Some time ago, I bought two pieces of tapestry (the embroidery kind, not the woven kind) at the Guild trading table, where the cast offs of members go to find happy new homes. It’s one of my failings in the acquisition stakes. There are some things I look at and think–someone dedicated many hours of their life to creating that, and here it is in a thrift store or a garage sale, discarded completely. Sometimes that is enough, they have to come home with me. Finally I had an idea, and I acquired enough $2 pairs of jeans to make it happen–because woollen tapestry is heavy stuff! I made denim surrounds for the tapestries, which, judging by their shapes, might have been intended to cover a seat back and perhaps a stool. Then I worked out some linings, and sewed on patch pockets!
Once I started actually figuring out how to convert them to bags I think I understood how they came to be discarded. They had biased in some way that meant they could not possibly have worked out in their intended applications. the rectangular one was a trapezoid. The one designed for a shaped seat back was not symmetrical. I can only imagine the heartbreak of having stitched these only to discover they were not going to work.
It’s a bit odd even in this context–but unquestionably, it can work as a bag.
In the end I realised I had a third tapestry. It had been reduced from $5 to 40c in an op shop in Warrnambool (country Victoria). I bought it thinking the frame could be re-used. But the badgers? I am not going to hang them on my wall. So I deconstructed the frame ready for its new life and here is the new destination of the badgers. Where will they go next?
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you will not be surprised that I was unable to stop at two of these bags. The pattern is ‘The Wanderlust Bag’ from The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar.
I’ll be honest with you, I often find the projects included in dyeing and other craft books tedious. It seems as though there is a publishing requirement to include them, but often they are uninspiring to me. I guess this makes me an outlier as a reader of such books: I am sure publishers do market research on these things. This pattern, though… oh my goodness. It’s love for me. Vejar has an entirely different dyeing strategy modelled in this project but I am sure she would be untroubled by my putting her design to alternative naturally dyed use.
I have been trying to work my way to the bottom of the zipper collection. I used all those suitable to this project and… had to go and buy more rather than stop or use the bright purple ones. Where did they come from?? (The likely answer is, the op shop–possibly in the 1980s when I did sew purple things quite a bit). Apparently stopping was not an option either. Prepare for more photos soon, because I am amassing a collection, and I am not bored in the slightest….
I’ve had a spell of eco printing onto old woollen blankets. It is extremely rewarding: wool is the perfect fibre for dyeing with eucalypts (as India Flint has said so may times) and the pile of the blanket means that every detail can show!
This one turned out to be the perfect size for my friend’s new and glorious ceramic keep cup. She was struggling with plastic at her favourite cafe; saw my beloved’s keep cup in use, found a lovely ceramic one of her own on a side trip to the art gallery–and all it needed was a little insulation against the bumps of life.
This is a larger model I also like a lot. I think I will make more. The pattern came from Kristine Vejar’s Modern Natural Dyer, which was a kind birthday gift. I am enjoying it very much.
I have been embroidering some small bags. They came with crowd sourced underwear (organic, fair trade) in them, with all the good information about the product printed onto unbleached calico. Seven bags in all! I decided to convert them to loveliness and started with dyeing them in indigo. They are all slightly different shades of blue, some having been dipped more times than others.
I am not a sophisticated embroiderer. But I keep being given cast off embroidery thread, so there was no shortage of thread and no shortage of portable canvases for stitching.
So I tried several patterns and admit I still enjoy the spiral most of all.
One of the bags went travelling with my Mum when she was looking for a simple project, so then there were six.
And after all these adventures in stitching, there is yet one waiting to be embroidered.
I learned some things about how to store embroidery thread from the heritage items that have come to me, some of them in tangles, some in the original skeins, and some wrapped on cardboard shapes that keep the thread neat without taking up a lot of space and using something that comes into the house all the time. Thank you to those women whose hands have held these threads already and whose minds have touched mine however distantly in this way.
In the middle of all this my mother-out-law sent me her stash of embroidery threads in pastel colours, so some of them have gone into the project too. So much pleasure from running stitch…
My beloved returned from a trip abroad with a gift for me. Patches made from recycled clothing scraps! I love them! And then, a familiar tale unfolded. Long time readers will feel like they have read this post before.
I realised that a bag was called for! Apparently my year of scrap patchwork cross pollinated with my bag lady tendency, and behold. These patches spoke to me of a friend who describes themself as non binary–not enthusiastic about being understood as male or female. Disinterested in the whole sport of there being two rigid ideas about how to organise humanity. You know. ‘There are two kinds of people…’.
As a person who wants to be able to do anything–knit and fix the washing machine, embroider and ride a bike… be soft and be loud and be courageous and … you know! I support my beloved friends in their journeys outside the box. These bags include scraps from trousers and shirts I’ve made, leftover denim from making jeans, fabric that has been ‘stuff steep and store’-d with madder root, leftover quilt fabric. You know. Then some of the patches called to me about another friend and their journey lately.
I like the denim aesthetic for a nice solid bag, and soon I was digging into the cupboard where garments that are ripe for their next incarnation live.
Pretty soon the linings were getting pockets. I used to do this with jeans in the 1980s! (More or less).
A pair of jeans went past the point of mending and were cut up and added to the pile of bag materials. An old pair of hemp shorts got the cut. Some webbing from goodness knows where became a strap for this zippered bag. You know, variety.
And, I admit it, I gave one bag away before I took its picture. I loved seeing my friend wearing it on his bike!
And… I still have some patches and some ‘blocks’. Watch this space!
