I have had many fun requests for custom totes over the years. I’ve upcycled t shirts, sweatshirts, army jackets, wool coats and even a suede coat – transformed them into totes and duffle bags. In addition to creative repurposing, I sometimes get asked to finish projects for a customer.  This particular bag was started by my cousin. It is the Bali Briefcase from Aunties Two Patterns.

The pattern calls for an interesting method of creating strips using clothesline or batting. My cousin used the batting technique. The strips are created and then zig-zag stitched together to create a firm fabric.

I took the pieces from her and finished the bag. I created bias binding, attached the binding, hand-sewed the pieces together, created the handles and bound off the top edge. It’s often difficult to give an estimate on a custom project. In this case, I skimmed over the instructions and it didn’t seem too difficult. I didn’t realize, however, how much hand sewing was involved. I did most of that while watching TV and didn’t mind the change of pace.

In another case, a customer asked me to duplicate, as best as possible, a bag she had purchased. The original bag maker closed her shop.  My customer and I sent a series of emails (or, more specifically, Etsy conversations – 32 to be exact) to determine what she wanted.

She wanted a toile fabric in turquoise. So I searched my favorite local and online fabric shops. She selected a lovely toile from an Etsy shop.

The first order of business is to manage the embroidery. I get a fair number of requests for embroidery. I would LOVE to be able to offer embroidery on my items, but I simply cannot justify the $2000 to $4000+ expense of an embroidery machine. Instead, I work with a local embroidery company and really appreciate that the owner will take my small projects from time to time. 
I purchase the base fabric, outline the dimensions and bring it the embroiderer.

Them I have to do some math. I’m so glad that my 12 years of elementary and high schooling + 5 semesters of college-level engineering math + 1 semester of graduate school statistics has not gone to waste!
I take the customer’s measurements and work backwards to make a pattern. Some of the dimensions, like the top piece, I eyeballed. The embroidered piece is slightly larger, as well, due to the amount of words. 

In this case, I only had a yard of fabric to work with. I basted it together before final stitching to be sure my calculations were correct. I didn’t want to order more fabric if I made a mistake!

In the end, I hope my customer is satisfied.  She is truly someone who appreciates handmade. She told me what she paid for the other bag, but realized it would require more of my time to look for a fabric, duplicate the design, etc., and was willing to pay more.

I appreciate that she understands the process.  When I make a quilt or a bag for a customer, if I am using one of my standard designs, I know the time and materials required.  But as a custom studio, I work with you to create what you envision. Sometimes this takes a bit of time. At other times, I will do some of the pre-design work and never hear back from my customer. That’s the nature of the business.

I love the creative process and the interaction with my customers. I am always learning something new. And that is NEVER time wasted!