Saturday, September 18, 2010

Delilah's Quilt

My Amish neighbor, Delilah Yoder, phoned last Friday to ask if I might be available to drive her to Wal Mart later in the afternoon. [The Amish who have phones build little wooden structures behind their barns or sheds to shelter the telephone which is considered too worldly and modern a devise to have in their homes.]
J. and I have on several occasions transported Joseph or Delilah to do their shopping.
I explained that I was busy painting woodwork.
Delilah assured me she could get one of the "regular drivers" for the shopping run, then added that one of her reasons for calling was to invite me to see the quilt she had finished.
On Monday, with one wall of the bedroom painted and in need of a break, I drove the mile and a half to Yoders.

I was amazed to learn that the quilt in question was the one for which Delilah had bought batting and "lining" on our recent expedition to Wal Mart--less than two weeks earlier. I wondered what could be the quality of hand quilting that had been accomplished in such a short time.

I am impressed.
The afternoon sun was hitting the view-finder of my camera, so I wasn't sure  until I loaded the photos whether I had done justice to her work.
This young woman has five children, the eldest is 8 years old.
She sees her husband off to work at the furniture factory at about 5 a.m.
Her day is interupted by whatever customers come into the little store which occupies one end of the building.
In accordance with Amish beliefs the home is without electricity; kerosene lamps provide the lighting after dark.

Needle work skills are handed down through the generations of Amish and Mennonite women.
I think those of you who quilt will agree that Delilah's work is very nice indeed.

I don't understand the reasoning that establishes some of the prohibitions of the Amish lifestyle, although
I am in harmony with simplicity, frugality, with the preservation of heritage skills.

Delilah buys the pieced quilt tops from other Amish women.  An "Englisher" friend lists the finished quilts for sale on E-bay.
Delilah's fine work should command a higher price than it does.
She can finish a bed-sized quilt in a week or 10 days, depending on the intricacy of the quilting design.
Delilah speaks yearningly of how more frequent quilt sales could augment their income.
She longs also to have a really bustling bulk foods store such as the one we patronize in Casey County.  But a well-stocked store requires a large initial outlay of funds and a steady clientele to support it.

Joseph tells us of his father's farm in Ontario.  He would like to be freed from the routine of the shop where he turns out the kind of furniture used in motels.
"How many acres would it take to have a good farm such as your father's?" I asked Joseph, as he and J. unloaded hay in our barn.
"A hundred acres of good land," replies Joseph.
Prompted by my gentle questions, he speaks with enthusiasm of horses, the relative merits of Percherons, Belgians, Suffolks.  He remembers crops of hay and barley and wheat.
It is nearly impossible, he tells us, for  a young Amishman to borrow money to buy such a farm.  Our modern and increasingly cautious banking world wants a history of checking accounts, credit card activity, a solid history of business experience.
Daily I see the young Amish men of our neighborhood being driven to and from work places by the retired men and women who use a station wagon or van as a local "taxi".  The Amish families hand over $10.00 to be driven to Wal Mart. The charge is $15.00 to be taken all the way into Columbia to the bank or to any of the shops there.
A trip to the Mennonite bakery and bulk foods store with the produce market and greenhouse nearby has a traveling fee of $40.00!
J. and I wonder how long our neighbors can sustain a traditional lifestyle which is being under-mined by 21st century ways.

When the photo session with the quilt is finished, Delilah pulls two battered dinette chairs into place under the second story overhang of the house.
"Can you stay for a visit?" she asks.
I sit, feet stretched to the sunshine, flexing my paint-daubed hands.
Our conversation is easy--of gardens, of baking; we talk of the demands of caring for a family--small children, a husband.
I am aware of difference: my T-shirt and bare arms, my ragged jeans with the torn knees and the smears of paint.  Delilah's dark blue dress falls nearly to her ankles and is pinned to the neck. An underarm seam has split and not been mended.  Her dark hair is pulled firmly back from her high forehead and covered with a dark kerchief.
The older children, the two girls, are away during the day, attending the local Amish school.
The three small boys moil about the side yard, bouncing on an old trampoline, dashing in and out of the porch. From time to time Delilah swtiches to the household German to give a quick command.  The smallest child, grubby-faced, yanks at the folds of her skirt and whines.
"Shut up," says Delilah, in English, mildly, but then relents and scoops the little boy into her large lap, tucking him up for a cuddle.
The sunlight is warm, but not fierce. I am too comfortable, and I remember the painting, the work that surely is waiting for Delilah.
We admire the herbs and the roses sprawling in her garden patch that softens the front of the wooden building.
"Come and visit again," says Delilah.
I have enjoyed the hour in her company and I tell her that, wanting her to know that I am honored by the invitation to sit for awhile and talk.
I promise that I will edit and print the photos of the quilt, that I will be happy to photograph others if she would like them to pin up in the store as examples of her work.
I have told her about my quilts--finished by the long-arm machine quilters in the shop where I worked in Wyoming.
"I will bring one of my quilts for you to see," I promise her.
She and the boys walk me to my car.  She turns back to the house, to the supper that must be made for Joseph and five children, to another quilt stretched on the wooden frame waiting for the moments when she can light her kerosene lamp and place her dainty stitches.


  1. Oh my goodness! Now that's talent -- and dedication! I love the colors blue and white, but everything in my home is green and apricot. I thought I might get tired of this color scheme after 30 years or so, but no, green and apricot it is -- a soft green or sage.

  2. Beautiful qilt!
    The Amish are certainly hard workers. I admire their ethic and lifestyle.
    About 20 years ago they started buying land and moving to our area of south central PA as the Lancaster area became over commercialized and over populated. We are glad to see them come here because it will help save our rural tradition and farmland from the 'development' people.
    If you have time, check my blog entry in July about the 'Rural Life Festival'.
    BTW, your bedroom looks lovely. Must have been the 'cat help'!

  3. What beautiful work. To think that it's all hand done and using kerosene lighting, among all the chores she does to keep her family going. I admire the Amish too and feel lazy and too worldly compared to them.

    A visit was the right thing for both of you. A cherished memory. I wish Delilah well, and hope she and her husband get the farm they long for.


  4. What lovely work, I enjoyed reading about this very much.

  5. I have got so behind with comments on everyones blogs ...what a wonderful read ...I felt I was with you both. That quilt is wonderful ...such speed in producing it ...and all by hand ...makes it even more spectacular.
    It is so costly for the Amish to travel any distance wonders how they manage.
    Great job on the paint work btw.xx

  6. Good grief - what a fabulous quilt and how quickly must she be able to sew to do the hand-quilting in such a short space of time - allowing for "life" to get in the way too? I hand-quilt, but nothing like as quickly as that!

    FABULOUS post - I am absolutely fascinated by the Amish lifestyle though it is increasingly a compromise for them in this day and age.

  7. Amazing quilt and story. I love reading about the Amish, having lived close to them for several years in Kentucky in the nineties. How wonderful for you to have this opportunity to make friends. I'll look forward to seeing more quilts in the future...

  8. A beautiful story told and the quilt so, so neat; Amish ways are like another world, something we may contemplate this hard work ethic and admire but it would be very difficult to copy. I wish them well to....