For someone with such a strong desire to make bags, I don’t actually use that many of them – I carried the same purse for the past 6 or 7 YEARS, and in that time frame I probably swapped it out somewhere in the range of zero times. As I think about it, though, I don’t think those things are necessarily contradictory – loving bags and not swapping. Sometimes when you really love a thing, like a bag or a car or a pair of jeans, once you find one that fits your needs and aesthetic sometimes you just want to move in and never leave. I guess its more accurate to say I’m more of a bag settler than a bag nomad.
So when that bag finally bit it, it bit it hard. Check it out:
At this point it seemed clear that I needed a new bag. I made this bag to replace it, and while I LOVE that bag, it doesn’t quite hit my functional day-to-day needs like my old purse did. I’ve thought about reverse engineering it a few times over the years as I watched it slowly disintegrate, but this total demolition opened me up to an idea I might not have entertained when it was in better shape: taking it apart. I decided to finally pull the trigger.
Around this time I had the most amazing, magical chat with an old friend that I haven’t seen since college. We’ve always had a pretty special connection so it was incredible to find out not only that we’ve both picked up an interest in sewing in the meantime, but that our inspirations and philosophies in sewing and art were so similar. I guess there’s a reason we liked each other so much in college!
Anyway, she’s got more experience than I do in the way of pattern drafting, so she was offering her advice on entering into that process, and this is one of the main points that she made: take shit apart.
On some level I’ve had that inclination as long as I’ve been sewing: I’ve reverse engineered shirts using wax paper and a seam wheel to trace the pattern pieces and I’m forever checking out the seams and stitches and facing of things. But at the same time, I’ve always had a little bit of an aversion to grabbing that seam ripper and going to town, even when the garment is badly damaged. It seems contrary to some basic human instinct to rage against entropy.
So back to my purse: I took that shit apart, and it was totally worth it. Again, I really loved this bag so before I started I had some compunctions – about destroying a thing that I loved, and about “stealing” the design and work. But once I actually started taking the thing apart, it was an eye-opening experience. I learned so much more than I would have if I had just tried to trace the pattern pieces – I learned what kind of thread they used, what kind of interfacing, what kind of glue. I could see all the stitches in all the layers as I pulled them out. I could see how the hardware connected as I pulled it apart. And bonus – I’ll be able to salvage some of it.
To be clear, I do think there are ethical boundaries for how you should use designs that are reverse engineered and reproduced exactly in this way, particularly if the design is a distinctive one and you’re not altering it at all. This really matters more if you’re selling your work, and I think when it comes to stealing intellectual property you can tell the difference between appropriating a basic form and ripping off a unique design.
With that said, if you are interested in fashion sewing and haven’t gone through the process of taking a bag or garment apart stitch by stitch and viewing the shapes and components, DO IT! And take notes! What order does it look like things went together? What were the seam allowances? What kind of seams did they use? And if you have any residual feelings of weirdness about the fact that you’re unmaking things when you feel like you should be making things, consider this: you’re not destroying a thing, but giving it new life as a learning tool and as a pattern. That seems like a great way to honor a thing that you love.
Here’s the earliest known photo of my good old purse – from August 2011 back in the days of bathroom selfies: