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Self-taught designer has it in the bag

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Home-grown talent: creating a new bag for the Home-Grown Alternatives show (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Vivian Yearwood loves her work as an information technology manager, but sometimes it can get stressful.

If the system is not down, someone has forgotten a password, or cannot log in.

“IT is not a job you leave at 5pm,” Ms Yearwood said.

Five years ago, she took up sewing to help her unplug at the end of a busy day.

“It’s a great stress reliever,” she said.

At the time, her two daughters Ashley and Nicole had gone off to college, and the house was quiet.

“There was probably a bit of boredom involved,” she said.

Looking for a challenge, she decided to make a small bag.

“I just wanted to see if I could do it,” she said.

As it turned out, she could. The end result was a small, burgundy floral tote, which she hung up and never touched again.

She’s not one of those women with a closet full of purses.

“I only buy a new one every couple of years,” she said. “I still look at that tote every now and then and wonder what I’m going to do with it.”

The tote had proven that she could make bags. She started looking online at sites like Pinterest and Etsy, for other projects.

She made exercise bags, luggage tags, wallets, gift bags and purses.

“When I first started doing it, I didn’t dream of starting my own business,” she said. “I didn’t intend to sell any of them. It was just something to do.”

But three years ago her creations were piling up at home, so she decided to sell some at the annual Home-Grown Alternatives show.

Buyers loved her bags and totes.

“People thought they were nice,” she said.

Customers seemed to particularly like her smaller items, luggage tags and jewellery bags, as potential Christmas gifts.

She’ll be participating in the show for the third time, next month.

When her bags started selling, her daughter set her up with a Facebook page, but Ms Yearwood confessed she is a bit of a reluctant social media user.

“Being in IT, I know that with being on the grid, there’s a footprint,” she said.

She works two to three hours, most evenings, at her dining room table, and shudders at the idea of the general public seeing it.

“I have a lot piled on there right now,” she laughed.

“As well as boxes and containers, I have fabric coming out of my ears. My dining room is a separate room, so we just eat at the island in the kitchen. It gets cleared off at Christmas. The rest of the year, it’s a work table.”

She first learnt to sew at Warwick Academy in home economics class.

“That was back when they actually taught it,” she said. There was a GCSE in it. I don’t think it was difficult to do.

“It is a skill, and a skill you can do lots of things with. The first thing I probably made was a top with a Peter Pan collar.”

But when she went to university her focus was on studying computer science. She did not pick up a needle again until the 1990s when her children were young.

“They needed Hallowe’en costumes,” she said. “I remember I made a ballet costume for one of them. I don’t know if other people admired the costumes but my daughters liked them.”

Then fabric got expensive and she stopped sewing.

“Now the price has come down a bit,” she said.

She thinks that if making the bags ever became easy for her to make, she’d probably stop doing it. But so far that hasn’t happened.

“I have gone through trials and tribulations in making the crafts,” she said. “Handles are very important. So I have learnt how to make the handles better so they don’t fray and come out.”

In the beginning, some customers brought their bags back with damaged handles. She quickly repaired them, and worked to make sure her future work was sturdier.

Zippers are her real headache. “Trying to put a zipper into something and make it look nice can be very challenging,” she said.

She can make clothing, but prefers making the purses.

“Clothing you have to match to the customer’s body type,” she said.

Ms Yearwood loves to see the reaction from customers who buy her bags.

“There is a satisfaction you get when someone likes something you have done,” she said. “I get really excited when I see someone using my product.”

One day she was at the hospital and caught a glimpse of one of her bags going through a door on the arm of a customer.

“I said oh that is one of my bags,” she said. “Someone is actually using it. There is satisfaction from that.”

The Home-Grown Alternatives show will be held on December 1 from 10am to 4pm at St Paul’s Christian Education Centre in Paget. For more information go to hga.bm

Vivian Yearwood at work on a new bag for the Home-Grown Alternatives show (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Vivian Yearwood with some of the bags she has made for the Home-Grown Alternatives show (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Talented designer: Vivian Yearwood with some of the bags she has made for the Home-Grown Alternatives show (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)