Brooches, bags, booties and other stuff: in search of the elusive bamboo mat.

Brooches, bags, booties and other stuff: in search of the elusive bamboo mat.

I decided to return to basics and take an introduction to wet felting course.  I am hoping to become a training mentor with the International Feltmakers Association and thought that rather than observe the interaction within this course; I would throw myself into it.  Despite felting for the best part of 10 years I will readily admit I am learning loads – happy days!  The course involves sampling various breeds of sheep for, among other attributes shrinkage rate and required finishing the fulling by rolling the sample in a bamboo mat.

I knew I had them somewhere in my workroom – you might be familiar with the process – one puts something away safely for use in the future and then one promptly forgets where it is!  My room was a disaster area after the Christmas holidays as it had become a dumping ground.  It was quite the miracle that I could even find the work table let alone the bamboo mat.  A tidy was on the cards.

As I started tidying, I uncovered a number of unfinished projects which I reckoned would fulfil the criteria of this quarter’s challenge.  Let’s just call it as it is, repurposing something stuck in the back of a closet into something a bit more useful.  Those unfinished projects started with great enthusiasm then put by when I ran out of steam!

First up was the unfinished silk throw which I started in June 2021.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I had inherited lots of fabrics from my husband’s Aunt Kathleen.  In amongst them were small lengths of beautifully coloured wild silk which I had cut into squares and sewn together.  I had gotten as far as putting wadding and a backing on to it so I added a binding and machine stitched (diagonally)  through the layers to complete the throw.  Sorry that I forgot to take a photo of the piece before I attacked it – just one of my work in progress and the finished throw.  I have to say I just love the richness of the colours!  I took the throw out into the garden to photograph but it was so windy it was difficult to catch so this photo does not capture the sheen off it.  You can just about see the pattern from the diagonal machine stitching.


Back to the presses where I discovered a pile of felt that I had made up – not sure for what reason – long forgotten.  Some of it was plain and I had experimented by nuno felting various silks onto another piece.  One piece was a beautiful red and it inspired me to make a heart brooch.  I cut out my shape and then put it through the sewing machine a number of times using a zigzag stitch on the edge.  I then sewed a brooch pin on the back.  Here is the result in time for Valentine’s Day (note the bottles of champagne in the background which still have not been removed from my workroom):

I then cut a rectangular shape from the nuno felted sample and zigzag stitched around this in a similar manner to the heart.

These were quick and easy to make (once the initial felting was done) and they have potential for selling at Christmas fairs or including in cards as small gifts.

I keep my handbags in my workroom.  I have a beautiful black leather bag that I paid a fortune for in the 1990’s and have worn it to death.  The colour of the bag is now nearly grey and it’s scuffed – it is normal wear and tear – I don’t believe in using something I love only on occasion.  I had enquired about having the bag renovated but the quotation from the one place I knew who did this kind of work was way up in the hundreds so I did not want to go there.  Instead the bag greeted me forlornly every time I walked into the room.  It was like it was pleading with me to put it back to work again.  I headed off to our shoe menders who said that there were no guarantees that any leather dye would work on bags (they are apparently specifically for shoes).  I decided to take a chance as I did not want to scrap the bag.  It was time to redeploy it.  I used two coats of spray on the bag and now it is as good as new.  I am so pleased.  Unfortunately I did not take a ‘before’ photo but this is how it turned out.

Back in the day when my daughter was at college, she worked in a high end retail store.  Like her mother she fell in love with a leather bag and spent most of her week’s wages on it.  Within a month it looked worn out as it scuffed easily and the colour came away.  So she talked to the buyer and got a replacement only to find the same thing happened.  Disappointed the bag was discarded as it was not fit to be seen.  She told me to throw it out as she felt she would not insult a charity shop by donating it.  Armed with my new confidence I headed back to the shoe repair shop and purchased another dye.  This time I opted for a paint rather than a spray on dye and got to work painting on two coats.  I left it to dry thoroughly for a couple of days and then presented it for inspection.  I have to admit I fell in love with it and I was hoping she might hate the slightly changed colour so I could keep it.  She loved it (secretly I am delighted as she is a fussy lady) and she is now never without it on her shoulder when she is heading out!


Then I found a cheap carrier bag that I had purchased while on holidays a number of years ago.  I remember that it cost €1 (which is less than £1 and around US$1).  The handle was torn and the zip, which was used to tidy the bag when not in use was broken.

It was a bit of a sorry sight but I liked the plastic coated fabric and the challenge of repurposing it.  First of all I removed the zip to see if there was any life left in it.  When I was examining it I fell in love with the rainbow effect of the colours on the teeth and made up my mind to salvage it if I could.  I then unpicked the outer pocket that housed the folded bag  and dismantled the bag by cutting away the side and bottom seams and the handles.  This left me with two pieces of material and I cut two rectangles from these, using as much of the fabric as I could.  My intention was to double over the material so that the bag was self lined.  In effect, the bag would be half the size of the cut rectangles (less seam allowance) and I would be sewing through four layers.

