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.
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 –
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 –
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!
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
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.
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!
It’s festival season here in County Clare. From the beginning of June until the end of September, there is a festival almost every weekend, and some last for a whole week or more. The festivals often revolve around a person who hails from the particular village or town, and whose achievements are celebrated annually, but sometimes are simply set up to bring people together to celebrate fun and laughter. As an example of the latter, Ennis Street Festival was on from 2-5 July this year, and brought crowds onto the street to celebrate art, music, dance and laughter. I was at Chapel Lane Market on Saturday and the crowds of people flowing through our hall all had smiles on the their faces, and in the case of many children, gorgeous face paint enhancing the smiles still further.
As an example of the former, Saturday July 4th not only was US Independence Day, more importantly for the resident and many thousands of visitors to the small town of Miltown Malbay, it is the 43rd Willie Clancy Summer School. This is HUGE in the area where I live. Every B&B, guest house, hostel and hotel is booked up often a year in advance for “Willie Week”, as it is affectionately called. Tent cities suddenly emerge at Spanish Point and White Strand beaches. And all to celebrate the life of a hugely talented piper called Willie Clancy. Thousands of adults and children turn up to classes in their chosen traditional instruments: flute, concertina, fiddle, tin whistle, but most importantly uilleann pipes, for which Willie Clancy was most renowned. The classes are mostly in the morning, and then from about 2pm onwards eager players emerge wanting to join in the music seisúns on every street corner, shop front and pub. Music fills the air along the street – if I have to drive through Miltown during Willie Week it is always with the windows down so that I can hear the music. As well as the traditional music in all its forms, there are ceilís and set dancing – truly the week is when Miltown lets its hair down and has a great time.
As I live so close to Miltown Malbay, I am fortunate to be a member of the Miltown Malbay Farmers Market, which once a month promotes local crafts enabling craftspeople to join the food producers. We trade in the foyer of SuperValu supermarket in Miltown, and during Willie Week we come in most days. I will be at the market from 12-4pm Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week. Which is where I come to the other half of the title of this post. The zips.
I have an embarrassing shortage of purses currently. I make the purses by unpicking the zips from the jeans that I use to make the linings for my bags. Zips from jeans are fabulous quality metal zips, often made with brass teeth, so they last for ages and don’t wear down or start jamming.
I then cut bits of oilcloth to fit the zips. The purses as a result are totally random sizes as I fit each zip specifically to its bits of oilcloth.
It’s always fun as I try to make a load in one sitting – they are fiddly to sew and nearly always result in figures full of pinpricks and broken sewing machine needles. But the final result is pleasing as I fill up my basket of purses. I always encourage customers to have a good search through the purse basket because the small ones always slip away to the bottom, and sometimes the one in the particular fabric they are searching for is hiding. The purses are the perfect size for all manner of uses: change, foreign currency, digital cameras, phone covers, glasses, rosary beads – you name the use, these purses are up to the job! A lot of my fellow stallholders have a Sallyann Purse for their takings for the day – they are light and slip int the pocket easily.
So that’s my task for this afternoon, as well as preparing more bags for orders and getting ready for the fun and frolics of Willie Clancy Week and Chapel Lane Market on Saturday.
Every now and again, something happens which is unexpected and exciting. Such a thing happened to myself and four other craft traders from Chapel Lane Market in Ennis when we met Cheryl Acheson from GlenAran, which sells Irish crafts at stores in Killarney, Kenmare , Inishmore and Shannon Airport. They have two stores in Shannon Airport, one just before you go through Security, and one within the Duty Free Shop itself.
We have been given the opportunity to promote our craft directly to the public at their Shannon Airport store in Duty Free. Each Friday and Saturday one of the five of us will be at the GlenAran shop to promote our crafts, as well as demonstrating to visitors in the Duty Free area how we make our particular crafts.
The five of us taking part in this innovative and exciting event are:
It’s a massive vote of confidence by GlenAran in the quality of our crafts, and a hugely generous move by the company. It is a good example of a local business helping small start up businesses to gain experience in a larger market for their products.
GlenAran has a reputation for sourcing skilled craftspeople to supply authentic, handmade products for their stores. Their staff in stores are highly trained and many have visited the workshops of the craftspeople so that they can talk knowledgeably about the items they are selling. In preparation for our time in Shannon, GlenAran have been mentoring us through advice about display, packaging and sales techniques, which has been invaluable to all of us as recent start up businesses.
The craft promotions will start on Friday 3rd July at 7am in Shannon Airport Duty Free, and continue every Friday and Saturday throughout July and August. I’m first up (literally!) on Friday 3rd July, and will be hopefully bright eyed and bushy tailed as I set up my stall in Duty Free. I’ve been working on a range of bags in bright, Summery colours, and I’m hoping that these will catch the air passengers’ eyes as they walk through the shopping area on the way to the departure gates. If you’re flying through Shannon Airport over the Summer on Fridays or Saturdays, be sure to call to our stalls to say hello!
This is a busy week all round, with markets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. As well as Shannon Airport on Friday, my bags will be making their regular monthly appearance at Miltown Malbay Farmers Market, hosted by SuperValu. My husband Mike will be manning the stall on Friday, so here’s hoping he gets a generous welcome from all the customers and stallholders! It is the start of the world famous Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay on Saturday 4th July, and the Farmers Market will be running most days next week in SuperValu – my bags and I will be there on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 8-10 July, from about 11am.
Also this weekend it is the Ennis Street Festival, so there is a HUGE amount going on all over Ennis. Chapel Lane Market is very much part of this and will be running both Saturday and Sunday. I will be there on the Saturday, from 10am – 5pm as normal. I really hope the weather is kind because there is so much going on around town – it is not to be missed.
Finally, on Sunday, I shall be at the very lovely Vandeleur Walled Gardens in Kilrush from 12 – 5pm. It is their July Summer Craft Fair and Plant Sale. The gardens are quite magical, set within high stone walls and surrounded by the wonderful Kilrush Woods. The gardens happen to possess a coffee shop which does amazing cakes, scones, and snacks. If you’re in West Clare and looking for a place to go, the Vandeleur Walled Gardens are the best spot. Even better, children love the space and freedom to explore the gardens, maze and super-sized chess set, follow the butterfly trail and generally tear around, and you can bring your dog in, where water bowls are provided! Who could ask for more??