I had the privilege of chatting with Amy Barickman to learn a little more about her newest book Vintage Notions: An Inspirational Guide to Needlework, Cooking, Sewing, Fashion, and Fun. (Read our review of the book on page 12 of the December 2010 issue of American Patchwork & Quilting.) You may know Amy from her pattern business, Indygo Junction, or her vintage art business, The Vintage Workshop. In her new book, Amy taps into her love for all things vintage and combines excerpts from a series of vintage newsletters about the home arts and her thoughts on how they’re relevant for women today. Here’s what she had to say about the book.
American Patchwork & Quilting: In Vintage Notions, you write: “Combing through the aged pages of these wonderfully illustrated and beautifully written publications, I realized that much of the information and wisdom in the pages was still relevant for women today and provided a blueprint for living a simple, fulfilling life.” Why do you think this information has stood the test of time and is still relevant for women almost a century later?
Amy Barickman: I think it comes down to the quality of the material. The Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, from all of my research, was the premiere institute of its era. I think for that reason the quality was superior. When I’ve gone to conferences, I’ve learned that academia, museum curators, and researchers are very aware of The Woman’s Institute. In that world of study, this Institute is definitely valued. But, the information hasn’t yet been mainstreamed in a broader exposure. I’m thrilled to be the one doing it. The material spoke to my heart. I felt it would speak to others, particularly the women I knew through my business.
APQ: What do you find so inspiring about Mary Brooks Picken?
AB: I started with just a few of the “Inspiration” newsletters, which were for the women who were being educated through the correspondence course. I just fell in love with Mary Brooks Picken’s writing style. As I did more research, I learned she had written the Singer Sewing Book, and she was the first female trustee at the The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Even into her 80s, she was a columnist on sewing and the domestic arts. The more I learned about her life, the more she became my Julia [Childs, in reference to the book-turned-movie Julie & Julia]. I do patterns and she did patterns at the Institute. I also think it’s interesting how her correspondence course connected women to other women in different parts of the country. That also really spoke to me in what is happening today with blogs and the Internet giving women the ability to connect with like-minded, kindred spirits. It’s truly amazing how many women today were touched [by the Institute] via their heritage—it may have played a part in the lives of their grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
APQ: You mention in the book that you stumbled upon Mary’s newsletters while scouring flea markets and antiques stores. How else did you find material?
AB: There are different dealers who focus on textiles and notions and a lot of times they carry [related] newsletters and pamphlets, so I connected with those people. EBay was also a good opportunity. It was amazing that I was able to find as many pieces as I did, because they haven’t been as readily available recently. When I met with a graphic designer who helped me with the layouts of the book, she told me she had six of these issues in her antique mall booth. We used content from one of her issues in the May chapter. There have been so many people who have been instrumental in pulling this together.
APQ: What do you think Mary Brooks Picken would think about this book?
AB: Fortunately, I have met some of her family. I’ve visited her great-nephew. He was gracious enough to take me on a tour of the area where she resided in her middle to later years. After we met, he showed me her original country estate in New Pawling, New York, and the private lake where she spent a lot of time on with her family and friends. He told me, “I know Mary would be thrilled that you’re reintroducing this material.” That felt really good that there was that appreciation. I know Mary was a lifelong learner. That too made me think she would appreciate this material being introduced to another generation.
APQ: You have divided the book up into monthly chapters. How do you hope readers will peruse this book?
AB: As I read the material, I loved reading it in the [relevant] season because it’s ever more applicable to everyday life. I would think it would be a book readers could pick up when they need a little inspiration or quiet time in their lives. [I envisioned they’d] pick it up on a monthly basis when they need to be re-enriched. But, I’ve also talked to a few people at a show who started reading it [from the beginning] and couldn’t put it down.
This book, particularly the testimonials, really makes you feel a renewed bond to women in past generations. You really see the struggles women lived through. Not only did they persevere, but they were also high-achieving. We have challenges today that are a little different but [these women] can be our inspiration. Today we take so much for granted. I hope this book helps our generation appreciate the situation we do have. The challenges never go away, but we can appreciate the world we’re in.
APQ: From the various vintage sources to the book’s organization to the thoughts relating the essays to modern-day readers, it’s clear a lot of thought, time, and effort went into making this book a reality. What was the biggest challenge for you?
AB: I had a wonderful editor that helped me. The challenge was the quantity of material we had to work with and narrowing down that material. There was so much that we weren’t able to include in this book, but I hope to include it in future books. I’ve been collecting these vintage textiles and embroidery samples for years. I knew in my heart there was some reason for doing this. This book was the culmination of my collecting—both written material and fabric. If we needed something, it was interesting how we could literally walk into my archives and pull pieces from my collection. Really, most of the challenge was narrowing down of the content and keeping to the page count. What’s exciting is there are so many ways to deliver content with technology. I’m excited to pursue different ways to deliver the material.
APQ: In addition to sewing patterns and instructions in the book, you often included modern sewing advice. How have sewing techniques changed since the original patterns in this book were designed?
AB: One interesting thing we learned is that fabrics were 36” wide rather than 45”. That came up over and over. What was fun was discovering their techniques were actually still applicable and could be reintroduced. We wanted to keep the authentic voice in the book but knowing what I do from my pattern business, I knew we didn’t want people to get frustrated. So we made samples and experimented with every pattern in the book.
APQ: In recent years, there seems to be a renewed interest in our country’s roots and living how our grandmothers lived: canning produce from our gardens, making clothes and items for the home, etc. Why do you think that is?
AB: I think it’s kind of the state of our country. We’ve been all about accumulating vs. being content and enjoying the world around us to the fullest. I think that starts in your home. I think we’re going to see more of that trend. It’s exciting to think of the opportunities. People are a little more reflective of their lives and their situations and are appreciating the little things.
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