Bag · Upcycling

The Making of a Half-Messenger Dog Appliqué Bag


Hullo, hullo! Been so long … surprised the blog is still here!

Just kidding.

The blog may have been out of sight but let me assure you, never was it out of mind.

In between a term break, throwing two birthday parties and general adulting, I was also plugging away at my second commission! For my wonderful friend in Singapore. Who has a knack for tickling my funny bone; we’d be cracking up like banshees while others look on thinking we’ve gone mad. She’s a mum, wife, lawyer, animal activist and general good person. Sharp as hell too. But what I admire most is her compassion. She’s the sort who finds homes for orphan dogs. And you know how places like Starbucks chuck out (or used to) perfectly good unsold pastries and cakes at the end of the day? Well, my friend collects them and distributes them to migrant workers who have been breaking their backs in the hot sun. Told you she’s amazing, didn’t I?

But, alas, she has a flaw.

She likes pink.

She said she’d like a bag, that she can use while travelling, with an appliqué of her dog.

Fine, send me a picture of your dog, I said, all fired up. And main colour of bag? I asked.

Midnight blue.

Perfect. And secondary colour?


Right away I knew I was in trouble.

Never told my friend this but pink is not a colour I naturally gravitate towards. I mean, I’m anti-pink. I resist it, I rebel against it. I refuse point-blank to buy pink presents for little girls; I’d rather walk a mile to find blue ones instead. It’s like my personal vendetta against social conventions. To me, pink represents a script that society imposes upon women from the time they are infants, correction, even before they’re born. And I rail against it. I am its protest march.

Objectively, though.

Objectively, I see how pink can be pleasing to the eye. It is, after all, a pretty hue. For people who like pink, the prejudices I hold against it don’t even cross their minds. To them, pink evokes femininity, girl power, youth, deliciousness, warmth, tenderness.

I learnt earlier on, from my legal days, you don’t reject a brief over something personal. You just approach it differently. How? You learn from your betters.

What would Frida Kahlo do?

It’s true what they say: you need to ask the right question. When you do, not only will the answer be instantaneous, inspiration will rain on you. Immediately, I see Frida with her iconic eyebrows, staring right at me, garbed in a glorious tumult of colours, including pink.

That’s it. Pink goes with many other colours.

If I had to find my way into pink, get rid of my awkwardness around it, I’d have to play with colours that look good with pink. I know pink’s best friends are yellow, orange, turquoise, lime green and blue. They happen to be my best friends too.

With that existential dilemma settled, I could finally rock on with the appliqué.

Here’s a picture of Ditto, said dog.fotor_14804193493461

For the appliqué, I thought I’d take a leaf from the book of my man Picasso …fotor_147376363328359

… and came up with this sketch.fotor_147608954932419The plan was to have a patchwork of fabrics in pink and complementary colours against a backdrop of midnight blue denim and blue and white stripes, and outline the whole appliqué with hot pink thread.

Here’s the outcome.fotor_148042250452512The dark blue denim was harvested from an old dress and the other fabrics, from second-hand shirts. See how the doggie patchwork pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle?

To add to the cocktail of colours, I also wanted the appliqué to be a tactile feast. The blue and white half of the background is covered with smooth clear vinyl. The embroidered eyes are raised and tongue made chubby with sponge and also coated in shiny vinyl. The brown tweed nose feels pillowy and grainy. The fabric edges are left raw and slightly frayed to simulate fur. The plaid fabric for the chest has crescent-like folds and zigzag stitches to mimic movement. A kaleidoscope of textures awaits as your fingers run along to stroke the dog.

So that’s one side of the bag.

I did say my friend wanted to use the bag for travel, didn’t I? Well, the other side is more practical, with several pockets, but no less colourful.

This wonderful riotous cotton fabric which makes up the flap and the top half of the big pocket was reclaimed from a little girl’s dress. By covering it with vinyl, the fabric is now protected, made sturdier and gains a lacquer-like gloss.2016-11-30-10-36-53My friend had asked for a dog bowl appliqué for this side of the bag. It’s not obvious from the photo but the bowl is wrapped in vinyl and bones padded with sponge to make them cushy to the touch.

Here are both parts side-by-side before I stitched them together. I must admit, the hot pink stitches really do pop against the midnight blue.fotor_148043957931282

The top flap gives the bag a quasi-messenger bag effect, hence its name.

You lift the flap to reveal …fotor_148044154596716 … three little pockets for subway tickets, small change, hair clips, what-have-you. The sort of things you’ll want to have access to without rummaging inside the bag yet not be exposed. The flap opens and closes easily with a magnetic button. And it’s lined with the same plaid fabric that makes up the dog’s body.

Now, let’s unzip the big pocket, shall we? Peek inside … it’s also lined with plaid …fotor_148042936622345

… a little bit more …fotor_148042931460254There, a pocket hidden inside a pocket. To keep her passport safe yet handy when moving around airports.

So, if the flap and big pocket are lined, what about the lining for the bag itself? See for yourself … the front…fotor_147835638120344

… back …fotor_148051164517517

… and side.2016-11-30-14-23-55Yippee! This is the first time a label’s been put on something I’ve made. The label is actually a drawing on paper, laminated with iron-on vinyl and then stitched onto the lining.

And here … the bag all stitched up.fotor_148051312470096fotor_148051324116275

I struggled with the handles. From the start, I’d nixed fabric straps because they’d make the bag look homey. Ideally, I would’ve liked leather handles to give the bag some gravitas. But I didn’t think leather would go down well with an animal activist. So, after scouring the net, I found these chunky faux-leather pink handles. Together with their metal clasps, they give the bag a more polished look.fotor_148058457255266

Size-wise, the bag measures 11.5 × 10.5 × 2.5 inches. So, if she wanted to, my friend could even fit in a MacBook Air.fotor_14805812908700

And this is how it looks inside.fotor_14805855219547As you can see, the zips are yellow, not pink. While I may have conceded to pink, sense must still prevail. Yellow looks sharper against the print fabric. Pink zips would be too pretty and predictable. Around here, we don’t do predictable.

But, sometimes, we do cute. And we like zip pulls.

Here are the two zip pulls up close. A bone zip pull for the big pocket. fotor_148059069089865

And one for the main compartment. On one side is a paw … for making paw marks. On the flip side, my friend’s initial.fotor_148059283051065You see, my friend, she makes her mark wherever she goes. Recently, for her exemplary work helping migrant workers in Singapore, she received the Sony’s Inspirational Indian Woman of the Year Award. I mean, how crazy is that, right? Here’s to you, friend.

I threw everything I had into this one. Heart, soul, you name it … Despite myself, while sewing, I’d even pull on the only pink top I own, to get in the groove. And in the process of transforming old clothes to make this bag, I changed a little too. After immersing myself in pink these last weeks, no longer will I view it with harsh eyes. It’s still not my favourite but, as a colour, I think it’s kinda cool.

Hope my friend will love this bag as much as I did making it. For her.

If she does, there’s only one way for me to be …


3 thoughts on “The Making of a Half-Messenger Dog Appliqué Bag

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