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it takes a village to raise a quilt 6

It Takes a Village to Raise a Quilt

Ann began building this network when she started a quilt and handcrafts store from her home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She asked quilters she knew to refer their friends to her, and as word spread, she found artists all over Pennsylvania and Ohio happy to share their talents in return for the income she could provide.

You’ve probably heard it takes a village to raise a child? Exhausted parents quickly learn they can’t provide everything their kid needs and are grateful for what other people give to their child—whether it’s a teacher explaining fractions or a coach teaching them what teamwork looks like. Kids thrive in a supportive village.

Well, what you may not know is that it takes a community to create one of our gorgeous quilts, too. Nearly every step of the process is done by a different person, or several people working together. Our owner, John Lapp, relies on his mother, Ann Lapp, and her extensive connections in the Amish and Mennonite communities to supply quilts to the Family Farm Handcrafts shop.

Ann began building this network when she started a quilt and handcrafts store from her home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She asked quilters she knew to refer their friends to her, and as word spread, she found artists all over Pennsylvania and Ohio happy to share their talents in return for the income she could provide.

When Ann looks for people to employ, she says she has a soft spot for women would find it hard to work away from home—Amish women who’ve lost their husbands and have children to care for. Many of these women are delighted to find work they can do at home, often with their children’s help. They’ve become part of a community supporting and being supported through the village industry supplying Family Farm Handcrafts.

Ann monitors the inventory at the shop, and when she notices the stock of quilts in a particular pattern—the Log Cabin Lone Star quilts, say—is running low, she makes it her next priority to start her village making quilts like those.

“I laid out my quilt blocks, and it wasn’t coming together,” the ladies sometimes tell Ann. “But I left it, and then that evening it came to me, and I went back and fixed it. It looks just right now.” It’s their creativity and intuition that make these quilts something unique—something no factory could produce.

She begins by contacting her ‘piecers,’ as she calls them—around seven or eight women who piece the quilts together, designing and sewing the squares, triangles, or diamonds into kaleidoscopes of color. Three of those have people working for them as well, since each one has particular patterns they specialize in creating, and it can be hard to keep up with the demand for quilts in the patterns they make.

This part of the process—sewing the blocks together—is one Ann has learned not to micromanage. These are artists, she says, who don’t just copy from quilt books. They’ve learned how to choose colors, patterns, and fabrics and put them together with stunning results. So she only tells them which pattern she needs, and a general color scheme. “Could you make me a Log Cabin Lone Star in reds and browns? We’re low on those right now,” she might say.

Many of these women stock fabric she’s supplied in a room in their home so they can easily reach for the materials they need. Ann will also look at how many fabrics a quilt pattern requires—some use over 20 different fabrics—and how many she has on hand in her own supply. Then she will coordinate with the ladies who piece for her and buy more pieces from fabric companies as necessary.

Deciding how to sew a quilt could seem boring: put this fabric in this row, put that one there. But it isn’t that easy. Choosing colors can be tricky—getting the right shades that complement each other, and finding the right print in the right color. Victorian prints, for instance, look better with brighter colors, Ann says. And the pattern might need a bit of tweaking for the various sizes—king size quilts, queen size quilts, or full size quilts.

“I laid out my quilt blocks, and it wasn’t coming together,” the ladies sometimes tell Ann. “But I left it, and then that evening it came to me, and I went back and fixed it. It looks just right now.” It’s their creativity and intuition that make these quilts something unique—something no factory could produce.

Ann spends every Saturday talking with the ladies who piece for her, calling each one or even writing the ones who don’t have a phone in their home. They tell her what they’ve done that week, and she makes sure they’ll be paid. Ann also discusses with them what pattern they’ll be making next.

When Ann gets the completed quilt tops, she takes them to her ‘markers,’ the four ladies who mark the lines for the quilters to stitch. An elderly Amish grandmother, now claiming 99 grandchildren, marks all the heirloom quilts for the shop, painstakingly drawing each little feather in designs that altogether require a thousand yards of thread.

She begins by contacting her ‘piecers,’ as she calls them—around seven or eight women who piece the quilts together, designing and sewing the squares, triangles, or diamonds into kaleidoscopes of color.

A customer once came into the store and told Ann, “I heard on TV that you always ought to buy a quilt with pencil marks, because that’s how you know it’s authentic!” Ann heartily agreed.

She always finds it hard to know how dark to tell the ‘markers’ to draw their lines, because customers often prefer not to see them, but the quilters sometimes struggle to make out the designs. Many of her quilters are Swartzentruber Amish; they have no electric lights in their homes, and as they quilt during the winter, they find it hard to get their stitches in before the sun sets and the long, cold nights begin.

Ann picks up the marked quilts, and assembles quilt kits to mail to these quilters—the quilt top, the batting, and a matching quilt back. Many of her quilters live in Holmes County, Ohio, so she will box the kits up and ship them by UPS.

Over the winter months, these ladies will sit down and stitch by hand for several hours each day. Ann says she has many mothers and daughters working together to finish the yards and yards of stitches each quilt requires, and she loves the consistency this brings to the finished product. She’s observed that they tend to quilt the same way, and the stitches look the same over the entire bedspread.

Sometimes a group of neighbors will do a quilt together to meet a particular need—usually a hospital bill a family can’t pay on their own. For two or three days, beginning early in the morning and staying late at night, women will gather around a quilt, giving their time to help their friends make ends meet. The income from that quilt means more to the family than the dollars it represents; it speaks of the care of their village, rising up when they need it most.

The final step in making a quilt comes after the quilters mail the quilt back to Ann. The edges are still unfinished, with stray threads and batting hanging from the edges of the blanket. Ann chooses fabric for the edging, and folds it double for extra strength. She takes it to one of several ladies who will sew this edging onto the front of the quilt with a sewing machine and then will pass on the quilt to older ladies who have the time to hand-stitch the edging to the back.

We are privileged to be part of a community with a rich heritage, not just of making quilts that are works of art, but also of weaving deep, supportive relationships. When you buy one of our quilts, you can join our village, too, and we hope you’ll be warmed by the fabric of a generous and vibrant community.

When Ann looks for people to employ, she says she has a soft spot for women would find it hard to work away from home—Amish women who’ve lost their husbands and have children to care for. Many of these women are delighted to find work they can do at home, often with their children’s help. They’ve become part of a community supporting and being supported through the village industry supplying Family Farm Handcrafts.

Sometimes a group of neighbors will do a quilt together to meet a particular need—usually a hospital bill a family can’t pay on their own. For two or three days, beginning early in the morning and staying late at night, women will gather around a quilt, giving their time to help their friends make ends meet. The income from that quilt means more to the family than the dollars it represents; it speaks of the care of their village, rising up when they need it most.

The final step in making a quilt comes after the quilters mail the quilt back to Ann. The edges are still unfinished, with stray threads and batting hanging from the edges of the blanket. Ann chooses fabric for the edging, and folds it double for extra strength. She takes it to one of several ladies who will sew this edging onto the front of the quilt with a sewing machine and then will pass on the quilt to older ladies who have the time to hand-stitch the edging to the back.

We are privileged to be part of a community with a rich heritage, not just of making quilts that are works of art, but also of weaving deep, supportive relationships. When you buy one of our quilts, you can join our village, too, and we hope you’ll be warmed by the fabric of a generous and vibrant community.

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Welcome to Family Farm Handcrafts! Quilt making is an iconic representation of the Amish way of life, where working with their hands is highly valued. All items in our store are hand-stitched or handmade.

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