Sunday, February 23, 2014


The blacksmith was another great craftsman of the communal Amana era. He brought his crafted with him from Germany where he learned it starting at the age of 14-17. He would apprentice with a master blacksmith for 4 years.  He would learn and use these basic ironwork processes: annealing, brazing, case hardening, tempering, laying and welding. The blacksmith made many of his own tools, usually located on the forge near the fire pit. They included files, swages, taps, dies, drills, calipers, grindstones, and a polish machine. Most of his work consisted of shoeing the horses and oxen used on the Amana farms. He also did ironwork on wagons made straps, hooks, and bolts for wagons, repaired items, and sharpened iron items.  Our shop today is on the site of the late George Schuhmacher, master blacksmith of Amana, home. His shop was across the street. The railings of the shop were made by him and bare his initials HS. The sidewalk below has his horseshoes embedded for all to see his trade and talent.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Many early living rooms in Amana had a braided or crocheted rug on top of a hand woven wall-to-wall rug. These were created mainly with wool (braided) and cotton (crocheted). The wool ends were from the woolen mill or yardage purchased at the general store, sometimes recycled clothing was used. Nothing was wasted, only reused. These rugs had longevity, softness, and could be dyed if needed. The braided rugs were made of three strands and sewn together to form a circle or oval, then laid flat. The crocheted  rugs were made with a hooked needle and designed into circles, ovals and stars. These were made in the height of the Arts and Crafts movement in America but in Amana they were made simply for practical purposes still made today.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Indigo Blue Calico

Indigo blue calico, my favorite fabric, was printed in Amana from 1861-1917, 4500 yards a day in its prime.  The mill or "print works" was located on the site of the present Amana Furniture Shop, the smallest brick building to the west being part of the original factory that employed 30 workers.  Designs were random geometric, floral,borders, and repeated stripes with about 500 patterns documented. The fabrics were used for summer work clothes, upholstery, curtains, quilts, etc. Many families dressed alike in this fabric. Calico patterns were printed with hand carved blocks, paste and acid resist rollers, and discharge print blocks.  Dyes were special indigo plant dyes, when exposed to the air would oxidize and turn yellow-green to indigo.  These dyes were not fast int he early days so would often leave residue on the pine benches and hands, only to be bleached clean later. The Print Works mill closed in 1917 due to the lack of dyes and supplies so the German influenced, indigo calico dye art is very rare and much appreciated by collectors.  RS


Many House Blessings (Haussegen) were displayed in Amana homes above a table or dresser often quoting scripture or reinforcing religious ideas. Some house blessings, done on perforated papers, were original designs on linen, while others were patterns ordered from Germany and Chicago. They were embroidered or cross stitched with a fine needle and ornaments such as pressed flowers, hair, or celluloid angels were glued to the surface.  This was then mounted on foil covered boards to give it strength and an iridescent look.  One might read, "Ein Frohliche Herz, ein Friedlich Haus, das macht das Gluck ded lebens aus." What a wonderful way to praise God.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Winter has been long and cold here in the Midwest and in Amana. Here are some of my favorite winter scenes in the neighborhood as we are about to get another 3 inches of snow and ice. The architecture is so unique in this area of the state and looks better in winter!

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Plaiting or flat braiding is a form of fabric or rug construction made by diagonal or lengthwise interlocking of narrow strips of fabric. Color plays an important part in the design of the plait. As with any rug, the beauty of it depends on the creator. These plaited rugs were made in various sizes and used as throw rugs in early Amana. This is a rare find, technique, and talent. I have seen them in greens, blues, and browns.  These finely plaited rugs are truly an Amana treasure!


The preservation of communal skills, especially those of the basket making, have been very successful in the Amana Colonies.  There is a strong artistic appreciation here for past creations. The beautiful and functional baskets are still made today.  These very collectible baskets are made of wild or cultured willow that are gathered, soaked and woven in the natural or peeled willow bark form.  Using a 4-rod wale or French randing weave, and a unique, replaceable bottom rim, the weaver makes these baskets stand out. Popular baskets are the Apple Picker, Easter, potato, and communion designs.  All are very special and prized pieces!


Many great textiles arts in early Amana kept community members busy. The hooked rug, seat covers and cushions were some of them. Materials included finely cut and selected wool and cotton fabrics. Some were dyed and others used as is. Hooks and punches were made by local blacksmiths, cooper, and tinsmiths. The rugs were made by punching fine fabrics or yarns through burlap or linen backing stretched on a wooden frame, then finished with a linen or cotton back.  Designs were hand drawn or bought patterns, inspired by the many flowers and animals in the yards.  The rugs are still a beautiful and prized folk art in Amana.


Fillet crocheting was found in the Amana Colonies on pillows, in a tablecloth, or doilies. This was done as a series of open and closed squares with the closed square creating the design, often adapted from cross stitch patterns. Here a beautiful pillow cover is backed with dyed cotton fabric.


Knitting was taught after school to boys and girls in the Strickschule (knitting school). The boys made mittens, the girls made lace pieces, and the women made fine doilies, among other pieces and trim. Socks, slippers, and mittens were popular in the communal Amana era before 1932 and later. Many knitters had unique patterns inspired by German and Scandinavian designs. Deer, snowflakes, roses, and dogs were popular in the women's mitten designs. Patterns were adjusted for fit many hands for cold, winter wear.


Crocheting was done for many generations in the Amana Colonies in the form of toys and functional items. Wool and cotton yarns were used and make animals and figures. Some of the items had accessories such as rabbits with eggs, Santas with bags of toys, or hens with nests. Each was very unique and from one to six inches in size, fun pieces to collect ,decorate, or play with.


Calico prints printed in the Amana Colonies 1855-1917 were used for clothing and interiors in the communal era and beyond. Indigo dyes were applied to white, resist-stamped cotton fabrics to render over 500 different patterns. The cotton fabrics were purchased from the Southern states. The calicos are highly collectible and beautiful fabrics.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sternekuchen Mold

Amana Colonies tinsmithing shops in the communal era from 1855-1932, were fully equipped with machinery imported from Germany and Chicago. The tinsmiths provided most of the utensils used in the community kitchens, as well as for winemaking, butchering, and other industries. The star-shaped wedding cake mold was made for wedding cakes, usually a marble cake. These pans were large as baking for many was the rule. No two molds were exactly alike as they were handcrafted. The pan was an octagon with 4 points and 4 rounded corners which had either a square or round open center which would ensure that the cake would bake evenly. Some are still made today by a local tinner. These pans are rare and highly prized.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tin Wine Siphon

Tinsmiths were vital in the communal society of Amana, providing many essential tools and equipment for the community kitchens and winemakers. One such handmade item was the wine siphon. It was a long, slender tube used to siphon wine from barrels to bottles or to taste the wine. Some had handles, others were plain. Center parts varied in widths. Design was often catered to the winemaker's request. All were very well handcrafted and collectible as they are rare.