Saturday, 28 March 2009

Losing The Thread

I learnt a valuable lesson today - don't use cheap cotton! I was making lavender bags, as already blogged about and sewing a scallop stitch around the edges. The machine uses a double needle for this stitch and you therefore have to use two seperate cotton reels.

One reel was a Gutterman thread and the other was a cheap cotton I picked up in the craft shop. There was a more expensive one available but I was feeling like a cheapskate, so bought the reel that was about 30p less. Big mistake! I lost count of how many times the cheap thread snapped. The faster I sewed, the less the cheap cotton could withstand the strain.

It was really frustrating and completely my fault for buying the thread in the first place. It was interesting using the two threads side by side though as it highlighted the quality difference which I might not have appreciated otherwise.

From Table to Drawer

I picked up a very pretty vintage tablecloth recently in a mixed lot of linens from an auction that was hand embroidered with posies of flowers. The cloth dated from around the 1940's and whilst very pretty, it wasn't something that I would really use. If I had resold it, the cloth would have only made a few pounds, if that.

Having looked at it for a while, pondering what to do, I suddenly realised that I could cut out squares of fabric with the embroidered flowers and turn them into lavender bags. I cut out matching plain squares for the backs of the bags and used a scallop stitch on the edges, trimming the fabric to accent the stitching afterwards.

I have to admit, that I really enjoy making lavender bags. They are really simple to make, so don't require a great deal of thought and you get to enjoy the wonderful aroma of French lavender at the same time. The only problem was that I was so relaxed I completely forgot to put the lavender in one of them!

The finished bags are perfect for placing in drawers and airing cupboards to make your clothing smell lovely. You can also pop one into your pillowcase to help you drift off to sleep.

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Monday, 23 March 2009

Magical Mystery Blog Tour

With literally thousands of new blogs being created every day, there are millions of them out there waiting to be read. When I am viewing my blog page, or anyone else's for that matter, I can't resist having a sneaky peak at what is around the next corner by pressing the "Next Blog" button.

If you keep pressing it, the variety is amazing and the journey you embark upon is never the same twice. If you press the back button and press for the next one again, it won't even be the same as the result you got before. It is so much fun!

From my own blog, I've just visited a Spanish (might have been Portuguese) music blog, a US fire department's blog with some scary house fire photos, a wedding flowers blog with some lovely photos, a French chef's blog, in French naturally, a couple's personal blog with cute baby photo, a violin blog, again in Spanish and finally a blog about shabby chic furniture, which was very interesting.

You could keep going endlessly from blog to blog. Personally I just like a short burst, with only the briefest pause on each one. Having said that, some do catch your eye and you end up quite engrossed reading them. It is definitely worth a try anyway, if you have a spare five minutes!

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Sunday, 22 March 2009

Kitsch Peacock Shopper

I went to a local auction yesterday and picked up a couple of vintage bags that caught my eye. One of them is the most kitsch, 1970's shopping bag.

Now I realise it is not to everyone's taste but it just took me straight back to my childhood. I used to have a small purse with plastic beads glued onto the fabric and this bag is made in just the same way but on a much bigger scale. The peacock pattern is repeated on both sides to create a pretty striking bag.

Update: Someone else loved this bag too, as it has now been sold!

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The Jumble Sale Find

As I have said before, I have over 30 bags. Needless to say, I love bags. Whilst I have some that are mass produced High Street finds, some of the ones I really love are a bit more individual. One of my favourite summer handbags I found at a jumble sale a few years ago and it cost me just 10 pence!

As you can see from the photos the bag is made from butter soft tooled leather and threaded through with strips of dyed leather. As the leather is so soft, it is a joy to hold in your hands. The design is very simple with the body folding over at the top to hold the contents secure. The back of the bag has a deep slip pocket which is useful for stowing away non valuables like a packet of tissues.

Whilst the bag is fairly modern, it has some age and wear to it which just add to its character. It was no doubt a holiday purchase by someone, possibly from Greece, Turkey or even Morocco. When I purchased it one of the handles had come away from the body of the bag but was easily fixed. Otherwise it was in good, useable order. I have certainly used it plenty of times and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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Thursday, 19 March 2009

Thinking Outside of The Box

I am a huge fan of mixed media and try to utilise different items in many of the pieces I create, whether in my textiles or ceramics. I can't help looking at objects and wondering if they might be useful in some future piece or other. Often some strange item can inspire a whole creative train of thought.

Obviously, I look at clothing for fabric and am often found with my scissors in hand chopping a shirt apart. Skirts are great as you usually have quite a large area of useable fabric without too many seams. Old curtains are even better, with velvet ones being a particular favourite of mine. Wool jumpers are also very useful for machine felting. Obviously old buttons can be easily salvaged and put to good use, together with oddments of ribbon and lace. Recently I was given a whole bundle full of men's ties, some of which have already found themselves appliqued onto a bag, with another in the making.

