Behind the Seams: XL Hobo Shopper Bag
Posted on 24 April 2019
Sometimes it is hard to believe that in centuries past, some exquisite handmade fabrics were considered to be more valuable than precious metals like gold or silver. Thankfully for all of us, the fabric of the Spring/Summer 2019 collection is nowhere close to being that expensive - but it is a very precious material! It takes many hands, hours and processes to transform raw cotton fibre into a bag, so, in the hopes of inspiring some awe and respect for the incredible Sabahar artisans behind this collection, here is a small insight into the complex and ancient weaving process behind the XL Hobo Shopper Bag.
First things first - the idea. The XL Hobo Shopper Bag is inspired by the Japanese bento bag, but we wanted to make one on a big scale that had pockets inside for all your essentials. Based on some key fashion trend forecasting and the Sabahar colour palette, we experimented with different stripe designs, varying the proportions and colour combinations until we had a design for the fabric that we were happy with. This process includes a lot of trial, error and discussion - but it is important to get it right at this sampling stage! Once the fabric design is ready, it’s time to put it into production.
Some initial stripe designs for the fabric & Me and Asiya (the head of the sewing and finishing departments) with an initial product sample of the bag.
Sabahar make fabric from scratch using beautiful Ethiopian cotton - but it doesn’t arrive to them ready to use! Raw cotton fibre is just a ball of fluff, so for it to be used to make anything it has to be transformed into yarn by spinning the fibres together. Sabahar buys much of their hand spun cotton from women who work from their own homes, using a simple drop spindle to twist the fibres together into a yarn. These small spindles are easy to carry around and allow women to earn some money in a flexible way alongside all their other duties and commitments. Once the spun yarn arrives at Sabahar, it is ready to be wound into skeins ready for dyeing.
Here, one of the Sabahar ladies unreels the hand spun cotton from a drop spindle into a large skein, ready for dyeing.
This is one of the really fun parts - colour! Working from small colour swatches and some of the tried and tested Sabahar recipes, the team in the dye department get to work mixing colours. It is a very delicate process, and involves a lot of careful measuring of the powdered dyestuffs to ensure the correct vibrancy and shade of colour. Once the dye is in the pot the yarn needs to simmer for around 45 minutes to ensure it will remain colourfast (i.e. the colour won’t come out in the wash!). Once all the skeins are dyed they are hung to dry in the hot afternoon sun (unless it rains and they all have to be rushed back inside again!).
Some of the dyed yarn samples for the bright fabric colourway.
Our colourful yarn drying in the Ethiopian sun!
At the same time as dyeing, the weavers can start preparing the loom ready to weave. Each vertical thread in the fabric (called the warp) has to be counted and measured out to the same length by hand on a frame. Then it is transferred onto the loom ready to be made into fabric.
Here Esrael winds out the hundreds of warp threads needed to weave fabric on a loom. Every single vertical thread in the fabric has to be measured out to the same length, and kept parallel in the same order or they will tangle. Thankfully there are ways to wind more than one thread at a time (all the cones on the floor represent one thread) - so that speeds it up a bit!
Now it’s finally time to start creating the fabric itself. The colourful yarn that was dyed will be used in the weft (the horizontal threads in a fabric), while the warp yarns that are already set up on the loom are a plain white. This will give us bold horizontal stripes in the fabric.
The fabric in production on the loom. It is so fun to watch the design slowly grow into a cloth!
Following the design plan, the Sabahar weavers place each of the weft threads into the fabric by hand. The thread is carried from side to side by a wooden shuttle that passes in between the warp threads. The vertical and horizontal threads then interlock to create a strong cloth.
Cherful in action weaving the striped fabric in the pink colourway.
From the weaving workshop, the fabric is sent to be washed, dried and pressed. This ensures any last residue of dye can wash out, and allows the fabric to shrink as the fibres settle into their new home in the fabric. (It is far better for the fabric to shrink now than when the bag is made…)
Then, in the sewing department, the fabric is cut, making careful use of every offcut piece. The XL Hobo Shopper Bag is cleverly designed so that no fabric is wasted in the sewing process - all the pieces that are cut off to create the shape are reused as the handle, key chain holder and interior pocket.
The bag in the early stages of the sewing process. Close to the end, the missing corners from the bag get used for the handle!
After sewing all the pieces together, the final touch is to add the toggle button closure, sourced from a local company in Addis Ababa who make garment and accessory hardware from cow horn - a byproduct of the meat industry.
A tiny portion of the amazing array of horn buttons and toggles we had to choose from… Can you spot the one we chose?
The finished product
After being pressed and trimmed of any stray threads from the sewing process, the bag is ready to be shipped to ABURY HQ in Berlin! Will it be on its way to you next?
Author : Ruth Hepburn