All posts by Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Nancy Newman Turning Textile Traditions into Handbags

Perhaps it was the 1970’s Feminist Movement that led Nancy Newman to her philosophy of

“Saving the planet one purse at a time!”

During that period, Nancy says her awareness of the underrated value associated with “women’s work” (anything to do with textiles – needlepoint, sewing, knitting) increased her attention towards the expertise in fabric craftsmanship. She did not have to stretch very far to begin to understand the techniques and skills involved in creating textiles – one grandmother was a tailor and the other a quilter.

Nancy Newman Textiles Workshop

Today my interest has expanded to global textile traditions. If in my small way, I can draw attention to the beauty and skill of traditional methods, perhaps they won’t be lost forever to quick and cheap industrially made textiles. I’m all about slow fashion, where you can feel the hand that made it.

How did you discover these amazing textiles (Mali mud cloth, vintage fabrics, distressed leather) that you work with today?

I have been studying textiles and their traditions all my life, so it’s hard to say when it started.  My library includes many books on tribal and historical textiles, and I am within driving distance of the Textile Museum of Canada, in Toronto, which has an extensive collection, frequent talks and shows of spectacular work from around the world.

You participated in the Sheridan College of Art and Design Textile Studio. Can you share some details on that program?

The course I took is now an accredited university degree. When I studied from 1997-2000, it was a three-year intensive studio program with courses in craft history, 2 and 3D design, and business. In the Textile Studio, we focused on dye chemistry, colour theory, screen printing and photography with workshops in most textile methods. We had some amazing guest speakers, including Dorothy Caldwell and a family of paper makers from Japan. It was an amazing opportunity that opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking and seeing. In my third year, I focused on making paper by hand and using that fibre to create sculptural pieces.

When did you start making handbags and purses?

Post-graduation (2000), I began weaving in my studio creating silk shawls, scarves and delicate fabric, which I turned into jackets. Around 2006 my shift to purses began with small pouches and evening bags. Initially, I used decorator fabrics, but now my full line of handbags are fabricated only with textiles that are woven or printed and dyed by hand. Recently, I have been designing and painting my own fabrics.

Tote Mall Gold Distressed Leather @NancyNewmanTextiles

How do you source the textiles for your handbags?

A lot of people ask me if I travel to all these countries to find the textiles. Unfortunately, not, although several friends have brought back textiles from their travels. It has taken me several years to find the best sources for the Kantha quilts and Thai fabrics that I use, but because they are all vintage and cannot be reordered like industrial materials. I am always searching for new material sources.


How long does it “typically” take to make a handbag including the design phase, fabric selection and sewing?

It often takes two or three tries before I am satisfied with a design (I use all the rejects as my own purses), and it varies from design to design.  The bucket bags take about a day to put together. I use vintage fabrics, and I only have a small amount of each, so the textile itself often “tells” me what it needs to be. The pieces usually sit in my stash for at least six months before a vision of where to incorporate it becomes apparent.

Grey Designer Bucket bag with a Vintage Bohemian Flair

Can you walk us through the steps involved in the production of a handbag?

As an example, the bucket bag starts with the textile itself, which has to be washed and patched, if necessary, interfaced, serged and often edge stitched.

I play around with the leathers in stock to see which looks best with the textile, using the live edge of the leather where possible. Once these two materials are glued and stitched together, I do the design for the conchos (Southwestern Native American decorative elements) and rivets. It is important to get the placement right before I punch the holes and hammer them into the leather.

Nancy Newman Textiles Workshop

The bag is stitched together on my durable leather sewing machine, the sides and bottom are glued down and top-stitched for security.  Sturdy artist’s canvas forms the liner, and the bottom flaps are sewn to the bag, so it stays firmly in place. The top is reinforced, and another piece of material is chosen as the closure.

The leather strap requires cutting, beveling, edge dyeing, hole punching a buckle and finally riveting it to the bag.

The final piece is a talisman of handmade beads – Nancy’s good luck charm for her customers who appreciate textile art and sustainable fashion.

Sharing the Vision Behind Atelier Boutiques in Video

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Hendrick van Wyk and his two counterparts at “Two Cowboys and a Camera” at a Canmore cafe. As we sipped our flat whites, we discussed the philosophies behind both of our companies. It turns out that the parallels were not just in identical coffee orders. We collectively believe in promoting the businesses that sustain communities, economies and traditions.

Based in beautiful Canmore, Alberta, the Two Cowboys team is often on the road shooting and editing video for community-based organisations. Their mission is a lofty goal of capturing the behind the scenes details of the what, why and how for small businesses and producers around Alberta and well beyond Canada’s borders.

