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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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….
It is all systems go as I start my packing for Sweden.
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…..
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….
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.
Well, I am up to my tonsils here in Bag Making HQ getting ready for my trip to the Urkult Festival in Sweden next month. As you can see, I have started by getting some signs made – they were made by one of my fellow Chapel Lane Market stallholders, Colette of Colly’s Hobby House. In case your Swedish is a little rusty, they say “Life is Short – Buy the Bag”. I love them.
Fabrics orders have been made, straps and fasteners delivered, it is the final push to get bags made in time for shipping out to the festival site in Nämforsen. The delivery drivers don’t even need to phone for directions anymore!
In the run up to Urkult I will still be doing a few local markets, if you want to get a bag for your holidays as a little treat for yourself. I’ll be at Chapel Lane Market for the next 3 Saturdays, the 16, 23 and 30 July. On Sunday 24 July I will be at the Clare Crafts Association Summer Craft Fair at the Falls Hotel, Ennistymon, and on Bank Holiday Monday 1 August I will be at the Vandeleur Walled Gardens in Kilrush. For any of you who have not yet made it to Chapel Lane Market, take a look at this video of the market last Saturday to get a flavour of the variety of stalls that are at the market each Saturday.
I’m also getting ready for The Handmade Fair in London in September, and I was interviewed by a lovely lady by the name of Annie B for her blog, Mrs Crafty B’s Blog. Take a look at the results here.
I normally regale you with tales of my daily morning walk in this blog.
The picture above is one I took this morning of a bumblebee just coming into land on a large thistle. Unfortunately I haven’t been walking as much recently, due to the sad and untimely death of my walking companion, Daisy the Dog. She was my constant companion in the sewing room and on my walk, and is much missed around Bag Making HQ.
Off now to make a start on the vast pile of bags in my “to sew” pile. Lots and lots of bags to be ready very soon for shipping! It’s all very exciting.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
As ever, it has been busy at Bag Making HQ since I last wrote a blog post. Time just seems to telescope away from me. I was all excited last time about cuckoos and bumblebees. Now the latest summer migrants are American, Dutch, French, British and German tourists who come in to Chapel Lane Market in Ennis, smiling as they discover a place to buy REAL souvenirs of their time in Ireland.
It really is the start of the tourist season now. I was fortunate to go on a trip to the Cliffs of Moher last weekend when the weather was unbelievably kind. The number of
languages being spoken in and around the visitor centre was bewildering and intriguing, and great news for the local tourism businesses. It was a brilliant day, with amazing blue skies and calm seas, which was a relief for me because we went on a cruise to the bottom of the cliffs with the Doolin Ferry Company, and I’m not the greatest sailor. For the first time in over 10 years of living in County Clare, I saw the Cliffs from a totally different angle, and we managed to get up close and personal with a load of nesting seabirds such as puffins, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes. If you’re ever thinking of a trip along the Wild Atlantic Way, my part of the West Clare coastline in not to be missed!
I think all those beautiful blues in the sky and sea last weekend inspired my sewing this week. I was making some new fabrics up into bags in preparation for the Craft Festival held yesterday (22 May) at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire.
My two favourite small cross body bags from the week’s production were these two – a gorgeous sky blue and a dark teal colour – both colours much in evidence at the Cliffs of Moher.There was a dark teal messenger bag and a couple bag buddies in the new fabrics too. I think I’ll be making a few more of them soon. The plain fabrics allow me the chance to riffle through my pile of cool pockets that have been unpicked from jeans, and I then get to match them to the lining denim and the outer fabrics when I’m making the cross body bags. I’ll be trying out a few small messengers in these fabrics too, but with a twist. What this space.
The small messenger bags will be some of the bags I’ll be preparing to take to Sweden, to the urkult Festival in August. I’m hoping to develop some new bags for that trip. Part of the excitement about going to this festival is that I will get to meet crafters from all over northern Europe at the event. In addition, with thanks to Creative Momentum and the Creative Steps programme who are arranging the trip to Sweden, I am already in touch with a Finnish weaver, whose business is called Susivilla. (Take a look – her scarves are AMAZING). We’re working on a project with some students at the Lapland University of Applied Sciences right now, so I’m getting all these messages about ideas for urkult, for bags, for my business, for fabrics. It’s very exciting.
I’ve posted a picture of the advertising poster for urkult so you can see a bit more about the festival. I’m clearly a late bloomer as I’ve never been to a music festival before, so this is going to be quite something.
