Friday, October 26, 2012

Artistry in Indiana

Early this month, my husband and I drove to Bloomington, Indiana to visit family for a week. My two sisters live there, and my brother drove my parents out from upstate New York, so it was a family get together of sorts. It had been a couple of years since we were all in the same place at one time, and my parents are getting on in years (mid-80s), so having a few days together was very special.

We've visited Bloomington many times in the past 20 years, but this stay was unique because of a very special event, plus some impromptu artsy outings. I came home feeling very blessed to have experienced all of it.

The big event was a private concert with Sylvia McNair, a singer extraordinaire who has two Grammys from her years with the Metropolitan Opera. She now sings cabaret and show tunes, and her clear, strong voice is a delight to hear. If you like this style of music, I highly recommend checking her out on YouTube. Then imagine what it was like to hear her sing in a large dining room, with just 16 others. Very intimate, very special.

Sylvia had donated this mini-concert to a fundraiser for a local charity, and my sister was the winning bidder. The entire affair was a gift from my sister to each of us, but especially to my parents, who thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Sylvia is friends with my sister and several others in attendance, and it was a wonderful party.

I love seeing a person doing what s/he was born to do. No doubt about it; Sylvia is here to sing. In talking with her after her performance, she told me the most rewarding aspect of singing is seeing it bring people together. During one song, she noticed my mother reach over and take my father's hand. She said that is the greatest compliment she can receive, that recognition that what she does is bringing people closer. She's an extraordinary person!

The next day, we met and spent a couple of hours with John Bender, a well-known Bloomington native and businessman. Many decades ago, he helped two brothers start a little pizza company that went big: Pizza Hut. With many other entrepreneurial pursuits under his belt, he now owns a lumber company, where his sons work with him. Well into his seventies, he enjoys bicycling and has a passion for flying. (Rhonda, do you know him?) We met him at his large double hangar at the local airport to see his two airplanes, antique bicycle collection, and antique motorcycle and car collection. It was fun to walk down the automobile memory lane with my parents, who had driven some of the same models back when they were young. His collections aside, John's entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring.

Another day, my sisters, my mom and I stopped in at Bella Bella, the studio of artist Lara Moore. My sister was there to order a custom mirror for one of her bathrooms. She recently purchased a coffee table that is simply gorgeous. Lara gave us a quick tour and we were able to see a new piece in the works. Literally hundreds of layers of tissue paper are glued to a particleboard surface to create the designs. Liquid acrylic is then poured over the piece, layer by layer, until a thick, very smooth protective coating is achieved. It's a process developed by Lara, and she's been very successful with it. If you frequent arty boutiques and shops or art fairs, you may have seen some of her work.

We also went to Textillery Weavers, a local maker of woven throws. In addition to perusing the goods in their outlet store, we were able to watch weavers at work on both hand- and machine-operated looms. The 30+ year old business is owned and run by a wife/husband team. She designs the throws and is the creative force in the venture, while he runs the business end of things. They sell to stores across the country, so you may have seen their goods in shops. I came away with a steal of a deal, this chenille throw, woven on a jacquard loom.
Photo from Textillery Weavers Web Site
Our stay ended with a fun evening at a local pub, listening to a fabulous band called the Vallures. What could be more fun than five women and a man playing and singing 60's music?! With lots of girl group tunes, matching dresses and retro hairdos, they were a blast!

On our return trip, we spent a night with my parents in Ithaca. Since we were there, how could I resist visiting my favorite independent fabric store, Homespun Boutique? I tried to be selective, and bought only what I would use for handbags, plus one garment for myself.

Beautiful ribbons from Renaissance Ribbon. So colorful! I can't wait to use them in bag linings.

Pleated silk, silk faille, linen and rayon jacquard, and silk stripe for bags.

A gorgeous purple cotton matelasse, which I hope to make into a long vest for myself. Scraps will be great for handbags.

And buttons! These are handmade from Fimo clay, then painted. I love the tiny script on them.

So ended our creative week away from home. Traveling through six northeastern states in early October was a visual delight. The foliage colors were spectacular! I returned with new-found vigor to make handbags, inspired by all of the creative people I met while away, and the beautiful scenery along the way. In my next post, I'll show you what I've been up to for the past two weeks!

Monday, October 15, 2012

September, a Month of Bags

Photo by Lisa Walker

Some of you must wonder where I've been for the past month. I've been up to my ears in handbags! After years of considering it, I've decided to design a line of bags to sell. A pipe dream? Perhaps in the long run it will be. But in the short term, it's a success. Let me explain.

This flurry of bag sewing was determined by a potential meeting with a boutique owner in Bloomington, Indiana. My husband and I drove there in late September for a family gathering of sorts. Two of my sisters live there, and my brother drove my parents there from New York, for a week long stay. It's not often my entire family can spend time together, so it was a really special week. It turned out to be an artistic vacation of sorts, which I'll write about in another post.

