In the fall of 2020, I faced the fact that my beloved Everlane backpack that I had been using nearly daily since I bought it in late 2014 was getting so much the worse for the wear that I was embarrassed to be seen with it. One of the snaps that fastened the top flap was broken, and I couldn't find any snaps of the right weight to replace it. The bottom was ragged. The canvas that formed the body was dirty, and though I would try to spot clean it, that wasn't doing the trick, and, as the bag had leather trim, it wasn't feasible to dry clean it. (When I made inquiries, the dry cleaner told me it would cost $100 to have my $75 bag cleaned, and that they couldn't guarantee the results.) I came up with the idea of taking the backpack apart and using it as a pattern to make a new bag, for which I could use all the buckles and leather straps and trim from the old one. My inability to find replacement snaps stymied that plan. I still hope to eventually find a way to remake my old Everlane backpack, but in the meantime, I needed a presentable bag for everyday wear. It was time for a new bag.
With all the shops closed for in-store shopping, I searched online. I soon learned for the first time that there is such a wonderful thing as a convertible bag, which is a bag that is designed to "convert" from backpack to handbag and vice versa as desired, via a simple adjustment of the straps. O brave new world, that has such bags in 't! I do need a backpack. I do a lot of walking and lugging stuff around because I can't afford even to take public transit, let alone keep a car. I also have chronic fatigue issues, and carrying things in a backpack is so much more ergonomic than carrying them in a handbag, and tires me out a lot less. However, I am 47, and I don't really like wearing a backpack all the time like some kid. And while a backpack is what I want when I have serious distance to cover or things to carry, when I'm actually at my destination, I prefer a handbag, as it's easier to access my wallet and other things I might need. It's also easier to keep my eye on my bag when it's a handbag that is beside me rather than a backpack that's behind me. In March 2019, some SHITHEAD stole my wallet out of my backpack while I was shopping in Value Village on one particularly crowded sale day, and I want to be sure nothing like that ever happens to me again.
A convertible handbag would allow me to have either a backpack or a handbag whenever I wanted it. It's the spork of handbags. I toyed with the idea of making one, but soon decided that it would be difficult to find the right kind of buckles and straps and zippers and other bits I needed. And the bag I eventually bought -- which of course is the one you see depicted above
, in both its handbag (on the left) and backpack (on the right) modes -- was just $38(CDN). It is extremely unlikely that I would have been able to make a similar bag for $38 or less.
The bag I bought was just what I wanted. I liked the look of it, and it was so practical. It had two zippered outer pockets, and several more compartments and two more zippered pockets on the inside. It goes with the dark brown yoga pants and hoodies I tend to wear for around home and running errands, and also with somewhat nicer but still casual clothes, such as jeans or a khaki skirt or a jersey dress. It goes with both my dark brown and caramel leather shoes. It doesn't go with dressy clothes, but of course I have other purses and handbags for those outfits. So this isn't a post about how I made a new bag, but rather a post about how I assembled the things I needed to go into it, which felt like a project in itself, and I did make some of those things.
While I was waiting for my new bag to arrive, I began to plan what I was going to put in it, and where in the bag it would go. One of the upsides of being 47 is that I know exactly what I want and need in my bag, so it wasn't so much a question of what items I wanted to put in the bag as whether I had the right versions of those items. I wanted all the contents of my bag to not only stow away neatly, but to also be attractive enough to be a pleasure to use and to coordinate with the bag itself.
First I made a list of all the things I keep in my daily wear bag (you don't see a cellphone on there because I don't have one):
- a small notebook and pen
- my planner (usually)
- camera (sometimes)
- a measuring tape
- a folded tote bag
- compact umbrella
- cough drops
- a water bottle (in summer)
- a vanity case containing a manicure kit, compact, pill box, hand lotion, lip balm, hair pins, a comb, and tampons
I did indeed have all these things, but while some the things I already had would go perfectly well with the new bag, in some cases I decided it was time for an upgrade.
This is my brown leather wallet. My sister gave it to me for Christmas 2019. Alas, it turned out to not have a zippered compartment for change, even though its online product description had said that it did. I got a 7" brown zipper out of my zipper box and sewed it in myself, by hand. I was pleased with the outcome. I don't think anyone would ever guess that the wallet didn't come with a zipper.
