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As we continue the Vintage-Inspired, Modern Style Design Challenge, author & designer Amy Barickman talks about how she and her designs at Indygo Junction are inspired by her treasure trove of collected vintage content:

Sometimes the littlest ones in our lives provide the biggest inspiration. Several mothers I know never touched a needle and thread before their wee ones came along. While these women nurtured their newborns, they discovered an eager creative spirit within. Many new moms take up sewing – not just as an outlet or pastime while the baby sleeps – but as a way to spoil their sweeties with handmade toys and clothes.

As Vera Tuman, an instructor at the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences, wrote in 1924, “So many women want to learn how to sew—not for themselves, but for the sake of certain little babes whose smiles—whether real or in fancy—bring hope and happiness throughout some otherwise long, dreary days.” The Woman’s Institute (1916-1934) educated women all across the country, through correspondence courses, in the “Home Arts”— in a time when secondary education for women was rare.

Years ago, many mothers turned to sewing to cut costs. A student at the Woman’s Institute in 1926 wrote of the money she saved by making her child’s coat: “The only expense was $1.50 for lining and buttons and I couldn’t get another under $12.00.” Nowadays, sewing our children’s clothes isn’t always the more affordable option, but it certainly is the more rewarding and quality option. In this age of Baby Gap and children’s boutiques, wee wardrobes can be a wee bit expensive – not to mention these garments are quickly outgrown!

There are many contemporary blogs and books devoted to the work of DIY mommies, but handmade children’s fashions are still relatively few and far between. Some of my favorite companies include Oliver + S and Mod Kid Boutique — both started by talented women who weren’t satisfied with what they found on the market and decided to do something about it!

Another friend, and Indygo Junction designer, Violet Craft (yes, that is her real name!) has created some wonderful designs for children’s clothes with vintage-inspired elements, like the cloche hat. Though Violet has been crafting for years, she admits that it was the birth of her babies that truly inspired her to design for kids. You can find patterns for her Urban Prairie Dress as well as Bubble Shorts, Cloche Hat, and Shoesies on the Indygo Junction website.

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 Vintage Notions, is already on its fourth printing since its release in September of 2010. Other best-selling titles include Indygo Junction’s Button Ware and most recently, Hankie Style.


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    Feb 1, 2012, 08.08 PMby mollyapple

    This article was an interesting and timely read for me. I had no interest in children’s clothes at all until I had my daughter, I’d been sewing for near twenty years before that. Suddenly this whole new avenue of sewing fun opened up to me and I discovered I love making children’s clothes so much, I have designed and am launching my own range this year – also vintage inspired. Thank you for the article.

    1 Reply
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      Feb 10, 2012, 07.32 PMby amybarickman

      How cool, mollyapple! Stay in touch and let me know when you launch! Are you entering the VintageModern Design Challenge? Children’s clothes are definitely an option!

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    Jan 27, 2012, 01.49 PMby alexus1325

    LOL, that is a fascinating observation, heidilea! Perhaps it’s the result of seamstress-mothers experimenting with fashions on their unsuspecting children? Or those children growing up and wanting to wear similar styles as they had in their youth? Both, or neither? shrug

    I personally love the shorts from the Puppet Show and Picnic sets by O&S, and oddly enough, I prefer the cut of the kid’s version of Kyoko from ModKid. I’m really inspired by how groovymama’s little girl, Wilma, dresses :D She’s like 5 or 6, and is on the way to becoming one of my fashion heroes :P

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    Jan 25, 2012, 07.38 PMby heidilea

    I’ve also noticed historically that sometimes the cut of children’s clothes become the adult fashion 10-20 years later. For example—children in the late 18th century were dressed in “muslin gowns” and “skeletons suits” that look a great deal like what was fashionable in the early 1800s. Empire waist gowns for little girls was brought back in the late 19th century, and in the 1910s, we have the Empire waist. And then again: in the 1910s, little girls dresses look suspiciously like the dropped-waist dresses of the 1920s.

    Speaking of which, I gotta go make my tea gown for this weekend with Mrs. Picken’s One Hour Dress book.

    1 Reply
    • 254794_10150729194660431_637530430_19708947_5857664_n_large

      Feb 1, 2012, 08.04 PMby mollyapple

      I’m currently doing a research project on the history of children’s fashion and you’ve made a particularly interesting point here. For so many centuries children wore replicas of adult clothing until the C18th shift to children’s own fashion. Afterwards adult fashion frequently pinched from children’s design (modern parallels being shorts, mini-dresses, smock—tops).

      When I was researching the Regency era I commonly read the empire dress fashion was taken directly from girls clothing of recent years. It’s easy to see why the “youthful” look was popular (it was a buzzword on 1940s – 50s pattern envelopes and clothing catalogues when again women and girls fashion shared common elements – ruffled shoulder wings being the oddest for me).

      The empire gown originated from France during a period when it was very dangerous to be among the wealthy elite and so fashion demanded a style that was simple, elegant and belied your wealthy status, children’s design was the perfect source of inspiration. Cotton was plentiful, local silk supplies dwindling so the reduction in fabric gave it another advantage (another example of skirts slimming down during war years). But Marie Antoinette had already planted the idea of such gowns 20 years before when she was painted “en gaulle”.

      With its childish origin in mind, its interesting to note that its popularity in England was mostly with younger ladies, older women preferring to stay with the fashion of their own youth which briefly started to re-emerge again after the empire gown craze died down before fashion started cycling the strange extremes for which the 19th century is famous. It was as though someone said “you’ve had your fancy-dress fun now, let’s get back to serious dressing”. For something that only really lasted ca 20 years, I was amazed it reached America and it seems to be firmly cemented as one of the most popular fashion eras – perhaps because it one we can still get away with wearing today albeit in shorter lengths. I do love the 1970s for its earnest attempts at bring back maxi empire line dresses in modern prints and Edwardian lace and high-neck creations in ditzy pastel florals!

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