It all started last August, when I accepted an Arts feature assignment in Mansfield. I spent an hour or so with Michelyne, a talented designer and seamstress who makes original bags and other accessories. As we talked, I admired her stash of vintage fabrics (which I also love, but which I would never ever get around to actually using for anything) and the handbags she had cooked up from old skirts, remnants, random hardware and a bit of bling. They were functional, kicky, and really cute. Her signature feature? Pen pockets in every bag. The bags appeared to glow in a beam of heavenly light; how practical can you get? Michelyne’s creative way of combining prints and re-purposing existing items got my own wheels turning. And I definitely wanted one of her bags. I’m a writer, after all. I need pen pockets, don’t I? You bet I do.
At the same time, my dad was terminally ill with cancer, and a few months earlier my parents had moved from their lake house into the city to be close to the clinic for his treatments. Soon after, we had discovered Dad suffered from Alzheimer’s. By now he was living in a memory care unit (secured environment) just blocks from Mom. She knew she would not want to live in their house alone, so we had been trying to get it ready to sell. My brother, during one visit to Texas, had taken Mom to the house so she could retrieve all the clothing she wanted to keep, for herself and for Dad. (These two story lines converge; I promise.)
I wrote up the feature, polished it and turned it in, then turned my attention back to sorting mementos and silverware and throwing away old magazines at my parents’. On my next trip I saw the “give-away” clothing that had been left behind, including three or four sport coats from Dad’s heftier days. That, and about a million neckties hanging neatly on a quilt rack.
I eyed the jackets, remembering the comforting, rough texture of Dad’s hugs and the smell of Old Spice when he was wearing one. Two of the coats were made of nice, tweedy materials that I figured a talented designer could translate into a smashing handbag. And as for pen pockets… some of those neckties were wide enough, if you opened them out…
In the end, I annexed both coats and twenty or so ties, and took the quilt rack to Mom’s so she could use it for, oh, I dunno… hanging quilts? Dad died in September, the house sold with the closing scheduled in just a few weeks, and we went through the double stress of planning a memorial service plus having to get the house empty and cleaned up NOW NOW NOW!
I needed a break. So I scooted over to Michelyne’s with my treasures. We started with the brown-toned jacket. She pulled out some possible lining fabrics, waaaay too pretty to use, especially the natural-color linen with the embroidered green and sparkly-copper flowers.
After about half an hour of trying to get me to choose a tie / lining / SOMETHING, during which I mostly said things like “I can’t decide; I like them all!”, Michelyne wisely chased me away. She must have jumped right to work because, within a week or so, I got her email: Bag #1 was ready. We met for lunch, and I pulled this –>
out of a pretty gift bag.
Talk about a custom piece! Michelyne had managed to work the actual welt pockets on the front of the jacket into both the front and back of the bag. The straps, she told me, were cut from the sleeves so she decided to sew a row of cuff buttons onto one of them. (Later, in a fit of nostalgia, I tucked an embroidered napkin of my grandmother’s into an outer pocket and fastened it with one of Dad’s tie tacks.)
It is beyond perfection, well-made and beautiful. It has two pen pockets. It also has the comforting, rough texture of one of Dad’s hugs. I get a lot of pleasure when I carry it, which is most of the time.
Lots of compliments, too, and I’ve never been a fashionista in my life. Just goes to show what can happen when you think outside the parameters of your job. Of course, meeting geniuses never hurts, either!
You can meet Michelyne and read the original Now Magazine
article (turn to .pdf pages 36-39) Here.
Her online shop, now under construction, is at www.michelyne.etsy.com.
And now it’s time for coffee with Rachel Anne and friends at Company Girls.
Thanks for reading!