Thursday, December 3, 2009

On the fringe

Every now and then I get a little too attached to a bag that I've made for someone else. This one is for Merianne's daughter Carley, who is a handbag addict. She ordered a custom bag from me on the weekend, based on a brown fringed clutch that I had at the show. I just added the finishing touches to the bag this afternoon and I'm delivering the bag to its new home on Saturday, despite the burning urge to keep it and make something else for her. I often have to fight the urge to hoard my bags - I remind myself that the whole point of making these pieces is for customers to buy them. I can always make another one like it (and my brain whines, "but it won't be THAT one", you know what I'm saying). Almost every bag sold this weekend had been a favourite in its time, before I moved on to the next. I suppose it's a good policy to never sell anything I wouldn't carry myself. At any rate, it's the first completed order from my list of 14, and I have three more scheduled for completion tomorrow - a trapper hat (grey rabbit inside, black rabbit outside), and two small bags. My goal is to have all the custom orders done before the week of the 21st so I can deliver them the 23rd if necessary, since I'll be in that area for the holidays.
I'd also like to mention that fur trapper hats are EVERYWHERE in advertising this season - today they appeared repeatedly in the flyers for The Bay and Danier Leather. I saw one in Winners yesterday that was leather and raccoon, and it was being sold for $150. I wonder if I should raise my prices...
Have you ever been so utterly delighted with your life that you just can't help squealing with joy? That's where I'm at.
Happy crafting, everyone!

Monday, November 30, 2009


That about sums it up. The show in Port Dover was absolutely amazing - not only did I have a wonderful time with the other vendors, but I sold almost everything I had AND added another half dozen custom orders to my list. I'm beyond thrilled. And now I'll be beyond busy! The next few weeks will be a frenzy of craftiness and I'm very excited about all the projects on my plate. Hats, bags, muffs, earmuffs...and a few customers calling when they've decided what they'd like me to do with the coats they have.
I am SO impressed with Merianne Fess, the glass artist who coordinated the show, and my fellow vendors Cristina Zanella, painter and weaver, and April Maxwell, potter. They all produce such beautiful and inspiring work, it was impossible to resist a few purchases. I was equally impressed with how supportive the community of Port Dover is of its artisans and craftpersons. I grew up in Waterford and I know how open and welcoming small towns are, but some are more inclined to artisans than others - Port Dover is heaven for us all! It tempts a girl to find a way to set up a studio there, there's something to dream about!
So I'm a very happy (and very tired) crafter, looking forward to getting down to business...and all of a sudden, it's December.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I'm really looking forward to the show this weekend. It'll be nice to hang out with some crafty friends, meet some new customers and maybe rustle up a few custom orders. I have a good feeling about this weekend, it just might be the little boost I've been looking for. I took a few of my new trapper hats to the office today and the ladies went WILD for them - I've already had two requests to purchase in addition to the original request for my friend's father in Owen Sound. So it looks like hats may be the item that bumps up my finances this winter! I'm looking forward to experimenting with different patterns after this weekend (unless, God willing, I'm so busy with custom orders that I don't have time to mess around!).
Everything is packed up and ready to be loaded in the car tomorrow. Tonight I have my weekly choir rehearsal, which interrupts my schedule just enough to keep me from starting any other new projects. It's not a bad thing that it forces me to stop thinking about the business for a couple of hours. I lose a lot of sleep to fits of inspiration (not complaining) and exasperation (complaining).
The forecast for the weekend is lovely, sunny and crisp. I hope it's cool enough at the show that I can wear a hat, it's better to show them off on a live model. I realised today that I don't have any heads to put them on. In the absense of actual dummy heads, one of the ladies at work suggested styrofoam balls from the craft store - but they're not free, so I'll keep looking. I'm sure my mother has something lying around her house that I can commandeer (a topiary, maybe, or a stuffed animal with a big head?).
So I think I'm ready. I have my inventory list, my catalogs, my custom order forms, the items are tagged and stacked in the baskets by the door, and I cleaned out the trunk and front seat of my Echo hatchback (I use the term "trunk" loosely, as it is no more than a foot deep). The back seat is Charlie's domain, there's no room for anything but greyhound back there.
I hope I'll have lots of great stories to share when I get back next week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

