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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How the Tara Bag got its name….

Tara Bag in Blue Meadow

Most of my more recent bags have got names, and a number of people have asked me how they end up with these seemingly random choices: Fiona, Fely, Carolina and now Tara.

Why did the small cross body bag not get a name and is known in my studio as the X Bag? And the Large Messenger Bags are known as Large Messenger Bags, or Lg Mssngr if I’m in a hurry. Not terribly exciting names. But that’s because they were designs I developed myself. I always meant to give the X Bag a better name, but it just became X and the name stuck.

New bag designs tend to come from conversations I have with customers either at my stall or via email. Some ideas are more possible than others. For every “Can you make it a little smaller/larger?” which is often possible, there can be a “Can you make a wheelie bag to fit Ryanair’s bag specification” which is beyond me and my sewing machines!

But every now and then someone suggests an idea for a bag, and the seed of a new design is sown.

Take the X Bag for instance. A relative of mine, the lovely Fely, asked me if I could make a bag a bit wider for her. She wanted room for a book and a bit more “stuff”. And so the Fely Bag was born.

Large Cross Body Zip Top Meadow Collection
Fely Bags – Meadow Collection

A fellow market stallholder loved the Large Messenger Bag, but wanted a small one, preferably with denim on the outside. What started as  a one off special for Fiona became one of my bestselling designs when I reversed it so the denim was the lining, as normal, and the showerproof fabric was on the outside. The Fiona Bag had arrived.

Blue Star Small Messenger
Blue Star Fiona Bag

The Carolina Bag was a supersized X Bag designed initially to provide room in a bag for the medication required by a busy mum for her son who had complex medical needs. With a bit of tweaking it became the largest bag in my range, and a very useful overnight bag or baby bag too!

Old Map Carolina
Old Map Carolina

 

And now there is the Tara bag. Tara is another fellow stallholder at Chapel Lane Market, and she makes very pretty beaded jewellery (check out Tara’s Trinkets). Tara has been a loyal customer of mine, and she has a few of my bags. She has tried and tested them.

So when she asked me about a bag that was deeper than a Fely, but not as big as a Carolina, I was intrigued. I roughed out a protoype.

Prototype Tara Bag
Prototype Tara Bag

I then put it through the rigorous testing I always employ before a bag design is introduced. It has to live with me (a test in itself some might say), get thrown around the floor of the car, take a plane journey, deal with airport security, be loaded up with shopping AND do several markets before it can be considered part of my range.

"Testing" the Prototype Tara Bag
“Testing” the Prototype Tara Bag
Tara Bag in Grey Meadow
Tara Bag in Grey Meadow

I showed the prototype to Tara, and it passed her test too. So, as with the other bags, I asked Tara if I could name the bag after her, given that she was the origin of the idea. And that’s how the Tara Bag got its name.

Tara Bag in Blue Meadow

 

Tara Bag in Green Meadow
Tara Bag in Green Meadow

What’s next I hear you ask? In response to many requests, I am working on a backpack design. I have the basic idea clarified in my head now, but I need to source the metal fixings for the design, and these take time to get right. But 2018 will see a backpack design. And its name? That’s a secret, for now.

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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
Fabrics

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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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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Off to The Handmade Fair at Ragley Hall

Sallyann Bags in the Sunshine

It’s been a very busy few weeks, as I increase my stock levels in preparation for attending The Handmade Fair at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire in England. Trying to get the balance right of which bags to take in what fabric and which bag style has been challenging.  Just at the point when I was feeling a little frazzled, I looked up from my trimming of a large messenger bag to see that a thread had become stitched into the seam of the denim lining of the bag, in the shape of a perfect heart. It’s like the messenger bag was sending me a message.

A subtle message
A subtle message

So I breathed, thought calm thoughts, and got the bags made just in time. I’ve even had to book my sewing machine in for a service after its exertions at the wonderful sewing machine spa that is John O’Donnell’s Singer Sewing Centre in Waterford. Whilst I am away it can put its foot up and get its machine parts oiled, whilst I drum up more work for it in England! As a quick aside, John is a fabulous help to my business, always at the end of the phone to advise me as I push my sewing machines sometimes to the limits of what they are capable of. I’m sure my machines count the days until they go for their annual service.

The bags getting ready to head to England
The bags getting ready to head to England

So the bags are packed (I have John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” playing on repeat in my head, despite the fact that I’ll be leaving in a small overloaded car to catch the ferry to Holyhead, which is somewhat more humdrum), and I’m almost ready to leave. I was at The Handmade Fair in Hampton Court Palace Gardens last September, and had an amazing time.  This Spring event in Ragley Hall in Warwickshire is a new event, so it’s a first for everyone.  Like the September event there are loads of classes and sessions where you can try out new crafts or learn new techniques in crafts that you are already passionate about.  There are seriously delicious food wagons parked strategically around the site, tempting you with everything from paella to artisan coffees. And then there is the Shopping Village, where I will be at Stall 34.

The Shopping Village is an array of temptation, with huge displays of fabric and yarn stalls, all manner of craft kit suppliers, and then handpicked suppliers of genuinely handmade items, like my bags.

