Learn How SIMPLE
Digital Patterns Really Are!

Sign Up to Receive
The Ultimate Guide to Digital Sewing Patterns eBook + a FREE Skirt Pattern!


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.

~ Amy

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”.


  • Meprofilebarn_large

    Apr 9, 2011, 04.29 AMby Justine of Sew Country Chick

    I just made my first wedding gown and have worked as a costume maker in the theatre and sell baby things sometimes to friends and on etsy. I’d like to start doing more dressmaking. I have 4 kids at home so maybe when the little one is in school I can get bigger. I still need to I prove my sewing so I take online classes .

  • 20151101_163459_large

    Mar 11, 2011, 09.09 PMby Tawanna McFarlin

    I am 35 and just learning to sew. It was offered in my school however I chose Shop and other activities. I am not domesticated in anyway. I am a career woman that is all about my career and family. However I have found that sewing was a hidden talent for me and it allows me to expose creativity that I didn’t know I had as well as relax me. I love it! I love putting together my ideas to create something I can wear. My entire family sew(at least the generatio n before minds), so now it is mind time.

    I love to sew.

  • Im002470_large

    Mar 1, 2011, 01.10 AMby Tameka Matae

    Sadly sewing is no longer part of the Home Ec curriculum at my alma mater. As of late I have been seriously considering starting a teen sewing class in my community, but so far it’s a dream in paper form only. I wish I could quit my day job, teach part-time and sew for my web baby part-time. That would be SWEET! Ah well, someday….

  • Bee_on_the_pollen_2_large

    Feb 28, 2011, 10.33 PMby pinkflorentina

    My introduction to sewing was terrible lessons at school. This waslargely based on a dreadful shift dress in gingham that was to be worn durung summer term. Determined not to be put off I took up a saturday job when 15 and made a deal with my parents. If I saved up half the money for a sewing machine (second hand) then they would pay the other half. It didnt take loong and a lifetime of sewing has ensued

    I have been fortunate enough to make money out of my hobby, but along the way this did include taking evening classes in pattern cutting, alterations and textiles. Wedding Dresses were my forte as I used my creatvity to produce gowns that made a bride look stunning. I also altered second hand dresses, sometimes being asked lamostthe impossible but I am proud to say I never let anyone down

    As to using books, these can be an excellent resource. I have two particular favourites 1) Couture Sewing Techniques and 2) Fabric manipulation. I spent a lot of time practising tghese techniques and they have rewarded me well, not just in monetary terms but in boosting my abilities and creativity

    The MOST importantthing is to pass on your skills!

  • Missing

    Feb 25, 2011, 04.15 AMby clmalay

    I too learned to sew when I was 8 on my mother’s 1961 Singer Styl-O-Matic. I also have started sewing for an interior designer doing drapes and other home decor. I have learned (taught myself) so much! After the initial “OMG, this is for someone else and it has to be perfect!” and all night sewing sessions to get it just right, I have learned to relax and sew with quality and speed. Nice job if you can get it when you have four school age children at home. I have a good serger which is a must have, but I sew everything else on the above mentioned Singer! That baby sews through several layers of heavy fabric without hesitation. Making and selling bags is also a pretty good gig. Handbags are something that can actually become a profitable item. We (ladies) never seem to be able to have or make enough of them!

  • Cdtwitterfotoflexer_photo_large

    Feb 25, 2011, 01.05 AMby SimplyTuTuSweet

    I have a dream of selling the things I sew someday. I’m still in the stages of perfecting my skills. I’m a perfectionist and sometimes that can be a good thing, sometimes it can hold you back. I have so many ideas and plans in my head! I can’t wait to get to that point. Great article. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • 247574_2110862651713_1250031560_2734234_6511500_n_large

    Feb 24, 2011, 11.05 PMby Laura Baker

    I took a saturday class when I was 7 at the local university and now,a senior in high school, I sell dresses and bags to my friends at school. :D

  • 169_large

    Feb 24, 2011, 09.19 PMby eamcnair

    I enjoyed this article very much! After reading about your book here on burdastyle, I was interested in Mary Brooks Pickens. Thanks for giving us some information about her and the institue. Also, I love the idea of turning “creativity into a vocation.”

  • Hat_large

    Feb 24, 2011, 04.46 PMby margaretchandler

    Sewing was an amazing fallback for me. I worked as an architect for a little over a year when the economy tanked and the firm closed. Left with no job and a lot of time, I sewed on anything I could find for free to occupy myself. I’d been sewing since I was 8, but never with any seriousness until I got a job at an alterations shop. I have learned an incredible array of new skills, and now work full-time in the textile arts. Plus I now have an awesome, well-fitting wardrobe :) Success!

  • Mzl_ljixuoxi_320x480-75_large

    Feb 24, 2011, 02.13 PMby FabricUiPhoneApp

    My grandmother mended friends’ and neighbors’ clothing while I was growing. She always had a pile of clothes stacked up on her sewing machine. Me, I’ve taught sewing and it’s work! Now I mostly write about it…and I think I earn more $ doing that than sewing!

  • Vintage_lady_resize_large

    Feb 23, 2011, 08.04 PMby vintagegal

    I agree! I also have many of the Institutes books, and they are a wealth of information. I have consulted them many times, when the modern sewing books couldn’t help me. I definitely turned my passion for sewing into more than a hobby, about 6 years ago. It was the most amazing thing in the world, to quit my job in the “real world”, so I could focus on my talents with fabric, needle and thread. I love working at home, in my studio (an extra bedroom bursting at the seams with all manner of fabrics and trims). Etsy has become a great outlet for me, mostly to meet other creative people, but I have sold a few things through my shop. I was just invited to participate in a Bridal Show with my gowns, by a fellow Etsian- a most unexpected bonus of that community. It may take a while to get established, but it is worth the work involved, to be your own boss, and create your own version of “real world job”.

  • Fallsw2_large

    Feb 23, 2011, 06.33 PMby sewsweetviolets

    I have been collecting the books, pamphlets, instructionals and theory books for years. When I have extra money I look on eBay and other places for their publications. They have never disappointed me, old techniques that are almost extinct, to embellishments and making clothing from draping directly to the figure. If anyone is interested in finding out real and amazing help they should look for these publications. I am glad that you are inspired by them as well.

    • This is a question
  1. Sign in to add a post


  • Editors' Pick
  • Pattern Collections
  • BurdaStyle Academy
  • Burda Challenge
  • Backstage Report
  • Fashion & Trends
  • DIY to Try
  • Tips & Techniques
  • Member Highlights
  • Sewing Projects
  • Outta Town
  • Contests & Competitions
  • Archive
  • Guest Columns
  • Videos
  • Meg's Magazine Mash Up
  • As Seen In
  • Podcast
  • Holiday