Saturday, October 16, 2010

The first chainmaille purse

I mentioned these awhile ago, and I finally have come up with a finished purse design. I dare say that it's less-than-perfect, but I'm quite pleased with the finished look of it.

Originally, I wanted to go with a flat, zippered design, but in the end, the weight of the chainmaille made a drawstring design far more practical and a bit simpler to create. I may eventually attempt a zippered design, but for now, I'm loving the drawstring. But, let's back up a little bit and let me introduce you to just how I created the first one.

Pieceing the bag together

The main body of the purse is actually made from pre-woven welded chainmaille mesh that I get from a popular chainmaille supplier. In the case of this first purse, I actually stitched scraps of this welded mesh 'fabric' together using rings that are a bit thicker gauge and slightly larger than those in the mesh itself. I did so in a way that makes them stand out (yes, the visibility of the seams is intentional). In the future I may attempt to blend them in more, but for a first experiment, I was more interested in whether or not I could actually create the finished piece rather than make it look 100% perfect.

Once I had a large enough piece of 'fabric' created, I proceeded to fold it in half and stitch up the sides with much thicker, heavier gauge rings. I used these same rings to go all the way around the top of the bag to create the drawstring part. At this point, I took a scrap piece of leather and fed it through the cinching rings at the top to see how the whole thing would look when closed. Here's what it looked like at that point:

Note that in the photo, I have also already attached larger rings to hold the straps, and the straps are temporarily held on with some coated pieces of wire (twist ties! *laughs*). This is what it looked like when hanging:

Materials, straps, and lining

I had really wanted to use mostly leather for the drawstring and strap, and ultimately decided upon a piece of suede to be the drawstring and the thick leather seen in the photos above to be the strap. The next thing I decided to do was to figure out what would hold the drawstring closed. At first I thought about a bead, but I didn't have anything on hand that really suited--I envisioned beads as tassels on the dangling pieces of leather, but to cinch the drawstring and hold it closed ... that was another problem.

I dove into the random metal pieces on my desk and found a beautiful steel coil just sitting there unused. It ended up being the perfect size for the drawstring! Huzzah!

At this point there were only two things left to do: line the whole purse with some sort of fabric, and permanently attach the shoulder strap. The former would prove to be a bit simpler than originally expected, but some ingenuity paid off on it.

My original idea called for lining the bag with some kind of black fabric, but what kind? I'd discussed it with my more sewing-friendly mother, and got some suggestions from her. But, as I sat, staring at the half-finished bag, I thought "hey, what about these black velvet pouches I use for my jewelry sales?" It turns out that the largest ones I have are almost the same width as the new chainmaille bag. Wow. How lucky is that? They were a bit too tall for it, but that's fixable, I figured. So, I hatched a new plan and hacked the top off of the pouch. I purposefully left it a little too tall, stuffed it inside the bag and then stuffed a piece of cardboard inside it. I used the cardboard to help hold the whole thing in shape so I could stretch the chainmaille (which would sag and slide out of place when moved around too much) over it. I pulled out some black thread and a needle and proceeded to stitch the velvet portion through the second row of rings. 

I skipped the cinching rings for one main reason: they are not welded shut. If I'd stitched through them, the possibility exists that the thread would eventually work its way through those small slits in each ring and the whole thing would come apart. At least I think that would happen faster than the thread giving out otherwise.

Once the stitching was finished, all I had to do was cut the excess fabric, finish the tassels, and permanently attach the strap.

Finishing touches

To finish the tassels and ultimately add to the finished look of the bag, I used two pewter beads and tied knots in the ends of the suede cord to prevent the beads from slipping off the ends. This prevents the steel coil from sliding off as well. Easy!

The more difficult finishing touch was permanently attaching the strap. Ideally, I considered a run to the store to pick up rivets to put through the leather, but I decided that really wouldn't match the look of the bag very well, and along with that steel coil I found, I also had a nice fat titanium coil laying around. So I tried it, and it was the perfect fit (nice and snug) over the strap. So I decided to use it as a crimping coil. Thankfully, I still had more of the same wire to create another coil and did so. It only took a few minutes to get the two coils on and crimped down. 

And that, ladies and gents, is how the bag was created. It certainly isn't perfect, and I learned a number of things along the way (including how bad my stitching ability can be! *laughs*), but I'm very pleased with the result.