Pictures and Purses and the Germ of an Idea

March 19, 2010

Last weekend I got my envelope of inspiration for the Pics to Picks challenge that has been created and orchestrated by Meg of Unravelling.  I sent three pictures to a weaver in New Zealand.  Mine came from Linda of StoneLeafMoon in Massachusetts, and here they are!  I got a bonus picture too.  Would that make it a baker’s trio?

To a former duck owner, the fancy fowl (some kind of gamecock?) with the black and white lapped fish-scale pattern in its feathers suggested not only a repeating pattern in high contrast, but also texture and heft.  Something sleek and firm.  The idea of picking up one of our football-shaped runner ducks and tucking it under our arm was always as tempting to Der Mann and me as it was distasteful to the duck.  We never did it.  We liked them in proportion to their indifference.  Some evenings we would each take a glass of wine outside,  sit on the old cement silo foundation in the duck yard, and watch the ducks do duck stuff.  Ducks don’t do much, but they do it with gusto.  It’s better than TV.

I love the pipe-smoking African musicians in their elaborately folded cloth headgear.  The angular folds are a lot like something out of an early Renaissance painting, the kind where the artist was showing off his skill with drapery. On the other hand, the sepia filter and heavy shadows and smoke suggest caves, spirits–spookiness.

The grayish printout is a foggy pasture or lawn with a single tree and a thorny bush.  Trust me, since you won’t see them on your computer screen, but this one has great muted colors.  I like the way the details of the bush in the foreground emerge more sharply out of the mist, and the tree is just a solid presence in the background.  It reminds me of eastern Massachusetts, where I lived for four years.  Of course maybe it isn’t a photo Linda took locally, but there were places Der Mann and I walked with scenes like this.

The fashion photo is the one that completed my inspiration circuit.

That is to say, I had some vague ideas of making something girly and embellished in the back of my head.  Probably since taking a Japanese craft book of crewel embroidery out of the library and unearthing some tatted handkerchiefs when I cleaned out my dresser.  The picture gave me a direction.

There are so many delightful textures and ornamentations.  Just look: the rippling lambs-wool of the jacket, and the thickly layered satin bows on the collar and cuffs studded with satin roses–all in black to make the most of their handle-ability without the distraction of color.  The net gloves–gloves that are both a texture themselves and leave the fingers wearing them able to perceive texture through the net.  And the purse: ruched, satiny, fringed, cinched, buckled, and bowed.  And rose colored.  And pale yellow.  Pretty much every traditionally female costume effect!

What interests me about purses is that they are one of the few accessories that are made to be carried, not worn.  Their femininity is not the same as that of a feminine dress.  The purpose of feminine gown, shoes, or piece of jewelry is to to make a woman feel feminine, and also attract people to her-in-the-dress.  She becomes what she puts on.  It’s a sort of magic cloak.  Sometimes a deception.

A purse is one part of her outfit that a woman can appreciate as separate from herself.  (Until the middle of the 20th century hats did something like this, too.  Sad, sad, sad to be born in a post-hat world.)  A magic cloak doesn’t work its spell on the one who wears it, only the ones who see her in it.  A dress on a hanger can’t inspire the same kind of abstracted admiration that a purse does.  I think, to appreciate a dress fully, you have to imagine it being worn–either by yourself or someone else.  You don’t have to do this with a purse.  A purse is made to attract and please the woman who carries it as much–or more–than anyone else.  It’s sort of her independent sidekick, like one of those annoying talking animals that run around with the heroine in a feature length cartoon.  It is also functional.  When a woman sees a purse, she sees what it can do for her.  What it will hold–or fail to hold in the case of an evening bag.  How much and what kind of things a purse is meant to hold can start a whole story about where she will go and what she will do with it.

I’ve never carried a purse because I like being able to use both hands and not worry about setting something down and losing it.  The exception is special occasions, when I’ve worn nice clothes that don’t have pockets.  To me a purse means a lack of pockets, or pockets too dinky to hold anything–those are the worst.  If you want to push it further, a lack of pockets is a good representation of the inequality of the sexes.  “No pockets for you.  You don’t want to look fat, do you?”  or  “Okay, we’ll give you some pockets.  But just for looks.”  And men, no matter how much they might enjoy them, don’t get to carry handy little decorated bags that are just big enough to hold a few necessities unless they are willing to put up with the stigma of being a guy with a purse.

When I carry a purse it’s always an obscure weight on my mind, a burden.  I can carry what I need in my hip pockets; just my wallet and keys.  Sometimes I also carry a handkerchief, a measuring tape (clips on the outside), a bit of paper, and a small pencil.  If I need more than that, I pack a tote bag and leave it in the car.

I like purses.  I admire them in stores or on women’s arms, though never so far as to want one–for that, I’d have to imagine myself lugging it.  When I was a small child my granny’s purse was like bottomless portable toy box.  From fabric scraps to folding combs to mini tape-measures to face powder and collapsible drinking cups to carefully wrapped half-pieces of Trident chewing gum.  It also weighed about 10 pounds.  Later, she switched to a small front pack to spare her shoulder.

“So you’re going to make a purse.”  Well, no.  At first I thought I might, but not anymore.  My idea so far is one of layers of old-fashioned decoration.  I’m thinking of what occured when women took lots of trouble to make something beautiful with a nod toward utility that was more reflex than anything else.  A secret handshake.  The password would have been something like “guest towel” or “needle book” or “luncheon set” or “bridge pad cover.”  But if, hearing the those words, you simply pictured playing bridge or hosting a luncheon, you would have been missing the point.  A purse doesn’t quite work for me in this context though it is certainly something I would never use.

I love those carefully starched and folded old luncheon sets that have never once seen a table top in 70 years!

Whatever I make, I think there will be flowers or possibly rosettes.  And a net.  And I think the net will be woven.  I’m looking at drafts.

Cat butts: they're everywhere you want to be.

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3 Responses to “Pictures and Purses and the Germ of an Idea”


  1. Goodness, the textile in that enlarged photo!!!!!


  2. Lots of thinking going into your process, Trapunto. You and purses are like me and jewelry – like them, never wear them, but interested in making them, perhaps.

    What a wonderful start.

    • trapunto Says:

      Thanks, meg. I’m the same with jewelry. I only like to wear bracelets and rings, but I don’t actually wear either because they are fidget-magnets for me. But I like to see them lined up in a jewelry box!


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