Thursday, January 20, 2011


Two other knit-group peeps and I visited Amana last weekend, a cold but delightful trip. This is #2 on my long list of former utopian colonies to visit. (#1 was Oneida.) It is actually a collection of 7 villages in Iowa, each a couple miles apart, all settled by a group of pious Germans by way of upstate New York. Like Oneida, the Amana folk were economically successful, and disbanded their communal ways only recently (1930's). Many of the old buildings are standing, the religion/sect lives on, and some born during communal times still live in modern-day Amana. They didn't have to do anything too nutters (like lots of sex like the Oneidans, be celibate like the Shakers, be teetotalers, etc) and so except for having to attend church 11 times per week, it seems like a pretty simple and good life!

We stayed with some wonderful people who live in a converted portion of one of the old churches. All the churches have these spare hand-made benches only, no other decoration.

The blue on the walls is Amana Blue, whitewash mixed with indigo from the mill. Whaaaat? Did you say woolen mill?

Yes, indeedy! Currently they don't make the yarn, but do have giant weaving looms that hook up to dozens of cones of yarns at a time.

Lovely woven blankets, available in both cotton and wool. I couldn't pick one and ended up blanket-less.

The only yarn for sale is non-local stuff that one could get anywhere, unfortunately.

However they do sell these little sheep models, which are adorable!

Another industry was wine and beer-making, and most of the old buildings are covered with these vertical trellises, for grapevines. We tasted local wines and beers, and I forgot to take pictures. I like the trellises so much, I'm going to put some on my next house.

One of our hostesses obtained keys to the museums, so although they are closed for the winter, we got a private tour. One of the displays was about the children--they were educated up to 8th grade, including instruction in knitting.

Notice the label to the lower right of the teeny-gauge gloves knitted in moss stitch. This pattern was used to teach children how to knit items for sale! Yikes, they were good!

These lacy gloves were knit in such a fine gauge that you have to squint to see the stitches (similar to the gauge of modern-day T-shirt fabric). It's still not clear to me where they would get needles thin enough to knit at this gauge. Wood needles that thin would be too bendy, and while they had their own tinsmiths, tin seems like it would be too floppy as well. Oh the mysteries of old utopias!

Filet crochet seemed popular as well.

Here's a little domestic scene, with knitting on a bed. (Procreation was tolerated but discouraged, hence the single beds.)

This is one of the bonnets that the Amana women wore (and still wear) to church, all black with a big crocheted bow over the forehead. Very chic, in a minnie-mousey-nun sort of way.

Cute booties with leather soles!

And proto-amigurumi!

Our hostess is the boss lady of one of the general stores, set up as it would have been in old times. Again, we got to have a personal rampage since it was otherwise closed for the season. We admired all of the wonderful old and new goodies lines up on the shelves,

oohed and aahed over the tin ceiling,

and came away with Amana brand canned veggies, jams, and mustards. All of mine have been very tasty so far! I also made another purchase which is so special it will have to wait for its own post!

The other big industry the Amanas had was woodworking, and this continues today. You can get hand-made furniture and clocks--they aren't cheap, but worth it for something local, handmade, and will last for generations. The hand-rubbed finish on all of the wood furniture is unbelievably smooth, especially unbelievable if you have ever finished wood yourself and ended up with a hot gritty mess.



There were some smaller wooden items as well, like little clocks and rolling pins. I especially love the ridged rolling pin, presumably used to cut sheets of dough into long noodles.


While it was freezing(!), the snow highlighted the simple and orderly Amana aesthetic. All of the old buildings are plain and built with the same somewhat unusual proportions. This example is built from the local sandstone that they quarried.

Even the graveyard is spare and beautiful. Everyone got the same type of headstone, and was placed the same distance apart, in order of death (ie not next to immediate kin).

This wee building is one of the few old Amana buildings not built to the same slightly squat proportions--I guess whoever built it decided it was ok to get all fancy since it was a chicken coop!

The farmland is now farmed by hired hands, producing cows (for meat) and corn. With the snow blanketing the fields, it wasn't hard to imagine how things would have looked 100 years ago.

We had a marvelous time, and I think I wasn't the only one who didn't wistfully yearn to join the old communal Amana.

Thanks to the 10 hours as a passenger during this trip (thanks Colleen for driving), and some cozy knitting time with our hosts (thanks Anna and Brandi! (click through, they make amazing things)) there's another FO! Here is Damsel, pre-block. Next time, she'll be all blocked and purdy!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting all those wonderful pictures! Brings back lovely memories. I think the children's knitting was my favorite, though I loved the cemetery, too. I'll be very curious to see what you do with your Secret Purchase. I got one too, but I won't give any hints.


tina said...

Great post, lovely photos. I am still laughing about the single beds that is really so open to lots of comments. Shawl---- gorgeous!!!!!!!! But then I do expect that!

Secret Purchase???? I confess to being at the edge of my seat!

Julie said...

Wow, so amazing!! I'm always really fascinated by knitting and crafting of long ago- I bet they had a lot more time for that sort of thing. How cute is the proto-amigurumi?! I'm really intrigued by the rolling pin with the ridges in it.

catnap said...

Every once in while I click on "Next Blog" to see what comes up. This time it was your blog, new to me. I was intrigued by your visit to Amana because I lived in Iowa for three years as a kid. I remember the colonies, vaguely. We used to eat dinner in a restaurant there. That's mostly all I remember, sadly, so I'm happy to have visited there through your blog photos. Thanks so much. I, too, await the secret...

soknitpicky said...

I love those sheep models! Did you get one? And the barnyard scene in crochet is pretty awesome too. Looking forward to seeing the secret!

Rachel said...

How interesting; I loved reading your post and seeing the pictures. I've never heard of the Amana before. Thanks for sharing!