A Man’s Guide to Buying a Handbag

Lots of Handbags

How to buy a handbag for your wife or girlfriend and get it right!

It’s that time of year again. You can try to ignore Christmas, but once they’re playing carols on repeat in the supermarket and there are reindeer in every shop window, the annual task of buying a gift for the leading lady in your life is approaching. I’d like to help the men out there who are struggling to think of a unique gift for their partner. What could be better than a handmade handbag, lovingly handcrafted in my studio in deepest West Clare?

Each Christmas I have been selling my handmade bags I have been confronted by harrassed, stressed men wanting a thoughtful gift but not knowing where to start.

Let me be so presumptuous as to assume you might like to buy a handmade handbag as that thoughtful gift, and here is my step by step guide for men to buy a handbag.

Step 1 – Do your homework

Sorry, but this is a necessity. Familiarise yourself with your partner’s current bag or bags, no matter how daunting this task might seem.

Lots of Handbags
A whole pile of handbags!

What size are they? If you’re not likely to remember measurements, think what she carries. Does she always carry a book, a notebook, a bottle of water, a bottle of wine (!)? Size IS important. Does your partner complain that they always have too much in their bag and they should carry less?  You might consider getting a SLIGHTLY smaller bag for her. Don’t present her with a postage stamp sized bag though if she normally carries a bag that can take an A4 file. It won’t get used.

Different Handbag Sizes
What Size Handbag?

A word to the wise. When my brother and I were small, our mother carried a large handbag. She was often found rooting in it to find what she needed, and we suspected she never actually mined right to the bottom of the bag. So we hid a house brick in her bag. Two weeks later, searching for her purse at the supermarket checkout, to her surprise, and probably to the greater surprise of the checkout operator, she pulled out the house brick. My brother and I were in serious trouble. But the moral of the story is this – don’t buy a bag that is so big that your partner won’t notice she’s carrying a house brick for two weeks.

What colour are most of her bags? Is there a favourite colour or range of colours? Check out your wife/partner’s  coats – does she have a clearly defined preference for, say, navy coats?

 

Step 2 – How does the handbag get worn?

You never noticed there were different ways to wear a handbag? Oh dear. Let’s start from the basics. Handbags can be worn in a multiplicity of ways, but the most common are:

Cross body handbags – worn, as the name suggests, with the strap at it’s longest extent, and worn, say, from left shoulder to right hip across the body. This is very popular, and most common amongst people who don’t want to carry their handbag, and want their hands free to hold shopping bags, children, dogs etc. Ladies with shoulder pain ofter prefer a cross body bag.

Shoulder Bags – similar to cross body bags but with a shorter strap. The strap may be adjustable, so there is flexibility to interchange between cross body and shoulder styles of wearing, or they have have fixed, unadjustable straps.

A clutch bag – normally a small bag “clutched” in the hand or under the arm. More often used in the evening, or by a member of the Royal family who has hot and cold running flunkeys who carry the actual stuff needed in a handbag that won’t fit in a clutch bag.

Tara Bag in Grey Meadow
Tara Bag in Grey Meadow showing the long, adjustable cross body or shoulder strap

Take a look at the bags that your wife/girlfriend/partner uses. Subtly ask if she has a preference for one type or another. Or ask her best friend.

Step 3 – What is the handbag going to do?

I hear you in the back. Yes, it’s going to carry your beloved’s “stuff”. Well spotted.

But what stuff? Does she always have a file, a book? A notebook? A make up bag? Does she take her lunch to work each day? Then look at my Tara bag or the Fely Bag.

Is it for use on your next trip to Lanzarote? Is your wife the staple that holds the family paperwork together when you fly anywhere? If so, a bag with room for iPads, books, games AND a slip pocket for passports and boarding passes might be an idea…see my Large Messenger Bag for details.

Is the handbag going to hang near the front door to have keys, lipstick, phone and purse fired into it for the school run or to take the dog out? Will it need to put up with being trampled in the foot well of the car by husbands and children? If so, my small cross body zip top or small messenger bags (the Fiona – my bestseller) will suit.

Does your partner have a baby or babies and need a lot of room for spare clothes, nappies and bottles? Consider a Carolina Bag or a Tara Bag. Zip top, capacious but not over large bags designed to cope with the rough and tumble of young children.

 

Step 4 – How does the handbag fasten?

This is so crucial. Take a look at the handbags in your partner’s life. Do they have zip tops? Do they have a flap? A drawstring? Are they open to the elements or just have a magnetic snap closure?  Most women want to have a bag that closes, for the obvious security that that brings. But whether that closure is a flap or a zip is a matter of personal taste. All my bags have either a zip top or a flap closure, and each type of bag has its fans and champions for the most secure type of closure.  All I would say is that if the handbag is likely to be thrown to the ground or on to the floor of the car, a (closed) zip top bag is more likely to hold its contents in than a (closed) flap top bag. This does of course depend on closing the zip top or fastening the magnetic snap on the flap top. Full disclosure – I have learnt this the hard way.

A note for the uninitiated. A “Messenger” bag has a flap. It is so called because it is based on the style of bag used by bike couriers with a secured flap closure. These can also be called a satchel style, although these can signify being closed by buckles, like the old school satchels of your youth. Well, my youth anyway. But if you hear a handbag-related term you don’t understand – Ask. there is no such thing as a silly handbag related question. Although if I do get some, they may form the basis of a future blog post.

 

Step 5 – Be shameless. Deploy spies.

If you have children and they go shopping with their Mum, ask them to try to remember which bag she looks at (not the one THEY like – especially important to stress if you have teenagers).

In the absence of children, deploy best friends, mothers, sisters, grandparents. Make sure they get detailed descriptions. This is an age of technology – get photographs!

If you’re a couple who work on the Hansel & Gretel principle of laying breadcrumb-like trails of clues for presents, I have a Wish Book. This is where ladies can give me their name and what bag they want, and all their partner has to do is turn up and give me their partner’s name, and the bag of their dreams is sorted and under the Christmas tree before you can say, “Rudolf with your nose so bright, can you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Handbag Wish Book
Christmas Handbag Wish Book

 

Step 6 – Talk to Me

Please. Talk to me. I will not judge you if you don’t know the answer to all the questions I have listed above.  It’s in yours and my interest to find the perfect handbag for your partner, and I am more than happy to talk about their handbag habits so that we can ensure that you get ALL the credit for buying the perfect handmade, unique Sallyann Bag.  If you can’t meet me at a market, call me or email me. I will answer!

And if you get started now, there is no sense of panic and rush. You can buy the handbag, stash it away, and sit back smugly knowing you have put some time and thought into the Christmas present for the most important person in your life, and that will be hugely appreciated.

 

Step 7 – Where to Find Me

I’m at Ballymaloe Craft Fair this coming weekend 18 & 19 November.

I will be at Chapel Lane Market in Ennis on 25th November, 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 & 17 December.

I will be at the Night Market at Ennistymon Courthouse Gallery on Friday 15 December.

On my site here you can find a list of all my stockists in and around Ireland, the UK and Italy, and of course, you can buy your bags here in my own web shop at this website. And if you can’t see what you’re looking for, email me or call me and I’ll try to help.

Have a wonderful festive season, and I hope that you gain enormous brownie points by following this simple step by step guide to buying the perfect handbag.

 

PS I do have gift vouchers if you lose your nerve!

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How the Tara Bag got its name….

Tara Bag in Blue Meadow

Most of my more recent bags have got names, and a number of people have asked me how they end up with these seemingly random choices: Fiona, Fely, Carolina and now Tara.

Why did the small cross body bag not get a name and is known in my studio as the X Bag? And the Large Messenger Bags are known as Large Messenger Bags, or Lg Mssngr if I’m in a hurry. Not terribly exciting names. But that’s because they were designs I developed myself. I always meant to give the X Bag a better name, but it just became X and the name stuck.

New bag designs tend to come from conversations I have with customers either at my stall or via email. Some ideas are more possible than others. For every “Can you make it a little smaller/larger?” which is often possible, there can be a “Can you make a wheelie bag to fit Ryanair’s bag specification” which is beyond me and my sewing machines!

But every now and then someone suggests an idea for a bag, and the seed of a new design is sown.

Take the X Bag for instance. A relative of mine, the lovely Fely, asked me if I could make a bag a bit wider for her. She wanted room for a book and a bit more “stuff”. And so the Fely Bag was born.

Large Cross Body Zip Top Meadow Collection
Fely Bags – Meadow Collection

A fellow market stallholder loved the Large Messenger Bag, but wanted a small one, preferably with denim on the outside. What started as  a one off special for Fiona became one of my bestselling designs when I reversed it so the denim was the lining, as normal, and the showerproof fabric was on the outside. The Fiona Bag had arrived.

Blue Star Small Messenger
Blue Star Fiona Bag

The Carolina Bag was a supersized X Bag designed initially to provide room in a bag for the medication required by a busy mum for her son who had complex medical needs. With a bit of tweaking it became the largest bag in my range, and a very useful overnight bag or baby bag too!

Old Map Carolina
Old Map Carolina

 

And now there is the Tara bag. Tara is another fellow stallholder at Chapel Lane Market, and she makes very pretty beaded jewellery (check out Tara’s Trinkets). Tara has been a loyal customer of mine, and she has a few of my bags. She has tried and tested them.

So when she asked me about a bag that was deeper than a Fely, but not as big as a Carolina, I was intrigued. I roughed out a protoype.

Prototype Tara Bag
Prototype Tara Bag

I then put it through the rigorous testing I always employ before a bag design is introduced. It has to live with me (a test in itself some might say), get thrown around the floor of the car, take a plane journey, deal with airport security, be loaded up with shopping AND do several markets before it can be considered part of my range.

"Testing" the Prototype Tara Bag
“Testing” the Prototype Tara Bag
Tara Bag in Grey Meadow
Tara Bag in Grey Meadow

I showed the prototype to Tara, and it passed her test too. So, as with the other bags, I asked Tara if I could name the bag after her, given that she was the origin of the idea. And that’s how the Tara Bag got its name.

