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Stores sell Amish clothing for those who don't sew

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Oct. 2, 2006 

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MIDDLEFIELD, Ohio -- It was recently Fashion Week in New York City, with plenty of lights, cameras and action on the runways.

In contrast -- make that a deep, deep contrast -- talk of women's clothes in Geauga County's Amish community reaches a peak only when a lot of weddings are planned.

And there just happen to be a lot of weddings planned, says Emma Miller, owner of the gas-lighted Amish Home Craft Shop in Middlefield Township.

"It slowed down for a while this summer when the weather was really hot, but it's picked back up again," Miller says, the thin white straps of her prayer cap dangling as she moves.

That, in the world of Amish clothing, might be as close to a trend as it gets.

Or is it?

Several years ago, when she reopened her parents' quilt and woodcraft shop in a white barn building on Kinsman Road -- one of the main routes through the world's fourth-largest Amish community -- Miller added a side room for clothing. She hung new Amish pants, shirts and jackets for men and boys along one wall, and jackets, bonnets and capes for women and girls along the other.

Local Amish women made the clothing at home and Miller sold the goods on consignment. A store or two like hers can be found in most large Amish communities.

More recently, Miller did what few, if any, of those other stores did: She added a small supply of Amish dresses.

What makes this interesting is that Amish women ordinarily do not buy their dresses off the rack. They can't be mass-produced because every detail of a dress -- from sleeve length to the use of elastic on a waistband -- is sanctioned by the church officials in each community.

Also, dresses are one of the easiest clothing items to make at home and by doing so, a woman can have more control of the color, fabric and fit.

Someone like Miller doesn't need to make dozens of outfits for herself.

Her personal wardrobe might include a half-dozen dresses for Sunday services and weddings, plus another half-dozen for everyday wear. What starts out in the first category eventually makes its way into the second. Brides making their own wedding dresses (or who have mothers who will sew for them), know it is just a newer version of the others. She will wear it again. And again.

Miller added her dress inventory in part because she knows women are busier than ever with kids and canning, and that an increasing number of Amish women have gone to work in their family businesses. That means they have less time to sew.

Susan Spector offers the complementary view that some Amish women have taken the opportunity to turn sewing into an enterprise. Spector, the owner of Spector's department store in Middlefield -- with other Ohio locations in Berlin, Mount Eaton, Sugarcreek and in Shipshewana, Ind. -- runs a family business that has sold fabric to the Amish since 1937.

She says sewing has become an option as the Amish face a scarcity of land and turn to non-farming work.

"It's great for someone who has the ability and enjoys it," she says.

Spector is already thinking about adding Amish clothing to her stores.

"The trend is coming," she says, although she isn't sure how big a trend it will be. In the Amish community, she adds, "there are people ahead of the curve, people with the curve, and people who never were on the curve."

Back at Miller's store, 39-year-old Cindy Shrock sweeps in for some buying while her hired van driver idles his engine outside. She needs a new quilt-lined black winter cape and black bonnet for her growing teenage daughter. Shrock wears a solid-brown rayon dress with the slightest hint of texture. The fabric catches the light in a liquid-like way. The dress fits her impeccably.

Does she make her own clothing?

"I try to be self-sufficient," she says, nodding.

 

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