Thinking outside of the box is really important when using mixed media. The principle doesn't just apply the textiles and ceramics I enjoy. All manner of items can be incorporated into jewellery, sculpture, paper crafts and paintings too. You really just have to keep an open mind at all times.

An excellent hunting ground is the local hardware store. I just can't help myself when it comes to metal and wooden curtain rings, different types of wire, copper tubing and metal nuts. Whilst in the hardware store the other day, I discovered they sold various thicknesses and colours of cording. I had been searching craft stores for it to no avail, so you can imagine my delight! Alongside that, I found different types of chain being sold by the metre, presumably for sink plugs and the like. I did get a few odd looks as I was muttering aloud about the fantastic chains that were available and imagining the uses.

A few months back, I was in my local kitchenware shop looking for a spatula. Amongst the cleaning items I came across the run of the mill silver metal scouring pads. However, they also stocked copper ones too. For some reason the copper ones had a beauty and almost organic quality all of their own. I had to buy one! I haven't quite found a use for it yet, but I will.

All manner of natutal items can be useful, shells, pine cones, stones, wood. I have used leaves as templates before for ceramic projects and have just discovered skeleton leaves. They look so fragile but are actually remarkably robust. Obviously they are great for card making projects but I thought I would try and utilise them in a felt piece. I think the resulting vessel was quite successful.

I am not alone in using every day materials, with more and more emphasis being placed on recycling, people are finding new ways to reuse products all the time. Plastic bottles are becoming fleece clothing, tyre rubber becomes shoes, clothing is shredded and used to insulate cars. All around us artisans are using glass found on the beach, broken china and even plastic bags to create new and beautiful pieces.

Hopefully, you will be inspired to experiment a little too.

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Tuesday, 17 March 2009


I have to admit this blogging lark has really got my brain working. There are so many new skills to learn with HTML, layouts, adding tools etc. No doubt the look of my blog will change umpteen times over the coming weeks as I fiddle with colours etc. Hope you will bear with me. It is really a work in progress.

If you have any comments or feedback about the look or anything I ramble on about, please drop me an email or leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Electric Dream Machine

I've had my current electric sewing machine, a Singer Stylist 367, for well over twenty years and I bought it second hand. The manual is copyrighted 1974, so that gives an indication of its age. I have to say, it has served me well and never let me down. It was serviced for the first time a year or so ago and passed with flying colours.

I have used the machine over the years to make all sorts of items from jackets, trousers and blouses to handbags, soft toys and curtains. Despite only having five stitch options, one straight and four sizes of zigzag, the machine has met my needs. Just lately though, I've had a niggling feeling that I would like a machine that could maybe do a few embroidery stitches as well. The niggle grew the other day and I found myself googling sewing machines.

The range of machines now available is quite overwhelming. The price spread is from £50 to the high hundreds, they are electrical, some are computerised, they do stitches I've never dreamed of, stitch in reverse and do a whole host of buttonholes. With so much choice, it was hard to know where to begin in choosing my perfect machine. The most logical starting point was therefore price.

I set my budget at £100 which was an amount I felt would buy an electric machine with a dozen or so stitch options. I didn't really need anything more than that. The trouble is, once you start looking, it is really easy to get carried away. I never knew stitch options could be quite so exciting! Trust me, they are! The fact that some machines have a monogramming option opened up all sorts of design ideas in my head.

Somehow, I ended up looking at Brother machines. Lured by the stitches on offer, I found a machine that I really liked, it met my needs not to mention a whole load of needs I didn't even know I had! The only problem was that the machine's recommended price was more than three times my budget. Always one with an eye for a bargain, another internet search threw the same machine up at half the recommended price. Finally a quick search on ebay found it bang on budget but in an auction with only a day to go. I put in my top bid and crossed my fingers.

A day later, I was the proud owner of a new Brother, all singing, all dancing and hopefully all sewing computerised sewing machine. Talk about exciting! I got it at 40% over budger but it was worth it. The machine is fantastic. Some of the features include forty stitches, five types of one step buttonhole (who knew there was so many?), forward and reverse stitching, monogramming, a free arm facility (I had to look up what that meant!), seemingly more feet than a centipede and my favourite feature - a picture frame. Yes, you did read that correctly, it has a picture frame on the side of the machine. Now, I have no desire to sound ungrateful, but why on earth would you want a picture frame on your sewing machine??!

Somewhat reassuringly, the machine also comes with an instructional DVD. All I need now is for it to be delivered - can't wait! Watch my website for some hopefully new and exciting products with decorative stitching. With so many new features, including dual needles for some of the embroidery stitching, I hope I can figure out how to thread the machine, let alone sew anything together with it..

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How Many Handbags Is Enough?

The last time I bought a handbag, not very long ago, his nibs said, "Not another bag! You don't need any more!".

