A few years ago I found a book containing fabulous patterns for handbags that you knitted and then felted in the washing machine. The knitting part was super easy; you just kept going in circles. It didn’t even matter if you dropped a stitch since the felting process covered up any small holes.
Having mastered the basics I was more than interested in a book which explains the history of felting (apparently it’s a technique thousands of years old) and provides some inspiration for projects beyond handbags. Felting by Elvira López Del Prado Rivas provides details for twenty eight projects including table runners, flowers, slippers, dolls and jewellery, all explained using step by step photographs. A section is included also which is specifically targeted at children though these activities involve purchased felt rather than starting from wool. The author also explains clearly the actual process of turning wool into felt – this can be done via some elbow grease and a bucket of water if you have patience and a lot of time but is much easier using a washing machine. At the end, if you need more inspiration, there is an artist gallery in which international felt artists display some astonishing creations.
Felting was published in 2014 by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. I was provided with a copy via Net Galley. Reading it via an e-reader made it difficult to follow some of the more complex projects so I was interested in buying a copy – but baulked at 30GBP a copy. I know this was an expensive book to produce because it contains more than 500 photographs but it’s still expensive for a craft book. If you’re bank balance is more flush than mine however, and you are interested in exploring a new hobby, this book would be well worth a look.
What do you mean you didn’t know there was a handbag problem? Where have you been for the last decade? Of course this problem isn’t anywhere near the scale of climate change or the world economic downturn but it is nevertheless an issue that gets me agitated.
My problem is that I can never seem to find the perfect handbag. They’re never the right size. They’re either too small to accommodate an e-reader plus phone and purse and the myriad of things we women believe essential to have with us at all times. Or they’re way too big so I end up having to rummage around at the bottom every time the phone rings or I need to pay for some items. Just like our waistlines, handbags are getting bigger by the year. Some of them can’t even be called handbags, they are so huge. More like holdalls than something I’d want to hook over my arm.
Then there is the appearance of the bag itself. I don’t want something completely plain, effectively just a square with one or two handles attached. But neither do I want one that comes adorned with more bling than the Crown Jewels and trailing feathers, bows, chains and furry bits.
In desperation in the last couple of years I resorted to having a go at making my own bag since the shops couldn’t provide what I wanted. I’ve made a few felted bags with a modest degree of success. But an instruction book I found in the library enticed me with sewing templates for classic bag shapes from 1920-1950 era. I cut and sewed and glued with gusto. It was an enjoyable experience though none of my finished items looked anything like the pictures. So like many of my other craft projects, it all went to the back of the cupboard.
And then a book on the NetGalley site caught my eye: Handbag Workshop by Anne Mazur. What sold me was the promise inherent in the the sub-title: Design and Sew the Perfect Bag. Surely this would be the answer?
Well it would be if only I had higher level sewing skills and more patience, and more time.
The designs are gorgeous. They are based on key shapes of circles, squares and triangles from which a variety of wristlets, holdalls, clutches and pouches in leather or leather/cloth are created. There are 18 patterns in total, each accompanied by detailed instructions and templates.
The opening chapters provide an introduction to the principles of handbag design and the importance of getting the proportions right. If the straps are too long or too wide for the body of the bag then the whole thing looks wrong and won’t be functional either. Then it’s on to some foundational sewing techniques specific to making bags, such as creating rivets and eyelets and how to work with leather when all you have is a standard home sewing machine.
The section on techniques should have been enough to tell me that constructing some of these superb looking bags would be a severe test of my sewing prowess (or rather, the lack of it). Stitching in straight lines I can do, I can navigate curves and fold and pleat after a fashion. But even the beginner patterns looked pretty complex and that’s without the added difficulties of working in leather. This book would undoubtedly suit someone who knows their way around a sewing machine really well and is looking for a challenge. The result would certainly be worth the effort. As for me, I’m going to stick to felting bags.
Handbag Workshop by Anne Mazur is published by The Taunton Press, Inc.. I received my copy via NetGalley.