Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Red bag silk pile

New Bag! Hand spun silk pile, a piece I really like for its colors. This is a do-over, it used to be this:

#4 borderline knotted pile

When I first started combining leather and textiles in bags, I began where I was: a machine sewer, using clothing weight leather. This first iteration leather is thin, certainly won't wear well, and does not have the body I would like for a bag. I lined and interlined this, but it was still floppy, a pouch, not a bag. So, I took this apart, and in it's new life, the pocket gets a heavier gauge leather.

There are lots of tiny cramped spots to sew on a bag: little places a standard sewing machine cannot reach. I tried a commercial sewing machine for a while, but ...same problem. And...even the commercial machine slipped stitches, every now and then. Leather is a tough customer. I was not (still am not) interested investing in a real leather sewing machine: this is, after all, an exploration, not a business. I solved this dilemma with hand sewing. I am so enamored of hand sewing that I only sew leather by hand now.

This bag has lots of upgrades that I have learned over the (now) years! I have been learning this craft. Most are probably common sense, but some are experiential: how I use the bags, and how they hold up in use. Such as the bag from the last post.

This pocket has leather backing, like the previous one, but! it is a stiffer leather, and...there is a larger hem at the base of the textile to stay sewn in, and! the pile patch is not sewn flat to the leather: there is a bit of a bubble, so it has room, should the pocket stretch out in use. The back of the pocket is more supple leather, so the stretch should go that way, into the body of the bag, rather than out, toward the pocket.

Of course, I could be aware of not overloading the pocket! But that would not be a real life test. There will always be times when I stuff stuff in. And the perfect bag, mythical beast that it is, will not be something that you have to think about when loading or carrying. It will just perform.

In comments on the last post, Marlene asked if the pockets have a lining, and yes, they do: each textile is sewn to a fabric, which is then backed with leather, and stitched to the bag. Then, the pocket back is sewn to the bag (that's the outline you see around the pocket). I think the construction method is acceptable; we shall see. But thanks for the suggestion, and I am open to ideas if anyone thinks I need a nudge :).

Some of the many things I have learned:

zippers needs stops:
Red bag top

I assemble the zippers, so they are custom lengths. They have metal stops at the bottom and top (side/side, whatever), but if they butt up to the edge of the space, they can be ornery and difficult to work. So they now have leather stops at each end.

I made a small bag to test out inserting tabs, for easier zipper pulling:

#24 little Bag

This small bag, by the way, was so much fun and so gratifying to make, in a short span of time, that I fear it will be the first in a series of small bags. This one holds cords for charging phone and iPad, and iPod and some folding headphones. It goes inside the other bags. Matryoshka Bags! How much fun could I have????!

This last little bag counts as #25 in the quest for 100, so I am 1/4 to my goal! Little bags should help reach it faster. and believe me, I am getting so much better with each one. My stitching is more fluid, my stitches are more uniform, I know which tight spots I need to solve first, before the bags go together, and for all intents and purposes,what I need more is repetition, repetition and more repetition.

Things are looking up. I am getting better, not great yet, but I persevere. I was a good Girl Scout: Good, Better, Best, Never let it rest, 'til my good is better and my better best!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Always Something!

In my last post, I mentioned I'd made this bag:

Silk pile and leather

Well, it was kinda perfect. It's messenger bag size and orientation, soft leather, lined, with a textile decorated zip pocket in the front for phone, glasses and keys, zip pocket in the back for boarding docs, and plenty of room inside for knitting, a tablet and a book. Travel necessities. Now you know my priorities. I kinda loved it, took on a couple of trips and it performed well.

Except. One day I noticed a white thread sticking up along the bottom edge. On close examination, it was a warp thread working its way out of the bottom hem. Oh dear. When I got home I looked closely, and the warp was not alone, it had friends slipping out of the construction. Quick fix for a trip coming up? I glued the whole thing down. When I got home, I could examine and repair. Or replace...?

Turns out leather stretches when you put things into its pockets. And textiles do not...necessarily. This is the textile's 3rd incarnation, and all that re-working meant there was very little edge to sew down, and some had come up:


What to do?

I ran my finger along the bottom edge and the whole bottom edge came up very easily:

More broken!

Clearly, a failure just waiting to happen. This had been a canvas bag before it was a leather bag, so it had likely been distressed in the un-making of this bag:

#5 virgo pisces

I like the pile piece, it's silk, its imagery is personal to me, and it seemed like it would have more years of use in it...but not as a scrap, falling apart as I used the bag. I am not going for that "used up" look, "distressed" or whatever you might wish to call it.

