Sweet, pretty and simple — perfect for a night out. I love Lisa’s work, and you should too. u handbag is mainly a site to buy specialty purse-making supplies but if you move fast you can be lucky enough to get one of her lovely sample bags like this one. Sweet.
I’m so excited to introduce the latest Try Handmade columnist: Liz Grotyohann.
Please welcome her to Try Handmade, and let her know what concerns you have about leading a greener life. Are there issues you hope she addresses? Speak up in the comments.[hLiz]
We’ve all heard how bad plastic bags are for the environment. As many as 500 billion to one trillion bags are used worldwide each year. Some cities have outlawed them. Many people have switched to carrying their own bags to the store—an easy way to do something good for the environment. Every major chain now has stands of “eco-friendly” totes available—cheap!—so that you can do your part.
But, while carrying your own bag is definitely better than using new plastic, those bags at the store aren’t as “eco-friendly” as they claim to be. Many of those bags are made from virgin materials. Studies have been done that say that those reusable bags need to be used 100-300 times before they make up for the impact of their own production. So, why carry a bag emblazoned with a store logo—do you really want to advertise for them?—when you can buy a responsibly-produced, stylish, low-impact handmade bag from an independent artist? There are so many options out there made from organic cotton, sustainable fibers like bamboo or hemp, or vintage or recycled fabric.
And remember the plastic bags that you use at the store aren’t just the ones at the checkout counter. There are more and more options available now for lightweight, durable handmade bags to carry your produce and dry bulk goods.
Kootsac offers inexpensive, lightweight produce bags in a number of sizes and fun colors. Little Green Pea has cotton bulk food bags, and adorable reusable sandwich bags. And wonderthunder sells these adorable screenprinted vegetable bags that are so much more fun (and green!) than plastic.
Please welcome another columnist with ambitious column plans. The second in the ‘In My Town’ series, Valerie Williams is focusing on the Washington DC Metro area. A former lobbyist and crafter – check out her handbags – she has jumped right in with zeal and enthusiasm! If you know the area she’s writing about, please let her know in the comments if you have any tips about places for her to visit.
Jean Zakotnik is a woman after my own heart. She loves handbags, bright colors, and the soothing power of making things with your hands. She is also the owner, designer, and head knitter of JZ Bags, the home of a colorful and playful line of hand knit and felted wool handbags. I had a chance to visit her Potomac, Maryland studio to talk with her about what inspires her, and to learn more about the process of making her one-of-a-kind handbags.
I love the look and feel of felted wool, but it’s not a craft I have ever tried, so I was excited to catch Jean while she was literally in the middle of felting a batch of small bags in a lovely dark charcoal gray. I knew the general principle of felting: hot water, along with a little soap and agitation, causes the fibers to bond together to form a thick, dense fabric. What I didn’t know was that creating a three dimensional, functional object like a handbag takes much more than just a toss into the washing machine.
Constant vigilance is required to prevent the knitted bags from becoming mangled and unusable during the felting process. While we chatted, Jean repeatedly removed the bags from the hot, soapy water and manipulated the wool by hand, deciding on the fly how each bag should look in shape and texture.
I knew that hand knitted wool would shrink significantly when felted, but I had no idea by how much! I was amazed to see the before and after of two of Jean’s most popular styles, the flagship “Bag JZ” which is a large hobo style, and a smaller shoulder bag with a flap.
An incredible amount of hand labor goes into the creation of each handbag. Jean knits her handbags by hand, without a pattern. Although she has developed a few favorite shapes and styles over the years, there is no set “line” of JZ Bags. Each one starts out with just her size 15 knitting needles and inspiration, and she decides as she goes what colors to use and what shapes to make.
Jean calls each of her handbags a “felix culpa,” or happy mistake, because there is no way of knowing how each will turn out, and she makes no effort to predict the end result. Each handbag is its own novel experience and creative adventure.
Even after the bags are completely felted and dry, there are still design decisions to make. Jean has lovely collection of vintage and handmade buttons (made for her by her father), and has also recently experimented with needle felting and fringe embellishments.
What I loved most about Jean’s story was that when she first had the idea to make what would become the first JZ Bag, she had absolutely no idea how to felt! She was already an experienced knitter, but had grown weary of churning out scarves and sweaters. It was the time of the “It” bag, but the styles on sale at the mall with four-digit price tags left her cold. She had a vision of a big, soft bag that was all about color and texture, something that hundreds of other women in the DC area wouldn’t have. She knew she could make this unique bag, and simply started knitting and felting and hoped that what came out would match the picture in her head.
Although she calls her first attempt “a disaster,” the failure did not deter her, and only led her to embrace the “felix culpa” approach to making her handbags.
Just as each handbag is its own surprise, Jean is constantly surprising herself as she lives the adventure of knitting, felting, and running a handcrafted business. “You learn so much about yourself during this process,” she says, referring not only to running the business but also the specific tasks of creating something by hand.
Jean has discovered she has an eye for color. Her favorite part of handbag production is looking through her yarn stash and creating unexpected color combinations.
She’s discovered she can still challenge herself. After many years in the information technology business, not much about that world was difficult or trying anymore. She would give presentations in front of thousands of stockholders without breaking a sweat. Her first craft show, however? “I was a nervous wreck,” she says. “I was so personally invested in every single bag…how people reacted to them mattered more than I thought it would.”
Finally, what she calls a “very cool and unexpected bonus” is that JZ Bags offers her the opportunity to employ local women who might have few other options. Whether it’s help with the knitting or filing legal paperwork, Jean has had a chance to offer temporary employment to women who are homebound by illness or with children.
Her handbag business may have started out as a way to relax and create the perfect fashion accessory, but it has turned into so much more. You can find Jean’s bags at www.jzbags.com, and at juried fine art and craft shows in the DC area.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of Gemma Correll’s work. Gemma is a well-known freelance illustrator who also makes greetings cards, screenprinted tote bags and T shirts, pocket mirrors and art prints. Her Etsy shop is my go-to place for funny cards and gifts for my husband, who also loves Gemma’s work!
Gemma has been crafting her whole life, beginning with sewing, knitting and crochet, which she was taught by her grandmother. While at college, she started to make plush characters to accompany her illustration work, and she considers this to be her first ‘serious’ foray into crafting. At the same time, Gemma began to sell her plush characters and felt brooches at bi-monthly craft fairs, organised by Gemma and her friends.
When a friend told her about Etsy, which was not well-known in the UK at the time, Gemma decided to start selling online too. She’s since expanded her reach, selling in shops worldwide and online via her own fantastically illustrated website and Etsy shop, as well as the odd craft fair.
As well as selling handmade items, Gemma is a big fan of buying as many handmade products as possible and would much rather find something unique than buy items from large companies, as she feels there’s more of a personal touch. Unfortunately, Gemma has in the past had ideas stolen by large companies, which is a concern for many independent designer-makers and can put many people off sharing ideas with the wider handmade community.
“In five years’ time, I hope that I am still crafting for fun. As I spend more time working and outsourcing products, rather than making them myself – I simply do not have the time or the facilities to print 500 tote bags by hand, sadly – I hope that I can still enjoy making things just for myself. I hope that I’m still going to craft nights with my friends.”
Look what I found on twitter. They’re like cozy sleeping bags for your favorite gadget!
Seaside Sew: Above all, quality is the most important factor. You have to begin with quality materials that are not only seen on the outside, but from the foundation up as well to create a lasting product.
I designed the water resistant sleeve and case due to my love of water related activities. I use my cases and sleeves all the time when sailing, poolside, beach lounging, and everything in between.