All the trappings

Behold, the Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Trapper Hat (chocolate brown sheared beaver with raspberry corduroy)!
Third time's a charm after all. Today I made yet another attempt at making a fur-lined trapper hat, and finally met with success after two exasperating failures.
I've always wanted one for myself, and in the last few weeks have had a few inquiries about whether or not I make them - so now is as good a time as any. I also wanted to have this one finished before the show this weekend in Port Dover, so I have an example (not for sale). Although if someone insists that they absolutely MUST HAVE IT they can buy it off my head at the end of the weekend! According to the trend-watchers, it is the must-have hat of the season. I'm all for functional fashion; I need to cover my ears when I'm out in winter, and I walk Charlie at least twice a day during non-sunny hours.
So one of my best customers has ordered a hat for her father who lives in Owen Sound - he can definitely use a furry hat up there. And I'll see if I drum up any new clients this weekend. The show starts with a wine and cheese on Friday, so before then I really need to get myself organized. I have a few more pieces to finish, need to make sure all my items are priced, draw up my inventory list, and remember to pack everything else for the stay at my parents' place for the weekend. Charlie will be in his glory, Grandma and Grandpa spoil him terribly and he doesn't even notice when I'm not there.
Here's hoping the show goes well, and that I'll have more cool custom orders to blog about!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pulling the rabbit out of the hat

There's no actual hat, of course, but there was some rabbit involved. Finally finished the custom black rabbit muff and have sent the last photo to my customer for approval; I don't know if she'll be as enamored as I am with the neck strap (a featurethat I don't usually add, preferring the hidden wrist strap), which I fashioned from a strand of pompoms from one of those scarves made of rows of furballs. It takes a certain kind of person to wear a muff in the first place, but a muff on a strand of pompoms might be a little we'll see how she feels. If she's not feeling quite up to the pompom challenge, I'll pick up some nylon/silk cording and go the more classic route.
So now that I've finished (unofficially) that order, I'm picking up where I left off with the lap quilts - I was going to churn out a couple of persian lamb bucket bags but broke the last of my machine needles and am going to have to wait til tomorrow to pick up another pack. I should probably find a wholesale source for needles.
The quilts I hand-stitch while sitting comfortably in my Ikea chair, by my nice big windows that offer plenty of sunshine. This is still an exciting novelty for me, after living in an apartment for two years where my only windows faced an alleyway and received no direct sunlight, ever. It wasn't good. Although I seem to recall getting a lot of work done, because I never knew what time it was. Anyway, this apartment is perfect for my needs. There are piles and baskets of fur and leather fabric all over the "work area" and the rest of the apartment is a craft-free zone. My only complaint is carpeting - there's a lot of vaccuuming involved. When I had only hardwoods, I'd wait til all the fur collected itself into a woolly mammoth in a corner or under a chair, then snork it up with the dustbuster; alas, here I require a real machine with a beater bar. Something about a vaccum with a beater bar makes me feel like a grown-up...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Custom order - Black Rabbit Muff

Have I mentioned that I love custom orders? This is how the message began:
"We ran across your Etsy store and reFurbished & RE:PLAY store while looking online for traditional ladies fur muffs available in Canada, something that we're having a frustratingly hard time finding. We were pretty excited to find your website — your work is beautiful and your use of recycled fur is a wonderful idea." Woohoo! Niche market!

My new customers are looking for a black muff with a neck strap and some zippered pockets, to be worn with a long black wool coat. I had originally thought of a red silky lining but the vintage buttons that I found that I like for the accents are silvery-blue, and I decided to go with a navy satin lining instead. I love the combination of navy and black, I think it's beautifully dramatic. And I'll make the strap adjustable - a thicker coat or a different collar can make a huge difference to the length of the strap, and I want her to be able to wear it with other coats if she wants to. So I finished yesterday's custom order, the Flower Power book bag, and have pieced together the fur for the muff from what used to be a truly hideous eighties nightmare of a coat that had alternating strips of fake leather (which was decomposing and producing a disgusting sticky residue) with strips of rabbit fur. I love taking something ugly and making it into beautiful things!

I was delighted to stumble over a bag of quilt batting when I was looking for something else last night - I thought I'd run out and was going to have to make a trip to Fabricland, but there it was tucked behind a chair. The only thing better than finding what you need accidentally is finding what you're looking for when you're looking for it.

