Monday, April 2, 2012

Amish Quilts and Social Enterprise


Amish Quilt, in a "Lone Star" pattern, in collection of Hearing Associates, Sylvania, Ohio.

I haven’t thought about Amish quilts in a long time.  So it was nice to go for a hearing test, the first in three years, and see the walls of Hearing Associates in Sylvania decorated with them. Lovely quilts in a variety of patterns, colors and styles.  I found them soothing.

I went online later and  found out the quilts are abundant, popular, and for sale.  Although they have evolved in styles over the years, they continue to reflect the Amish's love of the heavens, simplicity, and  rural life.

Amish and Mennonite women have been creating the quilts since the mid-1800s.  They are both practical and beautiful, functional and aesthetic.  And those famous “qullting bees” are still a form of socialization and entertainment, especially in the winter months.    

For many "Plain" women, the quilting bees have now turned into business enterprises. Cottage industries run out of Amish and Mennonite homes have sprung up throughout places like Lancester county, PA. The Amish might not have Sunday sales, but the women are doing a brisk business, which in turn contributes to family income and social cohesion.   

The Amish quilts remind me of the opportunities for social enterprise in other countries where Peace Corps has volunteers.  Whether it’s traditional embroidery, jewelry-making, decorative painting, basket weaving or fabric arts, whether in Ukraine, India, Africa or Latin or South America, women’s arts, crafts, and traditional skills are becoming means for self-expression and for improving family life and household income.

Kofi Annan, former UN General Secretary, said it best:  "There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women....empowering women empowers families and communities."

The Amish quilts are testimony to that wisdom.  

(My hearing is okay, by the way, about the same, with a little fine-tuning here and there.) 
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