Tara Bag in Blue Meadow

 

Tara Bag in Green Meadow
Tara Bag in Green Meadow

What’s next I hear you ask? In response to many requests, I am working on a backpack design. I have the basic idea clarified in my head now, but I need to source the metal fixings for the design, and these take time to get right. But 2018 will see a backpack design. And its name? That’s a secret, for now.

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Back to the Sewing Machine

The Handmade Fair site

Well! Wasn’t The Handmade Fair at Ragley Hall fun? Driving into such an amazing location was stunning.  Ragley Hall itself is gorgeous, standing on a hill overlooking glorious rolling parkland and a lake, beyond which was the marquee village that formed the Handmade Fair.

Ragley Hall
Ragley Hall
The Handmade Fair site
The Handmade Fair site

And then the set up. It was warm work, moving all my bits and pieces, including my prized bit of Handmade Fair kit, my power drill, into position.  I had a wonderful man appear out of nowhere who offered to bring all my heavy pieces.  Suddenly it became a two person job, and so much easier. Not forgetting Alice, from the event organisers’ team, who also lugged bags across the grassy sheep field towards the marquee.

I started with an empty shell, and ended up with a completed stall, five hours later.

Start of the Set Up
Start of the Set Up
Pretty much finished
Pretty much finished

So then to find my accommodation for the duration of the event – in the little village of Inkberrow. The perfect spot – I was staying above a pub that had real ale on tap, and walks down quiet country lanes on the doorstep – perfect for getting the blood pumping after a day standing at the stall.

Opening day brought the crowds and rain! How dare it rain on Kirstie? It was like September all over again – a steaming hot day to set up, then pouring rain on the first day.  It didn’t deter the visitors and the three days passed in a whirl of talking to really interesting people. So many groups of mums, daughters and granddaughters, and gaggles of friends all interested in crafts and exploring new skills, like upholstery, willow weaving and embroidery. Talking to people as they passed the stall was great fun, finding out what excited them about crafting.

The Handmade Fair site
The Handmade Fair site

The weather improved as the weekend went on, and by Sunday, it was warm and sunny all day.  All my practice at Chapel Lane Market in Ennis meant that my packing up was done with military precision. It may have taken me 5 hours to set up, but it took me 40 minutes to pack up! I was like a woman possessed.  I think knowing that I was driving back to my parents’ house for a lovely meal before the drive back home to Clare was what spurred me into super speedy mode. Monday morning saw me up and on the road early, leaving behind the gentle rolling landscapes of Middle England, and heading back to my wonderful wild West Clare. First thing Tuesday I had the dog out for a walk at White Strand near Miltown Malbay. It was the most fantastic restorative walk. there really is nothing like a walk by the sea to clear the head.

White Strand
White Strand

And now I’m back to sewing and preparing to head to Chapel Lane Market this weekend.  My sewing machine had a holiday at the sewing machine spa whilst I was away and has returned to me purring like a kitten.  It’s like having a new machine! Which is a good thing, as I had returned to few orders, and a few holes in my stock list that needed refilling.

Blue Paisley Carolina Bag
Blue Paisley Carolina Bag

I was delighted that one of the orders was for a Blue Paisley Carolina Bag – not a bag that I have made before in this fabric, and it looked so lovely, I rushed outside and took pictures of it to send to the person who had ordered it.  And now I’m showing off with a picture of it here too!

Yellow Daisy in action
Yellow Daisy in action

On the cutting table right now are several Yellow Daisy bags off to a couple of my stockists in Ireland – the perfect bags for the sunny days forecast to arrive here this week. See you at Chapel Lane Market on Saturday….and this week we’ve a special visitor who is going to show everyone how to braid fabric. It sounds like it’s going to be brilliant.  We open at 10am, and the braiding Workshop kicks off at 1pm.

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How the bags get made

Meadow Messenger Bag

I was fortunate recently to be visited by a photographer, Julia Dunin, who was tasked by My Creative Edge to photograph the creative process that results in my bags. Julia made it an enjoyable process, and I’m delighted with the photographs.

I thought I’d share the results in this blog, but first I’ve also added in a short video of my über patient husband hanging out the umpteenth load of washed recycled jeans on our washing line, which is one of the first things that has to happen before the jeans can be cut to shape and size and the zips removed.

Once the jeans are dry, they are “filletted”. they are cut into two halves, right and left legs, and the zips are removed.

Creative Process
Jeans – washed and cut

The zips are removed from the denim and readied for use in purses. the rest of the denim is sorted by thickness – certain bags need certain thicknesses of denim, some are not so fussy.

Creative Process
Fabric

The fabrics then need to be selected from my store – this is some of my fabric waiting to be cut.  The fabrics are cut to size, and then I can move on to the component parts, like the zips for the zip top small and large cross body bags.

