How I Went from Amish to Finding My Fashion Joy, Part II

A family wearing slow fashion, handcrafted clothing.

We’re so excited to welcome our friend El back to our blog! Her first post about growing up Amish is one of Urban Southern’s most read and shared posts! We got quite a few requests to learn more about how she’s found her style and she has agreed to share more of her story. Enjoy!


When I was a young child, my mother told me a story of my grandmother. My grandmother was the busy wife of an Amish bishop, and mother to nine children. She was hardworking and hospitable. Being the wife of an Amish bishop meant she hosted a lot of overnight guests. As a respectable and hardworking woman, she always kept a supply of crisp, white, aprons hanging on the back of the door, clean and ready to grab if unexpected visitors showed up. One day in particular, she kept grabbing a clean apron and quickly tying it on over the dirty apron before she went to the door. At the end of the day, she was surprised to find she was wearing quite a number of aprons stacked on top of each other.

This story defined me in many ways. Hardworking, neat, and hospitable. Those words all leaped out of the story, and cemented themselves into my mind as someone I wanted to emulate. I didn’t realize at that time, that my apple had fallen off the tree and was still rolling. Indeed it rolled about four miles down a dusty lane before coming to a stop and putting down roots. I would end up, not a gentle, hardworking, Amish mother, but an edgy, practical, artist that spends her days creating, with my flock of children at my side.

STEPPING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE

I truly discovered my style the year that I stepped outside the comforting softness of motherhood, and took a few courses at the local community college. My husband took me to take my ACT. I was anxious and kept saying how “stupid” I felt I was. I didn’t realize how life-changing it would turn out to be. I walked into that office a small, frightened Amish girl, and I walked out, an excited woman who felt like I had something to offer the world, for the first time in my life.

You see guys, even though English was not my mother language, even though I had not been in school in 20 years, I still tested high in English/language skills. I realized I was a little bit smart!

That inner joy started spilling out into my clothes. Now I needed clothes to take tests in. I was a student; I was a wife and a mother. I was a person!

DISCOVERING MY STYLE

That joy that was set free inside me started spilling out onto my husband and children. Instead of plodding through life, I began to dance through it. I stopped holding back and began confidently walking forward. I was set free from expectations and that stifling depression of needing to please people. For a time, I was like a balloon that had burst, and my style was all over the map.

But slowly, as I was given freedom, I discovered the delicious feeling of perfectly fitting, heavy cotton jeans as they settled onto my hips, fitting just so. I discovered how much I love frayed hems, perfectly ripped holes, that I normally patch with artsy fabrics to create a one of a kind ripped piece that also stays true to the little, modest introvert inside of myself.

I discovered how wonderful the heft of leather boots feels tugged onto my feet, over wool Darn Tough socks my husband gave me for Christmas (yes, we are truly that nerdy) and the rich aroma of leather as my Urban Southern bag slips over my shoulder. Darn Tough is a Made in the USA company with a lifetime warranty on their socks. They have become our favorite socks.

I discovered how much I love the drape of well-worn cotton as it falls to my waist and the waterfall feel of a linen dress as it slips down to my ankles.

Textures comfort me. Colors make me catch my breath. My Pashmina shawl that was lovingly hand dyed and sent to me as a gift from a knitting friend, fills me with delight.

THE RESPONSIBLE ART OF TIMELESS ELEGANCE

My style rarely changes now. I dress mostly in season-less basics that last, year after year. I shop very carefully, and although I don’t buy a lot of new pieces, everything I buy is thoroughly thought out, and slotted into my wardrobe in such a way that it is practical and gives joy. As a mother of six children, I must be practical at all costs. You will often find me shopping for gently used clothing, where I heavily vet the content of each piece for my children’s comfort. I sew for my whole family, from T-shirts and jeans for my husband to dresses, skirts, tops, and leggings for my daughters, T-shirts for my sons, and rompers for my darling little four-month-old baby boy.

I knit wool hats for all my children, and my husband. They all have wool/cashmere sweaters that I buy thrifted and carefully shrink to their size. Our whole family has Saturday afternoons where we all wash and oil our leather boots. My daughters and I wash all the woolens in wool wash, by hand, and lay them out to air dry. I do this intentionally. I am turning away from quick, cheap, 52 seasons a year fashion, and teaching my children the responsible art of clothing.

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE OUTFITS

Simple outfit inspiration, styled with the Half Moon Crossbody bag.

My Kut from the Kloth boyfriend jeans, with a thrifted wool tunic by JJill, my Ugg boots, and the Half Moon Crossbody from Urban Southern in Griege Leather (now discontinued).

 

An outfit with a leather backpack and books.

I am in love with this Rayon from Hawthorne Threads, made into a Dottie Angel Frock, Tunic length, and paired with a pair of Black Express Jeans, my leather Frye moto boots, and the Backpack Messenger by Urban Southern.

 

Husband and wife outfit inspiration.

ID 23 Boyfriend jeans, a Good Hyouman sweatshirt that reads Hello Weekend, and a leather hair tie. My husband is wearing old Silver Tab jeans that he has had for 10 years, and a T-shirt that I created for him with the Jalie T-shirt for men, pattern, and knit from Hawthorne Threads.

 

Motherhood fashion, handmade clothing.

In these pictures I am wearing a Dottie Angel Tunic in Sunshine Linen, My Kut from the Kloth boyfriend jeans, Keen Sneakers with mismatched socks (I have 6 kids — who has time for matching socks?) and the Crossbody Wallet by Urban Southern.

 

Business Casual outfit for working mother.