The Two Cowboys team consider their work a social enterprise with a goal of promoting the people and products that are the cornerstones of communities and local economies. Hendrik and his team are sharing those stories through video production, blog posts and social media. Read more about Two Cowboys here.

It seemed like a natural fit to meet with the camera crew, and describe the vision behind Atelier Boutiques. Their video captures our appreciation for the hard work and passion required for artistic pursuits.

The following is an excerpt from the Two Cowboys’ blog post on Atelier Boutiques:

In conversations with Artisans, they admit that the one hurdle they all identify is the need to take their work to market. They invest emotionally in their creations. They spend every living, breathing waking moment in making and fabricating. It takes hours, days, weeks and sometimes a lifetime for an artist or craftsman to produce their best work. This happens while there is always the delicate balance between creating something remarkable or just good enough to get it out the door for the week’s rent of their workshop.

Carolyne’s passion for unique, one-of-a-kind creations from outstanding artisans inspired her to create a service where she helps these makers to take their products to market and to tell their stories.

It is a marketplace with a difference.

Atelier recognises the creative effort required by dedicated artists to learn a skill, practice a technique and experiment with materials. It creates a virtual space that opens the doors to those workshops near and far, by giving you a glimpse into the artists’ studios, a chance to read or see their stories and the ability to buy their products.

Carolyne searches for exclusive, handcrafted, high-quality, wardrobe accessories for women including jewellery, scarves, hats and sweaters. The home décor collection is carefully selected to bring artisanal showpieces and unique household gifts to market.

Read the full blog Two Cowboys post here.

12 Days of Canadian Designer Christmas Creations from their Workshops

Our Canadian designers are real people who have studied and practised their artistic pursuits, perfecting techniques and designs along the way. What are they creating for Christmas?

In the past eleven days, we have featured their women’s fashion accessory and home decor products made with ostrich leather, cashmere, concrete, stainless steel, gemstones, silk, metal clay, beeswax linen, Canadian hardwood and recycled metals. We thought it might be time to give you a glimpse into their workshops – there are no elves to be seen, just our designers still hard at work.

Morija Reeb – weaving with silk at her loom:


Nancy Newman and her vintage fabrics – handbags in progress:

Nancy Newman Textiles work in the studio

Anastassia Selezneva handcrafting her sustainable jewellery from recycled metals:


The team at Artigiani Milanesi weaving  cashmere garments:

Artigiani Milanesi Cashmere Designs on Bowen Island

Colleen Poitras handcrafting jewellery for the “Pretty. Rocker. Chic.” in every gal:

Colleen Poitras designing Canadian women's jewellery

Kaarina and her KOTI Design silk evening bags at a designer show:

Kaarina Talvila @KOTIDesigns

Melanie Neves working with metal clay to create her gorgeous nature-inspired jewellery:

Melanie Neves Keme Jewellery Designer at work

Cassandra Burrell contemplating her next eco-friendly, designed for comfort clothing pieces:

Designer Cassandra Burrell @CassBurrDesigns

Erin Johnson showcasing her Erinlaura gemstone jewellery in Vancouver:

Erin Johnson @Erinlaura Jewelry

Christine VonBun designing her ostrich leather handbags:

Christine VonBun Leather Handbag Designer

Kathy Clarke in her outdoor workshop on a nice day on Bowen Island:

Kathy Clarke Schooner Lane Designs Workshop

Jill Smith relaxed after working with 45-pound blocks of beeswax:

Jill Smith @beeswaxworks

And, Katja dreaming up the next Skimbaco jewellery design:

katja @Skimbaco

It’s not too late to enter the “Get Social”  giveaway – full contest details are here.

Happy Holidays to one and all.


Designers at work for Pinterest:

Canadian fashion designers at work.

Day 11 – 12 Days of Designer Christmas with Luxurious Cashmere

If you are still shopping on the eleventh day of Christmas, you might have left it a bit late. However, we can help with a perfect “I owe you” of a sweater, wrap or poncho made from the finest cashmere, by our Bowen Island-based designer Artigiani Milanesi.

Maxi shawl Cashmere @ARTIGIANIMILANESI

Their Italian tailoring and these luxurious layers will make up for your tardy shopping habits. Cashmere is the softest wool, and it is lightweight yet incredibly warm.

Choose any one of their designs (see the full range of cashmere sweaters, wraps and ponchos here). She will receive her gift just in time for the worst days of winter in January, so you might still look like a hero.

