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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The Tale of a Cat & Mouse Zip Top Tote

Cat & Mouse Zip Top Tote

Once upon a time, there was a Cat & Mouse Zip Top Tote Bag. It lived happily with its owner in County Clare, and for the most part, behaved impeccably.

Cat & Mouse Fabric Zip Top Tote
Cat & Mouse Fabric Zip Top Tote

One day, the bag’s owner decided to go on a fantastic trip to the United States, to visit New York City. It’s a known fact (not false news everybody!) that Sallyann Bags love to travel, and the Cat & Mouse Bag was eagerly packed with all the necessities such an exciting trip could require.  Off it flew, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of New York City.

On a trip to a residential area of New York however, disaster struck. The Cat & Mouse Bag went missing, never to be seen again. It’s owner was gutted.

Now, I can’t begin to say that I can help in the recovery of the contents of the bag, which I am sure meant a great deal to its owner.  Losing a handbag is a nightmare, and often not for the loss of the cash and cards that were being carried (although that HURTS), but because of the personal items also in the bag. The photos, the favourite tiny toy you carried to pacify your toddler, who is now 14 and gets embarrassed if you show him the toy car in a restaurant while he’s deciding how to eat his own bodyweight in pizza, the essential sewing kit and that biro you got free from a hotel in Limerick which just happens to write the most beautifully of any pen you have ever owned. You know what I mean.

But when the Cat & Mouse Bag owner contacted me, I could at least consult one of my favourite places in my studio, my fabric store –

Creative Process

And – Lo! Cat & Mouse Fabric. It’s been a while since I made a Zip Top Tote, but I have just completed Cat & Mouse Bag Mark 2 –

Cat & Mouse Zip Top Tote
Cat & Mouse Zip Top Tote

Cat & Mouse Zip Top Tote

It’s never going to make up for the loss of Cat & Mouse Bag Mark 1, but at least has been possible to replace the bag itself. I can’t always promise to be able to do this as some fabrics cease to be available from suppliers, but in this instance I think you’ll agree there is a happy ending to this tale of travel, adventure and loss. And don’t forget, I love it when you post pictures of Sallyann Bags on their travels – post them to my Facebook page or my Instagram page so we can see where they get to.  Just be careful they don’t get lost!

Bags on their way to Chapel Lane Market
Bags on their way to Chapel Lane Market

So now I have just completed a few extra bags to add to my stock for tomorrow’s Chapel Lane Market in Ennis. It’s my last Chapel Lane Market tomorrow for a few weeks as I take a break now for a few Saturdays. I’m back again on Saturday 15 July. In the meantime, if you’re wanting a bag I now have over 15 outlets across Ireland, Italy and Scotland to help you get your essential Sallyann Bag for the Summer.
Shannon Heritage Shop, Shannon Airport
Design & Craft Studio, Charleville, Co Cork
George & Milly, Castledermot, Co Kildare
The Museum Shop, Knock Shrine, Co Mayo
Design Lodge, Lahinch, Co Clare
Moher Cottage, Liscannor, Co Clare
Stephen Pearce Pottery Shop, Shanagarry, Co Cork
Ballymaloe Shop, Ballymaloe, Shanagarry, Co Cork
O’Brien’s Crafts, Doolin, Co Clare
Leaping Lizard, Bridge Street, Westport, Co Mayo
Above & Beyond the Warehouse, Guildhall Street, Derry/Londonderry
Bastion Gallery, Bastion St, Athlone
The Corner Gallery, Moffat & Kirkcudbright, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland
Covent Garden Shop, via Pietro Micca, Turin
Craft Granary, Chair, Co Tipperary
The Cheese Press, Main Street, Ennistymon, Co Clare

Cottage Garden Centre, The Hand, Miltown Malbay, Co Clare

Have a lovely few weeks, until I blog again….


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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?


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.


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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A little bit of publicity!

Small Messenger Bag in Funky Slate & Funky Red

It’s been a very exciting few days! The bags have had their first taste of the national media, with an article in the Irish Examiner, which you can read here.

A friend of mine and fellow stallholder, Aine Purcell, of Green Little Fingers very kindly recorded the moment I was able to show some of the Chapel Lane Market Stallholders the article, and I think you can probably tell I am a little bit excited!

