Wednesday, 28 January 2015

All the gear, no idea.

The house reeks of cabbage. My fingernails have disintegrated. My hands feel like brillo pads. I have caused a small kitchen fire (just the 1). But I feel great! For the last week and a half, I have been busy experimenting, investigating and hatching a possible plan for a small project/business. With no experience and very limited skills, I managed to produce 6 half decent bags in 7 days.

1. Red Onion

2. Mixed Berries

3. White Onion

4. Blueberries

5. Carrot + White Onion

6. Red Cabbage + Bicarbonate of Soda

I must be honest. I have LOTS of ideas and hair brained schemes on a very regular basis. My friends can confirm this. These schemes and business ideas often change monthly, however, this seems the most achievable. It is something I can do from home, it can fit in around my freelance work in TV, and is right up my street in terms of being something creative. And while these may not be to everyone's taste, I would definitely buy them if I saw them in a shop and my friends have been very positive so that's a start.

The journey so far:

After making these first lot of prototype bags using fabric I purchased from a local Charity shop, the fabric ran out. I had no idea what the material was called so after some investigation discovered it is something called 'Crash'. Frustratingly, this has turned out to be rather hard to get hold of locally, despite being very good at absorbing the dye, its not widely used anymore. It's usually made from a mixture of linen and jute and originated in Russia. I wanted to buy my fabric locally if possible so for my next lot of bags I bought some Heavy Calico. This is smoother material, stills seems to absorb dye well and feels less likely to sag than the Crash.

The dying process has been interesting too. Some vegetables/fruit have worked really well and others have been a waste of time (and gas). Carrots and Beetroot's both produced such pale colours I had to dye them both again with other dyes but in turn this has produced some quite nice fabrics. I am not throwing any fabric away, if one dye bath doesn't work so well, I will dye it again. For example, the bag below went into a Carrot bath and came out very pale yellow (the bottom part) so I then stuck the top part in White Onion to make it a bit more interesting.

The fabric below has all been dyed in the last 2 days and is ready to be sewn together. The yellow came from Turmeric root, the purple was from a mixed berry bath and the 2 grey fabrics were the result of a berry bath dye that I then put through the washing machine and it changed the colour completely.

I'm really finding this whole process very interesting. Not only can you change some dye colours prior to dying (Red Cabbage is the best for this, see below) but also, if you put the fabric though the wash and /or iron it after the dye process, the colour can change again!

Red Cabbage dye with vingegar, with Bicarbinate of Soda and left as is. 

After some very limited 'market reserach' I had an idea of how to make the bags more practical. The body of the bag needs to be bigger and the straps need to be over the shoulder, rather than 'hand held' but the next step in the process to was to get hold of a sewing machine. I have never used a sewing machine before but have always wanted one and now seemed like the perfect time to invest. So, on Saturday, we went to Franklins to have a look. It turns out that not only is this shop an awesome Haberdashers it is also Europe's largest needlecraft store! They have been trading for 60 years and supply machines to companies including Mulberry, and several car manufacturers for their interiors so we really were going to the best place. We were lucky enough to be seen by Mr Franklin himself who advised on which machine to get based on my non-existent knowledge and the fabric I will be using. Behold, my new best friend:

I am rather feeling now like I've got all the gear and no idea but practice will make perfect. 
Fingers crossed.

The next challenge is to source more leather. I had wanted to get it locally if I could (Essex or Suffolk) but its proving a bit tricky. In the meantime however, some very kind and generous Costume Designer friends of mine have offered to donate some leather to the cause so once that arrives, I can start the final part of assembly of the next batch.

Once I have built up a pile of bags (I also want to make cushions too, and anything else that doesnt require lots of washing. Baby and Pet products will be a bit of a non-starter), I need to decide on a name, get my branding sorted and start selling! I would like if possible, to base the name on the area that we live in, the Dutch Quarter of Colchester. In terms of textile history in the UK this area is as important as Spittalfileds in East London.  The Dutch Quarter is named after the Flemish Settlers who arrived here in the 15th Century to avoid Relgious Persecution in the Netherlands. They were predominantly weavers who brought their skills, wealth and prosperity to Colchester making it one of the most important textile towns in England. (Again, why Colchester Council / The Tourism people here don't make more of this is mind boggling...). Most of the houses in this small area have huge windows at the front, this was to help the weavers with their work by bringing light into the rooms and also allowing people walking past in the street to watch the Weavers at work on their looms. They mostly produced  a cloth called 'bays' which we now know as 'baize' which is used to cover snooker tables!

Anyway, I digress. So, moving forwards, lots to do and think about, but I feel quite excited about it all. There is no doubt this is quite a time consuming process just for a bag but I think they are quite beautiful. Each one is unique, each one has been made with love and enthusiasm and zero chemicals. Its keeping me off the streets at least.

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