The peacock bag adventure – my entry into the Hillarys Blinds Country Craft Competition

After much procrastination, stitching, unpicking, restitching and language colourful enough to make the paint peel from the walls, I can now present to you my entry to the Hillarys Blinds Country Craft Competition!

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The idea of the competition was to choose a fabric from the four available designs, Hillarys Blinds then sent out a free 100cm x 100cm (39” x 39”) sample of the chosen material, and the rest was up to your imagination!

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The rules stated that you had to make an original craft design and publish a blog post with pictures describing how you made your entry. I started with the best intentions (don’t we all?) planning to photograph every step and put together a bit of a tutorial, but this didn’t happen. I wasn’t using a proper pattern, rather making it up as I went along, and pretty much everything I did I would do a bit differently if I made another one! However, I did do a bit of research, especially regarding how to fit the bag into the purse frame, so I will to try to take you through the process of how I put this bag together and what I learned along the way.

But first, let’s talk about the fabric!

There was never any doubt in my mind as to which fabric pattern I was going to choose: it had to be the peacock one, or Bird Parade Teal, to give if its proper name. I love peacocks. I love their ridiculously over the top plumage in all its technicolour glory at the front that hides a very drab and dull rear-view. I like the brazen way their display of feathers shouts “eyes front, ladies! You know you want me!” That’s probably how most people think of peacocks: tail feathers fanned out, strutting their stuff to attract a mate, moving more like a carnival float than a bird, but that isn’t how they are portrayed in the Bird Parade design. These birds are roosting in the branches of a tree, behaviour that is just as natural as their courtship displays but not typically what you would expect of such a large bird.

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About ten years ago we had a family holiday in Cornwall where we rented accommodation in the converted stables of a manor house, and they had quite a large number of peacocks roaming around the grounds. (Side note: the collective noun for peacocks is a muster,a pulchritude or an ostentation!) They were very friendly and nosy neighbours, taking every opportunity to wander into the holiday flats whenever a door was left open – much to my two-year-old niece’s delight! They could be a bit noisy too, but what stuck me most was that these plump, stately birds somehow managed to get airborne! Not enough to travel any distance, but just enough to flap their way up to roost at night on the roofs of the taller buildings. It was nothing as elegant as actual flight, but it was still quite a spectacle! And that’s what the Bird Parade design reminded me of: watching those peacocks and enjoying a lovely family holiday in the country.

So imagine a country estate, a little run down around the edges but still with a quiet, shabby dignity to it. Think of Cornish cream teas, Earl Grey served in mismatched, not-quite antique cups and saucers, throwing crumbs to the peacocks whenever they get bold enough to run the gauntlet of children circling the table with their noisy games. This little snapshot of summer is what became my inspiration for this competition.

By the time my fabric arrived I’d already decided that I would probably make a bag with it, but what kind? The obvious choice would be to make a replacement for my old, battered canvas shoulder bag that I drag round everywhere, but although that would have been useful, it didn’t quite sit right with my country day dream.

Hmm.

So I tried thinking of a bag that would still be functional but a bit less utilitarian, something a bit old fashioned, almost traditional but a little contemporary too, a handbag with a proper frame and clasp, maybe with interchangeable handles…

Although I had my idea for nearly two weeks, that was as far as I got! I hadn’t done much sewing in quite a while, and the last bag I made was… a learning experience so say the least. Still, free fabric, what did I have to lose? I ordered the frame for the top of the bag, opting for a glue-in one rather than the sew-in type I’d struggled with on a previous bag making attempt. The frame and the glue were the only things I bought especially for this project, the rest I already had in my crafty stash. I went through my ribbons, lace and bias binding, searching for things that would complement the colours in my fabric, and I found lots of inspiration!

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Next, using the metal frame as a guide, plus some tips I picked up from this tutorial for making an evening purse, I measured and marked out a pattern piece for my bag. This was the only pattern I used and it formed the template for both external pieces, the lining and the interfacing. Next came the scary bit: cutting into my beautiful peacock fabric!

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When you only have a limited amount of material, the temptation is to make it stretch as far as possible, and whilst I didn’t want to waste even a tiny scrap of fabric, I also knew that I needed to place the pattern pieces carefully to really show off the fabric design. I wanted a whole peacock on both the front and the back with no detached body parts floating round the edges. Once I threw in seam allowances too it was quite tricky to angle the pieces just so without a stray head or tail sneaking in or being accidentally lopped off. The only way to do it was to mark the fabric on the right side, something I’m usually loathe to do, but I decided to risk it with an air erasable pen.