Creative Process
Zips for Small Cross Body Bags

And then I start to sew…

Creative Process
This is a Fiona Bag – a Small Messenger Bag
Creative Process
Trimming the ends
Creative Process
Making the base of the bag
Creative Process
Sewing the base
Creative Process
Attaching the straps
Creative Process
Closing the strap on the finished bag
Creative Process
Ta da!

And then for fun, Julia suggested a short photoshoot with a bag…

Meadow Messenger Bag
Meadow Messenger Bag

I just love this photo – it perfectly describes how practical and useful, and still beautiful, my bags are.  They’re as happy when you’re in wellies walking the dog as they are attending a meeting with the Bank Manager or an evening out with the girls.

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Zip it up!

Naked zips

Sometimes I have the chance to make little coin purses. These deceptively simple little purses are made from the recycled jeans zips and little pieces of my bag fabrics.

But how do I make them? Well, here’s a step by step guide.  Parental Guidance Statement: Gratuitous video footage of a man putting jeans on a washing line

It all starts with the jeans, like with all my bags.  They arrive from the charity shops, get sorted by size and usability and then washed.  And that means an awful lot of this goes on:

 

My husband Mike, who is tremendously supportive of all my bag making adventures, is often the person who gets tasked to hang out the jeans. Not all the jeans are usable for bag making, but all of them have a zip, so the zip is cut from the jeans and washed separately. They end up on the line too.

Zips for purses drying in the sunshine
Zips for purses drying in the sunshine

Once dried, all the zips need cutting out of the jeans.  This is a messy task. My sewing room becomes covered in threads and shards of denim, but at the end of the process I have a whole heap of wonderfully usable zips from which to make purses….

Naked zips
Naked zips

And then the fun can begin.  As you can see, although most zips have a basic navy fabric outer, some come in fun reds, yellows or turquoises.  I hunt out my fabrics, and then sew away to make some of the purses. At the moment these are available only from my Handmade at Amazon.com shop, on Etsy and at my stall wherever I happen to be (Chapel Lane Market this Saturday, in case you were wondering). I hope to add a few to my shop here on my site very soon.

My favourite fabrics right now are Funky Chicken and Cheeky Cat

Cheeky Cat Purse
Cheeky Cat Purse
Funky Chicken Purse
Cat Purse Zip
Cat Purse Zip

It’s a fun way to use up every possible bit of the jeans that I can. They came into being because I had a whole heap of the zips sitting on my desk, and I couldn’t bear to throw them out.  Jeans zips are made from metal, and become better with age. They also get a little burnished with age (don’t we all?), so they wear particularly attractively.

The purses are a great little gift for children to get for their Mammies, Mums, Moms, Mothers, Mamaí and Madres this Mother’s Day, which is this coming Sunday 26th March here in Ireland and Sunday 14 May in the States.

As I said earlier, I’m at Chapel Lane Market this Saturday in Ennis from 10-5 with all my crafty companions providing you with an array of locally produced gorgeousness unparalleled in the West of Ireland, so be sure to call in to guarantee that you get something really lovely and handmade this Mother’s Day!

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Fly me to the moon, let me play amongst the stars…

Plane & Moon

View

Those of you who take the time to read my blog posts will know that most days I start out by walking the dog.  The weather is irrelevant – the dog needs to go out, so come rain, hail, sleet or (too rarely) sunshine, I am out walking Poppy first thing.  This morning the walk was a pure pleasure, with a cloudless blue sky and bright sunrise.  I looked up and saw an aeroplane seemingly heading towards the moon, and the song in the blog post title came into my head.

I live slap bang on the west coast of Ireland, and we’re on the flight path for most of northern Europe and beyond to the United States and Canada, so seeing the contrails in the sky is a regular thing.  But to see them so clearly in a cloudless sky is a treat.

And these aeroplanes got me thinking about travelling, and the fact that I have to pack all my bags and my displays up when I got home to prepare for Showcase, which starts on Sunday 22nd January. And then I remembered that people I know who have bought bags had sent me pictures of the bags on their travels recently.

 

Blue Paisley going on a trip
Blue Paisley going on a trip

So here we have a large messenger bag in Blue Paisley, alongside a purse in the same fabric, about to head off on its travels.  Apparently the trip closely mirrored several scenes from the film “Planes Trains and Automobiles” in the number of travel variations unexpectedly taken by its owner in order to try to get to her destination. And here’s a Meadow Bag on a trip across the Irish Sea recently, having been on a visit to the UK.

Meadow Bag on board
Meadow Bag on board

Why am I telling you this?  I suppose because I love to hear from people who have my bags and finding out where they have gone to.  By selling online, I have sent bags and purses all over the world.  My list of states within the US where there is now a Sallyann Bag is growing, with Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, New York State, Minnesota and Kentucky leading the charts!

 

Old Map Large Messenger Bag
Old Map Large Messenger Bag

The bags have also headed off the Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK to live. The range of destinations the bags have visited on holidays is long and eclectic. Sunny favourites such as the Canary Islands, Spain, Greece, Italy and France top the list, but they have headed further afield to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sweden, Denmark, Hong Kong, Belize, India, Indonesia, Thailand and South Africa.