Back to the boutique. It's called Relish, and the vibe is urban chic. They sell home goods, including furniture, art objects, women's clothing and shoes, jewelry, etc. One of my sisters is a good customer there, and knows the owner, Sharon, well. She contacted her ahead of our visit to see if she would meet with me about my new handbag venture. Sharon agreed, and we met at the store one rainy afternoon. She was a wealth of information as far as retailing my bags is concerned, and we quickly agreed that trunk shows would be a good way to start. I wasn't totally familiar with the nuts and bolts of trunk shows, but basically, the artist shows up with the goods, while the store owner invites her best customers and creates a party atmosphere. It's a low risk situation, where the shop owner can see how well a craft person's work will sell, without making an investment in the merchandise. The shop owner takes a small percentage of the sales, so the profit for the artist is typically far more than selling at wholesale prices.

Sharon liked my bags, suggested ideas for other designs, and offered to hold a trunk show in her store! I wasn't expecting that, so I was thrilled. It was such a positive affirmation of the work I've been doing for the past three months.

My goal for the winter is to design and make at least 50 bags to show in the spring. Sharon gave me some leads for boutiques in the greater Boston area, so I'll be pursuing that as well. Normally I wouldn't travel as far as Indiana, at least, not at the start. But this is a great opening opportunity, given that many of my sister's friends shop at Relish. It could be a fantastic party! Sharon recommended a boutique in Indianapolis, so I'll pursue that in hopes that I can do two shows in one trip.

Relish's vibe is very gray and muted, so I entered our meeting with a bit of a concern because of my love of using bright colors in my bags. Sharon was able to set color aside, and see the potential my bags have. I showed her the two I made in July and August, as well as these three:

This double bag is from Vogue 8590, by Marcy Tilton. I love the versatility this bag offers. It is two bags in one, and others could be switched in and out, creating infinite possibilities. I love the shape, and the hidden pocket beneath the front flap.

I also love the combination of fabrics I found from my stash and at Sawyer Brook.

The unique feature of the bags I'll design is painting. Sometimes the elements will be large, and sometimes small, such as the flourish on this flap. I often add paint to a solid lining, and to inner pockets. I added inner pockets to each of these bags, but they're difficult to see because the top opening of the bag is small.

I love this double bag idea, and plan to stretch it out into a clutch shape, so that I can use one for my wallet items. By adding slots for credit cards and cash, and a zippered pocket for change, it can be a small bag that I carry inside a tote bag. And I can make coordinating second clutches to carry with it when going out. Fun!

Photo by Lisa Walker
This design and the next are self-drafted. I wanted a small-ish bag that would hold essentials and be fun to carry to social events. The faux suede was a cinch to paint. I couldn't believe how easy it was to work with, and how well it took the paint.
Imagine my horror when, after many hours of designing and sewing, I mis-cut the slits for the magnetic snap! There was my bag, my first prototype, with 1/4 holes where they didn't belong. They were only a quarter of an inch off, but the snap itself wasn't large enough to cover the slits. Thankfully, I had just received a silk screen of my name (ordered from Marcy Tilton), and I was able to make a long label to cover the holes. This time, I put the snap in the right place!

The next bag is a slight variation on the same design. I refined the side panels a bit, and gave it double handles.
Photo by Lisa Walker
The colors of this bag were inspired by the lining fabric, a gorgeous rayon/poly jacquard from France. I fused a light interfacing to it, to give it stability.

While I was making this bag, I kept thinking of my sister's friend, Angela. She loves orange, and has an extensive handbag collection. I showed her the bag and a gathering, and the moment she set eyes on it, she claimed it as hers. I sold it to her on the spot, for a really good price. Another success!

So, why did this take a month? Because I'm not showing you the design that is still in the works, and two others that are near completion. And because of structure. I like a bag that has stiffness to it, so it doesn't stretch and bulge and whatnot when loaded. Craftex is the perfect product for stiffening the bag, but it can't be turned inside out easily. Consequently, sewing the linings into the bags has to be done by hand. Then, there's the edge stitching, which can be difficult to do through stiff fabric and interfacing layers. Much of my time has been spent just figuring out how to put the bags together. I expect that to continue with each design I make, but I hope it will all come more easily the deeper into it I get.

There's no telling where this venture will take me, but as long as I'm having fun doing it, that's ok with me. I'll be posting bags here as I make them, as well as garments I have in mind for myself. It's going to be a busy autumn and winter in the studio!

P.S. Who is Lisa Walker, and why did she take photos of my bags? She's my talented photographer sister. I wanted photos of Angela's bag before leaving it behind, so we did a photo shoot of bags.  Her work can be found at Lisa Walker Photography and on SmugMug.