Quilting in the Gross Daddi House
Joy quilts works of art at Amish Acres
by Rebecca Whitesel, The Paper
With needle in hand, the diminutive grandmother patiently takes tiny stitches around shapes of colorful cloth. She repeats the action over and over. A pattern emerges…She smiles.
Joy Johnson has created 548 quilts in 30 years. She knows this because she keeps a diary of quilts on which she is working. Joy primarily does her quilting in a historic house at Amish Acres, the Nappanee attraction which features the only Old Order Amish farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eighteen historic buildings include structures from neighboring farms that tell the story of 19th century rural America.
Visitors take tours of the historic farm at Amish Acres. Craft demonstrations such as quilting, broom making, candle dipping, weaving, blacksmithing and horse shoeing are randomly seen as farm life lives on day after day.
Joy, who makes her home in the heart of Amish country, has been doing quilt demonstrations at Amish Acres for 30 years. She occupies the Gross Daadi Haus, “where the grandparents retire when the oldest son takes over the farm.” Joy explains.
“I just quilt and when the people come in, you explain a little history of the house and the position of the grandparents. We cater to a lot of senior citizens and school groups,” she mentions. “In the tour area, we try to keep it like it was when the Amish were first there.”
She sits on a chair next to a large frame with a quilt stretched across it. “If it is an Amish quilt, I tell about it. There’s usually an interesting story with the Amish quilts,” Joy says. “I particularly like the Amish quilt ‘Birds in the Air.’ In the 1800s an Amish family moved to Kansas,” she begins telling. “There was nothing out there but miles of prairie grass and birds. When the birds would fly and soar you could always see a cross in the middle when they flew, so the quilt pattern is an optical illusion of that cross in the middle that is very hard to find. It’s a lovely quilt and I enjoy that one.”
It takes a good 500 hours to complete a queen size quilt. Joy selects material, works out the pattern mathematically, cuts, pieces, quilts and binds. “I hope they don’t make the beds any bigger because I can’t get it all on the frame now!” she exclaims, noting that most people want queen or king size quilts. Her handiwork is for sale in the gift shop at Amish Acres. Sometimes people will arrange to purchase the one on which they see her working on their tour. She receives letters of thanks and photographs from some of the enthusiastic owners, showing her how they’ve used it in their home.
“Two years ago we got to make the stamp quilt,” Joy states. When the United States Postal Service announced that First Day of Issue ceremonies for the Amish Quilts stamps would take place in the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres, Joy set to work recreating the quilts featured on the stamps. The colorful event took place on August 9, 2001, the opening day of the 39th annual Amish Acres Arts and Crafts Festival. Many orders were taken for the quilts so replicas of the stamp quilts were made throughout the 2001 season.
Joy thoroughly loves what she does. “It’s been interesting for me because years ago I thought I’d like to travel and see things…The whole world stops at my doorstep here, I can’t thinks of a country that hasn’t been represented. I don’t speak their language, they don’t speak mine, but a smile is the universal language.”