Quilting Trips and Excursions

The Huron Perth Quilting Group's Shipshewana Quilt Tour

Day One, May 16, 2006

If you are fortunate enough to belong to a Quilting Guild, consider arranging a bustrip to Shipshewana, Indiana . Our Guild did, and we had a blast. It is already a few years ago now, but it is such a timeless place, I am sure that your experience would be similar today.

Thirty-six eager ladies set out for Shipshewana, Indiana on a passenger coach from Exeter, Ontario at 7:45 am, Tuesday May 15th. Diane Carson and Carrie Anne McAlpine of the Huron Perth Quilters Guild and Ellison Travel of Exeter, Ontario, organized the trip. We arrived on schedule at our hotel the Farmstead Inn promptly at 3 pm.

The Amish Have Lady Drivers Too!

After checking into our rooms we were driven down the street to Yoder's Department Store, a simple old fashioned general store started in the 1940's this store today maintains its atmosphere despite it's 50,000 square foot size. It is a department hardware and grocery store all under one roof. This shop is the centre of trade for the local community as well as a resource for visitors. Of special interest to the visitor are the many unusual goods used in the everyday life of Amish and Mennonite families including sad irons, propane irons, many decorative mantel lamps, oil lamps and the best selection of lamp wicks I've ever seen. There are hundreds of bolts of fabric both plain and print. The quilters in our group naturally gravitated towards these. Prices were found to be very reasonable. Yoder's also offers for sale traditional Amish hickory rockers made locally.

My mother-in-law Estella and I were lucky enough to each bring one home with us on the bus. These chairs are like owning a piece of Amish art: they are beautifully made and comfortable.

Amish Hickory Rocker

After freshening up we again boarded our bus and were transported through the countryside to the hospitable Amish home of Steven and Elaine Jones and their two sons. The 40 acre farm was called The Jones Blackgate Farm.

Land in LaGrange County around Shipshewana has a density of farms about four times what we would see in typical Southwestern Ontario. The homes are of frame construction and sided in white or light grey. There is no ornamentation on the homes such as colourful shutters at the windows, which we would expect at home. (In the past the Amish, in certain districts, were so concerned with prideful ornamentation of the home that putting lightning rods on the roof had to be debated.)

Petunias and other traditional annuals were being planted as we visited. Each home had a kitchen garden with rhubarb up and strawberries in bloom. Some homes had orchards as well. Typically there is a small Dawdi house behind the main house or as an apartment to the main home. The Dawdi house is for the grandparents use as an older child takes over the overseeing of the farm. Barns in the area were most often red in colour. Being spring we were treated to the sight of newborn calves, lambs and horses frolicking in the fields. We noted that there were a great many miniature horses in the fields as well, perhaps ponies for the children. At night all is in darkness except for the odd lantern spilling a little light into the blackness.

There are a great many buggies travelling around and about down the highways and country roads. Young men love to race sulkies down the back roads in the evening for fun. Drivers of automobiles must be extra careful when visiting this area especially on a foggy day. One of the reasons the Amish resist driving is their fear of taking the life of others through automobile accidents. They are ready to accept being hurt or killed themselves. Unfortunately death to buggy occupants and horses is often the result of buggies being struck by automobiles. Automobiles are not viewed as inherently evil but are seen as a threat to close family ties. The immediate congregation, friends and neighbours are the focal point of their world and easy mobility would threaten those ties. Above all the Amish resist worldliness and have a need to control the pace at which they accept change.

The Horses are Curious and Marvellously Aware

The Jones family hosted us for dinner in their new carriage house, which consisted of two dining rooms rustically yet comfortably finished. The room we were hosted in had a simple kitchen at one end and long tables at the other for dining. Lanterns were lit and hung from the ceiling after dark. The carriage house was beside pastureland and several curious horses kept close watch on the group as we ate our meal. The meal was entirely prepared from scratch by Elaine and Seth the youngest boy. Children in Amish families attend their own schools up to grade 8. They do not go further in their education. Their training is a “home BA” in animal husbandry, crop growing or whatever puts food on the table. Many young people were seen planting flowers in town, working in the hotels, shops and restaurants and many are also employed in the local RV and trailer factories. Seth, Elaine and Stevens youngest son age 16 was his mother's helper in the enterprise of hosting “Englishers” at their home. Steven led us in a traditional prayer followed by the Unser Vater (Lords Prayer) in German.

Being from a German speaking family myself I noted some differences in diction to what I am accustomed to hearing. Some of the language reminds me of the Low German my own Vati (Dad) loves.

Dinner at the home of Amish host Steven and Elaine Jones and Sons

Our meal was served family style with a tasty Broccoli Cauliflower Salad (recipe below), fresh bread with a peanut butter/honey spread as well as apple butter. The main course consisted of large helpings of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, beans and homemade noodles. Dessert included Amish Caviar, a fun term for large tapioca mixed with orange Jell-O. There were a total of 4 different pies served, custard, strawberry with whipped cream, raspberry cream and peanut butter custard pie. We were encouraged to try every last thing twice and I for one had 3 pieces of Elaine's excellent pie to add ballast to my hips that night.

