Maybe it's because they named her after her farm-tending home-schooling grandmother Gertrude Austin. Or maybe it's because Rachel was born and raised in New York City and needed a change. Maybe it's just that the lure of Martha's Vineyard caught Austin young, but whether it's genes or coincidence, Rachel Austin Baumrin of Austin Designs is living the life her grandmother embraced and her mother fled.
I met her at her home-slash-farm way (I mean way) up Christiantown Road in West Tisbury, where she lives with her husband, two dogs, and her chickens. Here she grows the lavender and herbs for her beautiful handmade heat packs and eye pillows. She tends the chickens whose eggs she sells at Scottish Bakehouse and Cronigs. Like many others, her Vineyard journey has brought her back to the land, working with her hands, and a quiet country life.
That's not how it was supposed to go.
Twenty years ago Baumrin was studying to be a costume designer. It had been her lifelong dream since her Grandma Gerty taught her to sew as a child. She had worked in theater as a teenager, designing costumes for summer productions here on Martha's Vineyard, and spent her winters in NYC honing her craft. But one day she was told she wasn't good enough. She was told she didn't have what it takes. So she walked away.
For twenty years, Baumrin avoided the sewing machine. She painted houses for a living, and owned a hardware store. She didn't sew. But, as it does for so many, Martha's Vineyard had a way of bringing her back to her true passion. First, it was the garden and the herbs. Then a little heat pack. A few more, a summer at the flea markets in Chilmark and at Featherstone Arts. Now, she tells me proudly, she's a juried member of the Vineyard Artisans, selling hand-sewn bags, wallets, herbal packs and more. It's official. She's back to sewing and she loves it
One of Baumrin's most popular products is the Pocket Pod, which we featured in our Winter 2014 Goodbox. Bigger than a sachet, these hand made little bundles of aromatherapy are perfect for hanging in a closet or car. She also has a line of bags, wallets, and pouches. Perhaps it's all those years building costumes from scraps, but Baumrin is a natural at pairing vintage fabrics, whimsical prints, and colorful embellishments. The result is a line of products as joyful as her smile itself.
In her spare time there's her vegetable garden, canning, and knitting. It's not costume design. It's better. And I'm pretty sure Grandma Gerty would be proud.
Find Austin Designs products at the Vineyard Artisan's Festival, Chilmark Flea, Featherstone Flea, and online exclusively at TisburyTurkey.com.