Whilst I definitely don't agree with that comment, how many is enough? I would like to think you can never have enough handbags, there will always be a new bag that catches your eye. But at some point it surely falls into the realms of obsession.

I have to be honest, I didn't even know how many handbags I actually had until just now when I went and counted them all. I have 27, not including the stock for the website. 27 lovely handbags that I class as mine, which I use, to varying degrees.

They fall into 4 main categories, every day, evening, travel and slightly out of favour at the moment. Some I bought, one I made and others were gifts. They are all shapes, sizes, fabrics and colours. There are leather, suede, various fabrics and even wool bags. Some of fringed, some of patchwork, some are plain, some are sparkly. And therein lies the root of the matter, you've got to have a bag for every occasion and outfit.

I like a large handbag with lots of pockets and compartments when travelling. A durable leather throw it all in bag for work. When on holiday I prefer a bag that is worn across the body and for an evening out something small and sparkly. I like my bags to compliment my outfit in colour and style whether day or evening and you will always need a plain black leather one.

And so the handbag collection grows, the hook on the back of the bedroom door can't accomodate them any more, so the migrate to the door handle, a hanger in the wardrobe and then another cupboard as well. The trouble is though, you put on an outfit, you look for the right bag and you discover, you just don't have the right one.

It's time to go shopping again!

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History In Your Hands

So many vintage bags still exist because their original owners loved and cherished them enough to look after them. In today's throw away society, we could all certainly learn from that. Buying a vintage bag not only offers the opportunity to have a 'one off' handbag but also gives you the chance to connect with social history. If only those bags could talk. What stories could they tell? It's quite a romantic daydream.

Think of all those wonderful evening bags from the 1920's and 30's, handmade and painstakingly beaded into intricate patterns with glass seed beads. They wouldn't have been cheap to buy, so only a well heeled lady would have owned one.

Imagine the parties that bag attended, the theatre, the opera. It might have witnessed a few clandestine dalliances in its time!

The make do and mend era of the war years of the 1940's had an influence too. Materials were in limited supply, so bags were repaired and embellished to change their look. If your handbag was a city dweller, it could have spent hours in air raid shelters. Think of the important documents and belonging that could have been stashed into it for safekeeping. It may have been a gift from a serviceman to his sweetheart for a night out dancing the Jitterbug.

A 1950's handbag may have listened to conversations of more conflict, including the Korean War and the Suez Crisis. Conversely, it may have witnessed its owner swooning at an early Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly concert. The bag would have also witnessed the increasing popularity of television sets in the home.

Was your bag being swung in the Sixties? Or was it more in tune with Flower Power? It would have seen the space race for the moon and a whole host of music icons starting their now long and successful careers.

To be honest, unless the handbag is a family heirloom, passed down through the generations, we really won't know the history of our vintage bag. We can only guess and daydream. That is half the fun though of owning such a great piece of social history and fashion statement of its time. Just make sure that you love it as much as someone else once did..

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Everything Except The Kitchen Sink!

There are lots of jokes made about the contents of women's handbags. I think that most of us are guilty of carrying around too much. Delve into any woman's bag and you can probably deduce quite a bit about them from the contents. But a handbag is a private place. A place where even long term partners fear to tread, even with prior permission.

Having thought about it, I'm not completely sure what's hiding in my bag. So I have decided to take a peek. In no particular order, the contents of my handbag today are:

Pair of black woolly gloves
Letter to be posted
Packet of tissues
Pink personal organiser and pen
Pink plastic comb
Shopping trolley token
Pot of rose geranium lip balm
Mobile phone
Folded up shopping bag
Elastic band - didn't know that was in there!
USB stick attached to a Mr Funny key-ring
Umbrella cover but no umbrella
Purse with a few coins in plus family photos and library card
Blueberry Bliss herbal tea bag - unused obviously!
Vet receipt
Another packet of tissues
Lavender hand cream
10% discount voucher for a local store
Pink hairbrush
Pink pen - OK so I like pink!
Contact lens comfort drops
Yet another packet of tissues
A bent paperclip
Various keys
Another paperclip in good working order
17 used stamps - they get sold to a dealer by a local charity
Part of a chocolate bar wrapper - now in bin

If I was assessing the person who owned that lot, I would guess practical, organised and someone who likes to be prepared and can lend a helping hand in a minor crisis. Especially if it requires a tissue. Definitely not someone with creative tenancies though!

So that's the contents of my handbag. What have you got in yours and what does it say about you?

First Birthday

The site has been up an running for a year now and has proved popular. Lots of products of new ideas for products have been developed throughout the year, which have proved successful. These have included photo tote bags, doorstops, scent sachets and more recently bag charms. Lots of gorgeous vintage bags have also been added and sold through the year. The early beaded bags are definitely a favourite with people. Some of the bags sold can be viewed in the gallery section. Hopefully 2009 will see the site going from strength to strength. Thanks to all the customers, old and new, for your support.