Monday, August 31, 2009

"Rational and Beautiful"

"Rational and Beautiful": that's a chapter title in the book, "Handbags: What Every Woman Should Know,"* for the section that discusses fashion during World War II. It talks about how shortages and rationing led women to be creative with whatever they had on hand. "Make Do and Mend" was a phrase seen commonly on war effort posters, and everyone did just that.

Why, Queen Elizabeth I carried her gas mask about with her on official tours in a common cotton drawstring sack! What a woman of the people!

I've always been fascinated by that whole concept of working with what's right at hand, and so I started making clothing and bags from recycled clothing. When things in our closets and drawers got too small or too worn to wear, we used to take them to the Salvation Army. Now, instead, I'm keeping them and "upcycling" them. I'm also making trips to the S.A. to supplement my used clothing stash.

These women surrendered their leather handbags for the war effort; the bags were turned into leather goods for the military.

Here's my latest project, a prototype for a line of bags I want to make out of old sweaters and/or old t-shirts:

It's made with an old wool sweater, slightly felted in the washing machine and dryer, as the outside layer. I had a scrap of black ribbon left from another project - just enough to go around the outside of the top and to make a bow.

The button came from my grandmother's button box, which I inherited when she died.

That all-important cell-phone-and-bus-pass pocket is made with the cuff of one of the sleeves.

The inside lining is made from t-shirt scraps, in fact, the same t-shirt I used to make the skirt I'm wearing in these pics. I fused iron-on interfacing to all of the fabric I used, to keep it from stretching and to reinforce the spots where the magnetic snaps are attached.

I know a posted a lot of pics here, but my hubby took so many good shots, I couldn't limit it to just one or two!

As I said above, this is a prototype, which I'll test-drive so that I can make refinements. I need to think about the dimensions of most of the materials I've got so that I can come up with a few designs that will make the most of the pieces of fabric. I've got a bunch of sweaters of different weights, and lots of t-shirts. It's going to be a fun fall!

* "Handbags: What Every Woman Should Know," by Stephanie Pedersen, published by David & Charles, a division of F+W Publications, Inc., ISBN #0-7153-2495-0

This book is light on text and heavy on images, great for inspiration! It talks mainly about bags from the 19th and 20th centuries, and even some styles from the 21st. It discusses fashion trends (and what created them) for each decade. Fun for anyone who loves fashion design and/or has a thing about bags!


  1. This is very inspiring. Thanks for sharing. Look forward to seeing more bags.

  2. Gorgeous bag! The ribbon details add a lot. Love the little cell phone pouch, too. I carry everything around in my big canvas tote bag, and I can never find ANYTHING.

  3. Thanks, Trudy and Dana! I can't wait to make more of these.

    D- I started realizing the importance of a small pocket when I started commuting by bus and could never find my wallet containing my staff id/bus pass. The absence of a small pocket has been a "deal breaker" for any new bag acquisitions ever since!

  4. Love the bag. Great idea to refashion the sweater. What about a button on the cell phone pocket so it doesn't slip out--that happened to me in the bathroom and my iPhone went in the toilet!!!


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