Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who we are and why we do what we do

My name is Becky deVries-Wong.  I have always been involved in sewing and needlework since I was very young, but it was when I married and moved to the Seattle area that samplers took hold of me! I was lucky the house my husband owned was next door to a wonderful lady who brought me into the world of samplers. That was over 21 years ago. I love the history of the women and the symbolism we imagine the pieces contain. It seems most of my creativity is done in my imagination these days, but I know some day there will be time to shake out the ideas onto the linen. I spend many hours still driving the "mommy" taxi for my daughter who is 14 and has a very busy schedule of sports, community service work and social activities. My son who is 18 was off  to college this fall, and I can hardly believe how fast that happened!  My husband is semi-retired, which is great fun. We can play hooky once in awhile and have lunch dates, ballroom dance lessons...(shh, don't tell Julie I play hooky ;-0 ).  I enjoy my work with several non-profit organizations as well. So there is plenty to keep me busy and out of trouble.

Hi – I’m Julie Buck, and with my good friend, Becky deVries-Wong, we are “In the Company of Friends”.  Becky and I met when I joined the Northwest Sampler Guild – we were both very active in that guild for many years.  When I first started out, I barely knew what a sampler was, but I learned pretty quickly.  I’m lucky in that when I married my husband, I also retired, and moved to Seattle from Winnipeg in Canada, so had a lot more free time to pursue my passion.  I just had to figure out what it was.  Pretty soon, I discovered that I loved to stitch, and have taken that hobby to what I’m sure my hubby would call ridiculous lengths.  My husband is also retired, and we love to travel and spend time together.  I also love to travel to needlework events, and when I do that, it’s usually with Becky and other friends.

This business really did grow from our love of samplers and antique needlework.  As we grew to know more and more about samplers, and came to have our favorites, we found ourselves thinking that the wonderful designs and graphic impact of the samplers would be great in other forms, too.  We would make favors for different guild events and as we got better and more sophisticated at that, we realized we could really make a go of this business!

When Becky and I visited Historic Deerfield in September 2005, we were frustrated when we were in their gift shop and didn’t find any merchandise based on the samplers in the exhibit.  We always love to shop, and especially for little needlework items that we can bring back as gifts for our stitching friends.  We’d noticed that not many museum gift shops carried note cards or other items that would make a nice memento of the trip.  We kept saying, “It would be so easy for them to make some cards, at least”, and after we said it the third time, we just looked at each other and said “Well, if it’s so easy, then we should do it!”  The company was born!  On the flight back home we excitedly talked over our ideas of what we’d do. 

In less than a month, we would be in Pennsylvania with the tour that Becky had planned for the guild, and we thought that would be a perfect “test market” to see if our ideas were sound!  In that short time, we incorporated, got our business license, designed some products, made them up and packaged them, ready for the trip.  We started with three products:  Wearable pins, note cards and bookplates.  We had a lot to learn, and those first products have changed quite a bit over the last couple of years – on the very first pins, the glue wasn’t really the right kind and several pin backs came off.  We’ve always felt so bad that people all over who were so nice to try our first products didn’t really get our best product – we’ve learned a lot since then – we can tell you the properties of several different kinds of glue, as well when they will work and when they won’t! 

So we set off in October 2005 with all our products in one of our suitcases to see if anyone would buy them.  We were swamped.  The first morning at Winterthur, I remember sitting at a coffee table with some ladies I didn’t know, and they asked me about the pin I was wearing.  That’s all it took – I showed them the pin and all our other things, and they bought some.  Before I knew it, people were crowded around the table, and I was laying them all out for people to see.  During breaks in the seminar, people would ambush us – “Are you the ladies with the sampler note cards?”  And we haven’t looked back!

Our company was founded out of friendship, which is why we came up with the name “In the Company of Friends” – it’s a cute play on words, and perfectly expresses how we feel – we hope that each of our customers feels she is “in the company of friends”.  The logo is a big part of this – we have always loved the stitching motif of clasped hands and wanted to incorporate something like that into our logo.  We wanted it to speak of old-fashioned ways and genteel manners.  That’s why we did it in sepia tones.  We just really like the “friendly” feel of it. 

When we were in Colonial Williamsburg a couple of years ago, we found a Gimmel ring in one of their shops.  When closed and on your finger, it looks just like our logo – two clasped hands, but when off your finger, it can be pulled into three parts joined at the base.  The two hands pull apart to reveal a heart at the center.  We each bought one – our hearts are in each of our products, so this was just the perfect way to express that sentiment.

