Christine Custom Bags
For many years the beautifully constructed needlepoint and embroidered handbags labeled "Christine Custom Bags, Detroit, Michigan" represented an hometown mystery. Grosse Pointe ladies of a certain age, both friends and family, had memories of the company and have provided some history.
After WWII, cottage industry production of needlepoint and petite point canvases in Europe and an upsurge in interest in handcrafts like needlepoint and embroidery among Grosse Pointe ladies provided a business opportunity for an enterprising entrepreneur, who set up shop finishing the bags and creating bags to match ensembles in the exclusive Fisher Building in the thriving New Center area of Detroit.
JollesOriginalsJolles Needlepoint Kit:
Erica Wilson design Hiawatha Embroidery Kit Handbag:
Christine bags always exhibit the highest level of workmanship, quality materials and a distinctive diagnostic pleated expanding interior pocket design.
And opportunity to learn the inside secrets of the making of these bags was recently provided by a friend whose family had a Christine bag in dire need of restoration.
It was apparent the frame of Kinglsey's bag had succummed to Bakelite Desease. Dampness had caused the metal hardware to verdigris, acidifying the plastic.
The first job was to remove the remnants of the frame, carefully documenting the techniques used in construction, to examine the full extent of the damage and formulate a game plan for restoration.
Removal of the lining exposed the complexities of the bag's condition. Links from the chain handle had fallen inside the bag and as the Bakelite Disease progressed, the brown softening agents in the plastic leached out, acidifying the lining and its muslin support and the canvas body liner, resulting in holes and unstable material that disintegrated on touch.
Worst of all, a brown stain was left on the front and back of the needlepoint body. Initial efforts to remove or clean the discoloration revealed the weaknss of the needlepoint canvas itself and the threat to the viability of the bag. The lining was in tatters at the bottom, but removed, seams and darts unpicked and pressed, it provided a pattern for the new lining, many tips on the construction techniques that provide structure and maintain the form of the bag and a guide for placement of the original pleated pockets and label that would become part of the new incarnation of the bag.
Weakened areas of the front and back canvas body liner were trimmed back to sound fabric, exposing the the back side of the weakened needlepoint body. Fusible canvas patches were adhered with heat to support the needlepoint body and prevent loss of design elements of the front and back of the bag. Canvas patches were fitted to the canvas body liner and were stitched in place.
After considerable doing an appropriate bag frame was found and the newly reinforced needlepoint body was stitched to the frame using the same backstitch technique Christine used originally. The trick was to firmly stitch the body through all layers without showing any stitches on the needlepoint.
Meanwhile a suitable lining fabric of vintage silk and cotton was selected as well as a muslin backing. The damaged lining was opened up at the darts and seams, steamed flat and used to cut and mark the new lining.
At that point, I took a deep breath and cut out the pleated pockets. After some prep to the new lining, the pockets were adhered to the new lining with heat, stitched in place and trimmed.
The finished restoration:
See the Christine Custom Bags we're talking about!