Tuesday, 27 December 2011

"Fifty Bags That Changed the World"

Whilst I was out trawling the shops for Christmas presents a few weeks ago, I stumbled by chance across a book that completely intrigued me. "Fifty Bags That Changed the World" is published by the Design Museum and charts the history of bags from 1860 through to 2010. It catalogues 50 bags which it obviously believes have had the most impact on our lives during that time. Some of their choices I would definitely agree with, others have completely passed me by and I am sure most people who aren't fashionistas.

The book starts with the famous budget box that is used each year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK when the annual budget is announced. I had no idea this iconic briefcase was first used by the politician William Gladstone around 1860. Apparently the case is in such poor condition that it was withdrawn from service following the budget in 2010.

The book moves on covering iconic bags such as carpet bags, saddlebags, doctor's bags, bicycle panniers and gas mask bags, all of which certainly deserve their places in the book. Also mentioned is the introduction of Louis Vuitton's steamer bags which inspired the whole range still available today and the metal mesh handbags of the 1920's. Other noteworthy bags covered are the TWA airline bag, the Hermes Kelly bag and Birkin, as well as the Fendi baguette.

One bag which really captured my interest was the Ferragamo handbag favoured by UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Who knew that a woman well known for her safe, blue suits carried a designer handbag? I too young at the time to pay any attention to the Iron Lady's fashion choices but looking at the photo of her crocodile skin handbag now, I definitely see her in a whole new light.

Out of the 50 bags mentioned in the book, if I had to choose the one that I feel has had the most impact, positive and negative, on the world it would have to be the plastic shopping bag. The concept was the brainchild of Sten Gustaf Thulin, a Swedish engineer, in the early 1960's. Reigning triumphant in the world of bags for well over 40 years, nobody ever really considered the environmental impact of the countless plastic bags all over the planet. Whilst it is now the villain, there is no getting away from the fact that the humble plastic bag definitely changed the world.

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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Sunday Serendipity

Don't you love it when you make a mental note to buy something and then prompty stumble across it when you aren't looking? Only one word can sum it up - serendipity.

Having ploughed through a pile of sewing yesterday, I had run out of cream thread and was virtually out of white too, so made a mental note to buy some more in the week. I could have popped out to the supermarket today, which needless to say is open Sundays, but it really wasn't worth it. There were far more pressing things to do, such as take our old mattress to the dump.

My husband and I just about managed to fold our king size mattress in half and shoe horn it into the back of my car and popped down to the dump with it. As I have mentioned before in blog posts, the local dump has a "shop" on site where they sell items on to reduce the waste going to landfill. It is always worth a browse, you just never know what you will find.

Guess what? I found a clear plastic bagged full of cotton thread, a needle threader, safety pins, some elastic and some really strong carpet thread (no idea what that's for though, carpets?). Even better, there was a reel of cream and a reel of white cotton. Not to mention the "silver sand" thread which is always useful! And the cost of my find? A very reasonable 50 pence.

So there we are. Some would call it coincidence. Some would argue I cosmically ordered it. I just call it serendipity.

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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Haberdashery Heaven

It was such a lovely day today, I decided to pop along for a rummage around the local car boot sale. There are a couple near me every Sunday and the larger one is usually 500 plus cars. I love the fact that 90% is absolute rubbish, 9.9999% is reasonable but not what I actually want or need and then if I am really lucky there is the 0.0001% that I will be really pleased I found.

I was over half way around today before I made my first purchase. I spotted just a little bit of some really fabulous 1970's fabric on a stall, completely covered over with over items for sale. Having carefully pulled it out, the fabric turned out to be a floor length curtain, so quite a bit of fabric. All she wanted was £1.00. (For the benefit of my friend Michelle in the US that is about $1.55!). An absolute bargain!

Next, just as I reached her stall, a lady reached into her car and pulled out a bag of 43 assorted zips and another bag of bias binding. All she wanted was £1.00 for each bag. Another bargain.

My final purchase was 3 metres of white curtain lining fabric which is always useful for using behind thinner fabrics fore strength. Cost? Well in comparison to my other finds I was positively ripped off, it was £3.00 but that's still a lot cheaper than the shops where it would be at least 3 or 4 times the price.

