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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Divided by a Common Language

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

I have to start with this picture of zips from jeans drying in the sunshine yesterday.  This is the start of the purse making process.  The zips are cut from the jeans, washed and then stripped out of their denim.  The zips are divided by size, then I cut the fabrics to match up with each size of zip.  Just recently, I have been making lots of funky chicken purses for customers in the United States, so this batch of zips are going to be converted into these cute little purses very soon!

Funky Chicken Purse
Funky Chicken Purse

Last week was a whirlwind of sewing, packing and training courses. It was Enterprise Week in County Clare, and our Local Enterprise Office was running lots of events to help small businesses like mine.

One of the events was devoted to the dark art of search engine optimisation. Even the phrase, and its more commonly used three letter abbreviation, SEO, gave me the chills.

The lady who was illuminating the topic gave us all pointers about how to get our websites to hit the dizzy heights of Page One on a Google Search Results page.

Keywords are the thing. We were tasked with talking to our neighbours about what keywords were most likely to be used by someone searching for our products. But as is ever the way at these events, if you put 10 small business owners at one table, they’ll start talking about everything except the task at hand.

So keywords are consigned to my homework. And this is where I started to realise how I need to work in at least two languages….American English and Irish/English English.

Why divided by a common language? Take this gorgeous large messenger bag. Is it a messenger bag, a satchel, a cross body bag, a laptop bag, a travel bag, a purse, a pocketbook or a work bag? Is it a shoulder bag? Could someone class it as a tote bag? If it goes to the beach, could it be a beach bag?

Old Map Large Messenger Bag

I need to lie down now! You can see my dilemma. As a “help”, I thought I would Google images of pocketbooks, so I could see what a pocketbook looks like. But Google helpfully presented me with the luridly graphic front cover of that number one bestseller “The Pocket Book of Oral Diseases”. Not for the fainthearted.

So I’ve drawn up a list of keywords, and like Santa, I’ll check it twice, but I may also ask visitors to my stall at Chapel Lane Market and other events what they would call my bags. Especially if they are from the United States or Canada. You can’t beat face to face conversation yet!

Which brings me to my favourite topic to blog about, markets! Chapel Lane Market in Ennis continues to be my main weekly shop window every Saturday. We’re open from 10-5 every Saturday, and the hall is full to the rafters with gorgeousness.

I’m back in the UK for the two Handmade Fairs. The first is at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire May 12-14, the second is at Hampton Court Palace in London from 15-17 September. These are fantastic events so I’m really looking forward to heading over for these. I’ll have some free entry passes, so watch this space, I’ll be publicising those as soon as I have them.

One final thought – have you seen the social media campaign by Margaret Molloy in New York’s City, who for the month of March is wearing Irish designed clothes and accessories?  Under the hashtag #WearingIrish, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, she and now a growing band of others, are promoting all that is fantastic about Irish designed and Irish made fashion and accessories.  And of course I’m more that happy to promote this campaign, by encouraging more and more people to start #WearingIrish by carrying one of my bags, designed and handmade in County Clare!  And because it is nearly St Patrick’s Day, what better than a green Sallyann Bag, one of my own Meadow fabric bags…?

Small Messenger Bag in Meadow
Small Messenger Bag in Meadow

All that remains for me to say is sona Lá Fhéile Pádraig for Friday. Happy St Patrick’s Day!

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A quick (and I mean quick) video

Mixed Messenger Bags

I’m often asked how long it takes to make a bag, so here you go – all 32 seconds of it! I can only dream of this being the reality, but at least it gives you a basic idea!

The end result of this making frenzy, a Mixed Messenger Bag, will be on sale at the first Chapel Lane Market of 2017 which is on this Saturday, 11th February, 10am – 5pm. See you there I hope. The Mixed Messenger Bags are also now available from my online shop on this site – choose “Mixed” in the drop down box for what fabric you’d like.

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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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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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The Cuckoo is Back! Summer is almost here!

Turquoise & Blue Bags

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.

Tough Dandelion
Tough Dandelion

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.

Red, Crimson & Cerise Bags
Red, Crimson & Cerise Bags

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.

Messenger bag, Cross Body Bag, Green Messenger Bag, Daiper Bag
Green Paisley Messenger Bag

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!

 

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April Showers

Thrift

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.

Threatening clouds
Threatening clouds

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 in the Rockpool
Daisy in the Rockpool

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.

Amazing colours in a rockpool
Amazing colours in a rockpool

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…

Thrift
Thrift

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.

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Taking Advantage of a Sunny Day

Jeans drying on the line
Jeans drying on the line
Jeans drying on the line

The start of the bag making process is the jeans.  I get the majority of these from charity shops across Clare and Limerick, but over Easter my parents arrived with over 70 pairs of jeans they had gleaned from various jumble sales in their village.  That’s a lot of washing!  So when the sun came out, which had been a rarity in County Clare until the middle of March, I took advantage.  Load after load went through the washing machine, until the line was full and the denim was snapping happily in the breeze.

And of course, whilst the sun was out, it was a great chance to go for a walk at White Strand, near Miltown Malbay.  The dog loves the freedom to charge around and sniff, generally do dog stuff.  And walking along the headland is fantastic to clear the head.  I love taking pictures on these walks, and occasionally I manage to catch a shot of a wave breaking, so I’m sharing that here, totally self-indulgently.

Every breaking wave
Every breaking wave

So once the jeans are dried, they have to be processed.  They are split hem to hem, then split to remove the zip.  The colours are sorted – the range of shades of denim is a spectrum all on its own.  Forget 50 Shades of Grey.  I have a Hundred Shades of Indigo.  The denim is cut into the basic shapes needed for each type of bag, and all ironed.  When I have the outer fabrics cut, I go to the cut denim to choose the best matching denim for each bag.  It is an enjoyable task.

The bags then need to be made.  All activity takes place under the close supervision and scrutiny of my Quality Controller, Coco.  Those of you who know me or have read earlier blog posts will know that Coco is one of the two cats in our family.  She is a large, cocoa coloured, very fluffy, very bossy feline who spends a lot of time checking up on what I am doing.

Coco the Bag Cat
Coco the Bag Cat

In this picture you can see I managed to catch a snap of her sleeping on the job. She was flat out and didn’t move even while I was turning the bag the right way out and stitching on the straps, the final parts of the bag-making process. Fear not – she later inspected the bag and it was up to her high standards and was passed for sale.

Box Bags Wash Bags Make Up Bags Crochet work Bag
Box Bags

I managed to get a few extra box bags made too.  These bags are proving popular with people, and are being put to a myriad of uses.  The more traditional ones are as wash bags, for shaving kits or make up.  But they are also being used to keep sewing or crochet bits and pieces together.

As we get into the Summer, do remember if you own a Sallyann bag to try to take a picture of it out and about on your travels.  I love to  see where the bags get to, and the best pictures will be posted up on my gallery on this site.

Finally, in a bit of market news, I will be at Chapel Lane Market on 9th & 16th April, then I will be making a return to the Milk Market in Limerick on 23rd April, before heading back to Chapel Lane Market on 30th April.  Further ahead I will be at the Vandeleur Walled Gardens again on May 1st, and on May 22nd I shall be taking a road trip to Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, to a Craft Fair in the Marine Hotel.  It’ll be exciting to be out on the road with the bags!  Hopefully I will see some of you there.  If not, you can always get your bag fix by shopping online at this site, or at my Etsy shop.

Enjoy the sunshine while it’s there….

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