binding of another color is very Amish.