Amish Quilt Businesses

In 2009, well past the peak of the Amish quilt market, the satirical online newspaper, The Onion, published a short article under the headline, “Amish Woman Knew She Had Quilt Sale the Moment She Laid Eyes on Chicago Couple.” The article proceeded to detail how the proprietor had her daughters “put on a little dog and pony show”; she said, “Give ‘em a little ‘no electricity’ this, and some ‘butter churn’ that and cha-ching, you’ve got enough barn-raising money to last you a month.” Just as this fictional shop did, Amish and non-Amish quilt businesses marketed quilts with the knowledge that consumers were fascinated with Amish culture and understood that when it came to quilts, Amish ones were best.

Many Amish settlements—particularly those that attract tourists—have become home to quilt businesses. The first Amish-run quilt businesses began in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the early 1970s. Hannah Stoltzfoos opened her shop in 1972, growing her business at a time when Amish quilts had begun to attract widespread attention. During this time,  the “Quilt Revival" began to emerge, inspired in part by the forthcoming American Bicentennial and a renewed  appreciation of traditional women’s arts. Businesses like Stoltzfoos’s started small, but grew as demand increased: in 1972 she sold 20 quilts on consignment, and in 1976 she sold 500. Most Amish businesses were operated right out of homes, expanding as necessary. Some shops operated on the consignment model, retailing quilts made by others, while others bought quilts outright. Some functioned as highly organized operations, with the businesswoman coordinating all aspects of quilt production. Non-Amish entrepreneurs managed some enterprises in the Amish quilt industry, working with Amish quiltmakers to produce quilts for the consumer market.