Anyway, I've set my deadline for the end of the week. I have to sing at a wedding Saturday afternoon and I'd like to have the order done before then. I like to offer a quick turnaround time for custom orders whenever possible - it builds up good customer rapport and it forces me to get my ass in gear and get things finished instead of procrastinating.

Here's the finished flower power bag with a load of books in it for stress testing. I was undecided about adding a snap or buckle close, until I filled it and could see how it hangs. Because of the shape and depth of the bag, it slouches closed of its own accord. I'll let the customer decide though - she can wear it for a while and see if she wants me to add a close or not. I don't mind doing minor alterations after the sale, if it makes it a better bag for the wearer.

Happy crafting!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Flower Power - custom book bag

One of my loyal customers is a friend at work - I made a custom patchwork carryall for her a couple of months ago, she purchased a smaller bag last month, placed an order for a fur throw for her aunt who is in a wheelchair, and has requested a custom book bag for her twelve-year-old grand-daughter. When I make a custom bag as a gift, I like to get an idea of the recipient's personality as well as physical attributes - I don't want to make a huge bag for a petite girl, or a small bag for someone with a larger frame. For personality, I need to know if we're talking ponies and fairies or skulls and crossbones, primaries or pastels, funky or subtle. In this case, the request is for a large cross-body book bag for a willowy 5'6ish girly-girl. I suggested a black patchwork with flowers scattered on one side - cute cartoony ones that look like bathtub grippy flowers. The idea met with a resounding YES! and I've cut out the flowers so I can start stitching them on tomorrow. When I add an applique I don't use the machine. I know I could, but I find it meditative to sit in my comfortable chair and stitch. I feel the same way about putting together the fur quilts - yes, it takes time, but it feels right doing it that way.
I think I might put one giant flower on the other side but I haven't come to an official decision. Of course my hope is that this will become a Favouritest Bag EVER, and that it will last through adolescence - in which case, maybe the flowers should only be on one side so there's a plain black side to face out. But then again, by then she'll be old enough to buy her own handbags...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I was having trouble motivating myself this afternoon. Some things that I know about myself when creating:
1. I can't make the same thing twice. When I try, bad things happen.
2. When I feel truly compelled to create a specific item, I typically execute one perfect example of it before succumbing to 1 (see above). Having attained the desired result, I lose the compulsion.
3. Despite these truths, I repeatedly attempt to create more than one of a given item. I can trick myself by using different colours and different hardware, but then it's not an exact replicate so it doesn't count.
Today's issue comes from my determination to make half a dozen CarryAll bags before the end of the month. I was at least going to aim for similar size and shape, and I would REALLY like to have a few classic black bags for those less adventurous no avail. I couldn't work up the enthusiasm for the black bag until I came up with the idea of having different coloured pockets around the outside. The bag I always carry is black, with black pockets (see photo above - each pocket is a different style or shape, or has a different closure). I sometimes have to search in multiple pockets for what I want because I can't remember which black pocket I put it imagine if there were four or five different coloured pockets! Keys in green, lipgloss in pink, business cards in blue...and just like that, I was off the couch and back at The Machine.

Of course, that means only one person will get a CarryAll with rainbow pockets, and then I have to come up with another new idea. My hope is that I will never run out of ideas, because as long as I know I haven't done everything, I'll be able to motivate myself to continue to create and improve my craft.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wallets and Grommets

Okay, I don't really make wallets but it makes for a funnier title. The real subject is grommets, and how I ran out of my favourite ones this afternoon when I was just on the verge of finishing a bag. I have some kind of OCD that won't allow me to start on the next piece until I finish the last one, unless I can trick myself into forgetting about the first one. I obsessed about the grommets and turned my workspace upside down in a vain attempt to find just one more that had perhaps fallen on the no avail. My usual source for hardware is Len's Mill Store, very close to my work at Hamilton Food Share but a 20 minute drive from home - so not worth the gas to drive there on a non-work day. Disgruntled, but refusing to write the entire day off as unproductive, I forced myself to put the bag aside and finished a different bag that could be completed with my second-favourite grommets.
I then consoled myself by cleaning the entire apartment, going grocery shopping, visiting the library, and watching a DVD about Broadway musicals while eating pizza and garlic bread.
I've decided against doing the Christmas show at the home in Westdale - the jeweler and I concurred that there were too many things about the show that were a concern, and there are a lot of more suitable opportunities for me to peddle my wares. I'm going to join her for a weekend in Port Dover at the end of November, so that's definitely something to look forward to. And I feel a little less pressured knowing that my next show is in three weeks, not two.
Tomorrow I have a singing gig in the afternoon, a performance of the Faure Requiem. I should have time after that to put together my next bag - I'd like to have half a dozen CarryAll bags done by the end of the week. I'm most productive when I examine my calendar to see what my time constraints are, and then set a goal of a specific and attainable quantity by a definite date.

