Amish Women Sew A Mask In 5 Minutes – With Foot-Powered Antique Machines (New Wilmington, PA)

One more Amish mask post (last one?). This one was a little under-the-radar, but caught my attention for several reasons (via the Beaver County Times).

One, this is probably the plainest Amish group I’ve seen involved in mask making. This is New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. Amish here are not as strict as say Swartzentruber Amish, but this is one of the most traditional Amish communities. These women are using old-style foot-powered treadle sewing machines. “Higher” Amish that we’ve seen in similar stories are likely using more modern machines powered by electricity from various sources.

Two – they describe the process in more detail than any of the other reports. I found this interesting, including how they set up their machines:

Four foot-powered antique sewing machines were brought into one local Amish home, and three families immediately got to work. Children began measuring and cutting fabric and elastic, and the women began sewing.

Amish women have been quilting and sewing their entire lives, and can get a mask made in under five minutes without electricity, Hougleman said.

The seamstresses placed their sewing machines facing one another.

“Talking and laughing together makes our work go faster,” one Amish seamstress reportedly said.

More sewing machines and sewers were added and they’ve been sewing for 12 hours a day. After two days, the ladies began running out of elastic, until a local seamstress shared more than 1,000 yards with them.

Orders are coming in through the mail from all over the nation, and locals are flocking to the quilt shop for masks.

At 12 hours a day and 5 minutes per mask, that would be over 140 masks per sewer per day, breaks not included. Even with breaks it’s safe to say they are doing 100+ apiece on that schedule. That’s hustling.

This is a business venture, and I say good for them. Earlier efforts, for instance in Lancaster County, were described as charitable with masks being donated. But that was nearly six weeks ago when there was more uncertainty and questions over shortages. Now that things are clearer and more stable, it looks like there is simply going to be a steady general public need for basic masks, for at least the short term. These entrepreneurial people are helping to fill that gap.

The third point that stood out is that I have been in the quilt shop at the center of this effort before, and maybe some of you recognize it as well. Byler’s Quilt Shop (aka Byler’s Quilts and Crafts) used to be called Teena’s Quilt Shop. It looks like the name changed at least a couple years back. Teena is still in the business. I wonder if that name change was inspired by the spirit of community. Here are a couple photos from inside the shop; you’ll find more here:

amish quilt shop

Teena is a niece of Emma Byler (“Jonas Em”), who wrote the book Plain & Happy Living: Amish Recipes & Remedies (cited recently in the 5 natural remedies post). This shop is where I got my copy years ago, and where I visited briefly with Teena, who seemed like a nice lady.

quilt shop amish pa

The mask-making effort was sparked by Susan Hougelman, who runs a local tour business:

“They asked me, ‘what should we do’ and some asked if it was a plague from God,” Hougelman said. “So I printed up some flyers on how to protect themselves, and went to them and talked to them.”

On one flyer, she gave instructions on how to sew a face mask, and she delivered it two weeks ago to the Amish-run Byler’s Quilts and Crafts store in Volant.

“I asked them if they wanted to make masks and said I would put it on my Facebook page,” Hougelman said. “I told them to make about 50. Elizabeth (an Amish quilter) said OK. But the post went viral and was seen by about 100,000 people in [western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio] and got shared thousands of times.”

If you’d like to get a mask, here’s the info:

Masks may be purchased by visiting Byler’s Quilts and Crafts, 435 Quilt Shop Lane, Volant, PA, or by sending a check or cash for $5 per mask with $2 shipping costs for each mask to that same address. Masks will be mailed out the next day.

For more information contact Hougelman at susanhougelman@gmail.com or 724-923-9730.

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    11 Comments

    1. Geo

      Classic machines

      You have to love these old machines. Simple straightforward timeless classics built to last forever. With basic care they just work and work. Rusty old discarded machines are being brought back to their original beauty. They will be around and useful long after the new sophisticated whizbang disposable plastic machines have become un-repairable.

      1. I’ve seen these old Singer machines being made into tables in cafes. It’s nice to see some of them getting use for what they were intended.

    2. Alex Knisely

      Thirty years later --

      — still enjoying the quilt made for me (a Log Cabin) made by one of the ladies who quilted for Teena. — I met someone who went to school alongside her, and thirty years later he was still shaking his head : “The teacher would scold us, and all us children would feel sorry for what we’d done, but Teena would just laugh. She didn’t care !” — High-spirited woman, used to stand at the back of the New Wilmington quilt auction and bid up the prices of quilts made by her ladies. Didn’t buy ’em, just bid up the prices. — Long ago !

      1. Great story. I didn’t speak with her very long, but she seemed like a friendly person. I was trying to pinpoint when I was at the shop – I was in New Wilmington in 2007, then again several years later (2011?). It was still known as Teena’s then. I would guess she was 40ish at the time? Sounds like a good one to know.

        1. Alex Knisely

          She aged well, then --

          — when I met her, she was in her mid-thirties or late thirties, to gauge by the ages of the children who helped her tend the shop. And that was fifteen years before you came along.

          1. I’d go with your judgment then. My interaction was too short and long ago. A safer description by me would be “middle-aged”:) It did make me wonder if the name change indicated another family member maybe taking over primary operation of the businesss, if, doing the math, Teena is in her 60s now. Anyway I am due for another visit to New Wilmington.

            1. Alex Knisely

              Any way you sized her up, a roaring girl

              I hope that she and hers have prospered.

    3. Jennie Margison

      Bad memories

      Over 55 years ago I was back playing in my mom’s sewing room (where I should NOT have been at that time since mom wasn’t in there) and I “sewed” my finger with her old treadle machine. Ouch. My scream brought Mom and Gramma running. It felt like it took them forever to get that needle to go back up and out of my finger. (Although it probably didn’t really take that long.) Not an experience I’ll ever forget. Lol. I don’t recall going in there unsupervised ever again. Lol

      1. Yeeowch. That will “learn ya” as a kid. I have only managed to step on needles, not run them through my fingers. Had we a machine at home when I was young, there’s a decent chance I would have sewed a finger or two.

    4. Lurie Baty

      Sharing article

      Is there any way I can share this article to a friend of mine? She is making masks every day and I think she would find this very interesting.

    5. Catherine

      No sewer

      I can’t bring myself to use “Sewer”; I use “seamster” for seamstress or men.
      (Sewer makes me think of the other.)
      We love your blog.