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Saturday, 30 July 2011

From Small Acorns ....

I have to admit, I really like oak trees. I love their size and majesty, the shape of the leaves and even the acorns. I don't know why, it's just one of those things. Thinking back, I guess it started in junior school. The school was split into four "houses" for school games competitions, with each house named after a tree; oak, larch, beech and fir. Needless to say, I was in oak.

In recent years, the oak leaf in particular seems to have crept into my arts and crafts. A few years ago I collected some fallen oak leaves from a tree near my house and scanned them into my computer. I used them as templates for pottery oak leaves which I sponge glazed and gilded. They were sold at a local craft exhibition a couple of years ago.

Last year, I used the same scanned templates to make felt leaves which I wired together with felt acorns that I needle felted. The felt oak twig was exhibited at the local art society exhibition last year and promptly sold. Have to admit I slightly wish I had kept it now.

A few weeks ago, I came across an old pair of curtains in a local charity shop which were made from the most fabulous oak leaf and acorn fabric. I'm not sure I would actually want curtains in the fabric but they were soon dismantled and washed. I have just finished sewing a peg bag in the fabric and a door stop will be following shortly. Have to say, I really like the peg bag. Hopefully it will be a good seller.

If I was to use from small acorns do mighty oak trees grow for From Rags To Bags, it certainly started as a small acorn and definitely isn't a mighty oak yet. I think at the moment, From Rags To Bags is still at the sapling stage but it has definitely put down strong roots, so who knows how it will grow in the future.

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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Fête Finds!

It never ceases to amaze me where I stumble across really good fabric, not to mention haberdashery items. I sometimes think I must be subconsciously drawn to material, I just can't stop myself buying it.

Yesterday, I went to the vicarage fête in my sister's village, as I was over there visiting and it was something to do for the afternoon. My nephew and neices somehow managed to empty my purse of money on the variety of tombolas and games!

Quite surprisingly though, amongst the obligatory fête cake and plant stalls, various tombolas and raffle, there was a stall selling fabric remnants, old buttons, bits of ribbon, cross stitch kits and other odd bits of haberdashery. A quick rummage revealed a fabulous length of gold furnishing fabric about 2 metres long by 70cm wide which only cost me £2.00.

After another look a bit later, I ended up with a packet of large sewing needles which are always useful for wool projects, two skeins of embroidery silk which I had been meaning to buy to repair a vintage handbag and finally a hook for rag rugging. Whilst I will probably never actually get around to making a rag rug, it's a project I always seem to have in the back of my mind. The total cost for that little lot was 20 pence. What a complete bargain!

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Saturday, 14 May 2011

Whitchurch Silk Mill

Like most people, if you asked me where fabrics come from, I would be able to tell you that wool comes from sheep, cotton and linen from plants, synthetic fibres from chemical processes and silk from silkworms. Beyond that I don't really give fabrics much more thought. Last weekend, I decided to take a trip to a historic silk mill in Whitchurch, Hampshire, to find out more.

The mill was built around 1800 and began to produce silk fabrics in the 1830's. The mill continued its production until it closed in 1985. Following refurbishment by the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust, the mill became operational again in the early 1990's and is still a working mill today producing silk for stately homes as well as film and television costumes.

Built beside the River Test, a large wooden water wheel was originally used to drive the mill machinery. The wheel is still in working order and can be seen driving a large belt which fed the silk skeins onto bobbins, which would in turn be used on the weaving looms.

So where does the silk actually come from? Well, despite the name silkworm, silk comes from the cocoon produced by the silk moth caterpillar. The thread the caterpillar produces for its cocoon measures 1000-2000 metres in length. Once the caterpillar has metamorphosed in the cocoon, the moth will make a whole through which it escapes. Obviously, this would ruin the continuous length of thread, so for the silk manufacturing process, the cocoons are baked to kill the caterpillar/moth inside. The thread is then carefully unwound from the cocoon.

A single thread whilst long, is far too fine to be used on its own, so eight or so threads are twisted together to produce a silk thread that is suitable for weaving. Most of the silk used at the mill today is purchased ready dyed and on bobbins rather than in skeins. As silkworms need a warm climate to survive, they can't be bred in the UK, so all of the silk is imported from the far east.

