Amish Family Develops, Designs, Builds Child’s Teepee Tents

Fresh from the sewing machine, this Child's Teepee tent stands next to Sarah's sweet corn bed.

Fresh from the sewing machine, this Child’s Teepee tent stands next to Sarah’s sweet corn bed, all ready to be delivered to Lehman’s in Kidron, or Lehmans.com.

We find all sorts of wonderful craftspeople in the rolling hills of Amish country that surround our store in Kidron, Ohio. The following profile is of the Amish family who makes our Child’s Teepee Tent 1152925. To protect their privacy, we are only using first names. In respect to the traditions of their religion, there are no photos of the family.

Mt. Hope, Ohio, is a pretty typical Amish country small town. There, tourists and locals (Amish and otherwise); cars and buggies rub along. Beside the bigger county roads, you’ll see small and medium-sized shops devoted to wood furniture and other fabrication trades. In and around the town, there are discreet signs hung at the ends of lanes, noting the handcrafts done on the farmsteads. They’re so subtle, it’s not even advertising, really.

Follow one someday, and you’ll end up at a farmstead like the one Country Life visited recently. There, Sarah and her daughter Martha build our Child’s Teepee Tent.

These plowhorses graze in a pasture near Sarah's home. Click to see a new book about teamster horses available now at Lehmans.com.

These plowhorses graze in a pasture near Sarah’s home. Click to see a new book about teamster horses available now at Lehmans.com.

The first Teepee Tents were made as gifts for Sarah’s grandchildren.

“We wanted to make something different for them, you know. Something they could play with for a long while.”

Eventually, word trickled to Lehman’s, and now the women turn out as many as 200 every month or so. “Father helps us too,” says Martha, referring to her husband. Martha laughs. “Father,” she says emphatically, “is a jack of all trades. He makes the poplar poles for us, and if they are not exactly perfect, well, he says, ‘Don’t use that one. It’s not nice.”

Sarah takes up the tale. “He just cannot stand it when the poles are not straight. Sometimes, he will wet the wood, and flip it over, you know, against the bend, and weight it down, so it will be perfectly straight for us. He says the poles must be perfect because we put so much work into the tents.”

Although the women demur when asked if the tents are difficult to assemble, one look at their living-room-turned-production-studio makes it clear that it’s no easy task. There are enormous rolls of fabric ranged along the west wall—nearly 22 feet worth of heavyweight cotton fabrics. The rolls are over five feet tall! The north wall was a large fireplace that serves to heat the house in cold weather. Large windows in the south and east walls bring light in all day long.

An industrial serger, and industrial sewing machine, and a heavy-duty home sewing machine range around those walls, with tables custom-built, as Sarah says, “by Father.” The machines surround a really big table, which turns out to be a ping-pong table. “Oh, yes, when we want to play, we just put things away, and it’s all ready.” And, of course, Father built it.

IMG_2078They’re proud of what they call the logo, placed directly above the door of the tent, which reinforces the opening. “It is functional, you know, because it keeps the fabric from tearing. I put one on every tent, and it is important for it to be sewn well. And it is pretty, a minature teepee,” says Sarah. Each tent’s support sleeve seams are made as enclosed French seams, similar to those on blue jeans. “Even though it is very light, it is very durable,” notes Sarah. The support poles, sanded smooth, just slide right down the sleeves. The women hand-hammer heavy upholstery tacks to attach the tent’s fabric to the poles.

“Tell your people who will read this that it is very important store the tents completely upright or completely flat, and make sure that the tent is dry and brushed clean before it is put away. If they do that, it will last to be handed down to all their children,” instructs Sarah.

There’s a quiet confidence that they have about their Teepee Tents. It’s not pride. They clearly enjoy making the tents, and knowing that there are hundreds of children out there playing and loving their Teepee Tents as much as the children in their extended family do.

By the end of Country Life’s visit, Martha has her nieces and nephews, Sarah’s grandchildren, gathered around her. The children share that they like to play Three Little Pigs with their Teepee Tent. Martha hugs them and laughs. “It’s a favorite game to play outside. All four of them pack into the tent and then I am the wolf. I rattle the poles, and say to them, ‘Little Pigs, little pigs, let me in!’ As long as they stay quiet, I pretend I don’t know they’re in the tent. But then, you know, one of them will laugh, and they all run out, and we play tag in the yard.”

She speaks to the children in a German dialect, explaining what she’s just said. The children crack up, and march around the kitchen pretending to be the wolf and pigs. Martha laughs, and Sarah smiles behind her hand, and shakes her head.

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