Needles in the Stacks: Speaking of Baggage…


leather stacks
Leather waiting to be used,

Hello again, and welcome back to Denise and Beth’s Needles in the Stacks. Our hardworking student aide, Shannen Lindsey, also helped write this post. This month, we’re reviewing books about the accessories market, then a few about making handbags. “Accessories” covers a wide range of pieces, and we have many, MANY related books in the library.  For sanity’s sake, we’re just going to review a few general books on designing accessories, then the rest will cover making one’s own handbags.

lau fash accDesigning Accessories, by John Lau

TT649.8 .L38 2012

This textbook is designed as a comprehensive introduction to accessories industries, presented from a production standpoint. Shannen and I really liked this smaller, more portable, size. This attractive book first defines the main types of accessories: the bag, footwear, jewelry, and millinery. Subsequent chapters take the student through the initial stages of product creation and industry research.  Next, it presents an analysis of production steps for each product, accompanied by photo layouts of the specialized tools.

lau layout


The book’s clean graphic design depends on runway or studio photographs for its imagery. Later chapters explain materials and finishes, and the book ends with a short overview of smaller accessory categories, such as eyeglasses, scarves, etc.



Important professional stages, such as portfolio setup and mood boards, are described, and there are designing (homework) tasks at end of each chapter.

Shannen and I both especially liked the segments where a successful designer is interviewed about his or her inspirations, alongside images of the product. Other layouts illustrate in detail the component parts of each type of object. Over all, this book seems like it would be a very clear and helpful introduction to the business of accessories.


purple fash accDesigning Fashion Accessories, by Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

TT649.8 .D37 2012

This is a general survey textbook describing the major types of accessories and the processes that get them to market. While this book addresses the specifics of manufacturing for the big categories: footwear, handbags, hats, and small items, the material is presented much more visually. Watercolors and sketches illustrate product development stages and glossaries, as do mood boards. Even cooler, the graphic layout of the book makes the pages resemble collages. Different types of images and typeface sizes contribute to a dynamic overall look.


This attention to the designer’s eye continues throughout, with the inclusion of illustration tips and tricks, as well as in-depth rendering instructions for each classification. Item definitions and histories are included, but brief. The strength of this book lies in the rendering instruction, then in presentation of the most modern production technologies. Overall, however, this book is a good beginning for a aspiring accessories designer.


gerval accessFashion Accessories, by Olivier Gerval

TT560 .G375 2009

This book is a completely different presentation on the accessories industry.  Where the book above *tells* the student the design process, this book is focused on the maker’s process. Like the above two, this  book begins with spots on a number of industry designers from the past, then introduces vocabulary for different classifications. After that, instead of covering trend research and forecasts separately, it incorporates them in the shoe intro.



From there, the author moves directly to patternmaking techniques for prototype. This is the book’s biggest strength: the design, pattern drafting and sample construction processes are laid out step by step for six common types of handbags.

Directions for making first paper-card samples, then felt samples are carefully explained in conjunction with their parts and function. These include great photo layouts of tools for each type of bag. We recommend this book for students looking for hands-on work in a small accessories company.


know your fashion accKnow Your Fashion Accessories, by Celia Stall-Meadows

TT 560 .S73 2004

This is by far the most comprehensive of all the books we’re reviewing today. Which is probably why it’s used as a textbook by several FIT courses. While this book has no color pictures or glossy layouts, it provides the most in-depth coverage of every single accessories category a student could think of.

The first part of this book introduces the business of making and selling accessories. It assumes no knowledge of business, and presents the product life-cycle (or bell curve), the basics about production steps, and details about careers in the industry.


After walking the student through collection development and manufacturing, the book lays out in-depth information about materials. These chapters are the highlight of this book. While it begins with textiles, which should be familiar to an FIT student by the time he or she takes this class, the background and materials information provided on other commonly used materials are what make this book excel. This section addresses different animal skins, different metals and stones, countries of origin, sustainable alternatives, and details of other findings.

As well as that level of depth, this book covers a wider scope of accessories than any of the others reviewed here. Included are furs, shoes, fine and costume jewelry, footwear, handbags and other small good, luggage and belts, socks and hosiery, scarves, men’s ties and handkerchieves, hats, wigs, hairpieces, and hair accessories, gloves, watches, umbrellas, and eyewear. For each classification, the author includes traditional marketing strategies and trends as well.

