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Power of the Purse

February 28, 2012

Power of the Purse

Last November I was contacted by a lady organizing a charity auction for Girls Inc., a nationwide organization that empowers young women. The auction is an annual event called Power of the Purse and it teams local celebrities with local craftspeople to design and create purses that are sold to the highest bidder, the proceeds all going to Girls Inc of NW Oregon. I was asked to participate as a craftsperson and I readily agreed, frankly stunned and flattered by the invitation. I was paired with Irene Firmat, founder, and CEO of Full Sail Brewery in Hood River, OR. I was already a fan of their beer, so I was honored to get a chance to meet her. We met at the brewery and Irene first gave me a personal tour of the works. Afterward, we sat down to brainstorm ideas for a purse design. We both wanted to make a bag that would raise as much money as possible for the charity. In addition to the purse, the winning bidder and guests would enjoy a meal at the brewery with Irene followed by a personal tour. We both agreed that this package would appeal to beer aficionados and therefore the bag should also appeal to this same demographic. We wanted the bag to suggest the brewing process but still have universal appeal. Also, since the bag would be modeled during the auction by one of the girls from Girls Inc. we wanted to make sure that it was appropriate for minors. We both love the beauty of hops and wheat or barley, so we decided that I should focus on those motifs for the decoration of a messenger-style bag that could appeal to both men and women. In the next few days, I started experimenting with some designs. I decided that I should incorporate all of my prototypes into designs that I could sell in my Etsy shop. I was just working on a new design for an iPad sleeve that was modeled after the old inter-office envelopes, with a flap tied with a string wrapped around some buttons. So, I decided to decorate the front of this sleeve with hops and barley. I used a spiral (I am fond of them if you haven't noticed) to separate the two motifs. While, I was happy with various elements of the design, I didn't like the overall feel of it, especially not the spiral, but is still available in my Etsy shop. I decided to focus on either hops or barley, but not both together. I made another iPad sleeve decorated with a hops motif.

I was much happier with this result and in fact I have sold a number of these in my Etsy store. I also began experimenting with barley designs, making a third iPad sleeve.

I was very pleased with how this came out and have since made a Kindle case with a similar decoration in addition to the iPad Sleeve. I was starting to formulate an idea for the purse and sent Irene some sketches:

The flap would be decorated with the hops design and underneath the flap would be the barley design. Irene was pleased, so I decided to make a prototype of the messenger bag, slightly smaller than the final size. For the sides and back, I used the same burgundy pull-up leather that I used on my iPad sleeves since I liked the way it coordinated with the brightly colored dyed leather.

As I began sewing the hops panel onto the flap, I could tell that it would not lie flat since the two layers of leather would bunch up as the flap bends over the front of the purse. I thought about sewing it so that it would naturally follow that curve, but decided that it would then bunch up whenever someone opened the flap. The simplest idea seemed to be to have the flap made of a single layer of leather. I was also not entirely pleased with the way the design seemed to end abruptly and decided that if the hops design was more stylized, rather than depicting a scene, that it would match the barley design better and would be easier to incorporate into a pleasing composition. So I decided to make a single larger hop flower to be the focus of the flap. I finished the purse, lined it with upholstery fabric and added a strap.

Around this same time, it was announced that the purse designers could make another bag or purse available for auction (also benefiting Girls Inc.) during a radio promotion during the week prior to the main auction event. I wanted to participate and decided that this prototype bag would be perfect. The more I looked at the bag, however, the less I felt that it would be enough for the actual Power of the Purse event. I had learned that in prior years the bags normally went for $1500 to $7000. I realized that the bag or purse was only part of the package and that whoever won was obviously expecting to pay much more than the actual value of the bag in order to benefit Girls Inc., but I still felt that it wasn't interesting enough. I was rapidly running out of time before the purse was due (I actually was going to be on vacation on the due date, so I had to finish the bag prior to leaving.) I decided on a last minute change of plans. I contacted Irene for the go ahead and she rather reluctantly agreed if I thought the new design could make more money for the event. My idea was to make the bag itself resemble a hop flower with the petals being individual pieces of leather stitched onto a base. I sped through my normal design process, making a few cardboard mock-ups and then jumping into the leather work. I managed to finish the bag in time and I am pleased with the results, although if I had more time, I would have done a few things differently. I hope someone is willing to pay a lot of money for it!

The auction itself is taking place next Friday evening (March 9th) at the Portland Art Museum - entry is $150 per person and it kicks off at 5:30pm. Irene and I will meet our Girls Inc. model at the end of the runway after she models the bag during the event. Concurrent to the auction and also a few hours prior, is the Boutique Night ($35 entrance 4:30-9pm) in which the purse designers and other local boutiques can showcase their work - twenty percent of the proceeds will go to Girls Inc. I will have a table there featuring some of my latest designs, all of which are also available in my Etsy shop.



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