Abstract: Crafting Fashion: The Niche Market for Amish Quilts

Janneken Smucker

Abstract

In the late 1960s, young art enthusiasts began to hang old Amish quilts on walls, noting their resemblance to abstract paintings. Soon a market developed for these objects, with prices rising rapidly as quilts left Amish communities. Because Amish women no longer made quilts using the same fabrics, patterns, and colors as the old quilts, collectors and dealers perceived the craft as a dying art in need of revival. Non-Amish entrepreneurs identified a niche market—new Amish-made quilts that replicated the designs of the old ones, but could be sold at much lower prices. They provided Amish women with the "right" patterns and fabrics; Amish women only provided the labor. By marketing these products using the "Amish Brand," they constructed the idea of what an Amish quilt should look like. This business model fulfilled a short-lived niche market by responding to the fashion for expensive antique Amish quilts. Yet mass-produced quilts outsourced to overseas factories were increasingly available in mail order catalogs and department stores by the late 1980s; multinational corporations superseded these small businesses by selling more product at lower prices while denigrating the perceived symbolic value of handcrafted quilts.