not made in china

Posted by on January 28, 2007




Outside it is completely white with a blizzard in full force. I sat at the sewing machine this morning and finished this bag that I began a little more than a week ago. I wanted to make something for my mother-in-law as a way to say thank you for how much she does for us. She works as a piano accompanist at the university, and they work her to the point of exhaustion. Then she turns around and uses her money to shower her family members with the things on their Christmas wish list. When she comes to visit us, she is constantly gathering up dirty laundry and washing it, cleaning, cooking, and treating Esme like she’s the center of the universe. I felt inspired to make something really personal and special for her. Since she’s a breast cancer survivor, I chose the pink ribbon patterned fabric for the lining of the purse– I think she’ll like it. The bag has a canvas lining, which gives it a nice, heavy feel.

I really enjoyed the process of making this. I kept fearing that it was going to turn into a disaster at any moment. I read through the pattern so many times before starting, and got muddled the further I went into it. I realized that I was just going to have to start it and follow each step blindly without necessarily understanding where it was taking me. “Don’t worry about the mule going blind, just load the wagon,” being the operative platitude of choice (copyright, my dad). The final product has some imperfections, like places where the lining seems a little bunched, or where the pockets opposite each other don’t line up exactly, but I’m pleased with it.

Now I’m developing the tendency to ogle over garments and their stitches, buttons, seams, and pockets, things I took for granted before. After all the hours I spent on this bag, I feel like if I were to sell this, it would have to go for at least $300 to make up for cost of materials, effort, and time. But you could probably buy something like this for closer to $50 (or less?), because it would be mass produced in China. Every thing I look at now looks like it should be priced astronomically. I can’t believe the proliferation of garments, and how cheaply we can buy them. Baby clothes, for instance, have the most complicated details. (I was so irritated initially to realize that you can hardly find a baby garment that does not have an applique animal of some sort, or an embroidered phrase like “little princess,”– so annoying.) But anyway, regardless of all the sewing machines at work in China, it did my soul good to make something of worth in my own personal sweat shop.

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  1. anna j
    February 7, 2007

    Wow, Julia–This is beautiful! I wish I could sew now . . . perhaps if I tried I would remember snippets of our 2nd grade boarding school sewing classes. Highly doubtful, though!
    I’m impressed 🙂

  2. Anonymous
    February 11, 2007

    The bag looks beautiful. Your mother in law will love it. Amy Butler is my favorite fabric designer but she got her start doing purses, really cool. This purse looks tricky, good job Julia. How do I leave my name? Lisa

  3. Dove Knits
    February 27, 2007

    It’s a really great bag. I wish I had your talent and patience for sewing!

    People do sell hand-sewn things, for that much, and people do buy them. But you’re right, it’s generally an unfeasible enterprise unless you live somewhere very ritzy, where people are willing to pay anything for anything. I run into the same problem with my knitting — I’ve been told I should sell what I make many, many times, especially my toys. But any of the toys I make would have to sell for $100 just so I could pay myself minimum wage!

    Anyway, thanks for dropping by my blog, and I’ll be sure to visit yours again.