Between 2006 and 2020 I had a keychain that was a brown leather fob. It had become the worse for the wear in those fourteen years, and I decided I was justified in treating myself to a new one. I searched online for a keychain that both appealed to me aesthetically and had some sort of symbolic meaning for me. I searched for "swan keyring", and "Art Nouveau keyring", and probably some other things, and waded through all the search results for every term I tried before I came across the one depicted above, which is a Celtic tree of life keychain. This is a symbol that's developed a lot of appeal for me over the past several years, as it reminds me that, though I am aging, I can remain strong and fruitful and keep growing for as long as I live, as trees do. It's also beautiful.
I have allergies and need to make frequent recourse to tissues and cough drops when I'm out and about. Tissues get dirty and crumpled before they're even used if they're stuffed into a bag unprotected, and I didn't like the ugly plastic bag my dollar store cough drops come in. I made a set of two tissue cases (they only hold six tissues each) and a little snap pouch, all out of supplies I had on hand. Ordinarily I'd put the tissues and the cough drops in my vanity case, but I need them too often and too suddenly to want to be bothered getting them out of the vanity case, which goes inside the bag. So, one of the tissue cases I made went into my vanity case, and the other tissue case and the cough drop case go in the front pocket of my bag with my keys, where I can get at them quickly and easily.
In the back outside pocket of my bag, I carry a little notebook and a pen for those moments when I need to jot something down right away. The notebook was a dollar store purchase, and it's such a lovely little thing and such a perfect accessory for this bag that I almost hated to write in it. Where was I ever going to find another as nice? I went back to the store and bought two more of these notebooks, so I won't have to worry about finding another perfect little notebook for my bag for quite some time.
This is my ARC planner
, with the pen -- a refillable wooden one made for me by my father -- that I keep in its pen slot. I've been using the ARC system since 2013, and am still so glad I discovered it. It was the good-looking, durable, customizable, re-fillable planner I'd been looking for for since I was a teenager. I did run into one snag in that Staples Canada doesn't carry the annual calendar refills that make the system useful, but I got around that, first by making arrangements with one of my American friends to buy and ship me one every year, and then in late 2019 I invested in an ARC hole punch
, made a set of laminated monthly tab dividers, and began printing my own refills. So even this planner is partially handmade. And of course, it goes with my bag.
I have a digital camera, and when I bought it some years back, I hated the ugly case that came with it. I soon got this $3 PVC cigarette case to keep it in instead. My camera is not actually in the case in this photo for obvious reasons, but it fits in perfectly.
I like to keep a measuring tape in my bag for measuring my knitting project if I have one with me, or sometimes possible purchases, to be sure they'll fit in the space for which I intend them. The measuring tape I had been carrying with me was an ordinary white dressmaker's tape. It had become grubby and tatty looking and I had always found it a pain to wind and tie it into a tidy coil, especially given that it would never stay wound up. I searched online and found this little number
, which retracts automatically when its centre is pressed. It's both aesthetically and functionally perfect for my bag. The old measuring tape went in the odds and ends drawer in my kitchen, where it has already come in handy a score of times.
My compact umbrella, and folded tote bag in its case. I like to routinely carry an umbrella to use in case of rain, snow, and sometimes as a sunshade, rather than checking the weather forecast before I venture out. This umbrella was such a find. I like a dark brown umbrella, and they are hard to come by as black is the standard. I would occasionally find a cheap brown one, but it would never last long. Sometimes I'd buy a $3 umbrella at Dollarama and it would break the very first time I used it. Then nearly two years ago Dollarama got in a lot of excellent quality automatic umbrellas in assorted solid colours, one of which was brown. For $4, it was a wonderful score. (Pro-tip for Dollarama shoppers: The most they ever charge is $4 per item, so their $4 items are the ones to keep an eye out for, as they are the most likely to be underpriced.) I went to every Dollarama within walking distance and bought every brown umbrella they had, winding up with five of them. Nearly two years later, I am still using the first one and it's in perfect condition, so I'm not likely to have to scour the market for a new brown umbrella anytime soon.
