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Home > Info > Articles > Handbags- Materials and Techniques by Christen Brown

Handbags- Materials and Techniques by Christen Brown

bead knitted and crochet purses

Beads: Beaded handbags have been popular for over 200 years. Many different techniques have been used such as knitting or crochet where the beads are added one a time onto the base thread one bead at a time according to the pattern. These patterns were passed down from mother to daughter as was a special frame. A warped loom was also used, with beads threaded and woven through the warp threads according to a pattern. From the top left: the mustard yellow bag is knitted; top right: embroidered net; bottom left and middle: crochet; bottom right: bead embroidered on canvas.

velvet handbags

Cloth: Before 1930, women still made their own clothes or would have had a local seamstress create her wardrobe for the season. Often the patron would require a bag to match her outfit, and the seamstress would sew the bag, perhaps embellish it with some beading and send it out to be fitted with a frame. The green velvet handbag in the bottom center is just such a bag. This has a wonderful brass frame with grape and vine motif and an acorn cluster for the snap. The black muff to the left was also handmade and has a zipper pocket for valuables. The other bags were all commercially made.

crochet purse

Crochet: Crochet purses were popular in the latter half of the 19th century and early in the 20th century. Crochet became popular again in the late 1930’s through the 40’s, and all of the purses in the frame were made during this time. Women again were making their own crochet handbags and clutches with gimp sometimes with hats to match. Popular stitches were the popcorn, and shell. The handbags usually were attached to a celluloid or Bakelite frame, though some clutches can be found. The pair of gloves to the right are a combination of tatting and crochet.

embroidered purses

Embroidery: This technique has been used on handbags since the reticule was formed. Both thread embroidery and silk ribbon and floral embroidery were very important forms of embellishment. Commercially purchased embroidered bags would have come from Japan and China, Hungary, Belgium and France. The samples here from the top are tambour embroidery with silk and chenille threads; the bottom right is a bag from China with silk and metallic threads; the clutch to the left is stitched with silk threads in Brazilian embroidery.

bead and thread embroidered purses

Embroidered Beads: Beads hand- stitched directly onto a net fabric or canvas with the “lazy stitch” (see the first picture for this example). Seed beads could also be applied with a tambour needle which was also used for embroidery threads. This type of stitching is called Point de Beauvais, a combination of embroidery and bead in a design, and originally came from France. A frame would be required to stitch the finished canvas to, and this would typically be metal with a chain handle. Often the frames were ornate as the two examples here show.

leather purse

Leather: These were popular because they were sturdy and could be fitted with secure metal closures. A zipper was used for the first time on a handbag in the 1930’s. Imported bags such as Moroccan and Mexican leather were known for the exquisite hand tooled details. These handbags and clutches usually have separated compartments and like the large clutch, built in mirrors. The small clutch in the middle has an embossed surface with painted details. A celluloid elephant is added for additional adornments.

metal purses

Metal: Mesh bags had been created in the later part of the 19th century to hang from the chatelaine. These were actual rings linked to form a fabric. The armor mesh was later developed and these purses were very popular in the 1930’s. These bags could be found in silver, gold, gunmetal, and white. A more expensive bag would have been printed with a design. The bottom left chain mail purse is the oldest in this group, it would have had a cloth lining at one time. The purse next to it is attached to an expansion frame. The remaining three are attached to filigree frames.

petite point purses

Petit Point: These handbags have known popularity throughout the 20th century. Typically made at home, though they could also be commercially purchased. Petit point designs were sometimes adapted from beaded purse designs, substituting a stitch where a bead would have been. A frame would be required to stitch the canvas to, and this would typically have a chain handle. These examples here date between 1930 (middle brown), 1940 (top creme), and 1950 (bottom black).

rhinestone purses

Rhinestones, Strass: Glittering strass or glass rhinestones were used exclusively for the evening wear. Whether it be a fabulous dainty hand bag as the examples here, glittering rhinestone jewelry or a gown encrusted with rose montee set stones. Rhinestones and strass were popular in the 1930’s, during the golden age of fashion and elegance. The top white bag is actually made of aurora borealis colored rhinestones set into plastic settings; the bag to the bottom left is made of rhinestones set into a rose montee setting; the rhinestones into the bag to the right are set into a mesh with a gold tone frame.

sequin purses

Sequins: Sequins were also used exclusively for the evening wear. Sequins were considered the poor woman’s answer to a beaded bag. Often little bags like the one on the left with the stripes of color would have been sold with a matching hat. The clutch to the right of this is a heavy satin, embroidered with pale blue aura borealis sequins. The bag below it is a silk charmeuse encrusted with gun metal and silver sequins and beads. The clutch to the left of this is a white satin embroidered with white and aurora borealis sequins and beads.

shell inlay

Shells: The Victorian Era used shells extensively in jewelry, and decorative items such as opera glasses or cigarette cases. Abalone and MOP- Mother of Pearl were used to inlay a design into wood and other materials.The two purses are inlayed with abalone shell pieces that have been further carved with details. Whole shells were used as small coin purses or needle cases as is the example of the small grouping in the bottom left corner.

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