One of the things I like about selling my work online (on Etsy) is that I can find out which items people look at the most -- and which ones they choose as "favorites." But one of the things I understand least is why one of my most popular (yet alas, unpurchased) items is an upcycled burlap bag for a cell phone. More than 460 people have viewed the bag, and every week one or two people "admire" it.My husband and I love Basmati rice and luckily, Costco sells it in large burlap bags. After we went through all 20 pounds of rice, I looked at the bag and thought, "Hmm, I bet I could make something out of this." I liked the bright colors and words printed in different languages.
So I saved it. When I started creating cell phone bags, I dug it out and fashioned one out of it. Because of its popularity, I recently created a large bag for tablets. It shows more of the printing, making the source easier to recognize. On the inside I used red, white, and blue checkered placemats for lining and a denim belt for a strap.
It's cool, but I'm still not sure why these bags are so popular. I had a chance to buy lots of empty rice bags from a fellow Etsy seller recently, but I passed it up. Burlap is harder to work with than cotton, denim, or polyester. It frays easily (maybe I should use that stuff that keeps sweaters from fraying for the seam edges). Probably more to the point, though, is that I don't like the way it feels. It's scratchy. No fun to touch when I'm working with it.
One thing I realized about myself a few years ago is how much I like to touch nice textures -- the soft fur of my cats, fleece shirts, even my fuzzy robe. (As I write this I'm stroking the soft ears of my dowager cat, sitting next to the keyboard.) I'm one of those people who enter a clothes store and instantly start "petting" the wares. (It was hard to break this habit in Italy, where you're supposed to ask shopkeepers before you touch anything.)
My love of textures led to my work with fabric. When I go hunting for clothes to upcycle at my local thrift stores, I let my fingers do the choosing. They tell me whether a pair of jeans, skirt, or shirt is good quality or too worn. They would never tell me to choose scratchy, hairy burlap.
Wikipedia calls burlap "Hessian cloth" because it was originally used for the uniforms of Hessian (German) soldiers. Thanks to its durability and breathability, exporters in India started using it to ship goods long distances. (These are "gunny sacks.") The most interesting use of burlap is a religious one:
"Due to its coarse texture, it is not commonly used in modern apparel. However, this roughness gave it a use in a religious context for mortification of the flesh, where individuals may wear an abrasive shirt called a cilice or "hairshirt" and in the wearing of "sackcloth" on Ash Wednesday."Somehow, I don't think including this fact would help sell my bags on Etsy: "Carry your iPad and scratch away your sins, all at the same time!" You never know, though.