Next, I removed the broken tag on the zip using a pliers and I opened the little hook on the mechanism as wide as I could so that I could fit in a fabric tag as a replacement.

I hand sewed the top and the bottom of the zip, cut the zip to size and then covered these areas with remnants  of the bag fabric. Here’s a photo of the mended zip:

I drew a line at the centre of the rectangles of fabric  and sewed through the two rectangles using a big stitch in preparation for inserting the zip (as per Teri Berry).  Then it was time to tackle the zip so I did this using the method Teri outlined in her post of 12th January (thanks Teri, it worked a treat).

I then sewed the original outer pocket back on to one side of the rectangle.

I turned the bag inside out (you might recall that the bag is self lined so the material is the same inside and outside.  I used quilters’ clamps and pins to hold the pieces together and sewed through the material rounding the corners.

I then used my sheers to neaten the seams.

So here is the finished odds and ends bag.  I hope I have added value to it and it will sell for more than its original €1 price tag when it hits the charity shop.

Did I ever find that elusive bamboo mat?  Yes I did in the very last box in the room.  It was worth the search.  I am feeling virtuous (or is that a bit smug) with my finished projects, ‘new’ leather bag, happy daughter and completed upcycling project.

Oh yes and tidy workroom.  Bets are on as to how long that lasts!

A little post script which happened since I uploaded the post.  A friend of mine asked if I could help out with a handmade gift for a new arrival.  Something small, so in the end we settled on booties.  I wanted to keep the price as reasonable as I could for her so I searched through my stash of felt samples.  In the middle of it I came across a hat which I made in my early days and which was waaaay too small for my head.  So out came the scissors and I took over the role of shoe elf (part time).  Thankfully I could work during day time when the real elves were asleep.  I found a free pattern on Pattern Bee ( and got to work.  So here is the result.  I hope my friend and the new parents like them.

I will readily admit I spent quite some time out of my comfort zone putting together this post.  Cutting into things does not come easy to me and I have fabrics that I caress every now and again, afraid that if I make that cut I will destroy it.  But it was good to let go on items where I had nothing to lose if things went wrong.  New things created from old things discarded.

Have you anything that you recently repurposed?  Perhaps this post has inspired you to finish off a project that has lingered in the back of the cupboard.  Perhaps you make do and mend.   If so, we would love to see your work.  Here is a link where you can upload a photo and write a brief description of what you have done .  The process is quick and simple and it’s just one click away.   I would love for my next post to feature our reader’s work.  Let’s get this conversation going.  We can all inspire each other.

25 thoughts on “Brooches, bags, booties and other stuff: in search of the elusive bamboo mat.

  1. Wow Helene! The bamboo mat fairies knew what they were doing when they hid your mat – if you hadn’t searched for it you’d never have accomplished so many wonderful projects.

    You must have felt very good after completing your pretty quilt and it would have been a shame for it to have remained unfinished, hidden and unloved.

    After your TLC both bags look amazing. The booties are just grand – not only are they an attractive and unique gift, they will certainly keep the little toes warm.

    1. Thanks Lyn,
      The quilt is now thrown over the back of one of the sofas and is really brightening up the space. It’s in the sun room, which is probably not going to be the best place for it come summer but, to be honest I don’t mind as it brightens up my day when I see it and if the sun fades it, well so be it.

      Yes, thanks, I’m delighted with the results on the bags and I am in my daughter’s good books as a result (if I ever fall from them, I can always admire her bag and get back into them again lol).

      My friend was delighted with the booties – I got a great kick (as my American aunt used to say) out of making them and got to practice a bit of embroidery too, so a real win win on that front.

  2. I love everything you’ve made here, particularly the gorgeous booties (thanks for the link).
    I know just what you mean about not being able to see your workbench. I’m in the same boat now, having finished the Panto costumes and got the Panto over. I staggered home on the last day and just dumped everything onto the bench and now I’ve got to put it all away and get on with the UFOs that were put aside last September (only I can’t face it at the moment).
    Your post is definitely inspiring and it’s helping me get up the enthusiasm to start.

    1. Thanks Ann, you did a post on one of your wonderful costumes for that Panto – how did it go? I imagine that the atmosphere was fantastic like everyone had been let out of school finally for the summer!

      After all my cleaning up of the bench, I have just glanced across and, guess what, it’s back in a state again. Perhaps I might start regarding this as ‘the norm’ and stop fretting about it. that way any anxiety will in future be linked to a tidy workbench ….. free at last lol!

  3. This post made me so happy, Helene! I love repurposing things and seeing how you made the “old” leather bags look new, and how you gave new life to an apparently-defunct fabric bag just filled my heart with joy.

