Bags of fun

I find great solace in my little Woolly Room – there is fabric, and wool, and books, and buttons, and knits, and pictures …  and there are also bags!  If you are hoping to hear about Gucci, and Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors, then read no further.  These are handmade, vintage, passed down, charity shop finds.  Yes, there is the odd Orla Kiely or two, chosen because of my passion for pattern, but they don’t really count as designer in my eyes (sorry, Orla!).

There are bags I’ve made for myself, and there are bags others have made for me. But let’s start with some of the very oldest.  These are bags that have come to me from my grandmothers.Grandmothers' bagsI’ve never used the teeny weeny one at the top –  the silk is perishing and it is very worn. It came from my maternal grandmother, but I think it is Victorian and may well have belonged to my great ( perhaps my great-great?) grandmother.  A real treasure.

On the top right is a beautiful little petit point bag – and petit is the operative word here.  The stitches are teeny tiny!  I used it quite often when I was much younger – but now I am older and appreciate the workmanship more, I’m a bit reluctant to use it.

As for the bag on the bottom left  – it is one of my favourites and it comes out for special occasions like weddings. It’s stamped leather work, Florentine, very soft. The handle had perished so I replaced it with a ribbon which I can change to match my outfit.

The bottom right beaded bag is Japanese, and what a labour of love! Teeny, tiny beads, subtle patterning.  Just very, very occasionally I go to a very, very special evening event, and then this is my bag of choice.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with bags of such quality – where to go from there?!  Well, I have lots of other bags in my Woolly Room.  Let’s see what I’ve got hanging on the wall.bags of fun wall displayRight at the centre back in the photo is this bag which I made about 10 years ago for my father who died last year.  It was for his 80th birthday, and I’ve recorded the date and details on the strap (“written” with my sewing machine).  It’s a bag I treasure especially because I know he treasured it too.Strap of RHE bagIt’s a knitted bag (lined with quite stiff fabric to stop it sagging), and I had a lot of fun picking out words and patterns that were important to him.  He excelled at his classical language studies in his youth, and a love of Greek and Latin stayed with him for the rest of his life.  You will find μηδὲν ἄγαν (the Greek writing on the left)  written on the temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece.  It means: Nothing in excess – or Moderation all things.  On the other side, the Greek writing could be translated (roughly) as Everybody chooses the best path for themself.  Both these mottos were important to him, as were the Latin words from the Book of Psalms: The Lord is my illumination (on the left) and In you, Lord, have I trusted (on the right).  And I have knitted Greek key patterns all over the bag – great fun to knit.Back and front of RHE's bagSo you’ll realise I love to work with words, to incorporate language into my designs.  I also studied Classical Greek as a university student, so this next bag celebrates a motto that sums up the thought of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: Πάντα ῥεῖ.  It means (very roughly): All is flux.  Life is constant change.  The fabric was once my grandmother’s curtains!   It’s a very coarse linen weave, hand-embroidered with these wonderful wild flowery patterns. They were magnificent curtains, but don’t they just lend themselves to a fabulous bag?  I just love that huge flower on the cover.back and front of Dordy's curtains bagPart of the fun of making your own bags is the nice surprises you can put inside.  And the buttons!inside Grandmother's curtains bagOften the fabric suggests the bag – as my grandmother’s beautiful curtains above did.  But with this next bag, I made the fabric myself. That is to say, I knitted the pattern I wanted, put it in a hot washing machine wash to felt it – and then cut the resulting fabric up to make the bag.Felted bagThe interior treat is this gorgeous Alexander Henry fabric, featuring these terrifying knitting ladies.  That is some knitting!  They reminded me strongly of the three Fates of ancient Greek myth, the Handlers of the Threads of Time so I’ve added that story to the Alexander Henry one.  You’ll see that I’ve embroidered the names of the three fates in their hair.  In the Greek legends, Clotho (on the left) was the spinner of the thread of life, Lachesis ( on the right) measured each person’s lifeline, and Atropos ( in the centre) cut the thread of life.  My Fates here are knitters not spinners – but still wickedly witchy women, and I have a sure feeling that they are knitting and measuring and finishing the knitting of my days. inside felted bagIn recent years, I’ve been particularly drawn to the poetry of Mary Oliver, so several of my bags feature her words.  This bag utilises boldly patterned fabric to make a statement with : Tell Me.Tell me bagI’ve always longed to be accosted by a stranger, asking “Tell me – what?!”  Nobody ever has asked – but since you do, I’ll show you the answer, which is, of course, inside.  This line is much-quoted, and justifiably so.  It’s a good thought to carry about with you.  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.Inside Tell Me bagI also used a poem by Mary Oliver for my green leaf bag.  Again, the fabric – a leaf-green printed batik – inspired the pattern.  When I’d embroidered all the leaves in place on a plain background, I felt the bag needed something else, and searching through Mary Oliver’s book, Thirst, I found “When I Am Among the Trees”.  Just what I needed.  It captures the sway and the breath of the trees calling out. “Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out ‘Stay awhile.’ … And they call again, ‘It’s simple … you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.'”

