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Finding the Heart in Amish Country

By Joan Luckett, Midwest Living editor

Midwest Living editor Joan Luckett explored the back roads of LaGrange and Elkhart counties in search of “shingle shops,” where the Amish sell homemade quilts, crafts and more. She discovered beautiful handiwork, along with Amish Country’s simple pleasures—friendly people and a horse-and-buggy pace.

I find Little Helpers Quilt shop in the countryside just outside of Shipshewana. The white-frame building rests behind the owners’ home. I hear a voice call “hello” as I walk into the shop. Soon afterward, owner Carol Wingard joins me. An array of beautiful locally-made quilts hangs from the ceiling. Fabric, crafts and clocks are also for sale. A good selection of Carol’s homemade jams and jellies are available—the strawberry-rhubarb is a new combination. A small selection of attractive leather purses catches my eye. Made by Carol’s sister, they have a distinctive look I love (one almost comes home with me).

I discover another favorite stop near Topeka. Anyone can be a kid in Owl Toycraft. Amish craftsman Owen Wingard creates tiny barns, farms animals and other child-size treasures in this off-the-beaten path shop. If the smell of pine sawdust doesn’t take you back to an earlier time, the quality of the wooden toys will.

Each detail is lovingly crafted with an unpainted simplicity that encourages imagination. Small wooden tractors roll off the one-man assembly line with axles and wheels and attach to pint-size implements that promise to “farm” longer than plastic imposters. The selection goes beyond the barnyard to include baby beds, dollhouses and games guaranteed to last for generations of play.

You have to drive out a bit on the county roads to find these “shingle shops,” but they’re worth the effort. Horse-drawn buggies of all shapes and sizes clip-clopping along the county roads set the pace—perfect for soaking in what I think of as the real Amish experience. I see a young Amish boy, dressed in traditional clothing, behind a huge push lawnmower cutting a sizable yard. An Amish couple plows a field behind a team of horses. Surrounded by lush green countryside, I find myself on an empty road following behind an Amish girl driving a mini-version of an open-bench type buggy, her two young sisters on either side. The littlest one steals several glances at my car. The scene is sweet. And idyllic, and I realize I’m not in the least bit of a hurry. And now I understand the pull of Amish Country.