CAPTION: Quilts from Alma Sue's. The top quilt is quilt top fabric from a customer's husband's great-great grandmother. The fabric is now being reconstituted into a quilt.
By Kevin Williams
One of our readers was lucky enough to have spent part of a recent day in the Amish enclave of Pinecraft, Florida. She was nice enough to share some photos with us, which I'll post in the days ahead. I've written a lot about Pinecraft over the years, having been there several times. One place I've not visited while there is a store called Alma Sue's Quilts. Yesterday, when the reader dropped in, there were a group of Mennonite women in the shop quilting. Quilting has a rich tradition in Plain culture and the idea of being able to just drop in to Alma Sue's and see traditional Amish/Mennonite quilting in action piqued my interest. So I jumped on the phone this morning and spoke to the store's owner, Ella Miller Toy. Miller -who's own background is Mennonite from Ohio - spoke enthusiastically about her store's mission.
"We probably made 2000 quilts since I opened the store and no two are alike," Miller explained. She opened the store after her father passed away in 2002 to give her mother, Sue, an outlet for her quilting. That's the Sue in Alma Sue The "Alma" is a 98-year-old friend back in Ohio who is still alive and quilting.
Miller confirmed the uniqueness of her store as a place showcasing the craft of quilting.
"I don't know of anyplace in the country where you can just walk in and see the quilting taking place," Miller says. And that is the neat, neat thing about this shop. It is in many ways like a living history museum of sorts. You can watch the quilting, ask questions of the quilters, and enjoy the special ambiance of Pinecraft. During the busy season (January - March) there are three quilts in frame with 15 to 16 Amish and/or Mennonite women all sitting around hand-quilting. They are paid per yard and the different craftswomen get to work, each focusing on their specialty.
"Some ladies like to sew tops, some don't do tops but they like to stitch," Miller says, explaining that while you can go into the store and buy quilts off the rack, custom quilting is the store's biggest business. Even during the slow summer season some of the year-round Pinecraft residents come in to quilt.
The ones who live here year round come in during the summer to quilt. Customers, by the way, seem to have moved away from formal bed quilts in their tastes.
"Our work has kind of moved more to making t-shirt and memory quilts. That is what people want more than bed quilts," Miller says.