My Summer is shaping up quite well now. Locally I will be going to Chapel Lane Market this Saturday 28th May, and again the Saturday of the June Bank Holiday Weekend, 4th June. On Sunday 5th June I will be at the Clare Crafts Association Summer Craft Fair, which is being held in the Community Centre in Doonbeg. It is the Doonbeg Jazz Festival that weekend, so if ever there was a winning combination of fine jazz and finer craft, this is it. The Jazz Festival is brilliant and there is music all over the village, so it is really worth coming along if you can. I love a bit of jazz on a sunny afternoon, creamy pint in hand….but of course I’ll be without the pint and in the Community Centre. But if my stall is unattended, you’ll know where to look!
Finally, a little bit of advanced notice, especially for those of you who are based in the UK. On the weekend of 16-18 September I shall be bringing the bags over to London, to Hampton Court Palace, where I will be one of the exhibitors at Kirstie Allsop’s Handmade Fair.
I will be able to offer discount codes for tickets and I may even get tickets that I can give to people, so if you would like to go on the special mailing list I’m creating to send out all these lovely goodies and special offers, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll put you on the list. It’d be great to see some of you at the event, which promises to be the biggest event I’ve done, and also really interesting, with a HUGE range of crafts going on. There’s a theatre with all manner of craft demonstrations throughout the day, which you can book when you book your tickets. It sounds fab.
It’s going to be a very busy Summer at Bag Making HQ getting ready for all these events!
I’m just in the door from my morning walk. As I walked along the road a familiar sight greeted me. Familiar, but I haven’t seen it since last June. The cuckoo. It’s a surprisingly big bird, and resembles a sparrow hawk in colour and shape, but its looping flight and unmistakeable call is the first real sign that Summer is here. It calls for barely a month. Its visit is fleeting. It comes all the way to Coore in West Clare from West Africa to call, mate and lay eggs. It then returns to West Africa. It is one of the last Summer migrants to arrive, and must be the first to leave, given that it subcontracts its child rearing to all the tiny warblers and pipits that live in the boggy land surrounding my home and studio.
It was just lovely to walk along the road with the cuckoo looping along in front of me, flying from perch to perch, calling like mad. It is a haunting call that takes me back to childhood summers lying on the grass, surrounded by daisies and listening to bumblebees and cuckoos. Cuckoos and bumblebees are both desperately in decline. In the case of bees, it is becoming clear this is due to habitat loss, a determination by farmers and gardeners to eliminate weeds and the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. The Bumblebee researchers at Biodiversity Ireland and the Irish Wildlife Trust are urging gardeners not to kill dandelions – often the first plentiful food source for bees in the Spring. In celebration of this I took this picture this morning of a dandelion proudly growing slap bang in the middle of my road. Dandelions are seriously tough, but their value as a food source is huge.
As for the decline in numbers of cuckoos, habitat loss is definitely a factor, with the loss of nesting sites for their host species in the bog lands and moors of Western Ireland. Burning of bogs in April and May destroys the nests of their hosts and the cuckoo eggs, eradicating a whole generation of cuckoos and other baby birds. But given that the majority of the cuckoos’ life cycle is spent on the wing and in Africa, there are no doubt other causes in these countries too. Take a look at this website for some fascinating insights into the routes taken by these unique birds.
OK, I hear you say. Enough about your wildlife. What about the bags? Well, I’m sewing away. I’m enjoying the fabrics I’ve recently sourced, like Funky Slate, the Paisleys and the French fabrics like Pink Leaf and Camellia. I’m attending a large Craft Festival in Dun Laoghaire at the Marine Hotel on Sunday May 22nd, so I want to have lots of choices for the people of South Dublin on my first visit to the Big City! It’ll be my first time at this event, so I’m really looking forward to my trip East. It’ll be a test of my navigational skills, having never been to Dun Laoghaire before.
I’ve also had some AMAZING news! I have been selected to be one of three Irish craft businesses from the western counties to attend a music festival in Sweden in early August. The festival is called the urkult Festival and it celebrates the return of the darkness to the forests and lakes of this area of northern Europe as the period of 24 hour daylight comes to an end. The festival has music, arts, crafts and a very strong green ethos. There is a Night of Fire which sounds completely breathtaking. It is a part of the world I have never visited before, so I am hugely excited. My bags will fit right in with their strong element of recycling, longevity and environmentally conscious acrylic coatings.