Mixed Messenger Bags
Mixed Messenger Bags

Please do send me pictures of your bag when you’re away, if you think of it.  I love to see where the bags have got to – I am always amazed how far they get.  The bags are designed to be good travelling companions, but I’m always interested to hear your feedback too, so if you think of a little tweak which might make the bags even better, please let me know, and I’ll see if I can incorporate the improvements into future bags.

Blue Star Small Messenger Bag
Blue Star Small Messenger Bag

For now, my next trip with my own handbags, together with a raft of display bags is to the RDS in Dublin, to Showcase 2017.  I’m hopeful that by exhibiting at Showcase, I will be able to work with shops across Ireland, to increase the number of outlets where my bags are stocked. I appreciate that not all of you want to buy online, and you most certainly don’t all live within easy reach of Chapel Lane Market in Ennis (but do try to visit Chapel Lane Market – it is FAB!), so more outlets around Ireland would be fantastic.  In addition, buyers from across the world also attend  Showcase, so who knows where my bags might end up being stocked in 2017?

And the good news is that Chapel Lane Market will be reopening for 2017 on Saturday 11 February at 10am! If you want to nudge someone in my direction with regards to a Valentine’s Day gift that you’d actually appreciate, let me know what you’d like and I can ensure it will be on the stall on the 11th.

See you after Showcase, when I will report back with all on my adventures in the big smoke, Dublin!

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New Year, Preparing for Showcase 2017

Mixed Messenger Bag

Happy New Year to you all!  I hope that 2017 brings peace, happiness and gorgeous bags into your life.

January has started with a bang for me, as I am straight into preparations for Showcase 2017 at the RDS in Dublin from 22-25 January.  This is THE major trade show for craft businesses in Ireland, and retailers from across Ireland, Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and the rest come to view the huge range of crafts produced in this country under one roof.  It’s a very big deal for me to be taking my bags to this event, and I am very proud to have been selected by my Local Enterprise Office to be one of their businesses on the Showcase Balcony.  This is where small, emerging businesses such as Sallyann’s Handmade Bags get to have a stall and to promote their businesses to all the buyers who attend.

LEO Showcase Exhibitors

This means I need to titivate my display, sort out my promotional materials, and most importantly of all, have examples of every single bag that I am intending to offer to retailers on my stall for viewing.  This is a lot of work, so much of last week was spent cutting fabric and denim to have everything that needs to be made, cut. The target for this week is to have the vast majority of the bags made by Friday, so that I can spend the following week getting my stand prepared and all my paperwork in order.  I hear that snigger at the back.  I know, I know.  Best laid plans and all that.  But its a target, and I’m aiming high!

I had a play with a new idea on New Year’s Day.  It had been bubbling away for a while, and then with all the soothsayers on the radio and TV in the run up to 2017, all seeming to use the phrase “2017 will be a mixed bag”, the idea crystallised.

Eh voilà! The Mixed Messenger Bag was born!

Mixed Bag
Mixed Messenger Bag – Front

Based around the plain fabrics that I have in stock, I cut different pieces from each colour that came to hand, and I was pretty chuffed with the result.  The colours all work really nicely with each other, and on this particular example, the burnt orange side and base looked really striking.

Mixed Messenger Bag
Mixed Messenger Bag – Back

I was so pleased with this style I’ve decide it should come along with me to Showcase, which is fine, but it means I now have a few extra bags to add to the cutting list.  Each of the example bags I’ve cut will be different, and a couple include a rather lovely shade of pink that I ordered in just before Christmas.  I hope to get them all photographed and will have them on my Facebook page in the run up to Showcase, with a view to adding them into the online shop here on my website from the end of January (just in time for you to drop some heavy hints for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day…)

Mixed Messenger Bag
Mixed Messenger Bag – Side

Talking of such events that are beginning to appear on the horizon, like the first primroses and daffodils, one of the earliest signs of Spring is the re-opening of Chapel Lane Market in Ennis after its brief hibernation through January. It looks like we will be re-opening on Saturday 11 February, but this has yet to be absolutely, totally, definitely confirmed.

Primroses
Primroses

For me, my list of events so far for 2017 is looking like this…

22-25 January Showcase 2017, RDS Dublin Trade Only. If you’re a retailer and would like to attend, please email me at salshandmadebags@gmail.com for an invitation.

11 February (tbc) Chapel Lane Market re-opens for 2017 season! Whoop whoop!!

14 February St Valentine’s Day

26 March Mother’s Day

12-14 May The Handmade Fair Spring event in Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, UK

15-17 September The Handmade Fair at Hampton Court Palace Gardens, London, UK

I was wondering if it might help some of you hard pressed lovely people if I ran a wish book in the run up to events such as St Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day? If you want to pick out the bag that you like, you can let me know and I will write it down in my wish book, under your name.  You can then gently hint to your husband/boyfriend/wife/girlfriend/partner/significant other where the object of your desire is to be found, and I can make sure I have one in stock for you to avoid disappointment. Does this sound useful? Email or call me if this is something you’d like to do.

