December 1961: Star-Spangled Theatre Bag

IMG_2976Technically, it was more of a “star-spangled burlap bag”, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Happy December, everyone! The 1961 festive holiday season, as envisioned by Stitchcraft magazine, involved at least a couple of glamorous parties and evenings out, for which this white satin drawstring clutch bag could be the perfect accessory.

My holiday season was going along festively enough, but I actually have a couple of vintage evening bags and clutches, should I need one to feel glamorous, and I don’t need a white satin anything. I did love the embroidery design, which features pearls and sequins sewn into flowery “star” motifs in various shades of pink and green. The motifs look very “modern” in that 1960s way — abstract and spiky, but also dainty and bright. What could I embroider them onto?

As it turns out, a few weeks ago I found myself at an antiques fair in Hamburg, Germany, and one of the stands was selling literal moneybags — sacks of burlap linen in different sizes that had been used by the German federal bank to transport money and were then at some point taken out of circulation. The material is very sturdy, finer and more tightly woven than coffee or potato sack burlap, but with a similar feel. The bags were also in perfectly good condition in spite of their age and use — each one is printed with a date, and many of them were from the 1990s. At the very modest price of one Euro each, I went ahead and bought ten of the smaller size (approximately 18 centimetres wide by 30 long).

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So … what to make of them? (Literally.) More vegetable bags? Gift sacks? Little knitting project bags? All of the above? Whatever their use(s), at least one of the bags was going to be star-spangled. Putting fine, pretty flowery embroidery on a coarse natural-fiber sack was a fun idea for a style-mix experiment that I couldn’t resist. After thoroughly machine-washing and steam-ironing the bags (“money is dirty” as the seller said with a IMG_2998wink, and who knows if they had been treated with some kind of additional preservative chemical), I drew the motifs onto the bag with a wax embroidery-transfer pen, tracing around different sizes of button to get the circles, and embroidered them using leftover bits of pink and green embroidery cotton. I decided to forego the pearls and sequins and just made French knots instead. I also didn’t care too much about perfect symmetry or absolutely “clean” lines — I wanted it to look a little bit rough and homemade.

Originally, I wanted to put in a zipper at the top, but didn’t have one to upcycle, so I just made a buttonhole and found a button from the “singles” jar. I might change the button over to the back side of the bag to make a fold-over top closure if stuff falls out, but I preferred the way the bag looked from the front with the single button.

And that was it! I like the result. It’s goofy and incongruous and has a vintage feel in a few different ways. I had already used a few of the other bags as non-embroidered gift bags, so I’ll keep this one for myself as a project bag for small projects, or possibly a vegetable bag. Star-spangled Brussels sprouts, anyone?

 

 

August 1961: Dainty Rose sprays

IMG_2721Stitchcraft‘s August 1961 “Late Summer” issue had multiple cute, easy embroidery and tapestry projects. Mine was this little set of rose sprays. To show the versatility of the designs, the magazine usually had directions for and photos of the designs made on different items: a cushion and/or tray cloth, for example. Overall, there was a huge range of homewares that could potentially be embroidered: an apron, a place mat, a chair-back, a wall hanging, a “nightie case”, a project bag, a finger plate, a fire screen, even a room divider or a waste-paper basket cover. This issue added a new idea to the mix: the rose-spray design on a lampshade, complete with a pattern to cut out, sew and fringe the lampshade cover itself.

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Close-up photo from the magazine. Sadly, there was no colour photo.

I don’t need an embroidered lampshade (or finger plate, or fire screen, or tray cloth, or chair-back, or waste-paper basket cover etc. etc.) and I have plenty of cushions and project bags, so I’m often at a loss when I see a nice embroidery pattern and don’t know what to put it on. I’ve made a couple of tablet cosies for myself or for presents for friends, or useful little bags to store “stuff”, but there are limits. I guess I could sell whatever I don’t need, but haven’t gone that route yet. So what to make?

Vegetable bags.

I stopped using plastic bags for vegetables long ago, which wasn’t difficult as I pretty much only buy vegetables at the farmer’s market or organic supermarket, both of which put vegetables in little paper bags (for small or sandy things like mushrooms, potatoes or little tomatoes) or don’t package them at all (I just put them into my basket/cloth shopping bag loose). I try to re-use the paper bags, but my best bag of all is a little linen drawstring sack that originally held soapberry nuts for washing laundry. It’s tough, washable and the perfect size for holding the right amount of potatoes or green beans or whatever. And both the organic supermarket and, incredibly, the regular supermarket in my neighbourhood have now stopped offering even little paper bags for vegetables, so time to make more bags!

IMG_2749Of course, they don’t have to be embroidered, but why not? Cotton embroidery floss is machine-washable even at high temperatures and I have plenty of scraps and bits of plain linen or cotton materials that can be put to good purpose. The bag I made for this August project was made from a piece of linen from shoes, yes, shoes that a friend bought (the shoes came wrapped in this piece of fabric in the shoe box instead of in paper.) I had enough embroidery floss on hand, so this was an almost 100% up-cycled / didn’t have to buy anything new project. (I say almost because I bought the cord for the drawstrings — then realised I could have made monks’ cord or i-cord from leftover cotton yarn. Next time…)

IMG_2756The design is of blue roses, which don’t exist in the natural world but can be created by putting white roses in blue-tinted water for a few days. (Interestingly, this low-tech process is much more successful than trying to create blue roses via genetic engineering, which so far has only made purplish-lavender roses.) I think blue is an interesting colour choice for embroidered roses, because of course when you see blue flowers you don’t automatically think of roses. I love how the colours turned out though. The stitches are easy stem-stitch, satin stitch and long-and-short stitch. Of course I didn’t have the transfer, but the design was easy enough to copy onto the fabric freehand.

I’m really, really happy with this and look forward to making more unnecessarily pretty, but necessarily environmentally friendly vegetable bags in the future.

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