So, I had a few choices:
a) rip off the whole textile and replace it
b) stitch it in place hairy edge and all
c) apply glue and hope for the best
d) try to repair as if this were someone's favorite object

I asked a few friends. One comment struck home: Devin said "It is more fun to fix things I think, sometimes, than make something new. It spurs creativity."

He is right. I chose "d" and began the process of repair. The bottom edge was "mostly" intact, and none of the warps had pulled up into the body of the pile. Most of the soumak edge was still present. If I were presented with a textile like this to stabilize, I would be able to, by handstitching, and covering the edge with cloth or ...leather!.

First, I cut a piece of leather the length of the bottom edge. I stitched in on, through all layers, then glued and folded it over, covering the raw edge. The I re-stitched the whole thing down in the same space again:


We shall see how this holds up. The stitching is not as secure as I would like: I tried to leave ease so when the pocket is full, and the leather behind this textile stretches, the textile will have room to give. I do have a few trips where I will pack this up. In the meantime, I am making another bag, using some of the information I have learned from this. Always learning. Always something new.

It is what keeps me going, frankly, the part I love best: learning. That, and all the doing!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Solace of Making

I have buried myself in my studio for months. It is a place of great hope! which is sometimes dashed by reality....

There were Christmas presents:

#16 Jackson's suitcase

Another suitcase, for another doll, for another grandchild:


This little guy got another outfit sewn for him, a pillow, mattress, and a handwoven blanket!

Grandchild #1 got a closet! Made by grandpa:


Filled with dollclothes, made by grandma:

Then a gift for a friend, yep, still Christmas, so long ago now!

#15 Deb's bag

It was her embroidery, now on her bag :)!

Another bag, this time for me, for knitting:

#19 knotted pile and leather

This had to be altered after finishing... it had a zipper on the top and I found it to be annoying: yarn snagged. I took off the top and finished the edge, and I am much happier now! An open top bag means it does not travel as well, but I am not at a loss for bags with which to travel.

Next up, lots of silk spinning. Blue and white silk, dyed as top, and when it was spun up, it looked like worn denim, so I used that as the plan for the fabric:

Denim silk

It gives me great delight to spin bombyx silk into a "worn denim" shirt :).
handspun silk denim

I spun a lot of cotton too:

Cotton singles

And wove it up into another scarf. This cotton is a bit tighter twist than my previous scarf (AKA the first one I made out of handspun cotton) and the fabric is crisp. So far. Until it's used I will not know much...So I have been wearing it! I goes nicely with the worn denim silk shirt :).

Handspun cotton

I have also beeen re-purposing! That means I have been taking apart some of the early bags that I made:
Former bags

And remaking them into better bags:

Silk pile and leather

This one was a total winner, went with me on several trips and performed perfectly! It felt good, looked good and worked well, until.

Textile falilure. some of the warps are pulling out. Too much fussing? too many re-works? Dunno. It's in time-out until I figure out if and how to fix it, or whether to scrap the pile part and replace with something else. Inspiration will strike, someday. But this is a yet another example of the value of finishing things: I learn something every time :). The perfect bag right off the workbench may not hold up to use. Thus, not the perfect bag.

What's a maker to do? Make another one. Updates to follow! Because world events have driven me to the studio. It's the best place to hide.

Friday, January 20, 2017

I Cling to Hope

Years ago, I made "Protest Wear", like the pussy hats so prominently in the making this go-'round.

I still believe in their messages:

choice hat


dona hat

Dona Nobis Pacem.

Today seems like a good day to wear one of them.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Standing Tall

#17 Spindle case

Spindle case! Leather covered tube, in fact:

Inside spindle case

Honestly, I just drink the stuff to get the tube....and now? there are spindles and wool/silk top inside, ready to hit the road.

Beads form the closure:

Spindle bead!

Bells from Tibet and some beads from Afghanistan, and, did you notice? A small spindle whorl!

How meta!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Under the Banner of Craft

The basic skills of all of the crafts that I practice, spinning, dyeing, weaving and knitting, can be learned simply and quickly: start by following instructions from a person, a book, magazine or online resource. Then find other practitioners who pass on tips and tricks and a deeper understanding than just "how to"; the "why" of some things. Take some classes. Go to a conference, look at other people's work. Then practice, practice and practice. The practice is what takes the time. Not the learning: that comes in flashes.

The myth that the ease of learning means ease of mastery is false. Mastery takes application, understanding beyond the surface, and understanding of the physical, as well as the aesthetic forces that we are working with. Mastery means an understanding across the spectrum of the craft. There are very few master weavers; it is too broad a field. We tend to specialize.