So enjoy the calmness that January brings, don’t overdo the fad diets and exercise regimes, and I will see you all very soon.  In the meantime if you would like a bag, my online shop is always open, and I ship worldwide from the fabulous little post office in Miltown Malbay. Happy New Year to you all, and for those of you in Asia, Happy New Year of the Rooster on 28 January. May a river of gold flow into your pocket.

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It’s here! Sallyann’s New Fabric!

Green Meadow fabric on the roll

Back in January I had a list of things I wanted to achieve for Sallyann’s Handmade Bags in 2016.  Amongst the obvious “Increase Sales”, “Attend Larger Markets” there was the short sentence…”I need my own fabric”.

I take a lot of time to choose the fabrics that I use for my bags.  I source them from suppliers across Europe, and pay a great deal of attention to the environmental credentials of the manufacturers.  After all, there’s no point placing recycled jeans into a fabric outer that has helped to destroy the ecosystem surrounding the factory where it is produced, is there? But the designs have never been mine.  Several times I have found fabrics that really work for me, only to have them withdrawn by the manufacturers.  Anyone remember the cute camper van fabric that I used to have?

Wildflowers

Not having my own designs meant I have to stock up on fabrics in case they are withdrawn.  But if I had my own design, then I can get it printed for me when I need it, and none else can possibly have it. But how on earth to go about this? I was asked to leave Art classes at school because I couldn’t draw and was a somewhat disruptive element in class.  I admit, falling off my stall laughing at a drawing I had done and cracking my head so badly I had to be sent to hospital for an X-ray was never going to endear me to my art teacher. So how how does someone who cannot draw get a design?

So the idea had to go on the back burner, I had to leave it while I worked on the “Increase Sales” and “Attend Larger Markets”. And then along came My Creative Edge, an EU funded project to try to develop the creative industries on the northern and Arctic periphery of the European Union.  I admit it sounds obscure, but it is an amazing project.  I joined in April, having heard about a project they were running to send some creative companies to a festival in northern Sweden.  But then I saw they were running a project to work with creative craft companies by linking them with students studying business at the University of Applied Sciences in Lapland and partnering participants with similar companies in Lapland. It was called Creative Steps 2.0.

Wildflowers

Creative Steps 2.0 linked me with weaver and textile artist Annika Konttaniemi of Susivilla, which is based in Rovaniemi. As part of the project I explained why I wanted to have my own fabrics, and got talking to Annika through the meetings set up online as part of Creative Steps 2.0.  She could see my difficulty.  I love the landscapes that surround me, and most days I photograph what I see on my morning walk and post it on my Instagram and Twitter feeds. Almost without fail these are of flowers or the bog lands near my home. Yet I couldn’t translate what I loved into a workable design.  Annika helped by putting me in touch with Piirre Collective, a group of designers in Rovaniemi, just on the Arctic Circle in Finland. Suddenly I was able to see how I could develop the ideas stuck firmly in my synapses, and begin to draw them out by looking at the work of this talented collective of Finnish designers.

Annika and I met at Urkult Festival last August, and we talked a lot about what we want to do with our businesses.  There are similarities between us, particularly in our mutual desire to be environmentally conscious and sensitive with our work. I have discovered since setting up this business on my own that in fact I am never alone, and one of the joys of working in the craft “industry” is that I am surrounded by an array of startlingly talented, creative and friendly people who are happy to share experience, knowledge, contacts and information.  This is not cut throat business, it is co-operatrive and inclusive working together.  And this willingness to co-operate and help crosses boundaries and borders, which as I have been working on creating this design have been rendered invisible.

So, the fabric has finally been produced.  It has felt like gestating an elephant, so long has this taken from the initial thought, to receiving the fabric in the post last Thursday.  But here is the roll of fabric – and look – it says “Sallyann’s Bags” on the bottom – it really is MY fabric design. For the moment I am calling it Meadow, but this may change.  It reflects the amazing colours and scenery I see around me in West Clare as much as the colours and landscape of Lapland, and I love that it pulls the two together.  Next thing I need to do is visit Rovaniemi – I’d love to meet face-to-face with the people at Piirre Collective, and to meet again with Annika to see where she weaves her glorious scarves and throws. Inspiration is an amazing thing.

Meadow fabric on the roll
Meadow fabric on the roll

So now I need to get sewing to produce a range of differing styles in the new fabric in time for all the Christmas Craft Markets and Fairs that are fast approaching.  I will be launching my new fabric on Saturday 12 November at Chapel Lane Market, with a sneaky preview for those of you who are going to be at the Ennis National School Fashion Show on the evening of Friday 11 November.  I hope to have each style of bag that I make in the new fabric, including my new Carolina Bag, which is the largest, and most roomy, and most slouchy, cross body bag I have made to date.  More on that bag for another blog post!

Small Cross Body Bag in Meadow
Small Cross Body Bag in Meadow

As a taster for you all, here is the first bag made from Sallyann’s New Fabric, so you can whet your appetite for everything that will be rolling off my production line in the coming days. I’m testing the bag for durability and resistance to everything I throw at a bag – it is my equivalent of the wash and wear tests I used to have to carry out on shirts and dresses I was involved in manufacturing for a well known high street store in another lifetime.