And just incase that isn’t exciting enough, I’ve revamped my Etsy shop, so for those of you who prefer to shop on Etsy, take a look just here!

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New Destinations and an Empty Desk (temporarily)!

messenger bag, cross body bag

October is upon us and the bags are spreading their wings and migrating to new destinations.

Four new shops have recently started to stock Sallyann’s Handmade Bags, which means that they are now available in Dublin, Charleville, Shannon Airport and Doolin.  Should you be caught out by a bag-related emergency, you will now be able to find a Sallyann Bag that little bit more easily.

In Dublin, the bags are residing at the rather lovely Artists Gift Gallery at 43 Dawson Street in Dublin 2.  It is a gorgeous shop in a fantastic location, so if you are in our fair Capital City, do call in to see the bags and say hello. In Charleville, the bags are to be found in the Design & Craft Studio on the Main Street.  The shop is run by batik designer Judy Reardon, and is a goldmine of local crafts.  In Doolin, the Irish Crafts shop (and online at www.irishcraftsonline.com from 26 October) have been stocking my bags for a couple of weeks, and they look very happy in amongst the genuine Irish craft goodies stocked by the shop.

Messenger bag, cross body bag, Shannon Airport Duty Free
GlenAran’s Shop in Shannon Airport’s Duty Free area

Finally, GlenAran Irish Markets have started to stock my bags in their store in the Duty Free shop at Shannon Airport.  It has been an amazing few months working with GlenAran, to get to this stage.  Those early morning shifts in the Duty Free area talking to the customers and staff really helped to get the message out there that there are alternatives to the big brand bags on offer. Next time you’re flying through Shannon Airport, be sure to call to the GlenAran shop to see their display.

Cross Body Bags, Messenger Bags, Tote Bags
Cross Body Bags, Messenger Bags, Tote Bags

And why an empty desk? I had to have my sewing machine serviced.  I’ve had my amazing, fabulous, wonderful machine for a year now, and it desperately needed a service.  But time without my machine?  I got separation anxiety even thinking about it.  And if I sent it away by courier it might have been away for days!  I love my sewing machine very much – it has revolutionised the way I sew and the bags that I can make.  I have even been known to talk to it and stroke it.  My long-suffering husband could sense my stress levels rising about the impending separation, and volunteered to get up ridiculously early yesterday morning to make the 3 hour drive to Waterford, to the shop where the machine came from, the Singer Sewing Machine Centre in Newgate Street. He was there to see John, the owner and all round sewing machine genius, opening up the shop, and by 12pm my main machine and back up machine were both serviced and tickety-boo (that’s a technical sewing machine term, you know).  So now I can breathe again, and get sewing when I finish these blog ramblings.

Small Messenger Bag in Red Funky Fabric
Small Messenger Bag in Red Funky Fabric

And if you are ever in Waterford, and like your sewing, get yourself to the Singer Sewing Machine Shop.  Not only are the staff encyclopaedic in their knowledge, they are friendly, helpful and provide an almost bespoke fitting service of stitcher to sewing machine. They also have a giddiness-inducing array of haberdashery and sewing notions to lighten the wallet still further.

Finally, for those of you who are regular visitors to my web site, I apologise for the somewhat “work in progress” appearance that it has right now.  The online shop is hopefully going to be up and running very soon, but it is taking slightly longer than anticipated.  Your patience will be rewarded with a rather clever little online shop by the end of the month, I hope.

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New Market this Week!

I’m off exploring this week. It could be said that I don’t get out much these days.  And that is probably not far from the truth – I spend an inordinate amount of time behind the sewing machine, making bags.

Stall at Bunratty
My Market Stall

However, weekends mean markets, and this weekend I am heading down to Cork, to The Fair Alternative on Princes Street, right in the city centre.  I found out about this market last Christmas, but was too tied up with markets in Clare and Limerick to venture down to try it out. This Saturday I will finally get to take part.

I’m hoping that the good people of Cork will be out and about on Saturday, and that they will call into what appears to be a thriving hub of artisan goodies, with original artworks, jewellery, children’s clothes, paper goods and now, my bags!

I confess I’m also hoping that I can steal 10 minutes from the stall to head into the English Market, although that is always a dangerous place to visit.

I’ll take a few pictures and report back next week….

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