Meet Alison from Macclesfield Bag Works
Alison from Macclesfield Bag Works designs and makes wonderful, beautifully crafted bags and purses, often using repurposed denim, deadstock or remnant upholstery fabric and oilcloth. As a lifelong maker (she sewed her first dress aged six), Alison now combines her creative business with her job as a counsellor. Here she tells fellow maker and Folksy seller, Lucy from Lucy and Jane Ceramics, how running her shop nurtures her creative side and brings balance to her life, and shares the joy she gets from sourcing beautiful fabrics and turning them into something unique.
Use code LOVEBAGS for 10% off Macclesfield Bag Works throughout November 2023
A few years ago I was asked to make a bag using denim. New denim just didn’t give me the look I was after, so I headed to a local charity shop for some pre-loved jeans – and my love for re-purposing old denim was born!Alison, Macclesfield Bag Works
Hello Alison. It’s lovely to get to know you a little better. Can you introduce yourself and your business?
Hi Lucy, it’s lovely to get to meet you. I’m Alison and my business is Macclesfield Bag Works. I design and make bags and purses using pre-loved denim, upholstery fabrics and oilcloth. My denim and textile bags have a relaxed, casual styling and I love to incorporate joyful linings and vibrant pops of colour; my oilcloth bags have contemporary, everyday design with clean and stylish lines.
When I started my business, my bags were made exclusively from oilcloth, but a few years ago I was asked to make a bag using denim. New denim just didn’t give me the look I was after, so I headed to a local charity shop for some pre-loved jeans – and my love for re-purposing old denim was born! Most of the denim I use is donated. The upholstery textiles I use tend to be deadstock or remnants, meaning I only make very small quantities and once the fabric is gone, it’s gone. I still do make oilcloth bags, but this is mostly during the autumn and winter months.
I balance (or try to balance) my small business with my job as a counsellor. I’ve been doing this for 17 years. It’s a career I love but having a creative business nurtures the other, creative, side of me and is good for self-care.
I love your memorable business name ‘Macclesfield Bag Works’. How important is Macclesfield to you?
I wasn’t born in Macclesfield, in fact I hadn’t really even heard of Macclesfield until I came here just over 25 years ago for a career move. The job didn’t go quite to plan but having pretty much instantly fallen in love with the place, there wasn’t any question of leaving. It’s the place I call home and that I identify with and it’s the place that my children have grown up in and call home too.
Macclesfield has an amazing creative spirit with a strong movement of independent small business – everywhere you go, there’s something interesting popping up or to look at.Alison, Macclesfield Bag Works
I love that, if I look out of my attic window, I can see rolling hills; five minutes walk away is Macclesfield Canal, a favourite walk of mine, and a few minutes in the other direction the more industrial aspect of a small market town that grew up around the silk mills. Macclesfield has an amazing creative spirit with a strong movement of independent small business – everywhere you go, there’s something interesting popping up or to look at. I wanted my business name to capture all that and its industrial heritage.
Has making always been part of your life?
Yes, yes and yes! I really don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making or inventing something – I blame my parents! Mum was a knitter, sewer, painter, silversmith, potter – you name it, she tried it – and Dad used to work in a packaging company. He’d bring home all the ends of rolls and damaged stock, so I always had an endless supply of paper and card to play with. Total bliss…and very messy!
Making and creating has always been a massive part of my life. I remember being told as a very small child (probably about four) that knitting would be too complicated for me until I was a bit older. I was determined, so mum showed me anyway and, hey presto, I learned to knit! Being way too impatient to knit, I soon moved on to sewing and I made my first dress aged six. Mum taught me all the important things, like finishing seams off well and pattern matching, and I still take those lessons into my bag making to this day.
I’m really, really bad at throwing anything away and hate waste… it’s good to know that so much of the fabric I use is being given another lease of life.Alison, Macclesfield Bag Works
I was drawn to your work because you repurpose and recycle fabric to make your wonderful bags. How vital is this aspect of your work?
I’m really, really bad at throwing anything away and hate waste, so I probably get the most pleasure from using old, battered jeans and turning them into something new, functional and beautiful. The denim industry has a particularly negative environmental impact, but I’m also very aware that billions of pairs of jeans are manufactured globally each year, so my small business doesn’t really touch it. That said, it’s good to know that so much of the fabric I use is being given another lease of life.
Macclesfield has a fantastic recycling project called The One Project. They often donate jeans to me that would end up in the recycling shredder, and they also take all of my fabric waste for recycling. I believe that the more we do to reduce our waste, the more likely we are to respect our planet… and it also feels so good.
What is your workspace like?
Please don’t ask to see photos!!
I have come to realise that in life, I can only really find things if I’m a bit ‘disorganised’! So my workspace is, to the untrained eye, somewhat chaotic. But I just know where everything is and any attempts to try to create calm ends up in rapidly reverting to the norm. I have a number of sewing machines but only use one, and that sits in front of my trusty overlocker and big green riveting/eyelet machine. Projects on the go to the left and fabric to the right (see, I’m actually starting to sound organised). Because I use a lot of preloved denim and donated, unwanted fabrics, the piles can get quite big. As I work in the attic, the roof window is where I can look out and see hills or hear the rain tapping or watch the occasional pigeon walking by. It’s very peaceful… oh and cold in the winter.
I probably get the most pleasure from using old, battered jeans and turning them into something new, functional and beautiful. The more battered the jeans, the more pleasure I get. Seeing new emerge from old is just so satisfying.Alison, Macclesfield Bag Works
What inspires you creatively?
I’d love to be able to pin this one down, but the best I can say is that I just have ideas in my head and I mull them around until they come to life. I find simply taking in my surroundings can spark ideas and my regular meanders through the town can really fire the creative spirit.
I source as much as I can locally. One of my local fabric shop, The Fent Shop, is such a wonderful Aladdin’s cave of inspiration. When I’m making, I tend to start with a fabric that takes my eye and work from there. Getting the combination of colours and textures right is really important but I’m better at knowing why it doesn’t work than why it does.
What is the proudest moment in your creative journey?
When someone likes my work enough to buy it. It genuinely fills my heart with joy, each and every time!
What are your favourite pieces to make?
I honestly do get so much pleasure from turning old and unloved denim jeans into new bags. The more battered the jeans, the more pleasure I get. Seeing new emerge from old is just so satisfying. At the moment, one of my favourites to make are my denim star hobos. They just pop with colour, are so unique and are so dependent on the colours of leather offcuts I can get.
When you aren’t creating for your shop what else do you like to do?
I recently saw an interview with the author Margaret Atwood in which she was asked about her intentions to retire and answered, “What else would I do?”. This made me smile, as I love what I do, so I tend to do quite a lot of it and can’t imagine not doing it!
I do enjoy making soap, but I don’t do it as often as I’d like because it relies on a good few hours when the other house humans don’t need to use the kitchen. I love canal walks, which are very easily accessible from where I live, and I really enjoy meeting up with friends. Oh, and Greek Islands in the sun – the rich colours, the scenery and the food just feed the soul. I definitely need more of that!
Use code LOVEBAGS for 10% off Macclesfield Bag Works throughout November 2023
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this time is Lucy from Lucy and Jane Ceramics, who create handmade ceramics full of character.
Shop Lucy and Jane Ceramics on Folksy – https://folksy.com/shops/lucyandjaneceramics
Read our Meet the Maker interview with Lucy – Meet the Maker – Lucy and Jane Ceramics