Small Cross Body Bag in Meadow
Small Cross Body Bag in Meadow

In my next post I’ll list all the markets I am due to be attending in the coming weeks, but for now, I can tell you I am in Chapel Lane Market on Saturday 5 November, at the fashion show in Ennis National School on Friday 11 November, launching Sallyann’s New Fabric on Saturday 12 November at Chapel Lane Market and will be at the Ballymaloe Christmas Craft Fair in County Cork on 19 & 20 November.  Do take the time to come and see the new fabric if you possibly can.

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Poppy Appeal….

Vandeleur Walled Gardens

It’s rather grey and wet Bank Holiday Monday here at Bag Making HQ. I had the pleasure of being in Vandeleur Walled Gardens yesterday which was a riot of gorgeous colours. The picture above is of the garden furniture that I was longing to lounge on. Below is my stall, full of the colours being shipped off to Sweden….

Bags galore
Bags galore

It is all systems go as I start my packing for Sweden.

Urkult Poster
Urkult Poster

Last week saw three boxes containing my stock of bags and all the various bits and pieces needed for three days of markets  at a Swedish folk festival in the middle of the woods head off in a courier’s van.  I truly hope that we will be reunited at the hotel in Sweden where they are supposed to arrive on Wednesday. In a past life I spent a lot of time flying around Asia attending exhibitions, and hard won experience means that I have my emergency stock and market supplies travelling with me, just in case my freight goes astray.  I recall arriving very late at night in Calcutta, and my bags were in Buenos Aires.  It’s not a great feeling.

I have my 20 slides ready for my Pecha Kucha presentation.  No, I’d never heard of a Pecha Kucha either.  Apparently, it is a clever Japanese way of speeding up presentations.  You have 20 slides, and 20 seconds to speak about each slide. No more, no less. My presentation is going to be about making the bags from start to finish.  I confess to including some slides showing the sewing room cats hard at work, in the hope that will distract people from listening to my ramblings.

At some point in the Urkult Festival I am due to give a short workshop about recycling fabrics, trying to encourage people to upcycle, recycle and reuse instead of binning and sending them to landfill.  My bags are a clear example of what you can do with a pair of old jeans, but I made a little toy cat (what else?) this morning, to try to show that you don’t have to  make bags with old jeans.  In fact web sites such as Pinterest are chock full of ideas for old jeans, from plant pots to aprons to cocktail dresses. Here is Serge, my denim cat…..

Serge
Serge

I will endeavour to post at least a few pictures and comments on this blog from Urkult, to give you a flavour of the festival and what I am up to.  Do keep an eye on my Facebook and Instagram pages too, where I will be posting plenty of photographs (I hope – will there be wifi in the woods??).

So why did I call this post “Poppy Appeal”, when all I’ve written about is the Urkult Festival and a denim cat?? As any of you who happen to be regular readers of my blog will know, last month we lost our very much loved dog, Daisy.  She was a big German Shepherd-type dog, and my constant shadow in the sewing room, sleeping beside me as I sewed. She left a huge, dog shaped hole in the family.  And then last week there was a post on the Ennis Dog Pound Facebook page, showing two Springer x Pointer puppies, one of which was almost immediately snapped up by my fellow Chapel Lane Stallholder, Lorna (Wild Atlantic Silver – gorgeous). And we took the other one.  Far more rapidly than had been intended.  So, please meet Poppy.  She has arrived into Bag Making HQ like a small tornado, and is slowing down bag production something rotten.  But she is rather cute….

Poppy
Poppy

And please forgive me if my production totals are down on pre-Poppy weekly totals!

Have a good week, and I will be back to normal blogs following my return from the woods of northern Sweden, hopefully fully revved up for the All-Ireland Fleadh being held in Ennis from 14 – 22 August.

 

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Summer’s here – it must be, it’s raining!

Daisy Small Messenger Bag

As those of you who might read my blogs regularly (or as regularly as I publish them) will know, I tend to start my day with a walk up and down the road that I live on.  I’m normally accompanied by my dog, Daisy, who is a more or less willing companion, depending on the weather conditions.  On Fridays I go to the nearby town of Miltown Malbay, and this means Daisy and I get to walk by the sea, along the headland at the White Strand beach.  Whatever the time of year and weather, this is always a stunning walk.  For the first time in my life I saw a basking shark there a few weeks ago.

Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower Meadow

The picture of the wildflower meadow here was taken on this walk on Friday.  The meadow is generally ungrazed, and thankfully it is left late to be cut for hay.  The meadow is alive with skylarks and other rare birdlife, as well as unusual bumblebees and butterflies.  In fact I took a picture of a butterfly that I spotted on the headland a couple weeks ago and could not identify it. I sent it to the National Biodiversity Data Centre for their help in identifying the beautiful little butterfly, and I got a very rapid and excited response saying that it was a Marsh Fritillary, which is a rare and important species.  I was amazed! It goes to show how little we know about what surrounds us everyday.

