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Putting a Cap on it -- Local Amish woman manufactures necessary head coverings for Holmes, Wayne cou

Jennifer Ditlevson Published: August 1, 2010 3:57 PM
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At first glance, the store is filled with shelves of white, nearly identical Amish head coverings. -- The key word is "nearly."

Either an Amish woman or a person with a very discerning eye for pleats and creases will note the differences between the types of coverings found at The Cap Shack just outside Mount Eaton. Esther Beachy, who runs the small cap manufacturing and retail business, said her shop supplies women of the Dan church, New Order and Old Order Amish with head coverings.

New Order caps have fewer creases than Old Order and caps for the Dan church have an accordion-style creasing in the back.

The slightest crease in the back of a cap signifies an Amish woman belongs to a certain church or settlement. Caps Beachy ships to Amish settlements in Indiana look different than the ones in Wayne and Holmes counties, set apart by their church's specifications.

Although Amish women still wear caps on a daily basis, Beachy said more women have been opting for veils during garden and housework in the past several years. On average, Amish women will own two or three head coverings -- one for everyday and one for church services and weddings.

Little black caps near the checkout register are used for little girls and according to Beachy, the color has no other meaning than practicality.

"It stays nicer longer," she said.

Because children are prone to playing in the mud, dressing them in white would be asking for trouble. Children's caps are made just like their mothers' and older sisters', but in Beachy's shop, they're spray painted black and dried in a ventilated room. Black satin caps are reserved for little girls and unmarried women, which Beachy said is a tradition unique to the area.

Beachy has been making caps since her mother taught her when she was 12 or 13. She can't remember exactly how old she was when she began, but she was still in school. When Beachy learned the craft, most girls were making their own caps, but now the practice is less common.

"Now it's very few that do it because they can buy them too easily, I guess," Beachy said.

Beachy's operation has grown since she was a girl making caps for herself. For 20 years, she made about 20 a week and sold them from her home, but in 2000, she opened a workshop and store attached to her home. She employs five women who work in an assembly line Monday, Tuesday and Friday, producing about 150 caps a week.

As simple as the process may look, Beachy said it's tough enough that many women give up after purchasing supplies from her store.

"It doesn't go as easy as it looks," she said.

After fusing organdy and interfacing together, the fabric must be measured and cut to a sizing chart Beachy created. Then, when it is ready, pleats must be pressed into the back. Beachy's husband, who is interested in engineering and used to work at a machine shop, has helped her with this portion of manufacturing by creating a machine for her.

Before Vernon Beachy invented the machine, Esther Beachy had to fold each one-eighth inch line individually with a paring knife and iron each one perfectly. Now, she can heat the machine that rests on an electric burner at a station in the workshop, insert the cap material and press the creases into it as she pulls it through the two grooved metal rollers.

"It took him a while, but it works really well," Esther Beachy said.

From that point, the pleats are sewn into the rest of the cap, the front band is affixed to the cap and the final spots of glue are added to secure the pleats.

"It takes me 10 minutes if I keep at it," Beachy said.

Along the way, Beachy's husband has found ways to use his interest in machinery to help Esther.

In addition to the creasing machine, he's created a "finishing touch" machine that irons the bands and added extensions to some of the bases of sewing machines in the shop.

Esther Beachy has found a few helpful shortcuts as well. When she saw her husband and his friends using small sealing irons used for remote control airplanes, she thought they would work well for the constant ironing and starching that takes place in making the caps. They work so well, in fact, she's begun to sell them in her store.

"You can see what you're doing while you're ironing inside the covering,"

she said.

The miniature iron was a miraculous find for Beachy because it's much easier to iron the caps without making unattractive wrinkles that would ruin them.

Once a tiny bow -- just a strip of ribbon gathered in the center by a thread -- is affixed to the cap, all it needs is an owner to sew her own strings on.

Customers in Beachy's shop usually find their size, but some customers with especially thick hair or a visitor from a church with a different cap style will require custom work.

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