Becky is the “idea person” – she comes up with ideas faster than anyone can even write them down!  We still have a long list of ideas from our first few meetings.  And more keep cropping up.  We always wanted the products to be based on antique needlework, and especially samplers.  We started with our own collections and took high-resolution photographs of them.  Now, when we look at any sampler, we’re likely to say “Wouldn’t that make a nice pin keep?” or bookmark, or trifold….  We have been able to purchase several more samplers, and they are a constant inspiration.

When we first started, we didn’t really know how long it would take for us to take something from an idea to a fully realized product, and we thought we’d introduce new items four times a year, but it didn’t quite work out that way.  Now, we work toward getting at least two brand new items each year and also new designs for existing products at the same time.  We’ve timed things to coincide with the Online Needlework Show, which runs every spring and fall, and we’ve had great response to that.  January is a time when we bring out new items, as well – to coincide with the Nashville market, since that’s when a lot of needlework shops are on the lookout for new products.

We also try to do about three boxed sets per year – they take a lot of work, but are so fun to do that we can’t help talking about the next one even while we’re painting the current one!  In between times, we work with museums and historical societies to produce custom products for them, based on the needlework in their collections.  We’re finally able to find items in several museum gift shops (of course, we already have them!)

Lots of people have asked us when we will be doing reproduction charts for our pieces, but we don’t have any plans in that area at all.  Several of the pieces we work from have already been reproduced – by previous owners.  Those samplers are available for sale from The Scarlet Letter and The Essamplaire.  Charting a true reproduction is a very painstaking and skilled line of work – and we’re having too much fun taking photos of our beauties!  Besides – we’d feel terrible if we contributed to anyone’s pile of UFO’s! 

We love that our products are all hand made by our four hands.  Our families have gotten involved from time to time – packing orders, going to the post office, and sometimes even working on our “assembly line”, but we try not to lean on them too much.  This is our baby and we enjoy the work – even when we’re really busy! 

A big challenge is figuring out what people will like.  We’ve had a couple of products that we thought were fabulous and were going to jump off the shelves and they didn’t move at all.  Other times, we’ve been caught by surprise that everyone loves something.  Predicting what will be a big seller and what we need to make lots of in anticipation of orders is always difficult. 

We always thought that museum gift shops were our target market, and it wasn’t a big jump to determine that if we contacted different museums holding seminars, they might like to carry some of our products, and even have us do some custom pieces from their collection.  Many of them didn’t have such products in their gift shops because they are understaffed and didn’t have anyone who had time to pursue the making of such products.  We’ve been able to fill that niche – and have designed exclusive products for several prestigious museums with needlework exhibits.  We take this process from the germ of an idea to the finished product packaged and ready for the shelf, so it takes a burden off the overworked curator.  It’s a really creative endeavor and one we find very satisfying! 

As we continue to grow, you’ll find lots of completely new products and a few books!  The Schwenkfelder calendar was a great success, as well as several other products based on their wonderful collection.  And we will continue to work to raise funds for various charities and to help conserve samplers.  The Ackworth Pins were to help raise funds for the purchase and conservation of Ackworth samplers and the Schwenkfelder calendar allowed us to make a very nice donation to the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center to go toward the preservation of their needlework.  We’ve also had special products to raise money for Breast Cancer research and Women’s heart health.  We’ll definitely continue this practice.

Our latest endeavor in this vein has been Let Love Abide - a documentation of a private sampler collection - something that has never been seen anywhere else, unless you have been lucky enough to be invited to see this collection in person!  All profits from the sale of this book go to Mission Hospice of San Mateo, a favorite charity of the sampler owner's.  

Becky and I both still stitch, but never as much as we'd like - there always seems to be something else that needs doing first.  When we find a moment here or there, we guard it jealously and luxuriate in the knowledge that we can play hooky for a few hours. (see Becky?  I know!  ;-)


  1. What a really lovely start to your blog. It was really interesting and it shall join my ever increasing bloglist so I can see every time you post on here.

  2. Hi Julie and Becky, this is a great idea and another beautiful beginning for the two of you. It will be so interesting to follow you and watch your blog and your followers grow...which they will very quickly.
    hugs and good luck!

  3. I'm so glad to see that you have started this blog...the pieces you have developed for your business are wonderful and I know that there will soon be many more people who will be turned on to your designs. Good luck!


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