The November Historical Sew Monthly Challenge was Purses and Bags (you’ve got your arms covered in July, your hands in September, now make something amazing to dangle from them). Late in the month I realized this was a great poke to finish an idea I’ve had for about six years. It was a bit of a challenge to complete my project before the end of the month, but I just slipped in, finishing it on November 30.
The idea came from my 1912 Tea Gown. I had intended it to have elaborate beading, but decided not to do that for a variety of reasons detailed in that past post. However, I had already beaded one panel that I decided not to use. I’ve been holding on to it waiting for the opportunity to put it to use in some other way. And so, I decided to turn it into a handbag.
Saving your scraps comes in handy on projects like this, because I had plenty of velvet to cut the additional pieces I needed for the bag. I looked through my stash to find a lining and came up with grey silk shantung as the best option. This was also a piece of fabric that I only had scraps of. It was originally used for the boning channels on an 1883 corset I made way back in 2011 (you can see it in this rather old post).
My inspiration is this page showing handbags from 1922 (source). It inspired me to go in a more structural direction rather than a gathered top bag, which was my initial thought.
I had the idea in mind, but I was restricted in the shape of the bag based on the beading that already existed on the main piece. So I cut out another rectangle the same shape as the beaded piece, a long strip for the outside edges of the bag, a strap piece, and a triangle piece to make a flap that would close the top.
Along the way I realized that interfacing wasn’t going to stiffen the bag enough for what I was envisioning. I cast about for ideas of what to use for stiffening and settled on cutting up a shoe box that was in my recycle bin. It was a great weight of cardboard–not too thick, not too thin, and not too bendy. There are cardboard pieces on each flat side, along the bottom, and a strip along the top edge to keep the flap nicely shaped. The pieces on the sides and bottom are (shhh…) masking taped together to create a flexible but stiff foundation for the bag. The piece in the top is stitched into a channel that is only sewn through the interlining so it doesn’t show on the velvet or the lining.
I assembled my pieces, thinking hard about which part to leave open to set in the lining, and struggling a bit with the shifty velvet. I wanted to sew most of the seams on the machine for speed, but sewing it by hand would probably have been more pleasant. I wrangled it mostly into submission, only needing to restitch a few sections as I went along. The only hand sewing came when I needed to close up the lining after putting all the pieces together. Things had become a bit wonky with seam allowances and shifting velvet, so I did my best, figuring that the seam would be on the inside and I really just wanted to finish the darn thing.
After that seam, the only thing left was a closure. I decided on a simple hook and bar. Not quite as classy as a real purse, but it gets the job done and I had it on hand. On the outside is a decorative button.
And that’s it, except the facts!
Fabric: Scraps of silk velvet, silk shantung, and cotton canvas.
Pattern: My own.
Year: c. 1925.
Notions: A shoe box, thread, beads, and a button.
How historically accurate is it?: 60%? The silhouette and fabrics are plausible, though the cardboard probably isn’t. The beads are certainly too big and the method of closure is unlikely unless the item was made at home.
Hours to complete: Not counting the beading, approximately 3 hours.
First worn: Not yet!
Total cost: Free! All of the materials and notions came from my stash.