Major demographic, economic, and geographic shifts had begun to transfer Amish society by the 1970s. Historically, most Amish families farmed. But as suburbs and exurbs expanded, farmland became increasingly expensive. At the same time, the Amish population had been rapidly growing due to high birth rates combined with a high retention rate within the faith. No longer could every family farm. Families made tough choices: some divided up farms into smaller and smaller plots, while others moved away to form “daughter” settlements rather than stay in their home communities. A third alternative was to adopt another livelihood, such as starting a small business.
This entrepreneurial spirit coincided with outsiders’ interest in “old dark quilts”—the antique quilts that had become cult objects and increasingly were worth more money. Among the businesses Amish entrepreneurs established were quilt shops catering to outsiders familiar with the growing Amish reputation for quilts. Businesswomen coordinated the design, production, and distribution of quilts, typically through a putting out system with women specializing in distinct tasks like piecing, marking, and quilting.