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The Sewing of Amish Quilts is a Global Business   General Discussion

Started 8/23/19 by judyinohio; 449 views.

From: judyinohio


Some have recently mentioned traveling to areas where Amish shops sell baked goods, candies and quilts. I live close to one of those areas (Berlin, Ohio) and I thought others should be made aware that some "Amish quilts" are made locally by people from southeast Asia.  Yes, they are hand-stitched by hard working people but they are a cottage industry for refugees; the quilts are made under the supervision of Amish or Mennonites who are helping these refugees live a better life in the USA. 

Here is a copy and paste of an article that was published in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper in 2006 about the quilt business in Lancaster, PA. I hope it is not too long for Delphi to fit in this format.


Narathi Palua is sewing in the tropical sunshine. His long fingers deftly pull a needle through heavy fabric.

The 13-year-old is making an American quilt, likely destined for Lancaster County, Pa.

In Narathi's village of Ban Pa Deang, quilts spill from the doorways of homes, women drive by on motor scooters clutching rolled-up quilts wrapped in clear plastic and porches have been converted to outdoor sewing rooms where scraps of fabric litter the tiled floors like a calico snowstorm.

Quilting brings prosperity, so everyone sews: gap-toothed grandmothers, smooth-faced boys, young mothers.

In this 1,200-year-old village quilting is the economic engine. Narathi will earn 40 baht, the equivalent of $1, for stitching the binding along the edges of an Early American-style Rose of Sharon quilt that will easily sell for more than $600 in the United States. He's only been sewing for a month. He does it to help his mother.

They do not know that they are participants in the transformation of a quintessentially American industry. But they do know the man who brings the work to their village each month. He is not Thai, like them, but Hmong, a member of a once-fierce and primitive tribe from the hills of Laos that fought on the side of the Americans during the Vietnam War.

He and his displaced countrymen in the United States are the key to a metamorphosis of the quilt trade that began more than 20 years ago.

And in the past five years, the Hmong have become entrepreneurial links between Thai villagers and post-modern Westerners with money to spend on a piece of an imagined past.

The Hmong's pivotal role in the business of handmade quilts began when a small group, about 30 families, arrived during the late 1970s in the farmlands of Pennsylvania, frightened and destitute. They already had endured the misery of desolate refugee camps in Thailand after a harrowing flight from the communist soldiers who overran their native land in the bloody aftermath of the Southeast Asian war.

Many Hmong came to the United States after the war, and this group was rescued by the Mennonites of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Mennonites and Amish, the Plain People of Pennsylvania, are the monarchs of America quilt making.

The connection between these peoples would push the cottage industry of quilt making into the global marketplace, an unanticipated consequence of history's serendipity.

Eight million tourists visit Pennsylvania Dutch country each year, drawn by the dream of another age.

One object exemplifies these people and their lifestyle more than any other: the hand-sewn quilt. They are piled for sale everywhere, in gas-lit farmhouses and in dozens of stores along the thoroughfares and back roads of the central Pennsylvania region.

Today, visitors from as far as Japan and Switzerland come to Emma Witmer's Witmer Quilt Shop in New Holland, ready to spend hundreds of dollars for the one-of-a-kind creations piled 60 deep on two beds in Emma's shop.

Australians Jenny Bellemore and Marian McClusky traveled halfway across the world in search of something more authentic than the machine-made quilts available in Sydney. They found Emma's shop on the Internet.

"We didn't want city, we wanted purity," Bellemore says. "I think we found it."

McClusky peers in awe at the tiny stitches of a pink tulip petal splayed on a cream background. It is a superb example of applique -- a method of sewing fancy cloth cutouts -- such as flowers, birds and hearts -- to a larger piece of cloth.

"The hand-quilting and the applique are just incredible," she says, shaking her head.

The Hmong do the applique, Emma tells them.

The women seem confused.

"They're hill people from Laos who fled to Thailand during the Vietnam War," Emma says with the authority of a teacher delivering a history lesson.

Emma uses about 40 Hmong to applique, a skill #### in their culture and practiced to relieve the tedium of Thai refugee camps.

Emma is proud of her alliance with the Hmong and is quick to credit them for their exquisite work.

Most quilt-shop owners do not mention their Southeast Asian workers. That would spoil the image of a Lancaster quilt as the product of strictly Amish or Mennonite hands. Quilt tags in pricey shops credit the work of Lancaster's Plain People, but rarely the Hmong, who are referred to as "local Lancaster quilters" or not mentioned at all.

It was one thing to outsource work to a Hmong seamstress; it was quite another to give her credit. The tourist paying $700 for an "Amish" quilt did not want to see an Asian name on the tag.

Still, the Hmong in Lancaster felt an obligation to help their brethren elsewhere in the U.S. Starting in the 1980s, they drafted their far-flung clan members into the quilt industry, sending patterns and fabric, thread and directions to sisters, aunts and cousins in California, Minnesota and Ohio.

Life was good for the Hmong community. The Lancaster quilt industry was raging, and the shops could barely keep up with the demand.

But things were about to change.

In 1992, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., was embroiled in a controversy over its decision to sell the rights to produce four antique quilt patterns to a firm that used Chinese labor to hand-stitch the designs.

The cheap knock-offs flooded stores and infuriated quilters who felt the Smithsonian had belittled American history by authorizing foreign reproductions of the country's most cherished quilt patterns. In Lancaster, handmade applique quilts were selling for $600, but consumers anywhere in America could buy a Chinese-made king-size quilt for $149 at J.C. Penney or Sears.

After more than a year of public criticism, the Smithsonian halted overseas quilt production. But it was too late
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From: latterberry


Wow!  Thanks for sharing such and interesting article.  I guess it is good that the Amish are giving work to the Asians, but sad to hear how little they make.  


From: cabinqltr


Judy Thanks for sharing this article.  We have visited Lancaster, PA often over the years.  I saw this happening quite a few years ago while in one of the "Amish Quilt Shops".  A van load of ladies were delivering said quilts to the shop to be sold.  They hustled them in to a back room to take care of business.  After we came home I told several folks of our experience and no one wanted to hear it .  I have waited patiently for this to surface .   I have mixed emotions about this.  Yes they are beautiful quilts, well made but not  Amish Made as all the signs would led you to believe.    Ruth