This book isn’t pretty, but it’s ideal for a beginning merchandising student to use and keep as a detailed reference.


101 handbagsHandbag Designer 101, by Emily Blumenthal

TT667.B66 2011

Unlike the uber-industry coverage of the last title, this book is short and focused. If you need information about materials, history, or rendering, this book will not help you. This book is designed to get you up and stitching handbag prototypes before the afternoon has passed.

The book provides patterns of 15 commonly-used shapes, although they need careful enlarging. The sections on the parts of a bag and the vocabulary of types are quite thorough. And the last section provides an introduction to the business of marketing, sampling, and selling handbags.

Never having manufactured handbags, I can’t speak to the quality of this information, but the book is laid out cleanly, much like it’s no-nonsense content.


acc desn genovaAccessories Design,
Aneta Genova

TT649.8 .G46 2012

This is yet another textbook. In this title the author, a Parsons professor, begins the text with a breezy history of the main accessory categories (headwear, footwear, belts, and bags) from antiquity to the end of the twentieth century. From there, the book examines some of the influential historic accessories houses, such as Hermes and Ferragamo, and contemporary ones, such as Miuccia Prada.



Having described the market leaders, the book challenges the reader to identify his or her target market. This section walks one through the research, conceptualizing the line in terms of color, materials, and marketing goals. From there, it makes sense that the design and merchandising processes are introduced in a very general way. Assignments to practice these analyses are given at the end of each section.

04_GENOVA_layoutThe next few sections each take a classification (e.g. handbags, footwear, headwear) and break the production cycle down into specific industry issues.

Vocabulary is introduced, production informational requirements are explained.  Sourcing and factory communication are illustrated. Interspersed throughout are profiles of established industry designers.


This is a great book if you are interested in either footwear or handbag design. Those sections are detailed and clear, from finding inspiration to presenting the finished line. The smaller businesses of millinery, glove-making, belts, ties and handkerchiefs, and jewelry get the short shrift.

The history section at the beginning is also troubling. As with many casual surveys, the information is so generalized as to be as false as it is true. While we respect that the author’s attempt to give historical context, there are many much better sources. The student would do better to look at museum catalogs, sources such as the Berg Fashion Library (see databases link below) and targeted histories with photographs of contemporary images rather than these tiny redrawings.

Click here to get a list of FIT databases. Berg Fashion Library is in the B section:

FIT Art History & Fine Arts Databases


singer accessSinger Guide to Creating Fashion Accessories, by Cy DeCosse Inc.

TT560 .C74 1993

And now for some much less course-oriented titles…

I’ve reviewed a few titles from the Singer Sewing Reference Library. Unlike many other sewing manuals from days past, generally this series holds its relevance.  The pages are attractively photographed, with lots of color images. Clear instructions are given, including step by step sections with helpful photos.


As mentioned above, this is not aimed at the textbook market. It’s a simple how-to book designed for avid sewers. The projects demonstrate how to replicate hi-end accessories. As with anything that shows adornment made from fashionable fabrics, the prints and projects are somewhat dated (less lime green, brown, and orange), and we’re probably not going to make more hair bows.  But many of the prints in here use colors that are *back in* fashion after their 23-year rest.  And its always useful to know how to put together a silk evening bag, a sharp clutch, or a floppy hat. Similarly, even though the ultrasuede belt is no longer an important wardrobe accent, the technology for cloth-covered belts remains the same, and useful.

I am now pondering some kind of flat tablet cover like the clutch on p. 33…


pretty littlePretty Little Purses & Pouches, by Lark Books, ed. Nathalie Mornu 2008

This cute little book is part of a series called “Pretty Little…” This is a very basic book, full of simple (i.e. square or rectangular) projects each designed by a different designer. While written instructions are included, little in the way of visual diagrams are provided for clarification. But if the student can sew a square, he or she will be able to complete these projects.



The beginning section defines purse parts and trimmings. We were surprised that several projects expected a certain amount of graphic design skill (patterns in the back needed to be enlarged by 20%), embroidery know-how (several projects incorporate embroidered figures), and sewing construction chops.  Because of these, we felt this book was mostly aimed at stay-at-home moms  who get crafty and hipsters passionate about the DIY aesthetic.