    I really dislike throwing things away when they can perfectly have new life if we’re creative. One good example is my sewing. After making my mockup, I repurpose the fabric into either bags for wool dryer balls, or I can cut it up super small to use as stuffing for a doll. It gives me such joy not to fill our landfills with more stuff that could be reused…

    1. Thanks Leonor, they were all fun to make once I got my head around it and thought things through. The two leather bags were a real save and very satisfying to rescue. That said it took years to finally pluck up the courage on the black one. What actually acted as the catalyst was a programme (can’t say what station as I have forgotten) on the telly at present ‘Escape to the chateau DIY. The ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ attitude made me realise that I really had nothing to lose in the experimentation (and everything to gain).

      I saw your doll stuffing the other night – genius idea and so colourful. I can understand now the warm fuzzy feeling you get from repurposing.

  4. Well aren’t you a busy bee. The quilt is gorgeous. Great save on the bags. Tell your daughter I count on people sending expensive bags to the second hand stores for me to find. The repurposed bag will be very handy. The booties are very cute, and will become a keep sake, I ‘m sure.

    1. Thanks Ann, it kept me on the straight and narrow for a couple of days! I will let her know, she did a solo trip to the US a few years ago and her favourite place was the vintage stores – she bought beautiful pieces at a fraction of what she would have paid here for them. Her suitcase was bursting at the seams on the return journey. She’s hinting for us to go to New York for a few days…… not sure if it is to see the sights or the insides of vintage stores. It is good to remember though (about the leather bags) very easy to renew them with the right dyes.

  5. What a lovely selection of projects for this challenge. Who knew shoe dye could make such a difference to an old handbag, they both look fabulous! Also loving those booties.
    Nuno samples always come in useful at some point and, like you, I’ve several in my stash with “brooch” shaped holes in!
    I’m working on a recycled piece for the challenge but reading this has reminded me of several older recycled/repurposed projects which I can dig out and share in my next post. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Oh that’s great Karen, looking forward to seeing them all. The dyes I used are most likely from the UK. I will check them out if you like. Also using the acetone to clean K’s bag at the start of the process really helped. My black bag was so old that it was gone past needing this stage.

    2. My favourite leather bag is still hanging on in there for now. Having seen your beautiful results I won’t hesitate to paint it when the time is right!

    1. Thank you. Do check out that free pattern and you can make your own pair. (to share or admire in the comfort of your own home!)

  6. I love all your projects Helene, what a great job of cleaning out the studio and repurposing old projects you have done. Very inspiring indeed. I wouldn’t worry a bit about your workbench being messy. Mine is always in some state of craziness and that just means you are being creative. So enjoy the creativity and worry less about the mess. I think I might take the brooch idea and use of some scraps that I have. I hope we get some participation from readers 🙂

    1. Thanks a million Ruth. It’s a complete mess again and I still have not removed the bottles of champagne from one of the presses (lol). I am delighted that the little brooches have inspired you. Such an easy way to use up the leftovers.

      I hope that our readers will participate. It would be absolutely great because I know the are all so creative – it would be really exciting to be able to offer them a platform to show off this creativity. Thank you for facilitating this.

  7. That was wonderful to read about all you have done while searching for your bamboo mat! Great inspiring projects too, I love all of them. Cute booties, and I love the save with your and your daughter’s bags. Great job. Thanks so much.

    1. Thanks a million Marie. Sometimes the great rabbit holes end up serving a useful purpose. The dyes could also work on a save the charity shop bag (thanks Ann for that thought). The little booties were fun to make – lots of tiny stitches – it so reminded me of that little Ladybird book ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’.

  8. What a wonderful array of projects Helene, so inspirational and right up my street with the recycling theme. I love the bag, and how wonderful for it to have the gift of life again!!

    I fully get your elation when your daughter loved her bag. I have a daughter with the same exacting standards!! I hold my breath when choosing gifts for her, as we have such different tastes! She always tells me she loves it, but as her mother, I can tell when she really likes it!!

    My favourites though, have to be those booties!!! They are so adorable, I’m sure they were a big hit with the parents!

    A lovely read, thank you!!

    1. Thanks so much Lisa. The booties were a lovely project to do – you know the feeling, when everything is just so positive and the stars have finally aligned for the couple.

      Daughters can be hard taskmasters but when Mum’s get it right …. like a lottery win lol. I have made costumes for my lady and I quickly learnt to do a mockup and bite my tongue because invariably I get it wrong first time. Her corrections invariably enhance the finished garment (which is quite annoying :)) but, with the benefit of hindsight, it is great fun when it all comes together.

  9. Delightful post!! I love it all. I’m inspired, need to find courage to dive in. Thanks for sharing your beautiful work.

    1. Thank You Cathrine. Just go for it. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain from it. I would love to see what you make. There’s a link in the post if you would like to post.

    1. Thank you Kathaleen. Just try sewing a little every day. It’s a real confidence booster!

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