Mastery also means application over time, and there is no shortcut. 5 years does not a master make, 20 years may not a master make if there is no studious application, no variation of application, no delving into "why", no learning from mistakes, no mistakes made, and no creative solutions to mistakes.

Repeating the same thing over and over makes one a master of that one thing. There are sock knitting masters, for instance, and lace shawl knitting masters, for instance. Many spinners-of-sock-yarns, or dyers of multi-colored tops. These practitioners are not necessarily masters of their whole craft. Yet.

And yet? From the moment we learn, we begin to pass on what we know. The most enthusiastic teachers, are often the beginners: look! at what I found out! We need this enthusiasm. We need these beginners sometimes, to remind us that what we do is fun, most of the time! We need new blood and we need new ideas, people and innovations in passing along the craft. It is such a welcome sight: all these new teachers taking up the banner.

leather and silk pile bag

I am working on a series of leather-and-textile bags that will help me perfect my skills. I have taken a few classes, I read online, I have even been to a leather show (!! there are leather shows and there are leather shows, this one was for makers!). Learning this skill means I have to invest the time. Learning this skill means that I don't have as much time for the other crafts that I do: they have been on hold, mentally and physically. When I say mentally on hold, it means that I am forgetting some things. I am not thinking about those things and the process slips back to the back of my mind. I have to dig for the information, and as a teacher that is awkward.

So I am cutting back on teaching. I need time and headspace to practice what I am learning. I will be away from my studio much less. This year, I'll be in North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in Washington State for the Whidbey Spin-in April 1st, and in Pennsylvania at MAFA in July.

That's it. No more! I hope to see some of you at one or another of these venues. The rest of the time?

I'll be here:

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Deb's embroidery and tapestry

Last Spring I visited a friend of mine, who is an embroiderer, spinner and dyer. Deb has been developing a new line of work, and was setting goals for herself, taking her work in a new direction. We talked at length about how one does this; the new direction is often awkward, at first. Some of our habits from creating anything will apply, such as color choices, image choices, thread choices. So some aspects of the new work are present from the old work and do not need to be learned anew.

But some things are new: new materials, new ways to use old materials, new tools.

She told me about a friend of hers, a painter, who was learning a new medium, and decided to paint 100 small paintings in the new medium, experiments, quick studies, just 100 paintings, to become comfortable with the material, and test the media out to see how to incorporate its qualities into her work.

This seemed like a grand idea on "how to train yourself". I do not know if it is an original idea (off to google: can't find it in the first few hits of "making 100 things", most were about a 100 things challenge to de clutter!) (I laugh because making 100 *new* things will only add to my clutter!). At any rate, Deb decided she would make 100 small embroideries, and I took on the challenge of making 100 leather bags.

I am not starting from scratch. I will count, but offhand I've made (or am in the process of making, some are still unfinished) 13 leather/textile bags already (If, and I do, one counts the Pink Suitcase). This is in addition to the many all-textile bags I have made, and the beaded bags, which number in the "over 50" category. Some day soon I will do a few posts about the "old" bags, those in beads and knotted pile.

So! I have about 87 leather & textile bags to go. IF! I do make 100 bags, I will have learned a great deal. My hands will be more able, I will know the materials better, know the tools, I will have refined the tools I need to do what I want to do, my mind will be able to think more clearly in this medium, and my eyes and hands will see which designs worked or did not work.

I may feel competent well before 100 bags, and get bored. This is a goal, not a life sentence. I can change it at any time, if I feel I have reached the ends I wish to achieve. I am energized by the idea of 100 bags, big and small, some will be very small, and some, like a few of those first 13 bags, will be taken apart after construction, the parts re-used, the textile re-applied to another bag, so that I waste less, and have fewer bags when all is said and done.

After all, how many bags does one need? I am using them as teaching tools, samples, and the losers will be cut up and re-used.

Deb and I worked on our dyebooks a few weeks ago, Color By Number, then we took some time to make a few things. I made three knotted pile panels for 3 separate bags:

Deb's embroidery and tapestry

I also made her finish the small embroidery above (which she does not care for, but which I love!) and she gave me the little tapestry above, which she says has hung around her studio for years.

So I have 5 (!) more bags in the queue. See how easy this is? I am anxious! to get started. I can't wait to see how these come out. I have planned and changed plans already in my head several times, it is so much fun to think about!

And that's why I do all of this to begin with: I totally love doing it. I love thinking about it, planning them, not necessarily having them, but having the joy of making them. 100? We shall see :).