Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Work In Progress - Button Bags 1

So, after I was rudely interrupted by gorgeous sci-fi logos (oh and don't get me started on the new Will Young video - wowza!) it's time to get down to what this blog's really about - discussing my latest projects.  You know the sort of thing: ideas, inspirations, plans, progress, snags, hopes and fears (aargh, enough with the Will thoughts!)

They say you should look for a gap in the market, and I've been looking at making something that everyone is being encouraged to carry with them these days - reusable shopping bags.

I found this site,, which sells a wide range of blank bags.  I bought 5 samples of their cotton shopping carrier bags and I'm currently experimenting with decorating them with buttons, beads and sequins.  Then I'm going to carry them round town, firstly to test out how well they hold up to being manhandled, but it'll also give me a yummy warm glow to walk about showing off my work!  I'd love it if someone stopped me and asked me where I got it from, in which case I could say I made it and give them my card, but we're all far too British for that to happen.

What I love about this idea is that each bag would be entirely unique.  The bags cost just a few pence, as do the decorations.  The real cost of the item would be the labour needed to create it.  That's where I fall down because I always think people would be put off paying too much if I was to charge the full hourly rate for the time I spent making it.  So more research needed into similar items on the market and how much they sell for, methinks.

The nice thing about this product, though, is I can make it in my spare time, watching the telly.  It's not like I need to devote a 9-5 career in an office with loads of specialist equipment.

So here are the designs I'm working on (click on the photos to see the details more clearly).  Now you can see why I'm a bit obsessed with Union Jacks:

As well as the red sequins in the diagonals, there will be red buttons in the St George's cross part and blue beads/sequins/small buttons in the triangles.  The white parts will be left blank, to let the design breathe.

I've been sewing the sequins on in short horizontal rows on this bag.  For the next one I'll try long diagonal rows and see which one I prefer.

This format also lends itself to two other backgrounds, onto which I've just tacked the shape for now:

The blue bag will have the red and white sections filled in and the red bag will have the blue and white sections filled in.

I can extend this idea to many other flags, providing they're quite a simple geometric design.  So that can be tricolours such as France, Germany and several other European countries, crosses like the Scandinavian flags, or those which consist of diagonals, circles, etc.  If I can find some star shaped buttons of an appropriate size, that would allow me to tackle other countries such as the USA and Australia.  More complex flags could be a possibility if I could find sew-on motifs for the country's crest or whatever it is I need.

My second design is a heart which is a simple shape but which would be very eyecatching when you see it in the street:

I've just put a line of pink buttons on for now because I thought it might look a bit flat if I did it all in red.  So the pink acts as highlights, I'll add some dark red/purple down the opposite edges as shadows, and fill the rest in bright red.

The final design in my test batch is a flower based on a Dandelion I created using the Bodoni Objects font at college:


Bodoni Dandelion: The Bag.

This one will be slightly different because it's following a line rather than filling in a shape.  So for this I'll probably be more consistent about the size of buttons I use.  As you can see, it's based around 2 large fancy buttons for the base of the stalk and the centre of the flower.  The rest will be just be small green buttons for the stalk and leaves, with yellow, pink, orange, red, purple or whatever else takes my fancy for the petals.  Each petal will hopefully be 2 small buttons with a matching medium sized button in the middle.

Except for the flags, other designs can be put onto any colour background.  I just happened to have ordered samples in black and natural.

One of the joys of creating these bags is the randomness of sticking my hand in the button bag and seeing what comes out.  There's so much geometry and planning that goes into the designs, I like something totally unpredictable to balance it out.  Some parts, such as getting into small corners, are dictated by the size I need to fill.  Other than that it's just going to be the fun of letting the pattern do its own thing.

My red buttons, including teddy bears and ladybirds off my niece's old baby clothes - aah!

Once I've created the bag I need to test its durability.  As I mentioned, I'll be using it to do the job it was intended for, so I can check how well it works as a shopping bag.  I'm a bit concerned about the stitching on the inside of the bags, this may snag or fray with use, leading to decorations falling off.  For that reason I'm contemplating adding a lining to the bag once it's decorated.  This means I'll have to source some material - either full sized pieces or maybe scraps which I could turn into a patchwork.  This has the bonus of adding to the recycled, eco-friendly feel of the bag, but has the downside that it's extra work and therefore extra labour costs to pass on!

As for the decorations themselves, for now I'm buying some cheap stuff from the greetings card shop.  Strictly speaking they're for use in paper craft so it remains to be seen how durable they are.  If the idea takes off I may splash out on some metal sequins, in particular.  (I had to test out how well those red plastic sequins coped with hand washing, when the white bag had a close encounter with some ham and beetroot on toast.  A couple of them got a little creased but the bag stands up to some gentle cleaning, I'm glad to say!)  Other than that, job lots of buttons and beads will serve me fine.  Ebay seems to be the best place to get them from, a lovely big random bag for a couple of quid.

Ideally, though, I would love to be able to use recycled materials as much as possible.  So if you have a tatty shirt with reusable buttons you're chucking out, a box of beads or some old sequins that could be given a new life, please get in touch with me and I'd be happy to take them off your hands.  I can't pay a lot but I'd certainly refund your postage.  In particular, I need them in bright/dark red, white, royal/navy blue, yellow, green, pink and purple.

If anyone has any experience in bag making or sewing in general (i.e. more than me, which is none) I'd appreciate some feedback about my ideas.  Any tips on how to make them practical, rather than just a work of art, would be especially welcome!  If you can point me in the direction of similar products so I can check how much they retail for, that would be very useful too.  Of course, if you like what you see and want to place an order or discuss how to take the idea further, I would do the cyber equivalent of kissing your feet, whatever that may be.

The comment box is down there somewhere, waiting for you.  Thanks!

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