Sunday, 6 October 2013

Wood, Metal, Bone - completed

Just before the next Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is due, I have finally finished this one!

Having made up the ‘wood/straw’ element of my bag, it was time to start decorating it, as I wanted to do this before I started to make the bag up. My inspiration bag is decorated with felt leaves and flowers on a branch, and I wanted to do something similar, but not an exact copy.

Bag close-up

When I was going through my collection of 1930s sewing books to post about them, I found a pair of photographs in “The Art of Needlecaft”, illustrating how to make artificial flowers in felt. As I was already planning the bag at that stage, I decided to use these as a basis for the bag’s decoration.

1930s felt flower instructions

To make the leaves I traced off the first photograph, scanned it into the computer, and enlarged it to the size I wanted.

The leaves traced off and enlarged

Then I traced off individual leaves, cut them out, and played about on a life-size pattern of the bag and handle.

One of my ideas - not used, because it would totally cover the contrast straw strip

Once I had a design that I was happy with, I cut the leaves out of felt, and attached them by embroidering the veins through both the felt and the straw backing. I had considered doing this with wool, but instead used some of my favourite Mulberry Silks threads.

I have collected quite a number of these threads over the years. A lot of them are loose spools stored in a box, but I must admit that I keep some of them in their original packets, as they just look so good!

Mmm. Good enough to eat!

The flowers were a little bit trickier. They are described in the caption as “small circles pinched up at the centre”, but when you look closely at the photograph, they are clearly not circles.

Very odd 'circles'

I decided to ignore the ‘circle’ bit, and instead cut out five-petal flowers of various sizes. I gathered them in the centres with a circle of small running stitches, pulled the gathering up, and used the tails of the gathering thread to secure the flowers to the backing. For some of the larger flowers, I added either a smaller flower or a circle of contrasting felt in the centre. Finally I finished off the flower centres with French knots, again in Mulberry Silks threads.

I never used to be able to do French knots; being left-handed I couldn’t follow a diagram for them, and they always unravelled and came out as a small stitch instead. Finally my lovely (right-handed) friend R spent an entire evening patiently working out how to translate each step of a French knot into its left-handed equivalent, and teaching me. I’ve never had any problems since, and doing them is always a wonderful reminder of her.

The bag front completed

To make up the bag, I first lined the front and back pieces by machine-sewing a piece of cotton onto the back of each one. Then I cut a double-layer strip of fabric for the gusset, and tacked this into place on the wrong side of the front and back. Finally I cut bias strips of cotton, and bound the raw edges. There were a few changes along the way however. Originally I had planned to use red cotton, at least for the bias strips, and possibly for the whole thing. However I was so pleased with the felt decoration that I decided that red binding might detract from it, so I used cream instead. I had also planned to machine-sew the binding on, but decided that the whole thing would look better without stitches showing, so hand-sewed it.

Side view showing lining, gusset and binding

Finally, on to the handles. These were to be attached using wide bias strips, and originally I planned to machine-sew the strip round the handle. Of course, when I actually looked at my sewing machine, I realised that there was no way that this could be done. Duh! Instead, to keep things neat, I did a line of machine stitches on the binding, then folded it round the handle and hand-sewed the sides together over the handle.

One bias strip, and one sewn round a handle

Finally I turned the raw edges under, and sewed the binding to the bag top.

It’s been a lot of work, far more of it by hand than I had planned for, but I’m really pleased with the end result. I’m even hoping that if I team the bag, in a very non-period-appropriate way, with Vogue 2787 (aka the Feed Sack Dress), it might even detract from the general sackiness of the dress!

Finished at last!

The Small Print:

The Challenge: Wood, Metal, Bone

Fabric: Hank of straw plait, pelmet Vilene, cream cotton for lining, sides and binding

Pattern: My own, based on this bag

Year: 1930s

Notions: Felt and silk thread for the decoration, embroidery hoops for handles

How historically accurate is it? In the end, probably not very. 20%ish

Hours to complete: Lots more than anticipated!

First worn: Not yet

Total cost: Four squares of felt at 70p each. Two embroidery hoops at £1.36 each for handles. Everything else from my stash. So £5.52, but with lots of felt (and two half hoops) left over.


  1. This is amazing and beautiful! Your workmanship is just top-notch!

  2. Thank you! It took a whole lot longer than I'd expected, but I'm really pleased with the end result.