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That was my first mistake. It’s important that all the ink is completely gone before you iron the fabric because the heat can set any remaining ink marks, making them permanent, but when it says it takes up to 72 hours for them to disappear it actually means at least 72 hours, more if you were a bit heavy handed with it (which I was) . The ink is supposed to be removable with soap and water if you can’t just wait for it to fade away, and I did have a bit of a dab at it in one corner but it didn’t go very well. Up to this point the fabric (which is meant for blinds after all, not sewing projects!) had been a joy to work with: easy to cut with either scissors or a rotary cutter, it held its shape well and didn’t really fray despite being quite a large weave. However, it didn’t like getting wet and being scrubbed at, which didn’t really come as a huge surprise as there are few fabrics that will stand up to such treatment!

So the first thing I’d do differently is stick to my trusty water soluble marker. A quick dab of water and it’s gone!

When the air erasable pen had (at last!) sufficiently faded, I ironed on the interfacing to the back of my peacock fabric, as well as a square on the back of my lining fabric where the pocket was going to go on the inside of the bag. The pocket itself was a simple patch with a little bit of small bobbly trim along the top, and I sewed onto the lining before starting to make up the bag itself.

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In my (somewhat limited) sewing experience I’ve found that it’s best to build your project around what part absolutely has to line up – usually the zip but in this case the frame including the clasp. So instead of making an inner bag for the lining and another bag for the outside, jamming the one inside the other and hoping that I could fudge the the seam around the top, I began with the top edge of the bag (meaning the part that had to be glued into the metal frame).

The video tutorial I found via the website where I bought the purse frame recommended gluing some piping into the groove and then stitching the bag to the flap of fabric that was left poking from the bottom of the frame. This seemed a bit awkward to me, so I decided to use the piping around the top, machine stitched in as neatly as if it was going to show, and just glue the whole thing into the frame when the rest was done.

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This worked beautifully, which was a bit of a surprise as it was the first time I’d ever worked with piping! I was concerned about the piping sliding out of place as I sandwiched it between the two layers of fabric, so I tacked it into place along the edge of my peacock fabric first, and this did the trick. Using the zipper foot on my sewing machine helped me get the stitching really close to the piping, and I found that you have to go close much closer to the edge than you’d expect, almost stitching right on top of the piping itself.

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I then made up the bag, leaving a gap in the bottom of the lining to turn it right side out, then stitching it up.

Gluing the bag into the frame was surprisingly trauma free, despite being the part of the process I worried about most. For once I followed instructions! I applied the glue inside the frame on one side, spread it around with a matchstick and waited five minutes for it to get tacky before inserting the piped edge of the bag and pressing it in firmly. I then waited half an hour and repeated the process with the other side.

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It was all going so well! And then I noticed something that I’d been trying to overlook since I’d added the piping: the huge gap between the hinge of the frame and the v of piped edge. This was due to a completely arbitrary decision I’d made when sketching out the template that I should have adjusted before adding the piping.

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My beautiful piping! I was going to have to remove the only areas of piping that weren’t hidden inside the metal frame! It was a tough decision but it had to be done to get rid of the saggy trout mouth look my bag had developed. Some unpicking, a few little snips and some hand stitching later, my bag was looking much better for its minor surgery!

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Compared to the excess piping debacle, making some interchangeable handles was easy! Each handle was made with lace and ribbon backed with patterned bias binding, and the bag frame had loops to clip a strap  onto, so I used lobster claw clasps at each end to make it easy to swap the handle with the minimum of fuss.

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Choosing between different straps for the bag made quite a subtle change to its look, but I wanted to go further to bring out the various colours in the peacocks feathers, so naturally I reached for my crochet hook! Using the “raised rosette” pattern from Melody Griffiths’ book 201 Crochet Motifs, Blocks & Ideas as a starting point, I made two corsages from my stash of Drops Safran 4ply cotton. They still needed a little something, so I added some lace from some vintage doilies I’d dyed a while ago, and voila!

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Each side of the bag has a slightly different character to it, and depending on which handle and flower you attach, different colours in the design become more prominent.

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My bag isn’t perfect; the finish leaves a lot to be desired! But just like the peacocks trying to fly up to their roost on the roof, I got there in the end, albeit after a lot of noise, flapping and fuss!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Wish me luck with the competition!

19 thoughts on “The peacock bag adventure – my entry into the Hillarys Blinds Country Craft Competition

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