After the meal Rebecca Haarer of Rebecca Haarer Arts & Antiques (165 Morton St., P.O. Box 52 Shipshewana, IN 46565 (260) 768-4787) spoke to us about Amish quilts in Indiana. Rebecca has a B.A in Art Education from Goshen University and runs a store specializing in vintage and contemporary American quilts, traditional Amish items and hand made glass ornaments. Rebecca took over the existing antique shop of her father and now keeps shop with her mother.

Rebecca Haarer Speaks to the Group

Rebecca spoke eloquently on the topic of the Amish and Mennonite culture, quilting past and present and the many changes that have come since the 1970's when the area came to the attention of eastern museums and private art collectors. Persuasive antique pickers and collectors profited greatly from their purchases talked many families into parting with quilts against their better judgement.

This popularity in the Amish decorative arts came at the cultural expense of the local Amish and Mennonite communities who found themselves stripped of their art heritage.

The popularity of the Amish culture, so different to our own, has been a double-edged sword to the community bringing a thriving tourist economy to the sleepy village.

Amazing Amish Quilt!

Land once used for farming is now unattainable to farm families due to increased property values. Young people find less and less room available to them to carry on their agrarian lifestyle.

Products such as quilts are now produced to suit the taste of the outside world. Quilts featuring printed fabric in lighter colour schemes sell better to outsiders than dark plain quilts. Of all the change occurring, this pleasing of the general public seems the most unfortunate. Of course, just being there ourselves was part of the process of change.

Rebecca had brought with her nine priceless Amish quilts and gave us what history she had gathered on each one. Included were a 1911 Robbing Peter to Pay Paul quilt with pink chambray back, a Swiss Amish Quilt circa 1942 which was one of 7 quilts made in the same pattern for an Amish mothers children as they left home. An Indiana quilt dated Oct. 1927 brought in by a young man who felt he couldn't properly look after Grandmothers quilt (he also needed to buy a couple of acres of land), a Baby Basket quilt, a bright log cabin quilt, a Mennonite quilt made in 1910 with the fiddlehead fern quilting pattern, a quilt made for a loved and appreciated baby sitter, a low contrast tulip quilt called Pie Annie's Quilt (Annie used to sell pies on a cart at the side of the road) and a lovely embroidered Friendship Quilt. To give you an idea of value some of these quilts were appraised up to $7,000 US in value.

I would highly recommend Rebecca Haarer's lecture and trunk show to anyone visiting the area or to any guild who might be able to persuade her to visit Canada.

Day Two, May 17, 2006

This was a free day to explore Shipshewana by foot. A continental breakfast was available as early as 6 am for those who wished to make an early visit to the huge flea market directly across the road from the Farmstead Inn.

The Rogue Block is Easy to Spot

We awoke to a foggy, cool day. Breakfast was still welcome even after all that pie the night before and my mother-in-law Estella and I made our way over to the flea market. There were numerous buggies and farmers selling fruits and vegetable, popcorn, bedding plants both flower and vegetable, honey, jams, apple butter and peanut butter spread, hanging baskets, bird houses and the like. These more traditional items were located at the front of the flea market. As you worked your way into the depth of the market you found the usual flea market items as well as a lot of “gee gaw” type merchandise. We spent about 40 minutes looking things over. From there we walked to Yoder's to pick up a quilt top kit I had ordered cut the night before. We arranged for our rocking chairs to be delivered to the hotel and then debated on the best way to get into town.

Right outside Yoder's was a stall offering Amish buggy rides. The cost of a 15-minute tour into town was a modest $5.00 per person. Bishop Hostetler, our driver and his horse George took us on a terrific guided tour of the village. Bishop Hofstetter is the spiritual head of his church district.

Outside Rebecca Haarers Store we Rest our Tired Feet

A church district consists of the congregation (of about 35 families), one deacon, 2 ministers and a bishop. Service is held every other Sunday in the home of a congregation member. A church buggy carries benches which are set up in the home or carriage house. Two sermons are given, hymns are sung accapella. Lunch follows. On alternate Sundays families visit one and other. When the congregation gets too large to meet in a single home the district splits to form 2 districts.

Bishop Hofstetter told us how a few years back he been taken ill with cardiac problems and had to be rushed to hospital where he spent 7 days after surgery recovering. I wondered how he had managed the bill and asked how individuals cope financially during such times. He explained how the families of the church district pull together to pay the bill when such things happen. Again and again during our few hours in this area my eyes were opened loving friendship these people share and how strong the tie that binds them is. I had numerous questions answered by the amiable Bishop and truly enjoyed the time we spent together behind George the horse.

