Behind The Bag

The maker behind BABS reveals the process behind her handcrafted accessories

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Barbara Materna’s bags are works of art. There’s the Sheeply Chic line, made from felted wool and brightly colored yarn. There’s Jack + Cookie, also made from wool, but more structured and subtle-toned. There’s Coastal and City Cruisers, a series of bags made from maps and charts from as far back to the 19th century, printed on twill and sealed. Then, most recently, there’s the WAXT line, made from waxed canvas that will develop a patina over time. Each is creative, clever, and crafted from her studio in Hope Artiste Village, BABS.

For Barbara, inspiration comes from the materials. It was the nature of the wool – biodegradable, moisture resistant, saturated color – that prompted Sheeply Chic and Jack + Cookie. It was the story behind the maps – including burn marks and hand drawn details – that inspired Coastal and City Cruisers.

“Sourcing is a huge part of my process,” Barbara shares. “I scour vintage marine stores, hardware stores, horse catalogs, fashion magazines – you name it – in search of unusual accessories.” Some examples, she lists, include horse bits for handles, hoof picks, and sailing shackles. She talks about the merino wool she uses from Germany and leather from Missouri. She remembers a particular map with burn marks made by ashes falling from a cartographer’s pipe. Her waxed fabrics come from a place that’s been making them since 1838. Every fiber has a story.

“My favorite part is surprising myself with a new style, color, fiber, or leather accessory,” says Barbara. “If I find some new perfect accessory, it may take a year or more before the perfect bag is created. When it happens, I know it, and I can hardly wait to get it into production!”

Over the course of the last eight years, BABS has transformed from an online Etsy account to a full-fledged retail and studio space. Then a couple years ago, Barbara tried a stint in wholesale, but realized it wouldn’t work when retailers wanted 50 of the exact same bag. “Every bag I make is slightly different,” she says, “which is what I love the most!”

Find Barbara in her BABSmobile on her way to a show each weekend through December, plus at her retail/studio space each Saturday for the Hope Artiste Village Farmers Market.