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
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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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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Last Few Shopping Opportunities Approaching

It’s a crazy, busy time of year for everyone in the run up to Christmas.  I am approaching the last few markets I’ll be attending in 2016…here they are:

Saturday 17 December 10am – 5pm Chapel Lane Christmas Market, Ennis, Co Clare

Sunday 18 December 11am – 5pm Clare Crafts Association Christmas Craft Fair, Old Ground Hotel, Ennis, Co Clare

Monday 19 – Friday 23 December 12-7pm Chapel Lane Christmas Market, Ennis, Co Clare

Large Messenger Bag in Meadow
Large Messenger Bag in Meadow

I will have as many of my bags in as big a range of fabrics as I can muster at these events.  I’m delighted with the reception that you have all given to my own fabric design, Meadow. I have sold out of it at each event I have attended with Meadow bags, which is brilliant, although it does mean that I am facing into a big pile of Meadow bags to be cut and sewn this week.  If you’re desperate to get your paws on one before Christmas, by all means message me to pick one up at the markets I’ll be attending, or order online.  I’m now making large messenger bags in Meadow too – see the picture above – it’s looking a bit gorgeous don’t you think?

If you’re ordering online, bear in mind that the last posting dates for Ireland to the UK is 19 December, and to Ireland it is 21 December.  I wouldn’t want to risk being up to the wire on those dates if at all possible though, especially if I have to make to order, so please be kind and give me as much lead in time to any orders that you might have!

It’s a short but sweet blog post today, necessitated by a need to sew not type.

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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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Livet är Kort – Köp Väskan!

Life is Short - Buy the Bag

Well, I am up to my tonsils here in Bag Making HQ getting ready for my trip to the Urkult Festival in Sweden next month.  As you can see, I have started by getting some signs made – they were made by one of my fellow Chapel Lane Market stallholders, Colette of Colly’s Hobby House.  In case your Swedish is a little rusty, they say “Life is Short – Buy the Bag”.  I love them.

Life is Short - Buy the Bag
Life is Short – Buy the Bag

Fabrics orders have been made, straps and fasteners delivered, it is the final push to get bags made in time for shipping out to the festival site in Nämforsen.  The delivery drivers don’t even need to phone for directions anymore!

In the run up to Urkult I will still be doing a few local markets, if you want to get a bag for your holidays as a little treat for yourself.  I’ll be at Chapel Lane Market for the next 3 Saturdays, the 16, 23 and 30 July. On Sunday 24 July I will be at the Clare Crafts Association Summer Craft Fair at the Falls Hotel, Ennistymon, and on Bank Holiday Monday 1 August I will be at the Vandeleur Walled Gardens in Kilrush. For any of you who have not yet made it to Chapel Lane Market, take a look at this video of the market last Saturday to get a flavour of the variety of stalls that are at the market each Saturday.

Summer Bags
Summer Bags

I’m also getting ready for The Handmade Fair in London in September, and I was interviewed by a lovely lady by the name of Annie B for her blog, Mrs Crafty B’s Blog.  Take a look at the results here.

I normally regale you with tales of my daily morning walk in this blog.

Bumblebee in flight
Bumblebee in flight

The picture above is one I took this morning of a bumblebee just coming into land on a large thistle.  Unfortunately I haven’t been walking as much recently, due to the sad and untimely death of my walking companion, Daisy the Dog.  She was my constant companion in the sewing room and on my walk, and is much missed around Bag Making HQ.

Off now to make a start on the vast pile of bags in my “to sew” pile.  Lots and lots of bags to be ready very soon for shipping!  It’s all very exciting.

 

 

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Summer’s here – it must be, it’s raining!

Daisy Small Messenger Bag

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.

Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower Meadow

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.

Marsh Fritillery butterfly
Marsh Fritillery butterfly

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!

Daisy Small Messenger Bag
Daisy Small Messenger Bag

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!

Old Map Small Messenger Bag
Old Map Small Messenger Bag

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.

Bodhrán Bag
Bodhrán Bag

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!

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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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