Take Home a Pennsylvania Dutch Quilt

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Handmade by Amish and Mennonite women in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, these prized possessions are museum-worthy.

Sweet summer souvenirs in Lancaster County include guaranteed-to-be-fresh corn, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and other produce from the area’s many farms.

This is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, a region populated by the descendants of German and Swiss immigrants. With 30,000 Amish residents, Lancaster County claims to be the oldest and largest Amish community in the U.S.

At Witmer Quilt Shop, visitors can find a permanent memento from the region. For more than 40 years, Emma Witmer has been selling quilts by local Amish and Mennonite women. Such quilts, prized for their precise handwork and iconic American designs, appear in museum collections, including that of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

The quilts take 4 to 6 months to create. “They aren’t sewn in summer,” says Witmer. “In summer there’s lawn mowing, canning and freezing to do. The quilts are done in winter.” By the time warm weather arrives, Witmer’s shop blooms with hundreds of colorful spreads in a variety of styles.

Attired in a blue dress and wearing a white prayer head covering, Witmer patiently provides answers inquisitive shoppers’ questions about patterns. She peels back layer upon layer of stacked quilts, pointing out such traditional configurations as log cabin, flying geese and wedding ring.

Witmer doesn’t sew the items, but, she says, “I supply all the fabric and create the designs. I love putting colors together.” She relies on about 30 local women, each a master of her particular skill: cutting, sewing and quilting (or attaching the top to the bottom with batting in between). “There’s no machine that can make as small a stitch as a hand. Machine-quilted pieces feel stiff, more like a mattress,” says Witmer.

“I sold a queen-size Lincoln quilt the other day,” Witmer says. “It’s called that because Abraham Lincoln had one. That quilt had more than 37,000 little pieces.” The quilt sold for around $650, among Witmer’s top prices. Witmer also creates eye-catching, contemporary versions of classics that ripple with color.

Witmer Quilt Shop, 1076 West Main Street, along route 23, New Holland, PA. 717-656-9526. Open Mondays and Fridays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Open Wednesday only by appointment and closed on Sunday.

Insider Tip: Emma Witmer of Witmer Quilt Shop will custom design a quilt in a shopper’s favorite colors.