Weald Handmade Interview or ‘I really do like handbags, you know’

I have never been a shoe person. This is, I would imagine, at least in part to the fact that I have wide size 8 feet an most shoes don’t fit me. In all honestly I have been shoe shopping previously and played spot the fella buying heels such as my shoe size contemporaries seem to be. But handbags? Well, handbags are a different matter and are a thing of wonder and much coveting.

wealdhandmade Somehow, through the magical world of twitter I came across Sarah who runs Weald Handmade, living about two miles down the road and handmaking gorgeous leather handbags that were the talk of the stitch-in I ran the other week. You know I’m a sucker for local things and handmade things and now you know I’m a sucker for a nice bag too. I had loads of questions I wanted to ask Sarah and I thought they might interest you too. Enjoy, and try not to dribble on the pictures of the bags.

1) Ok, so I know you make bags, but I also know that you make tables and I think that you’re at the very least a little bit involved in Barlow and Fields (cafe in Leigh on Sea) and then I saw somewhere that you’re a law graduate?! Is it possible to give a brief run down of what it is you do?! You’re not secretly superwoman are you?! 

Well I started out studying Law with the intention of becoming a solicitor, decided it wasn’t for me after graduating and began working for a charity supporting people with disabilities to have a voice and secure their rights. I still work there now as a Service Manager 2 days a week. In addition to this I organise a quarterly vintage and Handmade Fayre in Leigh, a perfect forum to support local businesses like mine. In May last year I opened up Barlow & Fields with my husband Simon and our friend Ash. We had spoken about it for years and suddenly we got to the point where we just thought, if we don’t do it now, when will we do it? The tables came about because we just couldn’t find any within our price range that we liked so I declared, rather enthusiastically  that I would make them. This was met by the two rather bemused faces of Simon and Ash. But alas I went ahead and was pretty pleased with the result, even if I do say so myself. I’d much rather try and fail than regret not trying at all. The line of thought I also followed with my making. I’ve always liked making things for as far back as I can remember and following the turmoil of post graduate mind set: what the hell do I do with my life now? I decided what I really wanted to do was make things.

2) How did you get started in making bags? Leather ones particularly seem a bit against the norm?

I started off making Womens and Childrens wear after teaching myself the skill of pattern cutting. My mum is a dressmaker and has been my sewing safety net. If there is something I don’t know, she is guaranteed to know the answer. I ended up getting a little carried away, with no kind of direction and a mismatch collection, wanting to try anything and everything. This all got a bit too much and wasn’t really productive. However, with the stresses of opening Barlow & Fields I decided to stop that side. Once Barlow & Fields was up and running I kind of felt lost without my making business and the decision was made to take everything I had learnt over the years of dressmaking – the many business mistakes I made – and channel this into a more streamlined business, concentrating solely on bags. I’m a sucker for good quality materials whether this be silk for dresses or beautiful wood for tables so leather just seemed a natural choice. (finding a leather I was happy with is a different story).

3) How long does it take you to make a bag and do you machine sew or hand stitch them? (A totally selfish question here as I am currently hand sewing one and expect to be drawing my pension before its done)

Length of time to make a bag really depends on the style, some could take an hour, some could take me the whole day. I have to admit it also depends on my mood – some days I can whizz through, others not so much. I do a mixture of hand sewing and machine sewing depending on the leather I am using. Hand sewing leather is very punishing on the hands! I do hope you will be sharing pics of your bag once it’s made

4) What have you made that you are most proud of? And do you ever make things to sell and then accidentally end up keeping them for yourself?

wealdhandmade 2 I currently love the large clutch bag I have just made for the new collection (I’m not sure if it’s the done thing to admit that). It was actually born out of a mistake – I was making a completely different bag and I just couldn’t get it to look how I wanted it. I left it for a few days and then started playing around with it, trying different things and this design was born. I’m not a massive fan of pen to paper and prefer to play around with the materials and see what happens – a much more organic approach to designing I suppose. I am actually most proud of my wedding dress I made with my mum. We took apart her wedding dress and redesigned it. It was nice to re-use something that had sentimental value (if not a little scary).

5) At the stitch in I ran the other week your bags were getting a lot of love from people, do you do the creative / crafts / arty scene in Southend and would you actually say that there is any kind of scene like this locally? (Have been to the empty cultural centre at the end of the pier and despaired rather myself…)

Thank you. It’s amazing when people like the stuff you have spent time and energy creating. I try and support other creatives through twitter with Take a Look Tuesday, Buy British Brands Hour etc. Running the fayres has also put me in contact with a lot of local talented people. I’ve also met a lot of very creative local people on via twitter. I certainly think there is more of a scene developing than there used to be and I would love to see that grow into something more. Maybe we should put our heads together and see what we could do to link all the local talented people together. Not much of a scene locally, why not create one?

6) etsy vs asos which do you find works best for you and why?

I don’t think I could choose. I make equal number of sales through them both. I am probably more comfortable with Etsy as I have used that for longer. However this is a massive personal area of development. I’ve been following The Design Trust and have purchased their Guide to Running a Successful Craft Business. I kind of get carried away with the making side and forget I need to put equal, if not more, effort into marketing and promotion. A big learning curve for me. I would certainly recommend the guide to other crafters wanting to turn their hobby into a business. Follow them on Twitter too for constant inspiring, practical blogs etc.

7) Finally in a total ‘this is my blog and therefore I ask the stuff that interests me’ way, I know that you are currently expecting (congratulations) so I have two baby style questions, one, will you be making a nice changing bag as all the current ones on the market are so OTT girly and secondly and most importantly have you chosen a buggy yet?!!

I hadn’t thought about making my own changing bag until you mentioned it, funnily enough, but now I think what a challenge, so maybe I will. If I do I’ll no doubt tweet about the trials and temptations of the perfect changing bag! Luckily for me we have been very fortunate with generous friends and family and I’ve actually been lent a Bugaboo so that took out all the stresses and expense of picking one! I’m trying to be thrifty and borrow, make or buy second hand the bits we need. I will most certainly be making the geometric quilt from See Kate Sew (just need to find the time).

A huge thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions. If you are the sort of person who is remotely interested in things Southend based or craft based then do follow her on twitter @wealdhandmade and of course if you are the sort of sensible person who longs for a decent handbag then pop yourself over to the wealdhandmade website or Sarah’s shops on etsy and asos

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