Some time back, I invested in India Flint’s wander cards for wayfaring wonderers. I’ve had fine times pondering the packs for ‘in the mind and ‘in the armchair’ and left them in their original state for quite some time, but over summer the time came for the blank ones to slide into the dye pot.
As always (for me–others have more experience and skill, naturally) some blurred into watercolours and some came out crisp and amazing.
I like them all very much.
So now I have a pack of extra lovely cards, and of course I had another look at the silk they came wrapped in. Once I really looked at it, and at the cards… it clearly needed to become a drawstring bag for them to live in. And so it now is.
Here is the other side, under the cards, looking all chocolate and caramel. Well, that says as much about me as it does about the silk!
A few weeks after that, when I was writing down yet another quote I might like to embroider, and wondering when I will actually make the time to embroider all the inspirational wisdom I might need to carry me through each and every day of the current times, I had a thought. I will not abandon the embroidery plans, but now I know what is going onto these cards. Maya Angelou… Maya Stein… and others, of course!
Could I stop at … ahem… was it twelve? I lost count of the bags I had already made…and no, as usual, I couldn’t stop. I had one more piece of silk that started out a pale blue and ended up more like this.
There were a few pieces of cream or bronze fabric left and they were pieced in.
The first has already gone to a lovely friend I was lucky enough to visit with when I went to Brisbane, and the second to a house warming. And I love the buds, especially! Well. I am ready for any number of occasions for gifts now! In the meantime I am still trying to work out how to wind back the Christmas gifting obligations in my family. How to honour the ideas of generosity and reciprocity and love that perhaps moved this tradition to come into existence, but to detach from its wasteful and consumerist present. Maybe I have to begun by asking that I not be given gifts. Or perhaps talking about how my daughter has clearly decided that from now on she will only buy me second hand gifts. She reached this decision without discussing it with me specifically–and it has really made me feel that she sees me! Well. One step at a time.
Some time ago I dyed some silk I found at the Guild trading table. Just recently though, I stopped looking at it, draped around the place, and realised what it could become. I am hoping these little bags will be pleasing gifts, and in some cases, replace wrapping paper in the coming season of compulsory gifting, which I prefer to involve as little waste as possible, as I have not managed to convert my family to thinking perhaps this is not the best possible way to show our affection for one another. I love giving people gifts, but I find the compulsory nature of it and the set date, just leads to waste, and giving and getting things that are not always wanted or needed.
You knew where this was going, didn’t you? I couldn’t possibly stop at one or two.
I think it is partly the satisfaction of figuring something out and routinising it. Practising it. Being able to create a little system. This wouldn’t satisfy every mind, but evidently there is something in it for me.
I think it is also as simple as getting on a roll and being able to make maximum use of a piece of fabric. Again, not something that has an inherent logic that would work for everyone. And clearly the attitude of a person who has an outward bound stash rather than just one precious piece of fabric. I enjoyed piecing together some of the fabric so I could use it all, as you can see.
I also made one from one of the fronts of a linen shirt dyed some time ago. The bronze-coloured fabric became two larger bags with double draw strings. And so here I am, hours of pleasurable bag making behind me and happy times of gifting ahead! I hope your plans for the gifting season are going well…
For those who have followed this blog for a while, this story will sound familiar. Those who have started reading more recently (welcome!) may find my capacity to start with one bag and then somehow end up with
dozens quite a few, a little puzzling, Never mind. I feel puzzled myself. But this is how it unfolded this time.
It always starts like this: I think I’ll make one bag. Often it just seems like a piece of fabric is calling out to become a bag. In this case, some plant dyed calico (Eucalyptus Cladocalyx bark vat with Eucalyptus Scoparia prints and some clamping…). Then I think I’ll make another one.
I believe I bought this hand printed fabric at a garage sale run by an artist. To me, this design seems to have a vine and some Indigenous fish traps on it.
Somehow once I have made one, it seems logical to make another.
Until I’ve used the whole piece of fabric and used most of a pair of jeans so worn out and tired they can no longer be mended and cannot be made into anything else, to interface bag openings and handles.
In the end I took the bags to the Seed Freedom festival along with bunches of parsley and other goodness from the garden and left them at the festival food swap (I picked up some grapefruit). Here’s a seed mandala in progress at the festival…
But… the bags did not end there! A curtain was transformed into four more bags (one got given away before I took a picture)… and now I had better sit on my hands for a while.
As alert readers may have noticed, from time to time I get onto a theme and just keep going. Bags are one such recurring theme, and in the quiet time on this blog a lot of bags got made. You have only seen the first few. It went on to become what I whimsically refer to as ‘a bag jag’. I am susceptible.
I started on scraps that were on the floor and scaled up to long saved remnants and fabrics bought as offcuts, garments saved for re-use… and from there just kept going.
Why not use some of the bark cloth curtains? What am I saving them for? What about those bits purchased at the op shop? That rolled up set of print scraps I picked up at a garage sale one time? Why not interface the openings with the scrap canvas I collected when I used to dumpster dive that canvas place on the way home from work? You get the picture. Before long there was this.
Then I made more and some went to be Hannukah and Solstice and Christmas gifts so quickly they were not even photographed. In the end I decided to go for it and just kept making with a view to taking them to my friends’ solstice party/picnic/clothes swap/pinata in the park. It was a fun thing to do, and a fabulous evening as always, it made me smile to see some folks’ surprise that someone had made them just to give away, and I now have none of these bags left, and a marginally smaller stash of fabrics!