Mistakes in Quilts – Amish Tradition or Myth?

A couple of days ago I posted about my Farmer’s Wife Quilt Sampler blocks for the week and noted that one of my blocks has a mistake.  It was the Country Path block:

Country Path

There are a couple of green squares that should be brown and a couple of brown that should be green.  Overall, I still really like the block but have been thinking that I shouldn’t allow mistakes to creep into a project so it might be a do-over.

With that thought lurking in the back of my mind, I just recently started reading  A Single Thread by Marie Bostwick and I came across this passage:

“One of the first bits of wisdom imparted to a novice quilter is that the Amish, who make some of the most simple but exquisite quilts in the world, purposely plan a mistake into each of their projects because they believe attempts at human perfection mock God.  Of course, any quilter knows that you don’t have to plan for imperfections in your work; they come quite naturally on their own, so I don’t know if this bit of Amish folklore rings true or not, but the idea does.”

I’ve heard of this before – have you?  I’ve also heard it called the Humility Block.  So I did a little Google research.  There are several websites that present what appears to be unbiased factual information about the Amish, including the quilt imperfection theory.  One example from The Amish People and Their Lifestyle:

“I have heard the Amish will place a small mistake or imperfection in a quilt or other handmade item. Why is this done?”

“We’ve heard that many years ago sometimes a scrap of fabric that didn’t quite match was used inconspicuously in a patchwork quilt to give it “identity.” We question whether this is true. We don’t know of any quilters who would do that today. Amish quilts are all band quilted; stitches are very small and uniform. But, no matter how hard one tries, the stitches are not all identical and perfect. A quilt may have an imperfection, but it wasn’t on purpose.”

Several other websites answer in the same manner.

There is an excellent Quilt History on Hart Cottage Quilts website which includes extensive information on the Humility Blocks:

“But the research of quilt historians reveals that the “humility block” appears to be a figment of mid-20th century imagination.”

In a nutshell, the Amish practice of purposeful imperfection in a quilt or humility block seems to be a myth. I still don’t know if I will fix the Country Path block; I really do like it as it is.  But unfortunately, I don’t have the Amish tradition as an excuse to allow mistakes to creep into my quilts!


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13 thoughts on “Mistakes in Quilts – Amish Tradition or Myth?

  1. True mistakes and imperfection leave a human touch which has three wonderful benefits:
    1. Convinces us you aren’t a robot.
    2. Draws amateurs into a field where mistakes are seen as tolerable, thereby spreading the acceptance of the trade and producing more beautiful work.
    3. Makes it noticeably and undeniably yours.

    Picasso: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

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  5. I believe there has to be some ancient connection. When I was a little girl my great grandmother of German heritage was a quilter and she told me that no quilt should be perfect because it couldn’t be better than God. I think that it was more of a German thought than just an Amish thought.

  6. I just wanted to mention that it doesn’t look at all to me like those blocks are incorrectly place. Rather than reflecting the color on the adjacent edge, they appear to be a consistently alternating clockwise pattern of green and brown.

  7. A friend took a quilting class at UCR and was told an imperfection was a quilting tradition. True to her OCD, her quilts are always perfect, but she deliberately adds an infinitesimal mistake.

  8. The comment is meant to be taken philosophically not literally. In other words, if your corners don’t match or a square is off-square or a little shorter, your quilt stitchers aren’t exactly the same size, the quilt is ruined nor does it have to be completely undone, or thrown in the rag box. The aesthetics of a quilt is in the pattern, just like art. To purposely make a humility block is actually pointing out the fact you believe yourself so perfect you must purposely make a mistake; false pride. As for the quilt featured, it’s difficult to tell the ramifications of the block on the whole since the error is isolated; however, if you are happy with it leave it, if it bothers you fix it. I just did that on one of mine yesterday, I switched a block that I had flipped incorrectly.

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