18-20 Burners Lane, Kiln Farm, Milton Keynes, MK11 3HB info@artsgatewaymk.org.uk 01908 635 903

In conversation with…Jane Parker

We talk to bag maker Jane Parker in the latest of our ‘In Conversation…’ series.

Picture of article subject, Jane ParkerHow did you get into bag making?

I learned to sew at secondary school in the 1980s in South Africa and so started making my own clothes. I had a break from sewing, after moving to the UK, for about 10 years. I had an opportunity to take voluntary redundancy in 2014 from work which meant I was going to be at home for a few months. I decided to take up sewing again and so, my old 1960s Elna sewing machine was back in action. After dusting her off and giving her a well-deserved overhaul, I started with a few basic projects. I had seen a free pattern to make a simple Cross body bag so set out making one and that was it, I was hooked.

In the meantime I was offered another job but only planned to work for the company for a year as my husband and I were planning a big trip around the Canal system in our narrowboat. We looked into the opportunity of becoming canal traders and applied for a waterways trading licence. This would enable us to earn some extra money from my bag making during our trip. We attended several floating markets around the waterways and the response to my bags was as I hoped it would be. I was really pleased, all of my hard work was suddenly paying off.

On our return from our trip I wanted to carry on making bags as a business. I found part time employment in a fabric/haberdashery shop as I needed to be able to help support our income.

I started selling at craft fairs and traded at a few campervan festivals last summer, trading also from our campervan. However, because of the world’s current situation, I now mainly take bespoke orders via Facebook and through recommendations.

How would you describe your style?

My style of bag making means I’m always looking at traditional, practical designs in a wide range of sizes to suit people’s individual needs and requirements. This includes colour coordination of the different fabrics. Having said that, I am very open minded to look at different styles.

Where do you get the inspiration for your bag designs?

A lot of my inspiration comes from other bag makers and testers that share their makes on the various Facebook groups I belong to, also Instagram. I have the privilege of being a bag tester for two designers as well. This is very motivating and thought provoking for different designs which I can work on in the future.  I keep up to date with various designers through their newsletters and YouTube channels. The pattern designer that originally inspired me was Samantha Hussey whose pattern I used to make that very first cross body bag and since then I have attended several of her Bag Retreats. I also get inspiration from a designer, Christine Davis, who was an art teacher before she started making bags and her bag making techniques are amazing. Therefore, I follow a lot of her sew-along tuitions. I also keep an eye on the latest bag fashions for the year but most of the commissions will be bags to suit the customers’ requirements.

Where do you make your bags?

Originally, I was making all my bags on board our narrow boat but space was a real problem, so I took a studio at Arts Central in June 2020 and all my bags are now made in the studio.

Describe the process of producing a bag.

I like to start off by choosing the appropriate fabrics for the bag pattern I am going to make; this also includes assisting my customers in choosing fabrics for their bespoke bag. I then match the appropriate hardware I.E zips, zip pulls, strap connectors and adjusters, rivets, bag feet and bag labels, which come in silver, gold, gunmetal, iridescent and rose gold colour. I even coordinate the appropriate lining colour.

Once the fabric choices are made then a decision is made as to whether the bag should be firm so it stands up on its own or a soft slouchy bag. This determines the type of stabiliser that will be used in between the outer and lining fabric. The next step will be all the cutting out of the bag and lining pieces including the zip pocket pieces and bag straps.  Once the cutting is complete then all the pieces need to have interfacing fused to the fabric to give it some more structure and crispness.

If I am using faux leather, cork or leather then interfacing is not required. If a firm stabiliser is going to be used, then that also has to be sewn onto the pieces using a specific process.

I start with the straps, connectors and zip pockets in the lining, then the main bag outer, the lining construction and finally it is all sewn together ready to be birthed. There are a lot of other techniques and processes used in bag making which would take too long to explain.

What type of machine do you use to make your bags?

I use a variety of machines to make my bags depending on the type of bag. They range from a Juki industrial, Brother or Janome domestic quilting machines, Singer vintage featherweight and a Brother Embroidery machine to embroider designs onto a bag panel if required.

Tell us about a piece you are proud of.

My best piece was a cross body/convertible bag I made earlier this year which had a lot of different advanced techniques to it (see photo). The combination of real leather, fabric, several zip pockets and compartments with a lot of hardware or bling as I would describe it.

How has Arts Central helped you?

Arts Central has given me a suitably sized area to continue and expand my bag making. Talking with and interacting with other artists and crafters while they work is great.  I find it stimulating and good for mind and body being able to share ideas and knowledge with them.  My move to Arts Central was undoubtedly a very good move.

What are your goals for the next five years?

To continue expanding on the reputation I have built up over the last four years and to network with other small businesses in the area.

Work on my website so I have a selling platform to increase sales and continue marketing the Bags by Jane name.

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