Weaving a Presence
Sonshine Baskets Offers Handwoven Creations
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
Basket weaving is one of the oldest practices known to mankind. Until the industrial revolution, it was a necessary trade for cultures around the world. Since then, it has become an increasingly rare art form, although still admired for its uniqueness.
Sonshine Baskets, owned by Vernon and Elma Lehman of Millersburg, keeps basket weaving alive. Although the Lehmans have only owned the business for about a year and a half, they have already gained popularity among their clients.
“It’s intriguing to the people to see you actually making a basket,” Vernon says. “I would have been the same way a few years ago because I never would have dreamed that I’d be a basket maker. But it’s been interesting and we enjoy it.”
Sonshine Baskets originated with some family friends who taught the Lehmans’ daughter, Nadine, how to weave.
“They wanted to sell because their daughters were getting married and they didn’t have the help they needed,” Elma explains.
The Lehmans already had a small duck meat business, but it wasn’t enough for Vernon to work from home on a full-time basis. When Sonshine Baskets was available for purchase, it was a perfect opportunity for the Lehmans.
At that point, the business specialized in seventy designs for home accessory baskets. The Lehmans decided to retain most of the designs, but every year they add to their catalog. Some of the newer designs are prompted by custom orders.
“We get different ideas from customers,” Vernon says.
This year alone, the Lehmans added five new baskets to their product line, three of which were inspired by custom orders.
The Lehmans’ eight children play essential roles for this Amish-owned family business.
“The boys are doing the weaving and Nadine does the lashing – after we get to the top with the reed, the lashing is the last thing they do as far as the weaving goes,” Vernon says of his children’s roles in the process. “It keeps everything together.”
After each basket is stained, the Sonshine Baskets logo and the year are written on the bottom of the basket. An optional cloth liner is also available in six different colors.
Most of the baskets are sold wholesale to stores across the nation. However, the Lehmans also have a small store in their workshop.
“The weaving shop and the store are all one area, so the people who come to the store can watch the weaving process,” Vernon says.
The Lehmans also sell raw, unpasteurized honey produced on their property.
Although the baskets are handmade, the reeds that are woven together come from Indonesia.
“We have five different widths,” Vernon says of the reeds. “We finish it off on the top with a seagrass.”
The leather used to make the basket handles comes from a leather worker who lives one mile from Sonshine Baskets.
The Lehmans can weave baskets of all shapes and sizes, for a variety of uses. Their brochure features nearly eighty woven containers, from a pencil basket that is four inches in diameter to a 30-gallon trash basket. Some of the most popular designs are kitchenware items, including a cake pan basket, silverware holder and napkin basket.
The Lehmans also fill custom orders. Many of these come from people looking for a sturdy yet creative solution for a drawer, as part of a room makeover.
“We can make any sized basket custom built,” Vernon says. “People ask for something and you try to make it, and their face lights up when they see it. That’s a reward for all this.”
But that’s not the only reward. The Lehmans enjoy meeting new people, whether it’s visitors stopping by due to the Sonshine Baskets location on the Heritage Trail (a popular path in Elkhart County that highlights fun attractions in the area) or during a craft fair.
“We do have a lot of repeat customers,” Vernon says. “That’s a rewarding experience.”
Sonshine Baskets is located at 11020 West 400 South in Millersburg. Hours of operation are Mon. through Fri. 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sat. 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. To receive a product brochure or to place an order for a custom basket, call them at 574-642-0599.