Estella Miller Looks Over the Shop

The village of Shipshewana is somewhat similar to St. Jacobs Ontario with many stores offering similar items to what we might expect to find anywhere in tourist areas in Canada. Notable exceptions were Rebecca Haarer's store on Morton St. This store was chock a block full of antique quilts, unfinished quilt tops and blocks as well as Amish basket wares, the traditional bentwood rocking chairs (see picture), glass ornaments, used and new books, and other fascinating merchandise. We spent a lot of time here.

Linda Robertson and Daughter Lisa Purchase this Vintage Quilt Top

If you visit and are a quilter keep in mind Lolly's Fabric Store at Davis Mercantile (huge selection), Galarina Folk Arts in the old train station (featuring Will Moses' quaint primitive village scenes), Lambrights Woodworking, and Fisher's Antiques. I understand Spector's Store and E & S Sales were also popular spots with our shoppers.

Later that afternoon Estella and I visited Meno Hof, a Mennonite-Amish interpretive center located right next door to our hotel. This center is run by the Beachy Amish, Conservative Mennonite and Mennonite Church USA. The visit was a great opportunity to learn about the faith and life of the Amish and Mennonites over a 500-year period. These peace loving people suffered greatly from religious persecution in Europe and were forced to flee to American and Canada to find freedom of worship. The Anabaptist faith in its simplest form was described as a desire to follow Christ in all aspects of daily life. They believe the Bible to be the literal Word of God. From its inception the Anabaptist religion has professed that pride and self-willfulness causes disharmony, not only among people, but also between humankind and God. They place a high value on humility and try to foster it in every aspect of life. The Anabaptists belief in the idea of voluntary adult baptism put them in direct conflict with the then accepted European religious thought. Living their faith at Meno Hof were two members of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren, Betty and Henry Klassen from Simcoe, Ontario. Since their retirement they have been serving God in various forms of voluntary service, one being a stint as tour directors of Meno Hof. Henry, who was our tour guide had the job of tactfully presenting the Amish faith to a group which included a diverse sampling of religious views. A tricky job indeed! If you visit Meno Hof be sure to schedule an hour to view all the multi-image presentations and colourful displays. There is also a gift shop with an extensive selection of books, tapes and CD's as well as a Ten Thousand Villages gift shop area.

Brenda Recommends Rebecca Haarer Arts and Antiques

That evening we travelled to Middlebury to the Essen Haus Restaurant. This huge eatery and shopping complex is the perfect magnet for a tourist who doesn't really want to expose him or herself to the real Shipshewana. Essen Haus caters to large groups and to the numbers involved in bus tours. Our meal was fine and quickly served but overall this kind of place is still not my cup of tea.

Day Three, May 18, 2006

8:45 am and time to hit the trail again. We boarded our Badder Bus Lines passenger coach. Jim our driver from West Lorne, Ontario had managed to pack the luggage compartments full of our acquired treasures.

Well-Organized Fat Quarters on Display

On the busride home, we began to wonder: Indiana is known as the "Hoosier State". But what the heck is a 'hoosier'? No one seemed to know. We wracked our brains for what it might mean. Some of the stranger ideas were, it is someone who works in hosiery, or even something like Canada's 'hoser!' The wild suggestions were a fun way to pass the travel time. At a lunchtime diner stop, our waitress seemed to think 'hoosier' had something to do with the University basketball team. We figured she had no idea what she was talking about either.

When I got home, I looked it up in a couple of dictionaries. The American one suggested it meant 'lots of variety'; but the Oxford English Dictionary didn't even list the word. Google turned up this interesting page, and confirms that no one knows what a 'hoosier' is!

Tour Organizer Carrie Anne McAlpine at Country Stitches

A stop at East Lansing's Country Stitches Quilt Shop added more to our baggage.

After spending time with the plain Amish-style quilting, it was also wonderful to step back into the modern age with its more varied colour possibilities!

After an uneventful crossing at the border we arrived in Exeter at about 6 pm.

Tour Organizer Diane Carson at Shop Stop in East Lansing Michigan

After such a great trip the Guild decided on taking a five-day bus trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania the following year.

Elaine Jones' Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 head broccoli
  • onion if desired (Elain likes to use onion powder instead, see dressing recipe below)
  • 2 cups Kraft Miracle Whip (no substitutes)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • bacon chopped in small bits if desired

Elaine showed us a nifty chopper with 3 blades called a salsa maker, which she uses to chop her broccoli and cauliflower in place of an electric food processor. Remember there is no electricity in an Amish kitchen. The texture of the chopped vegetables done in the salsa maker was superior(in my opinion) to the food processor which tends to pulverize everything. Elaine used the stalks of the broccoli as well, peeling them first before chopping. Mix the dressing ingredients together add the chopped vegetables and grated cheese and serve.