The Old Order Amish have long practiced “mutual aid”—an active belief that church members carry responsibility for both the material and social care of fellow members.1 Think of the iconic Amish barnraising in which a community comes together to rebuild a barn in a day.
Quilts have also played a role within Amish mutual aid. Amish women have engaged in quiltings as a means to assist friends and relatives in the completion of a quilt. Families have also given quilts as comforting relief to those who have lost their homes in disasters or are in need of a tangible reminder of the loving community in times of hardship.
Benefit auctions are another way through which quilts serve as mutual aid. In larger Amish settlements community members organize auctions to sell goods to benefit a local Amish school, a volunteer firehouse, or to assist a family in paying expensive medical bills. Quilts are typically among the donated items to an auction.
During the 1980s and 1990s heyday of the Amish quilt market, auctions such as the Gordonville Fire Company Auction in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, sold as many as 300 quilts at its annual sale, attracting Amish and non-Amish entrepreneurs to purchase quilts and quilt tops to resell, as well as collectors and tourists. These consumers liked knowing that some of the profit went to a worthy cause.
1. Donald B. Kraybill, Karen Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt, The Amish.