Exactly. Thank you, Mary Oliver.  How do you always manage to say it so well.

(I’ve altered her words slightly to fit the space on the bag)Both sides of green leaves bagOther poets inspire me too.  How evocative is this  line is from John Donne’s poem of impossibilities!  “Go and catch a falling star.”Falling star bagLots of other little bags hang on the walls of my Woolly Room.  This little group below features a charmingly hand-embroidered sewing bag, a colourful beaded bag from Monsoon below, a glam little evening bag cleverly made by my daughter from a gorgeous scrap of one of my grandmother’s dresses – and a Little My brown paper carrier bag!  It takes all sorts!Mixture of little bagsThe next two little bags are both Japanese.  My father worked in Tokyo for many years in my childhood, and my mother acquired a lot of beautiful Japanese fabrics while there.  These don’t get much used, but they are much treasured.Japanese bagsThis piece of daughter Helen’s work glitters and glams it up.   Featuring Alex from the Clockwork Orange, it’s a student piece of hers, made when she was a beginner seamstress. It’s just cool!Clockwork orange bagSome thirty years or so ago (goodness!) I had a spell of enthusiastically painting patterns on fabrics.   I wanted a commodious bag for a family trip to Paris, and this bag was just perfect.  It brings back very happy memories.painted bagThere are lots of green bags, of course (my favourite colour).   That’s an Orla Kiely bag on the far left; next is an amazing mock-croc I found in a charity shop; then, there’s my embroidered leaf bag; next is a bag made in the Phillippines of recycled packaging (so ingenious); and on the right, a ditsy little grass effect bag – much faded, alas, but still convincingly grassy.Line of green bagsJust – very occasionally – I will buy an expensive bag.  I found this bag on Ebay, whilst searching for felted bags, and  – it was irresistible.

What makes it so very fascinating is that the pattern is completely created by the embroidery – and what an extraordinary range of embroidery stitches there are! Was it a sampler?   So often I have looked at it and wondered who CF was, and when she (he?) lived.  I’m guessing it was done in the 1920s-30s – what do you think?Both sides of Ebay embroidered bagThere are working bags of another sort – my sewing and knitting bags.  This is my much-travelled Solace bag which accompanies me with my knitting when I go away.  It was a gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle (so had quite a journey in the first place to get here from Melbourne), and it does indeed give me great solace.  Portable solace, you might say.Solace bag in useAnd there are still new bags coming!  This is another needlework/knitting bag, and another generous gift.  I just love the lemon-slice print – thank you so much, Issy.Issy's bagNot just bags of fun – bags of happiness, inspiration, memories, treasures, generosity … and love.

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kaydeerouge

Lost - and found.

30 thoughts on “Bags of fun”

  1. Delightful post and I feel privileged to have stayed so recently in your lovely woolly room, admiring your assortment of beautiful designed bags on every spare space of wall.
    The bag you designed for your father is a true labour of love and,with the quotations he admired, it must have been very meaningful and special to him

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    1. Dear Gilly – I’m so glad to think you’ve enjoyed staying in my Woolly Room with all its mess and muddle! Yes, the bag I made for my father is very special to me – I never use it, but it just sits there as a happy memory.

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  2. kathy I loved your colourful assortment of bags and I feel very privileged to have stayed so recently in your lovely woolly room and from the vantage point of my bed I could admire them, covering every square inch of wall!
    I particularly loved the bag you made for your father, a real labour of love and with the quotations he so liked, it must have been very special and meaningful to him!

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  3. I must say, after seeing your collection I feel quite bereft!! at least of bags 🙂 What a marvelous collections and the 3 wickedly knitting ‘ladies’ well…………Lachesis is also a Homeopathic remedy from the venom of the Bushmaster snake in S. America. So much food for thought looking at your treasures, thank you!

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    1. I had to get my very large Greek dictionary out to check my sources here, Susan! I’d remembered Lachesis as meaning Forgetfulness, so I was thinking that this snake venom might make one forgetful, but I’m wrong. Lachesis comes from the Greek word for lottery, so I guess that Fate is the arbiter of the lottery of life. It would seem that the Bushmaster snake venom is extremely poisonous – so I guess if you got bit, you’d drawn the very shortest of straws, and death is imminent. The Homeopathic remedy must be the tiniest of tiny quantities for it to be safe – what is it used to treat? All so interesting!

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      1. http://www.webhomeopath.com/homeopathy/homeopathic-remedies/homeopathy-remedy-Lachesis_mutus.html This may not make much sense to you until you realize how remedies are made and tested…only on Humans! It was invented by Samuel Hahnemann in Germany in the 1800’s. I have a homeopathic physician, have worked in a Homeopathic Pharmaceutical company, studied in Switzerland and the Netherlands. This article is way too long: http://www.britishhomeopathic.org/how-does-homeopathy-work/ but I couldn’t find anything else at the moment.
        I also use the remedies on my dogs/cats. my sister has used it on the horses. A good practitioner is the key to anything, always!
        In reading your answer to Rebecca’s post I was surprised at your reluctance to invite us into your ‘Woolly’ Room . I find you very interesting and well written, so, Thank you !

