Mennonite Quilte

The quilte is a mid-calf-length garment that has been worn as the traditional dress of men and male youths within Mennonite culture since the 16th century. The quilte originated as a garment that was both functional and modest: it permitted its wearer to assume the bow-legged position required for stooking (the harvesting of grain stalks by hand), while ensuring that the private parts of the wearer were not open to public view. Quiltes are similar in some respects to the Scottish kilt, but are usually constructed of leather that has been rendered supple through chewing. Some ceremonial quiltes, usually worn at weddings, funerals, or the annual fall celebration of "Sobsenheizen," are made from brightly coloured patches of fabric in the well-known tradition of Mennonite quilting, which is undoubtedly the source of the name "quilte." The Low-German name for the quilte is "schmootzenhosen."


Little is known about the origin of the quilte. References to the garment first appear in Anabaptist tracts and culinary sources from the early 1540s. The earliest extant depiction of a quilte is a woodcut, reproduced in a treatise on poultry in 1587. Through the nineteenth century, under the influence of Noah Webster's simplified spelling system, "quilte" was sometimes spelled "kwilt."
In the early 20th century, quiltes came under attack from both the more conservative and more liberal sides of the Mennonite community. For the conservatives, the tendency of some youths to decorate their quiltes with homemade trinkets -- such as dried slices of farmer sausage, carved depictions of Anabaptist Martyrs, or pieces of lint twisted into ribbons -- devalued the original utilitarian purpose of the quilte. For the liberals, the quilte -- which was designed in part to constrain the male genitals -- became a sign of a repressive attitude toward sexuality. For the most part, these conflicting perspectives were resolved at the 1978 Steinbach Congress. Today, the quilte persists as the standard garb of Mennonite men in Canadian communities such as Kitchener-Waterloo and American cities such as Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
(Cited from the ever-reliable Wikipedia. Reprinted here presuming it's prompt removal from Wikipedia for lack of historical sources. h/t to historian and friend J for passing this along)


Anonymous said...

Well now I have to go try to find a quilte to wear this Sunday. I am, after all, a Canadian Mennonite man and while I don't anticipate doing any "stooking" this weekend, apparently parading around in "schmootzenhosen" is what we Canadian Mennos do :).

David Warkentin said...

Thanks for that mind-picture - just what I needed!

As long as you don't devalue the heritage by adorning your garment with dried farmer sausage!

Anonymous said...

I have yet to meet a man in a quilte, but I'm certainly waiting... You'd think in Winnipeg! :) --
Re. stooking. I used the word "stooks" in a poem that The Mennonite (American mag) once published and the editor didn't know what it was. After discussion, we kept it, because nothing else worked. I guess it's a British (hence Canadian) word. The sound of it is perfect for how they look!

Kristin said...

Hahaha!!!! It was worth it for "schmootzenhosen" alone :p

Mark Morton said...

Just came across this, and I'm glad to see it survives here. I originally wrote it (a few years ago) and uploaded it to Wikipedia as a test to see how long a bogus article would remain online. It remained there for a couple of months until a Wikipedia editor noticed it and removed it for being -- as he or she put it -- "patently absurd." -- Mark Morton (Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church, Kitchener)

David Warkentin said...

Mark, glad it can live on!

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