Chalk it up to the recession, the green movement, or just history repeating. Handmade is hot, and more folks are shunning mass production in favor of original and practical art.
Case in point: Since the 2005 launch of Etsy.com, the online handmade marketplace has catapulted to more than 9 million members and more than a billion page views a day. That site was created to recall the times when buyers and sellers could connect over a handcrafted item, like in Mary Brooks Picken’s day. Back then, she encouraged young women to net some extra cash with their sewing talents.
With good health, common sense, and industry, no woman need ever be embarrassed for money, for she can learn how to make something which is really fun and to which she can apply her own creative ingenuity, she wrote in an article called Earn Money with Practical Sewing.
In 1924, she published a textbook for her students at the Woman’s Institute called Sewing for Profit. In this guide, she outlined how to run a dressmaking or tailoring business, plus what goods can be made and sold, from lampshades to lingerie, bedspreads to burial dresses (Many people have a distinct aversion to having their dear ones buried in ready-made dresses). In the early 1920s, only one in four American women held a paid job, and less than 10 percent of women attended college. Sewing for profit meant more than enterprise it also meant female empowerment.
In this day, we know that the success of the American factory is due to well-organized effort and quantity production, so why should not the woman who needs to stay at home yet who needs to earn money take advantage of this truth? Picken wrote.
In the text, she urged readers to design items that are both practical and stylish, promising an interesting profit. That seems to hold true for modern-day makers on Etsy and booth holders at hip, urban craft fairs. Some of these independent vendors are so successful, they’ve spun their hobbies into six-figure incomes.
Two of my favorite fall events, and Country Living Fair and The Creative Connection, are both wonderful platforms for marketplace, entrepreneurial education and sewing for profit. I was recently featured in a Country Living book called The Mom’s Guide To Running a Business: Strategies for Work Success and Family Balance by Michelle Lee Ribeiro, which is all about finding the home/work balance when operating a business surely also a challenge for the enterprising mothers of Mary Brooks Picken’s day.
For yesterday’s profitable seamstresses and today’s web-savvy crafters, one truth remains: The value of handmade is priceless.
As an entrepreneur in the creative industry for over 20 years and also a mother of two, I have learned a few things along the way…and I love to share my knowledge with others! If you ever have any questions about running your own business, I would be happy to chat with you about my experiences.
Mary and the Institute have been an inspiration to me and led me to write my book Vintage Notions. I loved reading testimonials by her students sharing their successes in business.