The History of an Alsatian Quilt Festival

The history of an Alsatian quilt festival

The Val d'Argent - the Cradle of the Amish Movement

In 1648, after the upheavals of the Thirty-Years war, most of Alsace became French.  The entire province had been devastated, its population annihilated as a result of disease, famine and military action so, with the war finally over, the king and the princes came up with a scheme to encourage immigration, offering lands and tax breaks. These measures attracted numerous Swiss Anabaptists who, from 1650 onwards,  settled where no one else wanted to, restoring farms and windmills on a number of domains, particularly in the Ribeaupierre County.

At the end of the seventeenth century, about sixty families from the Berne area settled in the valley of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines under the leadership of Jacob Amann. Known as the 'patriarch', Amann felt offended by the lifestyle and discipline of the Alsatian Anabaptist community and requested more rigorous rules, in particular a simpler dress code. The new community was named 'Jacob Amann’s party' - later to be named ‘the Amish’ in the United States - and was centered around Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. They worked hard work and thrived economically, acquiring the largest farms and estates in the valley.

In 1712 the French King, Louis XIV, ordered the expulsion of the Amish community from Alsace. Many of them took refuge in Pennsylvania where they continue to flourish.

Amish Quilts

Quilts are a relatively recent addition to Amish cultural practices; the Amish only began making quilts in any significant number in the 1870s, often using fabrics leftover from making their family’s clothing, usually single-coloured cottons and wools.

Religious beliefs mean the Amish never depict faces, animals or figurative forms, instead their quilts patterns are based on squares, triangles and diamonds. The pieces of cloth are then put together in endless combinations of shapes, sizes and colours inspired by daily rural life. Some of the best know patterns are Bars, which resembles ploughed furrows, Bear’s Paw, Log Cabin, Baskets and Sunshine and Shadow.

Sunshine & Shadow Amish quilt

Sunshine and Shadow, Amish, 1890s. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Amish people made quilts as practical bedlinens and to mark significant life events such as weddings (three are made for the bride and two for the groom) and births, a practice which continues today.  However, in the wider world, they have been considered highly collectible works of art ever since New York art dealers and collectors spotted their similarities to modern abstract painting in the early 1970s.

The European Patchwork Meeting

Alsace val d'argent

The European Patchwork Meeting was launched in 1993 when the French Association Anabaptism and Mennonite History organised a celebration of its 300th anniversary in Saint-Marie-aux-Mines. Its location has extra resonance as the Val d’Argent also has a textile history that dates back to the 18th century. The region’s soft water, industrial infrastructures inherited from the mining period and qualified workforce from the near by capitals of Alsace and Lorraine, made it ideal for the production of high quality fabrics and by the 19th century, the area was famous around the world.

Experience this unique show for yourself on our holiday to the European Patchwork Meeting, Alsace 2024