Marsh Fritillery butterfly
Marsh Fritillery butterfly

Just a few weeks ago I blogged about the cuckoo returning to Coore, and how I could hear it calling.  All that has stopped now – the adult cuckoos have already started their long journey back to Africa, and the eggs they laid in the various host nests will have hatched into baby cuckoos, who have to make their way to West Africa without any help from adult birds in the next few weeks.

My walks in the morning often set the tone for the day, and on Friday, inspired by the beautiful wildflower meadow at White Strand, I decided it was time to get out my Daisy fabric and make a bag to suit the day.  So the beautiful Daisy Messenger Bag came into existence!

Daisy Small Messenger Bag
Daisy Small Messenger Bag

And of course sunshine always makes me think of holidays.  So I had to make the perfect travel bag then, a small messenger bag in my perennial favourite fabric, Old Map.  I took this picture of it on the road outside my sewing studio.  The view is almost directly West, so I was laughing to myself that if I just kept going along the road, over the Atlantic that you can just make out in the distance, the bag would actually reach the place shown on the front flap, North America!

Old Map Small Messenger Bag
Old Map Small Messenger Bag

I mentioned in my last blog that I’ve been selected to go to the urkult Festival in Sweden, and much of my time between now and then is devoted to making lots and lots of bags which I hope the discerning festival goers of Sweden will enjoy.  However, the organisation behind this opportunity, Creative Edge, also helped me to get involved with another scheme recently. Called Creative Steps, it involved pairing my business up with a craft business in northern Finland and a team of hugely enthusiastic business students from the University of Applied Sciences in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland.  The idea was to work with the team of students on a key aspect of my business, and that they would go away and study it and come back with proposals. The students were an international mix, representing Finland, Vietnam, Nigeria and Russia, so their perspectives were totally different to my own.  They were gripped by the challenge of working with a creative business rather than a more “normal” case study of well known consumer brand.

One of the challenges I asked them to look into for me was my desire to develop my own fabrics.  In fact it was through the creative business I was paired with for this project, Susivilla, that I learned of some textile designers.  So I am working away with them to try to start developing my own fabrics, which would be totally unique to Sallyann’s Handmade Bags, which will be AMAZING if it happens! Annika, the lady behind Susivilla, is a weaver.  She makes the most stunning rugs and scarves, inspired by the surrounding countryside and Lappish culture. Click on the link above and take a look.  Her stuff is beautiful.  She will also be at the urkult Festival, and the two of us are trying to work on the germ of an idea that we have for running a workshop whilst we’re at the festival.

These two projects that have spun out of my involvement with Creative Edge have been a real boost to my business – I feel like it is going in the right direction for me now. Developing my own range of bags using my own fabric has been a goal for a long time, but the mechanics of actually achieving it had eluded me until now.  It’s not going to be overnight, but I do feel it will now happen.

The other developments I have been working on are online too – I feel to have spent almost more time on the computer than at the sewing machine.  I have uploaded a lot of bags to my Etsy site and I have become a trader on Handmade at Amazon. My shop here on my own web site is still going strong, never fear, but these two websites give me a broader reach.  Especially for those of you with friends and family in the United States and Canada, do let them know about the Handmade at Amazon site, not just because of my bags, but also because of the range of crafts available on it.  It is very impressive.

As well as my visit to urkult Festival, there is a much larger festival happening much closer to home later in August.  The Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann arrives in Ennis from 14-22 August. It is the culmination of months and years of practice for traditional musicians from around Ireland and all over the world. They will come together in Ennis and compete to become All-Ireland Champion in their particular instrument.  The whole town and wider county of Clare will be alive with traditional music for the whole time.  It is HUGE for Ennis, and will be great fun as the musicians move into the town and take over.

Bodhrán Bag
Bodhrán Bag

In celebration of this massive traditional music event, I have worked with a local traditional bodhrán maker (a type of Irish drum), Ben March Bodhráns, to develop a new type of bag for Sallyann’s Bags – a bodhrán bag!  These are primarily made from recycled jeans, really highlighting how gorgeous recycled denim is as a fabric, with little highlights of oilcloth on the edges.  The bag is lined with soft, fleecy fabric for the bodhrán to snuggle into. These bags are totally unique – if you know someone seriously into his or her bodhrán playing, let them know!  These will be on sale during the Fleadh in Ennis.

For those of you hoping to catch up with me in the coming weeks, I will be at Chapel Lane Market in Ennis on 25 June and 2 July.  I’ll be at the Vandeleur Walled Gardens on 3 July and then at the Cong Summer Festival in Cong, Co. Galway on Saturday 9 July, followed by the Ennis Street Festival on 10 July. After that I will have two further Chapel Lane Markets before I pack up and head north to Sweden!

Primary schools break up here for the Summer next week, so the fun of juggling sewing and surfing will start, as my son is a mad keen surfer. If you’re facing into the Summer holidays too – enjoy them, and hopefully I’ll meet some of you along the way!

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