Margot and I are currently creating some designs for an art exhibit at the Janice Charach Gallery in West Bloomfield, MI, called “Shoes, Purses and Mahjong: A Few of Our Favorite Things.” As we discussed our plans for the exhibit, I suggested we make a couple Mahjong-themed bags. Margot liked that idea very much, so we started phase two of our process – what to make??
Margot has created nearly a zillion (I may be rounding up) incredible designs with fabric collage like the Lonni Rossi Bootie, Anne Bagby Slides, and a Kaffe Fassett handbag, but I realized I had never tried my hand at fabric collage before. I was shocked at myself! Why not try a mahjong fabric collage on a purse for the show?
Before I go further, let me tell you just a bit about mahjong. It originated in China and although it’s played with tiles, like dominos, it’s much more like the card game gin rummy. The tiles usually have a white background (no doubt they were originally ivory) and are imprinted with Chinese characters and symbols. These are organized in suits, as Western playing cards are.
I began my project by rummaging through our purse stash and finding a bag with a large flat front flap to use as a nice canvas for my collage. I decided I’d mimic the 3 of Circles tile because it was colorful but not too complex. Then I picked my fabric colors: a purple-ish floral cotton for the background, an aged yellowy orange for the mahjong tile itself, and red, green, and blue scraps of quilting fabric for the 3 circles.
I drew out my shapes on each color of fabric, squeezed Fray Check on the lines (to keep the fabric from raveling when I cut it), then cut out the shapes. I covered the flap of the purse completely with the purple-ish fabric, gluing it down with Fabri-Tac. Then I laid the rest of the shapes down and stepped back. It. Was. TERRIBLE! I wish I had taken a picture. The purple floral fabric looked so matronly next to the others that it did not work at all! Luckily, I had chosen two different fabrics for possiblities to use as the red circle and I decided to lay everything on top of the “unused” red.
POW! It popped immediately! So I cut a new shape and glued it right over the purple flap. Since this was my first time doing fabric collage, I suppose it was the creativity Gods making sure I got LOTS of gluing practice…. Next I glued down the mahjong “tile” base, then I glued on each colored circle.
Now it was time to paint in the details from the tile I was copying, starting with a Crimson “3,” the recreating the flower details in the center of each circle with Sunset Gold. Finally, by rubbing on and wiping off a little more Sunset Gold over the original dark reddish brown of the leather, I “antiqued” the rest of the bag.
Except, in purse design as in shoe design, “finally” doesn’t really mean finally. It seems there’s always something more one can do to make the design come fully to life. That’s what happened next.
During our planning process for our purses, we raided the abundant stash of our favorite mixed-media artist for mahjong tiles, cards, and counters to use as inspiration and possible embellishments. I picked out some interesting tiles, drilled a hole into one corner of each tile, attached a split ring, and slid the split ring onto a chain. I added a large jump ring to the top of the chain and ran the purse’s shoulder strap through it. The mahjong counters and tiles became a fabulous, movable embellishment dangling fetchingly from the side of the bag.