Silk is undoubtedly a beautiful fabric which has been held in high regard for centuries. It is light, strong and able to insulate against heat and cold. I do have slight issue with production though. Is it really ethical for bake the poor moths so that we can use their cocoons? I know they are only insects but that isn't really the point is it? With so many other fabrics available to us, do we really need to use silk?


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Monday, 21 March 2011

All Wrapped Up

Last week I finally managed to finish the custom wedding order I was working on. I had to make 40 lavender bags as wedding favours for a wedding this weekend. If you read the last blog post, you will remember that I made them in an ivory silk with a purple tulle top and matching ribbon bow. The tulle had been sent by the bride to be and she was quite keen for me to try and use it.

Whilst I was making the favours I was asked if I would also be able to make a wrap for the bride to wear around her shoulders during the photos. There was certainly enough fabric, so I was happy to design something.

As tulle is very lightweight, I knew the ends of the wrap would need to be weighted so that it fell properly when worn. The obvious solution was beading, so I decided to buy a length of beaded trim. Easy .... or so I thought! How wrong could I be?

Whilst getting hold of beaded trim is easy enough, finding the right colour proved to be a bit of a nightmare. The tulle was a deep aubergine purple colour. The first fabric shop I tried didn't have any purple, the second didn't either but assured me that they did in their other store and had it sent over on a van that night.

The next day, I went back to the store with my tulle sample for colour matching. Yes, the beading was purple but it was a bright bluey purple. Completely wrong. The shop was very helpful and together we pored over their supplier's catalogue trying to find the right colour and ordered a couple of samples.

To be on the safe side, I tried another fabric shop in another town. They had purple but it was pale purple, so again no good. I found some possibilities on a website and also on eBay. I politely requested samples, even offering to pay for them plus postage. Neither bothered to reply!

True to their word, the fabric shop phoned to tell me the samples were in for me to look at and thankfully one of them was a good enough colour match to work, so I ordered the beading. A week later, I still hadn't heard, so phoned the shop. They phoned their supplier and rang me back. The beading had been sent but was now missing with the courier!

Thankfully, two days later, I got a phone call to say the beading had finally arrived. I had two weeks until the wedding, so I have to admit I was quite relieved. After all of that hassle, making the wrap was not too much trouble. Tulle is a bit of a nightmare as it is so light to work with and it slithers around all over the place.

I decided to make a double thickness wrap for extra warmth, so folded the tulle in half and used an embroidery stitch along the edge to hide the seam within. The two ends were then simply turned in on themselves and used to sandwich the bead trim in place. It was a bit fiddly but it worked well.

As I said before in the previous blog post, I think it is lovely that the favours and bridal wrap are made from the same piece of fabric, as it ties the wedding together. Having sent off the wrap and favours last week, an email from the bride's mother said that the bride is delighted which is always good to hear.

Just when I was thinking job done .... another bride contacted me yesterday and asked if I could make 25 lace lavender bags as favours for her wedding in 4 weeks time. Thankfully, I don't need bead trim for those.

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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Wedding Favours

A few weeks ago a regular customer asked me if I would be able to make some favours for her daughter's wedding at the end of March. Needless to say, I was delighted to be asked and more than happy to make them.

I was sent a sample of some dark purple chiffon fabric which the bride to be had apparently bought years ago and was quite keen to use. There was also a rough sketch of a lavender bag design which I felt wasn't really suitable for the fabric and that was all I had to go on. It is worth pointing out that I have never actually met the bride to be or her mother. We have never even spoken on the phone, as we always correspond by email. It is actually quite strange designing something so personal for someone you know nothing about and for a wedding it has to be right.

As the favours were for a wedding, white or ivory was obviously a good starting point and I felt that you needed a good quality fabric as well, so opted for an ivory silk slub and a slightly satiny fabric with holes punched through it in a flower shape. I wanted to try and incorporate the purple chiffon somehow too and bought coordinating ribbon. I also found some purple flowers in the fabric shop which were a more blue purple but I thought they were worth thinking about.

In the end, I came up with four designs, two in each fabric, in two sizes, with different combinations of ribbon, chiffon and flowers ....

