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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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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Back to the Sewing Room

The Bar!

So I’m back from my Summer travels.  Urkult Festival, Sweden – tick! The Handmade Fair, Hampton Court Palace, London – tick! Both events were great.  The Handmade Fair was a huge event, and getting my head round everything I needed to take, up to and including electric drills, screwdrivers and shelving units was a major task.

#Serge&Arno
#Serge&Arno

Leaving early, I made it to the port at Dublin just in time to enable Serge & Arno, petrol heads both, to admire the three supercars that were also in the queue for the ferry. They particularly liked the fact that we followed a bright yellow Lamborghini onto the ship.

The Handmade Fair
The Handmade Fair

The picture above shows a small proportion of the Handmade Fair site.  My stall was in the marquee on the left, and the grassy area in the foreground was surrounded by the most fantastic array of food stalls, selling everything from pulled pork to vegetarian paella.  I barely got to look round my own marquee, let alone the West Marquee across the central food area.  What I can report is that if you have any interest at all in any imaginable craft, The Handmade Fair is nirvana.  There were stalls selling bolts and bolts of glorious fabrics, yarn stalls to make anyone want to take up crochet and knitting, and a vast array of stalls selling kits to enable you to try out something new.  And then there were the stalls like mine, selling finished goods.  Jewellers, fabric art, fused glass, ceramics, felt, paper crafts… And then of course there were all the workshops for people to try out new crafts and techniques.  One lady passing my stall proudly showed me the embroidery she had just learnt how to do in a craft tent.  It was gorgeous – a bunch of cone flowers sewn in jewel bright sewing silks.

The Bar!
The Bar!

There was even a bar in the central area.  Now, on the Saturday evening the exhibitors were invited to have a cheeky glass of Prosecco and some food, so in the interests of this blog I went along to investigate and sample.  I had Serge & Arno with me because they couldn’t be left overnight in the marquees, and next thing I knew they were posing for photos with internet stars Brian & Philippe, tweed mice from The Silver Shed.  There was a serious bromance going on, and trying to convince the lads that it was time to head back to our digs was not well received.  They had hoped to hit the nightclubs in Kingston!

#Serge&Arno
#Serge&Arno #Brian&Philippe

After three intense days I packed up and headed home.  Since then I have been catching up on all the administration and internet shop updating that has been somewhat sidelined over the Summer.  Whilst you’re here reading the blog – take a look at the online shop!  I’ve added a lot more photographs of the bags, and tried to make the ordering process a bit more straightforward.

Grey Dandelion Cross Body Bags
Grey Dandelion Cross Body Bags
Grey Dandelion Large Cross Body Bag
Grey Dandelion Large Cross Body Bag

But a bag maker can  only cope with just so much time away from the sewing machine.  My fingers were itching to get back to sewing.  And then my grey dandelion fabric order arrived, so it would have been rude not to cut it and make a few bags, wouldn’t it? So here are a couple of pictures of my latest grey dandelion bags – they’re always gorgeous.  The front and back of the bags are always different, because of the way the fabric cuts. The fabric is so amazing – Teflon coated linen, so amazingly resistant to water and dirt – and gorgeous.  Each bag is lined with a different black denim, and they have black webbing straps.

If you’re wanting to take a look at the grey dandelion or any other bag, I’ll be at Chapel Lane Market on Saturday from 10am – 5pm.  It’s a bumper market this week, with loads of stalls of loveliness, so don’t miss it!  On Sunday I’m heading to Limerick’s Strand Hotel for the Style Closet Pop Up Rail Sale. This is a new event for me, and I’ll have a mix of new bags (like the grey dandelions) and some ends of lines which will be on offer.  There will be style bloggers, milliners, clothes designers, knitwear designers….you name it.  It’s open from 12pm, and there will be a fashion show and make up demonstrations – it’s a fantastic “treat yourself” day out.

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