Infinity Scarf @ArtigianiMilanesi #cashmereEssential Poncho @ArtigianiMilanesi #cashmere

Fashion for Pinterest:

Gift the gift of luxurious cashmere sweaters, wraps and ponchos.

Day 10 – 12 Days of Designer Christmas Classy Evening Bags

The holiday season is a time for dressing up, celebrating with friends and family, and for sharing hopes and dreams for the year ahead.

This year consider a classy evening evening bag a Christmas gift that will last, made by hand, designed with care, rather than something mass produced in a foreign land.

Ostrich Leather and Fur clutch evening bag

Nadia clutch in Ostrich Leather @ChristineVonBun

Designer Christine VonBun handcrafts her handbags from the finest ostrich leather. She tells us that this leather is harder to work with, but the finish is so exquisite that it is well worth the effort. Christine’s bags are so beautiful that they will likely be passed down to the next generation.

Square silk Purse Red and Purple @KOTIDesigns

Kaarina creates these silk evening bags for her brand KOTI Designs by marrying her talent for sewing, her passion for silk and her appreciation for Japanese design. Simply beautiful, these evening bags are perfect with your favourite “little black dress” and simply stunning with a black tie outfit.

silk-evening-bag-half-moon-shape-in-black-and-scarlet-and-gold @KOTIDesigns

Nancy Newman sources her silk from vintage Japanese kimonos for her mini purses. These tiny evening bags are your partner for a night out, just large enough for your phone, credit card and keys. They are also little head-turners in the striking silk designs.

Mini Evening Bag Made from Vintage Kimono Fabric @NancyNemanTextiles

Take a look at the whole evening bag collection here.

Pin to your fashion board for outfit inspiration:

Silk and Leather Evening Bags made by designers.

Day 9 – 12 Days of Designer Christmas with Jewellery that Glitters

Give the gift of a little sparkle this year.

Metal clay creations by Toronto designer Melanie Neves:

Quilted Metal Pendant @KemeJewellery

Layered Sage Leaf Ring @KemeJewellery

Ear crawlers from Anastassia SEL:

Branch Ear Crawler #Jewellery @AnastassiaSel

Skimbaco Lifestyle earrings:

2getger-turquoise-earrings #Jewellery @Skimbaco

Bangles by Colleen Poitras:

Breath Bangle @Colpoitras

Raw, rough cut quartz necklaces by ErinLaura:

Ava necklace @erinlaura

Explore the entire jewellery collection here.

For Pinterest:

Handcrafted jewellery by Canadian Designers. Sustainable fashion.

Day 8 – 12 Days of Designer Christmas the Gift of Gemstones

Diamonds are not for everyone (well, ok they might be), but semi-precious stones make for interesting and thoughtful gifts too. Gemstones are the perfect gift because you can tailor your stone choice to best suit the receiver.

Do they need a little bit of calm and protection in their life? Choose an Amethyst from the quartz family.

Will 2017 be a big year for their work, school or other hurdles in their life? Dark and mysterious the Black Onex is believed to help with focus, dedication and retention.

Everyone can use a little luck every once in awhile. Tourmaline is a quartz stone said to bring good fortune to the wearer. For more detail on these and other stones read Turning Rocks into Beautiful Jewellery.

Our jewellery design team has been hard at work creating beautiful fashion accessories with semi-precious gemstones.

Significance bangle moonstone @ColleenPoitras

Colleen Poitras’ Significance Bangle is an excellent gift for a girlfriend, daughter, niece or any special lady. There are two bangle sizes, and you can choose from one of seven (7) stones.

Watermelon Tourmaline Union Necklace #Jewellery @AnastassiaSel

Give the gift of luck. Anastassia’s Watermelon Tourmaline Union Necklace highlights this beautiful stone with its green exterior and red interior. Or for a dose of stunning luck, her Slice of Heaven Ring with the same stone.

Collins Necklace #Jewellery @Erinlaura #MadeinCanada

Erin Johnson’s entire necklace collection wraps around rough cut gemstones. These are accessories she named after her best friends, so should be the perfect gift for yours.

Keme Jewellery #Handcrafted @KemeJewellery

The Crystal Cluster Garden Pendant created by Melanie Neves is nothing short of stunning with a Blue Apatite crystal that is meant to enhance communication, intuition, self-expression, creativity, and visualisation.

Any one of these pieces make for a perfect gift on their own or paired with an indigo silk scarf by Morija Reeb.

Gemstone jewellery, handmade and unique make for perfect, lasting gifts.

