The most annoying thing I find when dressing up in historical costume is when I have spent so much time on getting my garments completed, only to realise that I really should have spent some time focussing on gathering accessories. I have improved at this over time, beginning to first be aware of my hairstyle, and then whether I should wear gloves or jewellery.
Most recently I was particularly irritated to find that I really needed to take a handbag to an event (rather than a cane basket, which is often my go-to historical handbag accessory) and I had nothing historically suitable and had to use my modern handbag. It just didn’t feel right walking down the street in my lovely Victorian clothes and carrying my huge black leather handbag over my shoulder.
So I decided to embark on making a handbag. I have reticules that I use for Regency, and large pockets that I use for 18th century clothing, but the real absence in my bag-wardrobe was something for the Victorian and Edwardian period.
During the late Victorian and early Edwardian period there were many many different styles of bags. There were beaded bags, embroidered bags, crocheted bags, metal mesh bags, leather bags, tatted bags, drawstring bags, clasp-style bags… I could go on! And there were just as many different sizes and shapes as well.
I eventually decided I wanted a clasp-style bag, with a short chain, but large enough to hold my essentials; that is, a phone, wallet, fan, and car keys. I found a remnant of scarlet velvet and also some white satin in my stash and purchased some black beads, a black clasp and a black chain from my local craft store.
I followed the instructions by Guthrie & Ghani on how to draft your own pattern for a metal frame purse. This was a great tutorial and my finished pattern looked like this!
It is drawn on 1/4 inch grid paper and does not include seam allowances. After I had begun I foolishly discovered that this size of bag would probably not fit my fan in it, so I added a bit extra on to the seam allowances to make it longer (and slightly wider).
I have not detailed my construction steps here, as I found many tutorials on making this type of bag, and I have included some of the ones I used in the Sources list below.
As I was working with velvet, I decided to draw the pattern piece onto the back of the material with an embroidery design for the beading I wanted to complete.
The beading was done with solid black seed beads and a larger diamond-shaped bead.
Once the beading was completed for both sides of the bag, it was cut to size and sewn together. The white satin lining was also cut and sewn. I decided to add a little internal pocket on the lining. For tips on sewing the bag together, check out this tutorial from So Sew Easy.
The corners of the bag were “boxed” to allow better fitting of items inside. There are some helpful tutorials online on how to do this.
The bottom edge was beaded with an overlapping scalloped type of fringe.
Depending on the type of clasp you purchase, some bags need to be glued in place, while others need to be sewn in place. I bought one that needed to be sewn. I used vertical stitches to sew the top edge of the bag inside the metal frame, which was the most common technique I had found on extant bags of this type.
I also gathered the top edge of my bag with gathering stitches to help ease in the fullness (which came from me enlarging the pattern at the beginning). The benefit of having gathers at the top is that it increases the capacity of the bag.
And here it is all finished!
It is quite a roomy bag, for a little one anyway.
Just in time to take to a Victorian picnic this weekend! I also plan to use this bag for a Titanic-themed dinner later on in the year.
Titanic Panic! – Making a Chemise/Drawer Combination Suit – the first in a series of posts on 1912 costume.
Sources and Relevant Links
Image 1 Source: A silk velvet purse, c. 1905, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Image 2 Source: An early 19th Century purse, from Granite Pail Collectables.
How to draft your own pattern to make a metal frame purse – by Guthrie and Ghani
How to sew a coin purse with a sew-in metal frame – by So Sew Easy
DIY: 1920’s evening bag – by The Closet Historian
How to Box Corners – by Sew 4 Home
How to do Beaded Fringe – by Beadwork