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      2. Thank you for your warm words, Susan – just me being silly about privacy. I was brought up by a tiresomely “private” mother. And a big big thank you for sending me this info about Lachesis – what a lot it is used to treat! Amazing stuff.

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  4. I was pleased to see you like Mary Oliver. There is a new book coming out called The Hidden Life of Trees by a German forest ranger. Looking foreward to it.

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    1. Mary Oliver is just a delight….. I try to read a bit of her poetry daily. She says everything I ever want to say so beautifully. I don’t know this tree book but it sounds very interesting.

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    2. You are NOT alone re PRIVATE…..northern NH is where I grew up and you said Nothing to Nobody!!! Of course now I think people ‘spill their guts’ way too much. No one went to a therapist, you were fine or you were in the ‘bin’. Surely there was something in between and even at 74 1/2 I still find myself being very private. Esp when you first meet someone and they say, oh, are you married, do you have children? ARGHHHHHHHHHHH NOT their business! I’d better get off this rant , sorry…. 🙂

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  5. I enjoyed seeing your bag collection kd….thank you for sharing. You have given me the urge to get out my sewing machine. I have some grey wool felt waiting to become a bag, I just needed some inspiration and your embroidered words and lines from poems are beautiful.

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  6. Oh how inspiring! I just carry one tan leather bag everywhere, although I do own a couple of fun bags made in Peru and Cambodia, but they just seem too flamboyant to carry in public. But I love the idea of incorporating quotes you like, and patterns, and stitches… I may have to become a little braver about showing some personality with a handbag!

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    1. Well, I do have a very plain black bag which I use a lot of the time ….. that’s why I hang the bags on the walls of my Woolly Room. They’d never be seen if they weren’t there! – one doesn’t always want to make too much of a statement of personality with one’s dress. It depends very much how you’re feeling – sometimes I feel more like making a statement than others 🙂 I think you could do something fantastic with your quilt and patchwork ideas for a bag.

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  7. What a post full of joy! I love that not only are your bags beautiful but they bring together so much about your life, interests and family. And thank you for reminding me about Mary Oliver – I have only read the ‘wild and precious life’ poem and will seek out more.

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  8. Inspirational! From now on I shall no longer automatically associate handbags with footballer’s wives and other slaves to fashion and brands, but rather something personal, unique and hand crafted. I have a well made functional man-bag, but one that lacks any personal quality whatsoever: that could also be said of my day-to-day clothing. That’s got to change!

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    1. Well, I’m delighted to hear you no longer associate handbags with footballers’ wives! A successful blogpost, I think 🙂 So glad to hear you enjoyed reading it – and I look forward to hearing about the new you!

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  9. Glory! I feel very honoured to be represented in such a wondrous collection of bags. It is kind of you to include it amongst these marvels and I am glad it is a companion to you in your travels. When I read this post, I felt my mind opening out with so many possibilities for how history, language and poetry might be incorporated into craft works. The layers of knowledge, insight and reflection that are so thoughtfully and creatively enmeshed in these works are rather awe inspiring. As I was reading this post, I kept thinking what an interesting person you are and what an intriguing mind you have cultivated. At the same time, I had this overwhelming sad feeling that whilst we are so fortunate that technology allows us to share the ideas and experiences of folks from far away, it is just not the same as a shared walk or a chat over tea where we can ask you a hundred questions about the bags you have made, why and how they came to be, the ideas discarded along the way and the other ones generated from the making that yearn to be explored. A wonderful post Katherine.

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    1. First of all, your bag should definitely be included, Rebecca! It’s a lovely bag, and a celebration of the balm of making – so important. Also, it marks a new part of my life with blogging, and social media – and new friends! The Solace bag itself is now a good travelling friend, so practical and so comforting. And, yes, I know what you mean about the inadequacies of this form of communication. Polly and I have lamented that we have this rather than nice natterly cups of tea together. It’s true: the conversation is not the same. However, I have found these new forms of communication liberating. You kindly say how interesting I seem to be. I don’t know about that but I have always made and thought what appeared to be odd things and not easily found people to share ideas with – so have kept them to myself. It took some courage to invite you all into my Woolly Room – but I am glad I did – so touched by all the generous, kind comments. Such wonderful friends and travelling companions out there 🙂

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      1. Ah! What a gracious reply! Thank you for so gently reminding me of the transformative connectivity of the internet when I was just feeling sad. I too remember feeling very isolated in my craftwork. Taking the risk to share projects, ideas, hopes and failures in community, has enlarged my perspective and sense of fellowship, and I think my bravery. You are so right to centre this aspect of the internet. It is liberating. These are fortunate days.

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  10. Your bags so deserved a public outing! What a richness and delight, and they remind me of staying with you surrounded by them all.

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