Meadow Small Messenger Bag
Meadow Small Messenger Bag
Funky Red & Slate Large Cross Body Bags
Funky Red & Slate Large Cross Body Bags

There are some TV personalities who are involved with the Handmade Fair too, most notably Kirstie Allsopp who is a big supporter of handmade crafts and has been central to The Handmade Fair since its inception. For viewers of The Great British Sewing Bee, the judge Patrick Grant will be there this weekend, as well as Keith Brymer-Jones, the judge from The Great British Pottery Throwdown. So a little bit of stardust is being sprinkled amongst us all.

I’ve made a load of little purses for the Handmade Fair too – they are always popular with people wanting a little extra with their bags, or as a snap purchase as they finally find the small purse they’ve been looking for.

Meadow Large Messenger Bag
Meadow Large Messenger Bag

For those of you in the UK, if you’d like free tickets to The Handmade Fair for this weekend 12-14 May, email me as soon as possible and I will send you a link by return that you can follow to get your free entry pass. It’ll be lovely to see you at my stall! At the time of writing it is wonderfully warm and sunny here in West Clare, and has been dry for almost a month now, which is quite uncanny. I don’t know if this gorgeous Spring weather will last into the weekend, but whatever the weather, I hope that you have a wonderful few days, and with luck I will see a few of you in Ragley Hall this weekend. I’ll be back at Chapel Lane Market in Ennis on Saturday 20th May, for those of you planning your holidays and realising that a light, easily packed Sallyann Bag is just the thing for your next trip!

 

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How the bags get made

Meadow Messenger Bag

I was fortunate recently to be visited by a photographer, Julia Dunin, who was tasked by My Creative Edge to photograph the creative process that results in my bags. Julia made it an enjoyable process, and I’m delighted with the photographs.

I thought I’d share the results in this blog, but first I’ve also added in a short video of my über patient husband hanging out the umpteenth load of washed recycled jeans on our washing line, which is one of the first things that has to happen before the jeans can be cut to shape and size and the zips removed.

Once the jeans are dry, they are “filletted”. they are cut into two halves, right and left legs, and the zips are removed.

Creative Process
Jeans – washed and cut

The zips are removed from the denim and readied for use in purses. the rest of the denim is sorted by thickness – certain bags need certain thicknesses of denim, some are not so fussy.

Creative Process
Fabric

The fabrics then need to be selected from my store – this is some of my fabric waiting to be cut.  The fabrics are cut to size, and then I can move on to the component parts, like the zips for the zip top small and large cross body bags.

Creative Process
Zips for Small Cross Body Bags

And then I start to sew…

Creative Process
This is a Fiona Bag – a Small Messenger Bag
Creative Process
Trimming the ends
Creative Process
Making the base of the bag
Creative Process
Sewing the base
Creative Process
Attaching the straps
Creative Process
Closing the strap on the finished bag
Creative Process
Ta da!

And then for fun, Julia suggested a short photoshoot with a bag…

Meadow Messenger Bag
Meadow Messenger Bag

I just love this photo – it perfectly describes how practical and useful, and still beautiful, my bags are.  They’re as happy when you’re in wellies walking the dog as they are attending a meeting with the Bank Manager or an evening out with the girls.

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Zip it up!

Naked zips

Sometimes I have the chance to make little coin purses. These deceptively simple little purses are made from the recycled jeans zips and little pieces of my bag fabrics.

But how do I make them? Well, here’s a step by step guide.  Parental Guidance Statement: Gratuitous video footage of a man putting jeans on a washing line

It all starts with the jeans, like with all my bags.  They arrive from the charity shops, get sorted by size and usability and then washed.  And that means an awful lot of this goes on:

 

My husband Mike, who is tremendously supportive of all my bag making adventures, is often the person who gets tasked to hang out the jeans. Not all the jeans are usable for bag making, but all of them have a zip, so the zip is cut from the jeans and washed separately. They end up on the line too.

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

Once dried, all the zips need cutting out of the jeans.  This is a messy task. My sewing room becomes covered in threads and shards of denim, but at the end of the process I have a whole heap of wonderfully usable zips from which to make purses….

Naked zips
Naked zips

And then the fun can begin.  As you can see, although most zips have a basic navy fabric outer, some come in fun reds, yellows or turquoises.  I hunt out my fabrics, and then sew away to make some of the purses. At the moment these are available only from my Handmade at Amazon.com shop, on Etsy and at my stall wherever I happen to be (Chapel Lane Market this Saturday, in case you were wondering). I hope to add a few to my shop here on my site very soon.

My favourite fabrics right now are Funky Chicken and Cheeky Cat

Cheeky Cat Purse
Cheeky Cat Purse
Funky Chicken Purse
Cat Purse Zip
Cat Purse Zip

It’s a fun way to use up every possible bit of the jeans that I can. They came into being because I had a whole heap of the zips sitting on my desk, and I couldn’t bear to throw them out.  Jeans zips are made from metal, and become better with age. They also get a little burnished with age (don’t we all?), so they wear particularly attractively.

