As many of you know by now, my latest book, Vintage Notions, was inspired by Mary Brooks Picken and the organization she founded and ran, The Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences in Scranton, PA. Founded in 1916, The Institute’s mail order curriculum and classroom instruction attracted students from all over the world, eventually counting over 300,000 women in their ranks.
Guided by Mary’s calm hand and unyielding belief in her students, The Institute sought to not simply educate young women in the domestic arts for their own benefit, but for them to discover their creative potential as a means of revenue and contribution to their families. Remember, this was a time when women could not vote, few went to college, and even fewer entered the workforce.
Note the “Kute Kiddie Klothes” and “Handmade Gifts.” These could easily be categories on Etsy!
The fact that the Institute recognized a woman’s potential and purposely – and publicly – integrated it into their curriculum was remarkable. Alongside instruction for “Ribbon Trimmings and Flowers” and “Placket Seams,” there were courses on Creating Business Cards and Marketing your Dressmaking Business. They even produced a full-featured Sewing for Profit book for their students.
Were they successful? You bet. Here is a testimonial from Miss Ruth V. Carothers, a Connecticut student:
“When I first heard of the Woman’s Institute,” she writes, “I was working in a factory, making anywhere from $8 to $18 a week. After reading your stories for some time, I spoke to my mother about taking up the Dressmaking Course . . . I started the course in July and by March was far enough along to give up my work in the factory and start dressmaking. The first week I made $10. That was nearly four years ago and I have never been without work from that time to this . . . My earnings have increased until I now make anywhere from $25 to $38 a week in town. . . . When I started, I worked in a small bedroom, but I outgrew this and last fall had a nice new room built on the house . . . and I had a hemstitching machine installed . . . and am thinking of adding a button-covering machine . . . Every one praises my work very highly . . . The Woman’s Institute has a very warm place in my heart.”
Having discovered my own creativity and passions at an early age, I launched Indygo Junction, because I felt I could best contribute to this wonderful community by providing fashionable patterns that could easily be produced for profit. The fact that my goals and Mary’s overlap in so many ways has only cemented my “relationship” with her. She’s become my muse, my “Julia,” if you will.
As many of you know, I have been on the road since September promoting the release of Vintage Notions. My book tour afforded me a unique opportunity to reach out even further to the sewing community and, hopefully like Mary, inspire them to turn their creativity into a vocation. In the age of Etsy, the DIY Network, the advent of sewing “lounges” and a focus on recycling (or “up-cycling”), now is the absolute best time to take a chance on yourself. There may not be a diploma awaiting you, as there was for the Institute’s graduates, but there is, instead, an opportunity to find, as Mary called it, “faith in your own two hands.”
Have any of you discovered a hidden talent for sewing? How many of you have taken that leap to try and make some money from it? Let us know in the comments…share your success stories…be inspiring!
Oh, and thank all of you for making this community so special.
P.S. I recently gave a presentation on “Craft a Business, Sew for Profit” If you are interested, I’ve made the summary handout from that presentation available for download here .
Amy Barickman is the founder and owner of Indygo Junction, The Vintage Workshop and AmyBarckman.com. She is a leader in the sewing, needle arts and retail crafting industry having sold more than two-million sewing patterns and published 80 books sold throughout the world. Her recent endeavor is the book “Amy Barickman’s Vintage Notions: An Inspirational Guide to Needlework, Cooking, Sewing, Fashion and Fun”, is already on its third printing since its release in September of 2010. Other best-selling titles include: “Indygo Junction’s Button Ware” and, most recently, “Hankie Style”.