This Messenger Bag and its companions will be looking forward to travelling across Ireland and beyond this Summer. Here’s to sunshine and safe travels.
PS I’m in Chapel Lane Market in Ennis the next few Saturdays 7th, 14th and 21st May!
My studio is in my house, which is on the side of a hill overlooking the Atlantic. The ocean is about 3 miles away as the crow flies, and when it is clear I can see the coast, from the road past Coosheen near Kilkee, Doonbeg and Doughmore Bay, Quilty, Mutton Island and up towards Spanish Point.
There’s a crucial phrase in that last sentence – “when it is clear”. Being so close the edge of Ireland – the edge of Europe! – it means that it is a very elemental way of living. The weather is felt very intensely. Take today for instance. I set out for my morning walk at 9am in sunshine. It was bright but cold, with a sharp, north westerly wind. I could clearly see down to the coast. Most of our weather here blows in from the ocean, so if I can see the coast, I can fairly reliably enjoy a dry walk. I turned away from the sea and walked east up the hill from my house in the dry.
At the point where I turn around, I look back down west towards the coast. Looming above me were HUGE grey clouds, and I could see the veils of heavy, showery rain falling from them as they approached me. I started for home at a speedy pace, hurrying the dog from her usual relaxed sniffing of smells. The rain hit just as I was going down the first hill towards my house. It was icy cold and sheeted down my face, off my coat and soaked me through to my skin on my legs. Note to self: get some waterproof trousers.
But within a few minutes, and as I climbed up the slight rise towards the house, the rain stopped. And hill fog descended. So the visibility dropped from over a kilometre to less than 200m in the space of 2 minutes. The fog was driven at speed by the strong north westerly wind, and as I crested the hill and looked in the direction of the coast, I could see a blurred line on the horizon below which I could begin to make out the coast. The fog lifted by the time I was home, and as I turned into my driveway the sun broke through. And all that happened within 40 minutes.
Every day that I take this morning walk, I take pictures of the weather, the clouds, the flowers I see on the walk. I tweet them at my Twitter account @sallyannsbags, and also post more photos on my Instagram account @sallyannshandmadebags. I use the hashtag #morningwalk on my pictures. If any of you also take morning perambulation, please tweet me the pictures – I’m always curious about where people are and what their everyday walk is like.
A couple of days before it was bright sunshine, yet I could hear hail falling. I looked to the field next to the house and could see the hail storm approaching across the field. The hail stones were as big as large peas, and bounced more than 12 inches off the ground, such was the force they fell with. Here’s a brief clip of video for you to show I genuinely am not exaggerating! Five minutes after the hail stopped, the sun was out again and the weather returned to calm sunshine.
Some days I have to go to the nearby town, Miltown Malbay, and on days like that, I put the dog in the car and head to the White Strand beach near Miltown. There is a headland there which offers a fabulous walk out to the very edge of County Clare. The waves can be crashing, the wind howling, and you feel your head clearing and exhilaration sets in. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, that walk will always send you home with a grin on your face.
Daisy the dog loves to swim in a large rockpool right near the furthest point of the headland. It must be about 2-3m deep, and yesterday in bright sunshine it looked like a tropical pool. The colours were amazing. And talking of colours, the rock pools were teeming with brightly coloured sea anemones and seaweeds.
All along the walk there are flowers – right now there is a profusion of dandelions and thrift, or sea pink as it is sometimes known. Thrift is one of the most amazing plants. It seems able to grow, and thrive, in rocky crevices where it is hard to imagine there is any soil or nourishment. For a brief period in April and May, the thrift erupts in a riot of colour right down the edges of the cliffs in a truly inspiring sight. Close up, the plants are just as amazing…
As a type, today’s heavy showers, hill fog and low clouds are a thing of the past. There is bright blue sky and strong April sunshine. Truly a day of April showers.
On the bag making front, I am returning to the Milk Market in Limerick on Saturday for the first time in AGES. I’ll be in the craft section, sharing a stall with a couple of Limerick Craft Hub suppliers. Since I stopped having a stall in Cruises Street I have missed the hustle and bustle of Limerick’s markets, so this will be a great chance to re-aquaint myself with new and old customers. The stall is open from 8am until 2pm, so hopefully I will see a few of you there. I’m back to Chapel Lane Market in Ennis on 30th April.
Enjoy the April showers, and as the old saying goes round here, if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.