I sent them off for approval and had no idea if any of them would be suitable or not. Thankfully, the bride to be and her mother liked my ideas and the final decision was 40 favours made up of the silk, in the larger size, with the chiffon at the top and the coordinating ribbon tied around them. So a cross between all of the designs in the end!

I have to admit, seeing them on mass, I am really pleased with them and think they will look fabulous on each place setting at the wedding breakfast.

The bride has now also asked if I can make her a shawl with the remainder of the chiffon which I hope to make shortly. I think it will be lovely that the wedding guests will be taking away a lavender bag made from the same piece of fabric as the bride's shawl. It will be a lovely, lasting memento of the day.

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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

More Fabulous Fabric!

I'm a believer in the universal law that if you clear something out of your life, it creates a void for new things to come into your life. So, it stands to reason that having cleared out a whole heap of fabric recently, it wasn't going to be long before more arrived in my life!

At the weekend, I went on a very satisfying shopping jaunt with a friend of mine. I did actually need to go to the fabric shop to hunt for suitable fabrics for some wedding favours I have been asked to make but fabulous fabric finds weren't actually there. I love hunting through antique shops and there is a great antiques centre where we were shopping with lots of dealers.

One of them is a vintage clothing dealer and it was on her stall that I found a really bright piece of 1960's fabric. It was 2.8m long, although not as wide as most fabrics these days, and very reasonably priced at £12. For some reason I toyed with buying the fabric as I thought it was quite a lot to pay but then I realised it was only around £4 a metre which is far cheaper than decent fabrics in the shops. In the end I offered the dealer £10 which she happily accepted, so I was really pleased.

As well as rummaging in antique shops, I also love to sift through the local charity shops. In one I found a really striking skirt in a retro black and white print. Although quite a short skirt, there should be enough to make a shoulder bag out of it. At £3.49 the skirt was another bargain.

In a second charity shop I found a basket of table linens hidden on a low shelf. Amongst the items I found a vintage embroidered tablecloth. It has a mark which hopefully will wash out and also has an old repair but at only £1.50 it was well worth buying. It will be perfect for a peg bag or two. Hopefully I will get some new items made soon rather than relegating my finds to the fabric pile - again!

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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Fabric Spring Cleaning

I have always had a love of fabrics and have bought remnants for years, always thinking it will come in useful one day. When I started From Rags To Bags, I thought I had quite a substantial fabric pile. In truth it was a very large cardboard box in a cupboard. It was nothing compared to the amount I have now!

With fabric piles mounting up around my work room, the other day I decided I really needed to have a sort out. In 3 years I had gone from a cardboard box in a cupboard to a large storage box of fake fur, suede, leather and other oddments, another of velvets, another of patterned fabrics, another of cotton shirts and other lining fabrics, a large basket of woolen jumpers and felt, a large box of ribbons and had recently added a three drawer cabinet full of vintage linens, men's ties and interlining and zips. Let's not forget my "work in progress" pile too. Just a bit of a fabric explosion!

The "work in progress" pile was what really prompted me to have a sort out. The pile had grown into an unruly heap and I couldn't really see the wood for the trees any more. There's nothing quite like indecision to stifle your creativity. With so much choice on offer you end up not knowing what to do next and so do nothing at all.

I ended up, getting all my fabric out and going through every single piece assessing the colour, weight of fabric and size to decide if I really liked it and had a use for it. Some pieces I have had for years and are remnants of past projects. There is tartan from a skirt I made when I was 17 and studying for a needlework qualification. Bright blue taffeta was used on a ball gown I made when I was 19 and going to my college ball. I have actually still got the skirt and the dress in the wardrobe!

Having sorted through it all, it is amazing how much I decided not to keep for various reasons. Some has been sent off to a fellow crafter who was on the look out for some more fabric, a large bag full has gone to a local charity shop for sale and other bits have gone in the rag bag which will also go to a local charity for sale to the rag dealer. Nothing has actually been wasted and it will all be recycled when way or another.

My fabric collection has reduced but will no doubt grow again in the near future. I actually came home with some more embroidered linens today from the charity shop, having just handed over the large bag of remnants to them! My "work in progress" is now more manageable, which is the main thing, with one pile for door stops and peg bags and the other for handbags. Now that I can actually see what's there, new products should be flying off the machine soon.

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