When The Dreamstress published the list of 2014’s challenges, I thought that I’d give this one a miss, because yellow is a colour which does me no favours whatsoever.
Then I found, and fell in love with, a fabric which I thought would work for the challenge.
Then I realized that I’d got quite big plans for the next challenge, and I couldn’t possibly do both, so Yellow got dropped again.
Then, because I’d not done any challenges for ages, I began to feel distinctly under-HSF’d.
And then, I remembered this.
The Dreamstress posted this image for 2013’s ‘accessorize’ challenge, and I thought it was gorgeous. I still do, and as it’s small (in size if not, as it turned out, in effort) and undoubtedly yellow, I thought I’d give it a go.
The first challenge was getting suitable velvet. When I enquired at my local fabric shop the staff said that they very rarely had any yellow in, as there was no call for it – clearly it’s not a colour which does anyone else any favours either! Eventually I found a remnant of furnishing velvet in a very pale yellow; paler than I wanted, but better than nothing. It’s also too stiff to recreate the buttery-soft draping of the original, although a careful wash softened it up a little. On the plus side it is a cotton velvet, which is more period appropriate than the synthetic dress velvets on offer, even if I’d been able to get the right colour.
All of the bag frames I could find were modern and plain, but then I remembered that I had a frame in my stash already - and it turned out to be perfect. Plus, I managed to find some chain to go with it - even more perfect.
|Bag frame and chain
I enlarged the picture of the original bag to the same size as my bag frame, and used this as a guide for making the various decorations.
The beaded flowers were the easiest things to make. I threaded size 11 seed beads onto beading wire, and experimented with numbers until I got to the correct petal size. Then I twisted the wire to hold the loop together and made the other three petals all on the same length of wire, twisting after each one.
|Making the bead flowers
The easiest way of making the strawberries was to use velvet ribbon, as I only needed a tiny amount of fabric. Unfortunately all the pink velvet ribbon that I found was too much of a dolly mixture pink, so I bought some beige instead and dyed it with fabric paint. Painting onto the velvet pile produced a blotchy effect, but I discovered that if I painted the back of the ribbon and let the colour soak through, I got a much more even coverage.
|Painted ribbon for the strawberries
I sewed tiny pink beads on randomly for the seeds. Then I folded the velvet in half lengthways, right side in, and sewed it up in a cone shape. I cut it to shape after I’d sewn it, as it was far easier to handle that way. Then I turned the cone right side out, stuffed it tightly with cotton wool, and sewed up the top. The leaves were made from green and gold shot ribbon.
The six-petal flowers on the original bag are obviously made from a non-fray material. For these, I experimented with painting both white felt and heavy sew-in interfacing with fabric paints. The felt took up the colour better, but when it dried it went very stiff, and developed a bumpy texture. The interfacing was harder to paint evenly, but I found that if I soaked it first, and then lightly patted it dry before painting, this allowed the colours to flow more easily. As well as wetting the fabric, I thinned the paints down to a fine wash and built up the colour through several layers.
|Felt and interfacing samples, showing the chewed effect of the punch
I had hoped to cut out the flowers using a punch, but both the felt and the interfacing were far too fibrous for this to work; they just got chewed up and wedged in the punch. So I stuck with the old-fashioned method of drawing a pattern, pinning it onto the fabric, and cutting round it. My curved embroidery scissors were a great help in getting a smooth line. Finally I sewed some seed beads into the centres.
|Pattern pieces and flowers
The round flowers (roses?) were the trickiest to get right. In my local fabric shop I found some compressed paper beads, which I thought I could use for a base. However they were a bit big, so my plan was to cut them in half to make them shallower, and peel off the top layer of paper. Good plan, but it just wasn’t possible to peel off only one or two layers. Fortunately another, larger branch of the shop had the beads in a smaller size.
|Paper beads, showing what happens when you try to peel off a layer
On the original bag, these flowers have lots of subtly different shades of fabric. I managed to find the same fabric in two slightly different shades; one pink and one mauve, and then got busy with the fabric paints again.
|The painted fabrics (strong colour is the wrong side)
Because the beads are made of paper, it’s possible to sew fabric onto them. This does need to be done carefully though; otherwise a wisp of paper comes out with the thread, and once pulled through the fabric is impossible to remove.
I made the flowers by sewing a small patch of fabric onto the bead, and then layering bias strips of different coloured fabric, folded in half lengthways, round the beads.
|Clockwise from top: the initial patch, starting the bias strips, a completed flower
From the picture of the original bag I can’t really make out what is going on around the edges, just below the bag frame. There is some lace at the top right, but also some indistinct wispy stuff. I decided just to use organza ribbon and gather it.
I struggled to find any suitable lace for the centre. All the wide laces I looked at were either the wrong type of lace, or horribly nylon. Then I remembered the stash of lace and other trims which I was given by a friend’s mother-in law. This turned out to include some lace which had a straighter edge than I would have liked, but was otherwise ideal.
|Velvet, organza ribbon and lace
To work out the shape for the velvet, with the folds at the sides, I made a mock-up out of heavy cotton, and then unpicked it to get the pattern.
|The final pattern
Then I had to work out how to construct the bag, and in particular what order to do things in. It seemed best to do as much of the decoration as possible onto a flat piece of fabric, so I placed the cotton pattern onto the velvet and thread traced round it.
|The pattern marked out on the velvet
Then I pleated the lace to give it a vaguely curved bottom edge, and attached it and then the organza ribbon.
|Organza ribbon and lace attached
The ‘roses’ came next, followed by the interfacing flowers and some of the wire flowers. The ends of the wire were pushed through the velvet and opened out on the wrong side, and I also sewed a bead over the centre, which covered the wire twists a little.
I couldn’t add any more until I had pleated the velvet at the sides. I cut along the top of the shape, on the front half only, sewed it into the frame, and pleated the excess fabric at the sides. Then I added a rosette of organza ribbon at each side to cover the top of the velvet pleats. Finally I attached the remaining wire flowers on the right, and the strawberries on the left.
Next I cut out the top of the back and pleated it. Then I sewed the sides together, turned the bag right side out, discovered that there was no way that the velvet was going to fall into nicely draped pleats, sewed the back into the frame, and added the chain. Obviously it still needs lining, but that can be done another time (the “Re-do” challenge, possibly!).
The small print:
The Challenge: Yellow
Fabric: Velvet, interfacing, unknown synthetic fabric for the round flowers
Pattern: My own
Year: Early to mid twentieth century
Notions: Beads of paper, glass and plastic, velvet and organza ribbons, wire, metal bag frame, chain
How historically accurate is it? A few modern materials have crept in, but it is based on an extant item, and most of the materials and construction are accurate, so 90%
Hours to complete: Way more than I was expecting, a lot of them spent experimenting with fabric paints!
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: Bag frame £10, velvet £2.08, chain, paper beads, ribbon, fabric for round flowers £4.62, everything else from stash, so £16.70