Diamond in the Square Quilt
When the Amish, an Anabaptist sect with Swiss Germanic roots, first immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1720s or 1730s they had no quiltmaking tradition. The quilts that are so admired today were created primarily between the 1880s and well into the twentieth century. In their quilts, Amish women established a profound character that was consistent with their faith, comprising large geometric patterns pieced from fine woolens dyed in beautiful saturated earth and jewel tones. As there was no proscription against quilting stitches, it is here that the women allowed themselves to engage in the naturalistic imagery employed as appliqué by their non-Amish neighbors.
The Diamond in the Square is one of the earliest patterns devised by Amish women in Lancaster County. An adaptation of the center-medallion style that was fashionable in the early nineteenth century, it feels old yet the colors are uncannily modern. The purity of large pieces in solid color fields relates to religious art of the Middle Ages but bears no relation to transitory tastes; in being consciously out of time it becomes timeless. Geometric abstraction becomes a symbolic form, and some scholars have related the pattern to an emblem published in 1626 by Thomas Jenner, a frame-within-a-frame that fit into each other the way man and God are intended. The square format with large corner blocks, wide outside border, and center diamond has also been compared to the tooled leather designs found on covers of the Ausbund, the early Anabaptist hymnal. Although some symbols may be widely understood and used to regulate our daily lives, conversely they guard systems of meaning, and are available to only a privileged few.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Diamond in the Square Quilt,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.