Happy crafting, everyone!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No such thing as a quick fix

Today is Repairs Day. One large leather bag that a friend brought back for a fix where the grommet had actually pulled itself and the lining through the outer layer of suede, and one quilt where some of the more fragile leathers had to be replaced.
The leather bag fix was relatively simple - I created two patches with a different style of grommet (I had been using tarp grommets, and am now trying actual crafters grommets which are pricier but probably for good reason), and stitched them OVER the existing grommets, so now the strap runs through 2 grommets, 2 layers of leather, and denim lining on each side. That should be enough of a reinforcement that I won't have the same problem again.

LESSON LEARNED: Extra reinforcement is always a good idea for larger bags, particularly when a thinner leather or suede is being used as the primary material.

The quilt wasn't quite as quick or straightforward. Because the patches are handstitched using a blanket stitch, removing the stitches takes almost as much time as putting in new ones. I was really disappointed by the fur that I had to replace - the leather seemed strong enough initially but after a little wear and tear (literally), it was obvious that all of the patches of that fur would have be replaced. Small tears can sometimes be repaired with just a few stitches, but with much older furs a small tear usually becomes a large tear, and that's when I have to start over.

LESSON LEARNED: Be a little rough with the fur up front to see if it's going to stand up to a lifetime of being tossed around, sat on, and pulled. I do caution buyers to be fairly gentle - there are limits to what the materials can handle.

In the end I'm happy with how the quilt is with its new patches, and it's ready to go in my next show. I'm participating in a Christmas show at a private home in Westdale in a couple of weeks. I've made friends with an amazing jeweler who I think is going to be a great contact for me, she's doing the show along with a potter, a silk painter, quilter, watercolour artist, and a few others I haven't met. It's only a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, it'll get my name out there in a community which I don't normally get into (rich people, basically), and maybe I'll make a few sales or pick up some custom orders.

So now I'm taking a break from sewing to curl up with a book and a snack. My plan for later is to patch together what I think of as my Carryall Bag - soft and slouchy, big but not too big, lots of pockets on the outside, some with snaps, some without, one big pocket inside and a cell phone pocket, and most importantly, a shoulder strap that goes across the body - big bags should never hang from the shoulder, it puts too much stress on the back! I've been carrying mine for almost a year and although sometimes I switch to another bag for a day, I always go back to this one.

Happy crafting!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Piecing things together

Just got home from the dog park where I sweet-talked my way out of a hefty fine for Charlie running around leash-free. Am feeling pretty proud of myself as I sit down and piece together my next lap quilt. I'm thinking back to a year ago, when I made my first fur quilt to use the scraps left over from the first muffs that I made.
I sold it completely by accident to a customer who was shopping at the antique market where I often purchase materials; I had stopped by to show off the quilt to the market owners so they could see what I was doing with the coats I was buying. One of the vendors said her friend was in the shop and would be interested in the quilt for her wheelchair-bound son, and sure enough the friend was. She handed over the cash and that was my first sale.
Part of what sealed the deal for this particular customer was my suggestion that in addition to it being exactly the right size, and the natural warmth being ideal for legs with poor circulation (a common problem with people on wheels), the quilt would offer tactile stimulation. I had used a variety of furs with different piles, and left some original pockets, loops and buttons. For most people that would be a novelty and not much more, but for this customer it was important because of the type of disability from which her son suffers. The term she used was "low functioning"; he is in his chair almost all the time, and has very little ability to move and to communicate. She thought he would enjoy the feeling under his hands, and that it might be comforting when he's feeling restless.
I hope he derives some pleasure from the quilt, and I'm proud that my first sale was to someone who didn't just want it, but needed it.
The quilt I'm working on now will be a dark brown with patches of blonde - my second "Chocolate and Cream" quilt. I sold the first one to a friend last year and have been waiting for the right materials to come along so I could make another. This one should be done in time for my first Christmas show, a small open house at an artist's home in Westdale, near McMaster University.
So, off the computer and over to the workspace, also known as the floor. It's just easier for me to put everything together. Someday maybe I'll have a big space with a huge table...but for now, in my tiny apartment, the floor will do just fine.

