Amish-Made Face Masks Find Customers Far and Wide

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa – Seeking the spotlight is not the Amish way, but the order’s community in Lawrence County has found itself at the center of a story that is going worldwide.

A small group of Amish women and children have teamed up to sew coronavirus face masks – and the news has gone viral.

Orders are pouring in from across the country and abroad and although the ladies are cranking out thousands of masks using foot-powered machines, they’re finding it hard to keep up with demand.

It all started when Susan Hougelman of New Wilmington contacted her friends in the Amish community to give them coronavirus advice.

Hougelman owns Simple Life Amish Tours, and formerly owned Tavern on the Square Restaurant until she sold it two years ago.

She fielded phone calls from media nationwide for most of the day Friday, and can scarely believe how the story has exploded.

The Amish mask-making effort started a couple weeks ago in routine fashion, she said.

“When I owned Tavern on the Green, every day people would come in, and would ask ‘where can I find the Amish?’,” Hougelman said.

When she sold her restaurant, she started her Amish tour business to help those tourists, and in the process became good friends with members of the Amish community.

“I saw on social media about a few weeks ago that some people were angry because the Amish had a wedding [in violation of social distancing regulations],” Hougelman said.

“But they don’t get the news like we do. They have no electricity, so no TV or radio, and they usually don’t get the newspapers.”

That’s when Hougelman intervened to tell the Amish community about the pandemic and the prohibition on gatherings.

The Amish do not have telephones in their homes or cell phones, but they do have a central phone booth. Some started calling Hougelman for advice.

“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.”

That’s when the orders started pouring in.

“I called their phone booth and told them, ‘I think you are going to get very busy,’” Hougelman said. “They called me the next morning and said ‘there is a line of cars here and we can’t keep up.’”

With Hougelman’s help, the Amish ladies gathered up three more sewing machines on April 28 and increased their output.

“They now have five sewing machines, and they’ve enlisted their sisters, aunts and children,” she said. “They start every day at 7 a.m. and finish when it’s too dark to see.”

Because the Amish do not use electricity, the sewing machines are vintage foot-powered models.

Three families are working together out of one of their homes.

“It’s something to see,” said Hougelman. “The little girls are cutting the fabric and elastic and carrying it.”

The Amish women, who are taught sewing and quilting at a young age and are experts at it, can make one mask every five minutes. So far, they have made thousands, Hougelman said.

On April 30, Hougelman was a guest on a radio talk show in Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an article on the New Wilmington Amish face masks.

Hougelman appeared on the KDKA television show “Pittsburgh Today” on May 1.

As a result, the flow of orders has picked up even more.

“One person ordered a thousand masks,” Hougelman said.

Masks can be purchased in person at Byler’s Quilts and Crafts in Volant, or by mail; send a check or cash for $5 per mask, plus a $2 shipping fee per mask, to Byler’s Quilts and Crafts, 435 Quilt Shop Lane, Volant, Pa. 16156.

Orders will be mailed out the day after they are received.

Pictured at top: An Amish woman in the New Wilmington, Pa., area sews a face mask on a foot-powered machine. (Photo by Susan Hougelman)

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.