Friday, October 20, 2006

Amish Quilts -- Alas!

This is not an Amish quilt. But it was inspired by traditional Amish quilts -- the saturated colors and even by the two grayed colors on the back (the part you see at lower left), Traditional dark and bright Amish quilts are part of the American quilter's heritage. We may have entirely different tastes, different color choices, but the strength of the image of those classic quilts is as much a part of our accumulated idea of American folk as red barns or small town church spires rising about the maple trees.
Two years ago I drove to Lancaster, PA with my friend, Maggie. She wanted to go leave peeking and I wanted to see famed Lancaster County. The leaves were gorgeous. In Lancaster County Plain People clattered along two land roads in their horse drawn buggies. Of course we shopped. I bought wonderful quilt fabric at wonderful prices. We admired all kinds of local crafts loved the selection in the general store. But I was disappointed by the quilts for sale. The quilts in the shops were largely appliqued with pretty pastel flowers. The quilting was adequate but far from outstanding. They were obviously done for "tourist trade". This is not a type of quilt I like very much although I understand the appeal for people who like cozy, feminine bedrooms. They are utterly unlike the classic "Amish quilts.
Yesterday I read an article in Quilters Newsletter Magazine about this phenomena and it's special twist: much of the work is farmed out to Hmong immigrant women who come from a tradition of extremely meticulous, complex reverse embroidery. The Amish of Lancaster County came to the aid of Hmong immigrants after the Vietnam War, an act of kindness and generosity. Hiring the women to do some applique was also generous. Apparently the practice has grown likeTopsy.
The author noted that it seems a shame that practitioners of two marvelous needlework traditions have both forsaken their original designs in order to make a product meant specifically for the tourist trade, because Lancaster County has become a tourist destination. I have read that like all farmers the Amish are finding it more and more difficult to maintain family farms in the face of big agriculture. So the women are helping by catering to the tourist trade.

I don't feel quite as polite as the writer. I think something has gone amiss when a strong minded people who have been able to withstand the combustion engine and electricity, not to mention fashion in clothes, knuckle under to the cheap tastes of tourists -- who have a little less to spend then their more upscale neighbors who go to malls and buy "individual original" Kincaid paintings -- a phenomenon I find only slightly less disgusting than drive through funeral homes.
This is a country that has learned to prefer pizza and Col. Sanders fried chicken to healthy fruit and vegetables; where people do not know what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. The greed to sell to those willing to spend, has encouraged the sellers to load their foods with every sort of additive that will boost flavor and "crunch" and "mouth feel." It encourages people to want the latest design in jeans or sneakers, and to fill their homes with cheap stuff that is soft and pretty, cheaply made and tasteless. The Amish and Hmong women are caught up in this rush to satisfy the cheapest tastes ... like most of us they do not ask: is there something wrong with this picture?

1 comment :

Elle said...

I get your Amish inspiration. It's simple with simple quilting. Nice.