It’s My Bag (or, How Freelancing Sometimes Gives Me Unexpected Bonuses Like an Inside Track on Fashion)


It all started last August, when I accepted an Arts feature assignment in Mansfield. I spent an hour or so with Michelyne, a talented designer and seamstress who makes original bags and other accessories. As we talked, I admired her stash of vintage fabrics (which I also love, but which I would never ever get around to actually using for anything) and the handbags she had cooked up from old skirts, remnants, random hardware and a bit of bling. They were functional, kicky, and really cute. Her signature feature? Pen pockets in every bag. The bags appeared to glow in a beam of heavenly light; how practical can you get? Michelyne’s creative way of combining prints and re-purposing existing items got my own wheels turning. And I definitely wanted one of her bags. I’m a writer, after all. I need pen pockets, don’t I? You bet I do.

At the same time, my dad was terminally ill with cancer, and a few months earlier my parents had moved from their lake house into the city to be close to the clinic for his treatments. Soon after, we had discovered Dad suffered from Alzheimer’s. By now he was living in a memory care unit (secured environment) just blocks from Mom. She knew she would not want to live in their house alone, so we had been trying to get it ready to sell. My brother, during one visit to Texas, had taken Mom to the house so she could retrieve all the clothing she wanted to keep, for herself and for Dad. (These two story lines converge; I promise.)

I wrote up the feature, polished it and turned it in, then turned my attention back to sorting mementos and silverware and throwing away old magazines at my parents’. On my next trip I saw the “give-away” clothing that had been left behind, including three or four sport coats from Dad’s heftier days. That, and about a million neckties hanging neatly on a quilt rack.

I eyed the jackets, remembering the comforting, rough texture of Dad’s hugs and the smell of Old Spice when he was wearing one. Two of the coats were made of nice, tweedy materials that I figured a talented designer could translate into a smashing handbag. And as for pen pockets… some of those neckties were wide enough, if you opened them out…

In the end, I annexed both coats and twenty or so ties, and took the quilt rack to Mom’s so she could use it for, oh, I dunno… hanging quilts? Dad died in September, the house sold with the closing scheduled in just a few weeks, and we went through the double stress of planning a memorial service plus having to get the house empty and cleaned up NOW NOW NOW!

I needed a break. So I scooted over to Michelyne’s with my treasures. We started with the brown-toned jacket. She pulled out some possible lining fabrics, waaaay too pretty to use, especially the natural-color linen with the embroidered green and sparkly-copper flowers.

After about half an hour of trying to get me to choose a tie / lining / SOMETHING, during which I mostly said things like “I can’t decide; I like them all!”, Michelyne wisely chased me away. She must have jumped right to work because, within a week or so, I got her email: Bag #1 was ready. We met for lunch, and I pulled this –>
out of a pretty gift bag.

Talk about a custom piece! Michelyne had managed to work the actual welt pockets on the front of the jacket into both the front and back of the bag. The straps, she told me, were cut from the sleeves so she decided to sew a row of cuff buttons onto one of them. (Later, in a fit of nostalgia, I tucked an embroidered napkin of my grandmother’s into an outer pocket and fastened it with one of Dad’s tie tacks.)

It is beyond perfection, well-made and beautiful. It has two pen pockets. It also has the comforting, rough texture of one of Dad’s hugs. I get a lot of pleasure when I carry it, which is most of the time.

Lots of compliments, too, and I’ve never been a fashionista in my life. Just goes to show what can happen when you think outside the parameters of your job. Of course, meeting geniuses never hurts, either!

You can meet Michelyne and read the original Now Magazine
article (turn to .pdf pages 36-39) Here.

Her online shop, now under construction, is at

And now it’s time for coffee with Rachel Anne and friends at Company Girls.

Thanks for reading!

About Jan C. Johnson

Welcome! If you like food, reading, laughing over life's little disasters, and maybe thinking about the bigger things of life, you have come to the right place. Besides blogging, I write humorous fiction, though real life tends to leave fictional humor in the shade. But I'm not a total goofball. No, really. I'm also working on a biography project. I live in North Texas with my husband, Brent. We enjoy bicycling, Mexican food, and traveling to visit our kids and grandkids.
This entry was posted in I Remember When... (my OWN stories), Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to It’s My Bag (or, How Freelancing Sometimes Gives Me Unexpected Bonuses Like an Inside Track on Fashion)

  1. Karen says:

    I am moved to heart stirring emotions! I can imagine how it feels hanging this purse on your shoulder. You have preserved and created a treasure. I’ve seen alot of purses that have been made and very pretty and stylish, but this one tops all of those!
    You have definitely made it special by adding the extra touches. I am sorry for your loss and pray you find comfort in the days ahead. Joining you at Dayle’s today.


  2. Debbie says:

    I can’t even begin to describe the feelings that I had while reading this. As it unfolded, I knew where it was going, and I just loved it. You have a treasure in that bag. How I would love to feel my own dad’s hugs around me.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It really blessed me to read it. You are such an excellent writer!


  3. Debbie says:

    By the way, I would really love to follow this blog. I just don’t know how to follow on wordpress. I don’t like the email subscriber things because I don’t like to have to check email that often. (I get too easily sidetracked by email.)

    If there is a way to add you to my blogroll, would you please email me at (Yeah… I know… I’ll have to check my email to find it.)


  4. Lea says:

    Well, that bag is just one of the neatest treasures I’ve ever seen. What a heirloom! Enjoyed the visit this morning and wishing for you a beautiful week-end!


  5. Melissa says:

    This story brought tears to my eyes. I too, lost my dad to cancer in September of 2010. I saved a bunch of his t-shirts and jeans to make into quilts. My mother in law makes the best quilts and she has promised to show me how when we move back to my husband’s home town this summer.

    Enjoy the beautiful bags!


    • Jan says:

      Melissa, I’m sure you will have a precious time working with your mother-in-law on a project like that. You have my prayers for comfort in your loss.
      Thanks so much for taking time to comment.


  6. gorgeous bag, gorgeous story. thank you for sharing.


  7. Jen Ferguson says:

    Oh. You know, I wish I had something of my grandmother’s that I could turn into something like this. You know, I saved somethings, but nothing like that. What a treasure. I loved this story — bittersweet, but hopeful. Old life turned new. Oh.


    • Jan says:

      Hi, Jen. I actually thought of you and your grandmother when I posted this. Anything of hers that you can touch and enjoy is a treasure, in my opinion.


  8. This is beautiful! I can relate to many things. I am not a fashionista but love to write. I would love to have pen holders in my bag!I purchased a homemade bag at an art show and get lots of compliments on it. But it doesn’t have nearly the heart of your dad’s things being made into your bag.

    “I eyed the jackets, remembering the comforting, rough texture of Dad’s hugs and the smell of Old Spice when he was wearing one.” What an illuminating sentence. I love the warmth from that. And I am sorry about your loss.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.


  9. Danielle says:

    That is such a great bag..and story of how God cares for us in the everyday!…cute bag…and memories of your dad…love it!!!


  10. Star says:

    What a great idea! A great bag and a beautiful memory and a way to hang on to some of his stuff without it becoming clutter! I know this will be a treasure you will always appreciate!


    • Jan says:

      Thank you, Star. You’re right; we also have plenty of clutter-worthy mementos, but I really like to USE things that belonged to family in the past. I appreciate the comment.


  11. Katharine says:

    What a beautiful story! It made me wish I had kept a few items of my mom’s… So glad you have such a tangible memory…


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