Bags of fun challenge

Melody Lord

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First, I mixed up some paints with fabric medium (Jo Sonja's) and dabbed on stripes of graduated (dark blue-green, mid blue, pale blue) colour with a stencil brush. Then I chopped the legs off just below the crotch. I wanted to keep the crotch shape to emphasise the fact that the bag was a pair of jeans in a past life, but this proved a little more difficult than I thought. Luckily, I decided to sew up the bottom of the legs before I started embellishing, and so I was able to save myself from a potentially embarrassing phallic extension... I ended up making a kind of false crotch by poking the extra bit in and stitching across it. I also boxed off the outer corners of the bag to make a deeper shape, although I only made the bag about 10cm wide. Then I started to embellish.

There were two problems I encountered. The first was that the denim, especially with the paint on it, was very stiff and resistant to stitching. I found that finer needles were easier to push through, but this only worked with some of the threads I was using. The second problem was how to hold the bag as I stitched. Sewing up the legs first made this a little harder. At first I planned to keep the pockets as pockets but I found that it was just too difficult not to stitch right through to the back.

I couched down a variegated, textured thread to mark my sea floor, then filled it in with shell disks, beads and small plastic shell and starfish beads. I worked the sea floor once, then went back and added more beads and shells in the gaps. Then I added the organza ribbons (that I had salvaged from decorations at a "high tea" I went to), just tacking them in place for the time being. Next I positioned the metal brad sea creatures, fish and seahorses. Then I started stitching. At first I worked seaweed at random, mostly in feather stitch. When I had got a few strands of seaweed in place, including some worked over the organza ribbons, I began on the right hand end and started filling in the gaps with colours, textures and different stitches that took my fancy. Apart from feather stitch and some variations (I did a kind of double feather stitch at one stage), I also used linked fly stitch, cretan stitch, overcast stitch and chain stitch. I whipped some of the stitches with textured fibres as well. The thicker and more textured fibres I couched down, and I added beads to each strand of seaweed more or less as I went and as I felt they were needed. I found that working fine feather stitch seaweeds in one strand of gold thread was good for adding depth.

When I was happy with the look of the seaweed garden, I added the handles, which were cut from the legs of the jeans where I had experimented with the painting technique. I auditioned several positions for the handles; the one I eventually went with was to have one handle at the front and one at the back, attached at the belt loop position. This allows the bag to be carried over the shoulder with the undersea garden facing outwards. The lining is a simple rectangle of quilting cotton. I didn't bother boxing the corners as it sits quite nicely inside the jeans. I ran a line of machine stitching around the hem allowance at the top and pressed the raw edges down using the stitching as the fold line. Then I simply slip stitched the machine stitches on the lining to the top stitching on the inside of the waistband of the jeans.

I now have the bag hanging up in my bedroom. It is too pretty and delicate to use every day, although I could be tempted to tote my current project along to the Nowra retreat in it.

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