Shannen and I found the projects waaaayy too super sweet, but Denise pointed out that the projects themselves were pretty useful. We all found the fabric combinations shown to be overly cutesie. We thought maybe with some African prints or interesting woven textures the projects would dial up enough sophistication for us snooty New Yorkers.


sew_serendipity_Sew Serendipity Bags, by Kay Whitt

TT667 .W42 2011

Denise, Shannen, and I agreed that this book is a more successful how-to guide than the last. First of all, I love workbooks with ring bindings because they lie flat on my work table. The instructions here are illustrated with colorful (allows clear differentiation of layers), detailed step-by-step illustrations. Certain processes are shown with photographs, well laid out. Best of all, the book includes a folder of full size patterns in the back. Not only that, but the patterns provided are useful, basic bag shapes that any designer would like to have in his or her stash.


We also appreciated the progression of bag patterns from simple-to-sew, through intermediate level, and including some difficult pieces to challenge the readers’ design process. We still thought this book was directed at moms or hipsters or both, but found it much more practical than the last one. This book includes a lot of standard handbag shapes, any of which could even be made in leather.

sew_serendipity_bags_laptopThis designer is the host of a blog, and all the fabrics used in this book reflect the design aesthetic of her and her followers.

Sew Serendipity BLOG







sew what cvrSew What! Bags by Lexie Barnes

TT667 .B38 2009

Unlike the last two books, this manual takes a turn off the grid in favor of containers you didn’t think of, but will love to use. The coolest thing about this book is that the projects are all non-standard items intended to help you organize stuff you use often. Some examples include: plastic shopping bag bags, tissue-pack holder, glasses case, tool belts for knitting needles, shears, or paintbrushes, and so on.


The second coolest is that the author understands me: Her first sentence “You can read all of the informational stuff up front – or you can jump ahead to the projects and refer to the guidelines when you need them” is exactly the way I use books like this. This book doesn’t contain static patterns, but shows one how to measure the objects that need a case and make a particular one just for those objects. And the author has already worked out the bugs and solved the problems for me!

sew what tools


Once again, we all liked the spiral spine for ease of use. Like most books of this type, this begins with definitions of tools and terms needed. Some understanding of basic sewing is required, but all the shapes here are squares stitched together, and the diagrams are pretty clear. These projects are good to get a new stitcher started, and practical enough to appeal to an experienced one who needs help finding his or her tools.


Also, this designer is sensible enough to include extra pockets in every pattern. Finally, a place to put pens, lipstick, phones, and glasses…!

On a side note, how did we miss this neo-mod taste for bright pattern mixing?


terence bagsHandmade Bags, by Terence Terry

TT667 .T47 2002

This book is super funky. While the purses are all too flamboyant (for me, anyway) to actually carry, they are really creative, and great food for ideas for all kinds of projects, not just bags. We recommend this book for anyone who is looking for ideas to decorate a project, whether it’s a party dress, a hat, or one of these handbags.


That said, this book does include excellent directions. Tools are carefully described and illustrated. Hand stitches, both plain and decorative, are clearly shown. Basic fabric types are laid out simply, as are some basic patternmaking methods. Most of all, however, the diagrams detailing construction of the bags are both charming and easy to follow.


carry yuka cvrCarry Me, Yuka Koshizen

TT667 .K68 2009

This is the last of our DIY books for today. By now I’m pretty inspired to run home and see if I have any interesting scraps that want to be a small purse.

This book is a model of the modernist aesthetic. Only the most basic information is presented, that the reader might proceed directly to measurements and technical drawings. Despite the elegance of this minimalist approach, this book would have been a lot easier to use if the whole format were blown up by a third.


Laid out like a museum catalog, the ten bags are presented with variations and details in the beginning, then the technical drawings begin about forty pages in. Explanation of tools and materials are given a few pages, but the strength of this book is the clarity of the technical drawings and step by step directions. These are beautifully clear, if only they weren’t so tiny.

This book assumes basic, possibly even intermediate sewing skills. The bags presented are very basic shapes, all executed in heavy canvases. We recommend this book for it’s photography and the traditional handbag shapes interpreted in working fabrics. For more information on anything, the student will need another book.

FIT Accessories Design student work

Till next time,

Denise, Beth, & Shannen

Denise n Beth
Denise and Beth
shannen and beth
Shannen Lindsey and Beth again
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