Author: Clare Bridger, Owner of Isabella's Trinkets
When I first saw on Facebook that the Hampstead Norreys Community Shop was looking for ideas to eradicate the distribution of plastic (or any other disposable) carrier bags from its premises, I decided to undertake a little research.
It was during this research that I came across a scheme that was transforming unwanted duvet covers, curtains and any other scrap material into simple cotton tote bags. Giving this fabric a new lease of life really appealed to me, particularly for such a worthwhile cause; eliminating plastic carrier bags from Hampstead Norreys Community shop for good. It provided me with a way to use my sewing skills and recycle all that unwanted fabric. I had been planning to take a huge bag of duvet covers to the charity shop and I also have boxes & boxes of scrap material.
I offered to make a few bags for Lesley and she invited me to come for a chat.
The Bring Me Back Bag is born
I had not been to the shop before, although my husband occasionally stopped off on his way to work. I arrived at the shop and must admit I was a little bit daunted when I discovered I was up in front of the Sustainability Group Committee. Lesley introduced me to Vanessa & Mary, 2 fellow members of the Hampstead Norreys Community Shop Sustainability Group.
The shop is set within the courtyard of Manor Farm with its beautifully restored barns, available to rent as holiday homes. The shop was built in 2011 and has since been extended to include a cafe and outdoor seating area.
Walking into the shop, I was greeted with such a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. It was busy and full of lively chatter. I live in a small village where there is no shop. The only meeting places are the one pub, the social club or the Church.
Set up in the corner of the cafe, we began to discuss how we could proceed. I'd brought various examples of bags I'd made. We decided to set up our very own sewing bee to make some simple fabric bags the Hampstead Norreys Community Shop could put into circulation; the idea being that customers would return them to the shop on their next visit. These community reuseable bags needed a name and what better name than to say it like it is; the Bring Me Back bag was born.
We needed to find somewhere for our sewing bee to meet, but the cost of hiring a village hall was out of the question for this group of volunteers. The answer was obvious however – with a nice long table, perfect for cutting fabric, some smaller tables where we could set up our sewing machines and plenty of electrical sockets, the community shop café made the perfect venue for our evening meet ups. So fitting! "And there was cake!" Sadly I was told that I couldn't help myself to cake when the cafe was shut.
As a couple was leaving the cafe, the lady came over and apologised for overhearing our discussion. It transpired that she was an avid seamstress and she asked if she could join our group; so now we had recruited Karen and we were 4.
Lesley asked me what I felt I would get out of the project. The truth was, I was looking forward to meeting and chatting to new people, whilst doing something I love (sewing) and contributing to a community project that would help reduce the use of plastic.
We wanted to create our own logo but the question was, how to transfer it onto the bags. I'd looked into various options such as screen printing and iron-on transfers, but both seemed pretty costly with a budget of…….zero!
Vanessa came up with some design options for a logo, while I investigated transfer methods.
We decided to set up a trial workshop to see how we got on. To my delight, Vanessa offered to bring cake!
Many years ago, I used to do stencilling and would cut all my own stencils. Vanessa produced a very simple, but effective logo, which was easy enough to replicate in a stencil. With a 2-colour design and some fabric paint, it was very easy to run off a whole batch of patches bearing the Bring Me Back bag logo.
The next step was to add the lettering. I had a printing set, but that seemed too lengthy a process. I finally decided to transfer the lettering using just a fabric pen and a light box. My daughter had used a light box at school for her A level textiles but rather than buy one, I found that a plastic storage box with a lid and a set of Christmas fairy lights was just as effective!
The logo patch also doubles as a pocket on the front of the bag.
Bring Me Back bags in circulation
Since the start of this project, we've received fabric donations by the cupboard full (Vanessa and Mary, who are storing the bulk of the fabric, will attest to that!) enabling our little sewing bee to make more than 50 bags for the Hampstead Norreys Community Shop. Customers have been incredibly positive and supportive about this creative way to reduce the amount of plastic leaving the premises.
We’ve also made a few Bring Me Back bags for other local businesses in Thatcham and we’ve started to create Bring Me Back Bag sewing kits so we can extend the reach of this project to others in the community (and keep up with the demand for these bags as the shop attracts more and more visitors with all the publicity its been receiving!)
So, if you get to GreenFest and realise you’ve forgotten your reuseable bag, pop into the Hampstead Norreys Community Shop and grab a Bring Me Back bag.
This has been a truly exciting and successful initiative and a lovely way to gather as a community, for our community, doing something we enjoy.