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!