Bowmansville is a small town in Lancaster County, just over the border from Berks. Though it’s close to many other centers of PA German culture, including Amish settlements, for some reason it’s developed its own characteristic style in quilts. What they have in common is that they employ a large number of small square patches to create a larger-scale design. The best known of these is the so-called Bowmansville Star, with a large eight-pointed central star, formed completely of diagonal rows of small square pieces set on a field of rows of contrasting pieces, the whole surrounded by a variety of different border treatments. In the only examples of pictures we found available, two Bowmansville stars show different borders, one a zigzag or dogtooth pattern, the other a zigzag with alternating lights and darks creating more of a sawtooth pattern.
Once you’ve seen the Bowmansville star, it is easily recognized. But not every quilter in Bowmansville preferred the star pattern. Also found among the typical Bowmansville repertoire are variations of the Philadelphia pavement or mosaic style, consisting of a number of juxtaposed areas of concentric diagonal rows of squares.
The one shown at left, a crib quilt, recently set a record for crib quilts at auction, selling for $25,000+. Apparently this one uses strips of fabric instead of squares in the border treatment, but the idea and scale are still the same.
Another example of this style is this full-sized quilt that I found on eBay, which uses only small squares, including all the border areas.
I happen to be lucky enough to have one of these quilts in my own collection.
This one dates from c.1920, but includes mostly fabrics from the turn of the century. One of the charming features is that each of the small squares in the center of a larger square is fussy-cut from one of two different fabrics, centering a flower blossom.
Again, it’s easy to see why this regional style might have developed; that is, these quilts do seem to cause a quilter some inspiration. Indeed, several of my friends have been so intrigued with this style that they’ve decided to make reproductions for themselves.
I continue to be intrigued by regional styles in quilts; certainly, Pennsylvania German quilts as a whole have their own style, but within this broad category are many sub-styles. The Lancaster County Amish quilts are recognizably distinct from quilts fashioned in other Amish communities. Certain other groups or areas had their own particular fabric choices, patterns or designs. But most intriguing of all are these insular examples, from one town or county, such as the Bowmansville quilts or the applique quilts I featured here earlier. There are probably many, many such designs, and I hope to learn of more and possibly present them here.