The purses are a great little gift for children to get for their Mammies, Mums, Moms, Mothers, Mamaí and Madres this Mother’s Day, which is this coming Sunday 26th March here in Ireland and Sunday 14 May in the States.

As I said earlier, I’m at Chapel Lane Market this Saturday in Ennis from 10-5 with all my crafty companions providing you with an array of locally produced gorgeousness unparalleled in the West of Ireland, so be sure to call in to guarantee that you get something really lovely and handmade this Mother’s Day!

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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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Back behind the Sewing Machine

And breathe…! It’s been a very busy few days since I last posted a blog.  Last time I wrote I was about to head off to Showcase Ireland 2017. It was  a huge experience for me and the bags.  We headed off to the RDS in Dublin’s

Bags at Showcase
Stall F77 at Showcase

leafy Ballsbridge on Saturday 21st January to set up.  Walking into the hall was somewhat bewildering. On arrival I parked and headed towards where my stall was up on the balcony, but somehow contrived to return to my car by a different route, despite thinking that I had taken the same exit.  I found myself in a totally different car park, on a totally different side of the RDS.  Retracing my steps, I located the Tipperary Crystal stand which I had noticed on my first entrance to the hall, and left by the door nearest to that stall.  From that point on, Tipperary Crystal was my beacon to steer me in the right direction.

It took me four runs to bring in all the bits and pieces for my stall, and I spent the next four hours up and down ladders, screwing hooks to walls and setting up the bags.  I was hugely fortunate to be visited by a visual merchandiser who came to look at my products and to help me to maximise my display potential. The picture here shows my stall following her advice.  I have a tendency to organise the bags in very ordered straight lines, and I was encouraged to be a little more “playful” with the way I arranged the bags, with some at angles or lying on their sides.  It felt a little unnatural at first, but the more I looked at the stall, I could see it did make a difference to the display.

For the next four days I was at my stall, F77, on the Balcony.  It’s a very friendly place to be, with fellow stallholders keeping you company and willing to go find a cup of tea at the precise moment you feel you are flagging.  The visitors to the show come from across the world.  There were Japanese, Americans, Canadians, Australians, French, Spanish, Italians and British as well as lots and lots of Irish companies.  My stall was next to the International Buyers Lounge where the buyers go to get a coffee and a moment’s rest from the hurly burly of Showcase – it was like standing near the United Nations! This meant that I could employ some degree of cheek and have a chat with the international visitors when they were re-fuelled and raring to go, and I am delighted to say that I now have stockists of my bags in Italy, the UK and Spain.

I also met with buyers from George and Milly  in Castledermot in County Kildare, Above and Beyond the Warehouse in Derry and the Ballymaloe Shop  in Shanagary, County Cork, and I can report  that they too will be stocking my bags from later in February. More stockists will be coming on stream during March, so I will be updating my stockists page to keep you all updated.

Admirers at Showcase
Admirers at Showcase

One of the best visits to my stall was made by fellow Chapel Lane Market stallholders, who came en masse to experience Showcase.  At one point I had four Sallyann Bags admiring my stall, as you can see from the photo – it was great fun. I felt a real glow of pride.  Hopefully one or two of the stallholders (at least) will consider coming to Showcase next year. It has certainly been a great experience for me.

Misty morning
Misty morning

So now I am back to my sewing room in West Clare, and enjoying being back to my routine of a brisk walk up and down the hill next to my home before starting work. This morning was particularly gorgeous, as the mist was lifting as I walked Poppy the dog along the road.  By the time I headed home there was bright blue sky and bright sunshine, which was a big bonus after the mist and rain of the previous day.

Cobweb
Cobweb

The cobwebs were covered in tiny droplets of rain and glittered in the sunshine.  The birdsong was fantastic – it felt very Spring-like.  Which seems appropriate given that tomorrow, 1st February, is the pagan festival of Imbolc, which celebrates the beginning of Spring.  Certainly the daffodils are flowering and the frogs and newts are out of hibernation, so it seems Spring has sprung around West Clare.

And the best thing about February (apart from my birthday)? St Valentine’s Day do I hear you shout? Close. Shrove Tuesday? Almost, but not quite.

It’s the return of Chapel Lane Market! Hoorah! We’re back on 11 February, bright eyed, bushy tailed and ready to astound you with our array of gorgeousness. Lots of new ideas, goodies and perfect gifts for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and of course birthdays and sneaky treats for yourselves! Since we closed before Christmas we’ve all been recharging our crafting batteries, and everyone is fired up and looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones as we start back in the Community Centre in Chapel Lane in Ennis.

I will be debuting my new Mixed Messenger Bags, as well as Meadow bags, up to and including a Carolina bag in Meadow fabric! And the bags will be displayed with perhaps a little more flair than before, thanks to my lessons learnt from the visual merchandiser.

Mixed Messenger Bags
Mixed Messenger Bags

Enjoy the sights and sounds of Spring – it is such a fabulous time of year, so full of the promise of good things to come in 2017.

 

 

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