Day 7 – 12 days of Designer Christmas Weaving with Silk

Morija Reeb is a professional weaver, but she tells us that she has always worked with textiles; she first learned to sew under her grandmother’s watch as a young child. Morija’s educational pursuits led her to Vancouver and eventually to a weaving studio inside the arts community on Granville Island.

Handmade Indigo necklace with wood pendant @MorijaDesigns

She shared this about her work, “Creating with silk is my passion. I am never bored, or uninspired by this fibre. It offers so many design possibilities when combined with dyeing and weaving, and it still surprises me sometimes when happy accidents happen.”

Handmade silk scarf @MorijaDesigns

The Morija Designs handwoven scarves and pendants make for gorgeous holiday gifts.

These silk scarves in grey tones will compliment any outfit. The soft fabric might even make winter feel like it is very far away. Order a scarf along with some earrings from one of the jewellery designers for a great combination gift.

Handmade Silk scarf Designed by @MorijaDesigns

Morija’s pendants made with woven silk are available in two colour tones natural and indigo. Wear either version with a winter-white top or black turtleneck for a stunning outfit. View her full collection here.

For your Pinterest “I want one” board:

Handwoven silk scarves, the softest way to keep winter away.

Day 6 – 12 days of Designer Christmas Beeswax Candles

Chandler, Jill Smith, starts her candle making process with 45-pound blocks of pure 100% beeswax that she sources from a single supplier in Alberta. These blocks arrive on a palette, delivered by truck to her Salt Spring Island driveway. She explained that it is quite a sight to see this load waiting for her to act.

The Key to My Heart #Beeswax #Candles @Beeswaxworks

A bit like a boxer and their punching bag, breaking these solid blocks of wax into manageable pieces does wonders for stress release. Jill then takes the smaller pieces and melts the wax to the correct temperature before pouring the molten liquid into her custom moulds.

Simple Fern #Beeswax #Candles @Beeswaxworks

There are three of her signature series candles available on Atelier: Key to my Heart, Simple Fern and Vintage Bee. These beautiful candles burn a clean, natural, sweet smelling smoke. Here are five reasons to buy a beeswax candle. 

Vintage Bee Beeswax Candles @Beeswaxworks

Consider natural beeswax candles as perfect holiday gifts and unique hostess presents. Fill someone’s stocking with a sweetly scented Vintage Bee, Simple Fern or Key to My Heart candle.

Or, create an artistic home decor combination package and include a hardwood serving board and linen tea towels, both made on Bowen Island near Vancouver.

Read more about the artisan craft of chandlery here.

Pin this image to your handcrafted, home decor board.

Beeswax candles made from pure wax for wonderful holiday light.

Day 5 – 12 days of Designer Christmas Jewellery

Our team of Atelier jewellery designers use a variety of metals and gemstones in their work. Inspired by their surroundings, these creators have been in their studios all year handcrafting accessories for all the ladies on your list.

Collins Necklace #Jewellery @Erinlaura #MadeinCanada

On the West Coast, Erin Johnson named her company Erinlaura, combining her name with her grandmother’s – a strong creative presence in her life. The Erinlaura necklace collection is a combination of rough cut gemstones and delicate gold chains as striking as the bays and inlets of British Columbia’s shoreline. She balances yin and yang influences in her jewellery designs.

ignite-turquoise-beads-diffuser-necklace @Skimbaco

On the other side of the country, Katja’s Skimbaco Lifestyle brand launched their initial essential oil diffuser jewellery line after experimenting strands of leather and cloth. You may not be able to travel to the shores of Bali, but this stunning collection might at least allow you to daydream.

Aurora Ring #Jewellery @AnastassiaSel

The time to buy Anastassia Selezneva runway-quality jewellery is right now before she makes good on her goal of moving to New York City. All the Anastassia Sel necklaces, ear crawlers, rings and bracelets are handcrafted with recycled sterling silver and 14k gold so that you can feel good about your sustainable purchase.

Concrete and Stainless Jewellery @ColleenPoitras

Based in Canada’s largest city, Colleen Poitras balances the demands Toronto living with her jewellery line. She works with leather, concrete and stainless steel to handcraft stunning pieces that work for the Pretty.Rocker.Chic in every girl. These pieces are guaranteed to dress-up any outfit.

Keme Jewellery Handcrafted @KemeJewellery

Kĕme Jewellery is the name of Melanie Neves brand, where she transforms metal clay into fashion accessory pieces that are inspired by the earth. Nature meets design in her sage leaf rings and wave patterned stud earrings.

Handcrafted jewellery by Canadian Designers

Explore the entire jewellery collection here.