Hand-crafted handbags are designer's specialty
It's the busiest time of the year for Laurie Maier, who sews all summer to build up an inventory of cloth handbags she sells at about five high-end craft fairs every fall.
"I started doing the craft fair circuit about seven years ago," said Maier, who realized she could increase her bottom line by selling the bags herself. "One of the most rewarding aspects of my business is not only creating something beautiful, but having it appreciated by other people. I really enjoy selling my bags directly, and getting feedback from the customer."
Most of Maier's customers are repeat-buyers who come back year after year to buy the hand-crafted bags made from vintage or contemporary fabric. Maier also sells bags from her Sudbury home and takes commissions from customers who want a bag in a particular fabric, color or size.
Maier's handbags will be available at the annual Fine Arts and Crafts Festival at the Codman Estate on Codman Road, Lincoln, on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sponsored by Historic New England (formerly the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities), the festival is a juried show featuring fine arts and crafts from more than 100 artisans from all over New England. Items for sale include handcrafted jewelry, wooden furniture and toys, pottery, knitted sweaters and throws, glass, metalware, children's clothing, photography, folk carvings and more.
Admission is $5 for adults and includes tours of the Codman family home, now a historic house museum, live entertainment, children's activities and food concessions.
This will be Maier's sixth year selling at the Lincoln fair.
A longtime collector of vintage fabrics, Maier's business, Blue Indigo, was founded shortly after she bought a handbag at the Brimfield antiques and flea market. The bag was made of barkcloth, Maier's favorite vintage fabric, a vibrantly colored textured cotton weave popular in the 1940s and '50s.
As she examined the handbag, Maier discovered it was not very well made.
"I thought to myself, 'I could make a better bag than this.' So I went home and started working on different designs," said Maier. "I came up with one that was more structured and tailored. I began sewing them for family and friends and it wasn't long before I began selling them in local stores."
Over the years Maier perfected the design, mostly from being a customer herself.
"I never like carrying handbags because they were always stiff leather, too heavy and cumbersome," said Maier. "The best thing about my bags is that they are lightweight, soft and kind of mold to your body."
The handbags are beautifully finished with linings that complement and contrast with the outer fabric, interior pockets and a handle length that makes them comfortable to carry as a shoulder bag. The fabrics run the gamut from bold graphics and leopard print to floral and polka dot patterns in a full color palette.
Maier uses both vintage and contemporary fabrics for her handbags which are priced from $45 to $95 and come in six different sizes, from an overnight bag to a small tote. She crafts them all on an antique Singer sewing machine.
The larger handbags are perfectly sized for use as work and laptop bags, and because the fabric is upholstery-grade and Scotch-guarded, they tend to hold up well for heavy-duty use. Her bags are particularly popular with knitters who find them the perfect size for use as knitting bags. Knit and Purl, a Sudbury knitting store, carries Blue Indigo bags.
"The vintage fabric I mostly get at Brimfield three times a year and use for about 20 percent of the bags, and the rest I buy at local fabric stores," said Maier. "I buy what I like and what I think will make a good bag. I pay a lot of attention to the linings which can sometimes cost more than the outside fabric."
A feature that makes each handbag unique is the antique button she uses for closures on the bags. Maier has an extensive button collection of bakelite, celluloid, glass and crystal buttons some of which date back to the 1920s.
"The buttons of the past are truly works of art. The detail involved on some of them are amazing," said Maier. "The button is often the focal point of the bag. I've had many customers purchase a bag because of the button."
Many of Maier's customers have urged her to create a Web site to sell her handbags on the Internet, but as the mother of twin boys who are sophomores at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School and a job as office manager for Sudbury Family Chiropractic, her husband's practice, she feels a small-scale business is just right.
"The fall craft fair circuit is perfect for me. Doing the shows is fun because I meet a lot of fun, creative people and I can sew in my free time so it's still enjoyable for me," said Maier. "I enjoy doing the selling in person because you get instant feedback. And if someone sees something they want in a different size, I'll do custom orders as well."
Contact Laurie Maier at firstname.lastname@example.org.