I like to carry a tote bag in my bag for those extra items that won't fit in my bag, such as library books or purchases. I didn't much like the old brown with white polka dots tote bag I had been keeping in my backpack. I sewed a new, more stylish-looking tote bag to keep in my daily wear bag, and also made it a matching case. The tote bag would never have stayed neatly folded up in my bag, and it would have tangled with other things and been a pain. The case will keep it neat and clean and compact. The case needs a snap, but I didn't happen to have the right kind of snap on hand and can't easily get one right now. I'll just use the tote case the way it is until Fabricland reopens for instore shopping, much as it pains me to see it not quite finished and perfect [twitches]. I've reassigned the polka dot bag to a new job -- plastic bag holder -- and it hangs on a knob in my back kitchen.
The tote bag is a dark brown nylon on one side, and a lighter brown check on the other. It's a reversible bag, so I'll be able to use whatever side looks better with my outfit. This bag has such a nice stylish shape, too. I made it according to the pattern in this excellent tutorial
. I've made this type of bag before
and am certain I will make another at some time in the future.
This is my vanity case. It's Ralph Lauren product. I've had it for at least seven or eight years. I bought it from Winners and it shocks me to think how much I paid for it -- I'd never pay that much for something I could so easily make for so little now. However, what's bought and paid for and used is... bought and paid for and used, and it at least seems to be holding up, and it goes with my bag.
The contents of my vanity case. From left to right: a tissue case, a manicure kit, a mirror compact, a pill box, a comb, hand lotion, lip balm, hairpins and a couple of hair elastics, and little drawstring bag to keep the pins and elastics in. My old dollar store manicure case was falling to pieces, so I splurged on a new dollar store one that's much nicer and better equipped than the old one ever was. All the other items I've had for years. Not shown are the tampons, and no, I haven't sewn them little velvet or satin tampon cases so that they'll go with my convertible bag or anything ridiculous like that. Even I have my limits when it comes to obsessive coordination.
My little pill box, which I can't resist showing. Not that it holds anything exciting, alas -- just ibuprofen and allergy meds.
My Art Nouveau mirror compact. I ordered this from Etsy many years ago, and still love it. I have a bit of a fetish for compacts, and also have a vintage gold tone one, and contemporary silver tone one with my initials engraved on it, but I tend to only get those out when I'm getting very dressed up, while this is the one I use for every day.
My water bottle. My old one was a freebie blue plastic number from a company I used to work for. This is a new one, and it's just a Dollarama purchase, but it's lovely and sleek and a definite upgrade.
Not shown (at least so far -- I'll probably update later on) is my sunglasses. My eyeglass cases look kind of beat up, and I'm going to keep an eye out for nice ones at the dollar store and thrift store when things open up again.
I'd also like to add a word about bag weight. Decades ago, I read in a women's magazine article that, according to medical recommendations, women shouldn't carry a bag that weighs more than 5% of their total body weight. The writer had taken a scale around to all the offices/desks of all the women she worked with, and done an on-the-spot weigh-in of their bags. As I recall, everyone's purse was over the limit, but the prize winner was a bag weighing in at a grand 26 pounds. Good heavens, the woman who owned that bag was carrying the equivalent of a toddler everywhere she went! (Not toddler-ist.)
It's important to keep your daily use bag as light you reasonably can by editing it so that you're only carrying the most lightweight versions of what you'll realistically use. With modern life requiring the kind of paraphernalia it does, probably many women aren't going to be able to keep their bag to under 5% of their weight, but under 10 pounds seems like a reasonable goal for most women. I've done a moment of truth weigh-in with my bathroom scale, and I'm reasonably satisfied that my bag weighs in at 9 pounds even when it contains my planner (1.6 pounds), camera (0.4 pounds), and full water bottle (2 pounds), which I don't always carry, and a svelte 5 pounds without those three items.
I've been carrying my new bag since December 2020, and gradually replacing a few last things since then, and I am very happy with it on the whole. It is smaller than my old backpack, which was so handy for bringing home groceries as it easily held a bag of milk plus some other things, but then again I may still eventually redo the backpack.
Otherwise, I love my bag and all its little accessories. It is such a delight to have just the right bag with exactly what you want and need in it. Even my keychain gives me pleasure whenever I use it. My bag wouldn't suit anyone else, but then that was the point of this endeavour: to use my knowledge of myself and my skills and tastes to assemble a bag that was exactly right for me.