A thrifted Silk/Angora pencil skirt, my favorite graphic tights, a self drafted T-shirt created with Girl Charlee knit in 95/5 Cotton/Spandex, a thrifted plaid jacket, and my Frye Moto boots. 

 

A family wearing slow fashion, handcrafted clothing.

I am wearing a self drafted dress pattern cut low to easily breastfeed my 4 month old, and paired with a Down East half-T to preserve modesty. I took the pattern for my three daughters dresses off of a RTW, and graded it down for each child. They are made in Girl Charlee Floral knits, rayon, cotton and spandex, making it a drapey, soft, easy to wear staple. The boys and my husband are wearing Jalie T-shirts that I made with Girl Charlee 95/5 Cotton Spandex. My baby is wearing a self drafted Onsie.

CONSUMERISM VERSUS SLOW FASHION

The mindset of consumerism and mindless consumption in our country is out of control. One need only step into a Goodwill, to see the horrifying progression from our Grandparents having only a few changes of clothes to their name, to closets spilling with cheap, inferior quality, poorly sewn clothing that was bought for a dime, and donated because it never fit well.

Today’s mainstream fashion industry relies on globalised, mass production where garments are transformed from the design stage to the retail floor in only a few weeks. With retailers selling the latest fashion trends at very low prices, consumers are easily swayed to purchase more than they need. But this overconsumption comes with a hidden price tag, and it is the environment and workers in the supply chain that pay. (The Slow Fashion Movement)

Clothes are mass produced in China, and India under impoverished circumstances, where desperate people are put to work, underpaid, and treated like slaves. In contrast, when you keep the business here at home, in America, you will have the ripple effect spreading far beyond the small business that you supported, as they push the money that you spent, for their quality products, back into the economy.

There is a massive trade deficit that is impacted by each small business we support, as well as it being far better for the environment to keep business at home. And let’s get real, our government cannot control foreign labor standards, which means you cannot be assured that the product you buy is quality. Although MADE IN AMERICA brands may be initially more expensive, in the long run it’s actually cheaper, because you are guaranteed to be getting a high-quality item, and those who made the item are being paid fair wages.

As we step away from disposable fashion, and embrace slow, thoughtful, pieces, made in America brands, and invest in quality clothing, we begin to care for those items, and we discover a far greater quality of life. Our forefathers worked to live; however, we are now to the place where we live to work. We must work, or we will sink financially. When you own less stuff, and you respect what you own, the tables will once again flip, and you rediscover the joy of living, free from “empty” debt.

As I invest hours sitting at my sewing machine, soft, comfortable clothing spinning out from beneath my fingers, my children are learning to cook, clean the house, and wash clothes. Math is creating rich lines of logical thinking, and Language Arts teaches them the gift of communicating well.

It goes without saying that as they also learn the importance of proper etiquette, it goes hand in hand with being dressed well, either handmade or in brands that respect the American people. Brands that create good jobs for Americans, are brands worth supporting. Small businesses are worth supporting. We are teaching them to know what they buy, to think logically through their purchases, to appreciate quality, invest in brands that give back to the American people, and hopefully, we will return to that simple, beautiful way of living that our grandparents lived so well, a wholeness of life that enriches everyone they come in contact with.

11 Comments

  1. Starla on November 20, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    What an amazing story you have. I so appreciate the freedom you’ve embraced while continuing to live in the truth you were lovingly nurtured in.
    I totally agree with your views on how clothing is made in and outside of the U.S.
    I do most of the clothing shopping for our family at Goodwill, and definitely note the difference in quality and fit when items are constructed here at home. I’m attempting to learn to see more than a straight line so that I can begin to make the things I imagine, not just shop/thrift for them.:)
    Your bags are stunning. Congratulations on your success. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your sweet family.
    Blessings,
    Starla

    • Ellen Stoltzfus on November 21, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Thank you Starla, Enjoy learning to sew, its such a wonderful centering art.

  2. TinaJewel on November 21, 2017 at 7:46 am

    This was an awesome read! Love reading about your journey and watching your clothes making abilities!

    • Ellen Stoltzfus on November 21, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Thank you Tina. I have learned a lot from you!

  3. Marie on December 3, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    I discovered your story this afternoon and greatly enjoyed reading it! It is very well written,but I expected that❤️❤️ I am glad you enjoy getting lots of fabric and sewing it into clothes for your family!

    • Ellen Stoltzfus on December 6, 2017 at 11:26 pm

      Thank you Mom, Thank you for equipping me with the tools and the knowledge to this lifestyle! Love you!

  4. Debbie Gaskins on December 6, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story ! Totally amazing and refreshing to see a young lady who is a designer , shrewd business Lady ., wife , and Mom and as it appears you juggle it very well !! Hats off to you !!

    • Ellen Stoltzfus on December 9, 2017 at 6:50 pm

      Thank you for reading, and the kind words Debbie!

  5. Janice on December 10, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    I’m impressed that you kept a skill from your heritage, that of sewing. I enjoy sewing dresses myself, and it’s always a thrill to see my girls enjoy a dress I made. And I’m all about buying quailty over quantity.

    • Ellen Stoltzfus on December 12, 2017 at 12:14 am

      Thank you Janice. My heritage is rich with knowledge and skills. I will always be grateful for that and pleased that I get to pass it on to my girls. Your girls are so blessed to have a mother who sews.

  6. lanesha on December 16, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Good news good luck to this family and well done docs!!. Thank you for equipping me with the tools and the knowledge to this lifestyle! Love you!

Leave a Comment