Happy crafting, everyone!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Custom Order – Muskrat Love

One of my co-workers at Hamilton Food Share ( found a coat that belonged to her grandmother; a gorgeous chocolate brown muskrat coat that no one in her family was ever going to wear. I brought a sample muff to the office to give her an idea of what I could do with the coat if she was interested in keepsakes for herself and her daughters, and she requested four muffs. I was delighted with the opportunity to create four different designs for the same customer, because a big part of what excites me about handcrafting is that every piece is by its very nature different from the last – I couldn’t replicate one of my pieces if I tried. There will always be a unique pattern to the fur or leather, darker or lighter thread and different lines of stitching, leather seams facing out or facing in, not the mention the basics of size, shape and function.

As much as I want my bags and accessories to be beautiful, I want them to be practical. The Victorians had the right idea – if you want your hands to be warm, keep them together. And when you need a hand free, the muff hangs from a wrist strap so you don’t have to worry about putting it down or tucking it under your arm.
The rumour about Canadian winters is true – it gets damn cold here. I carry a muff when I walk my dog Charlie; I just grab a few baggies and loop the leash around my wrist. When he’s running around the park with his buddies and I’m just standing there with the humans, I guarantee my hands are warmer than anyone else’s!

Next on the list is a little grey rabbit muff for a two-year-old who has one of those classic long red wool coats with the black buttons. When I’m working a craft show or market, the most frequent comment I hear is “Oh, I had one of those when I was a little girl!”

I know, it takes a certain kind of woman with a bit of panache to carry a fur muff. And occasionally you hear the indignant “Is that real fur? That’s disgusting!” I have no problem with educating the public about the merits of recycling fur, and I’ve never had anyone continue to protest after I tell them it’s salvaged. It’s a great way to make use of resources that would otherwise go to waste, and fur is a natural product that will in time disintegrate and not take up space in a landfill (unlike faux fur).

My co-worker is very happy with the four muffs, of course I gave her a discount for having provided the materials, and I have some lovely fur left over that will become quilt squares and another muff.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A whole new blog

It's been a long time since I blogged! I used to be the Thieving Magpie, but for the last year I've been building my business, reFurbished and RE:PLAY BAGS. My website just launched this weekend at!

A little about me...I've been a very busy woman lately. In addition to working for myself as the owner and sole employee of reFurbished, I'm a freelance classical singer, fashion model, creative writer, and editor/proofreader. I also work part-time for an amazing organization called Hamilton Food Share: it's a non-profit organization that raises funds and collects food for distribution to food bank agencies in the Hamilton area.

I live with a retired racing greyhound named Charlie and two fat cats, Angus and Snooty. My apartment is half living space and half working space, both of them covered with piles of fur and leather. I recently purchased a new Singer sewing machine because I'd been a little hard on my mother's old Kenmore, and it would have cost more to fix the old one than to buy a new one.

So what is reFurbished, you say? I started recycling salvaged fur coats by turning them into muffs and blankets. It was a steep learning curve for a while there, but once I learned what I needed to know about hides and handstitching, I was off and running. When spring came and the interest in warm furry items declined, I decided to make the leap to working with a sewing machine. I'd been afraid of sewing machines since Grade 9 Home Ec class, so it was with great trepidation that I set up my mother's trusty Sears special, and made my first incredibly crooked and gnarly lines of stitches. The machine and I eventually came to an understanding. It would usually sew as required, and I would only lose my temper on occasion and call it all manners of blue-streaking names.

It's been a year since I started reFurbished, and worked my first craft show at the Maker's Market on James Street North in Hamilton. My family has a history of crafting; I spent a few summers blacksmithing with my father during university, back in the glory days of craft shows where all the vendors were juried and nobody's booth looked like a garage sale threw up on it. Those were good times to be a crafter - and I think we're seeing a renaissance. The handmade movement is really gaining momentum. Environmentally savvy practices are getting support from all sides, so being in the recycling business should help me get a leg up. After all, what could be better than combining fashion with earth friendliness?

So, welcome to the reFurbished and RE:PLAY BAGS blog. I hope to update frequently with my new products and what I'm working on in the shop.

Buy Local, Buy Handmade!