How to make an Altered Purse for The Purses Project

The Purses Project is a community arts project inspired by my grandmother who I lost to ovarian cancer. It is my goal to reach out to others who have lost a significant female to cancer and embark on a creative journey together by creating altered purses that tell the story of our remarkable women (our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, daughters, friends and mentors) lost to cancer. Join me by creating an altered purse which creatively shares the amazing life story of your beloved and significant woman lost to cancer. In sharing your loss, you reflect and continue her abiding legacy.

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project


I’m sure my grandmother would be embarrassed by the attention but the second altered purse in her honor is finished! In this post, I wanted to detail the how-to’s and some of the things I learned along the way. The question you may be wondering is–
Why TWO purses? Just how many purses do I have to make for this project?
You only need to make ONE purse, but I wanted to experiment, learn mixed media techniques and be able to offer a little advice to purse makers so I decided to have double the fun! Creating an altered/mixed media purse reflects the trend among women in scrapbooking, art journaling, mixed media art and various other creative ways preserve memories and tell our stories. The truth is women are creating like never before and mixed media is a popular form of feminine expression.

Now, let’s begin the tutorial
1. Go on a treasure hunt: First, find a purse that belonged to your significant female. If one is not available, scout out purses at Ebay, antique stores, clearance bins, Goodwill or garage sales. Next, Gather a few photos, memorabilia, objects, etc. that belonged to your significant female. Gather other favorites things like songs, colors, accessories, sayings, etc. Shop your local craft store for fun embellishments like stamps, scrapbook paper, etc.

Goodwill purse

Goodwill purse


My photos

My photos


A few crafty supplies

A few crafty supplies


2. Wipe the purse surface with alcohol. Lightly sand the purse, tape off any areas you do not want to paint and apply a coat of gesso to the desired areas. (This step can be optional depending on how you choose to do your purse. You can also simply start attaching photos with Mod Podge to the purse surface but if you plan to paint, you will need to gesso the surface first). Allow to dry.
Gather a few supplies for painting your altered purse

Gather a few supplies for painting your altered purse


Tape off anything you want unpainted

Tape off anything you want unpainted


Apply one coat of gesso

Apply one coat of gesso


Let it dry by propping open the painted areas

Let it dry by propping open the painted areas


3. Now the fun part–start painting, gluing scrapbook papers, stamping, etc. I created a basic background by quickly painting with yellow, white and purple acrylic paint and allowing the colors to blend together. I used white spray paint with a vintage doily and confetti ribbon to make interesting texture on the background. I also attached bits of an old lace curtain with Mod Podge.
Lace on altered purse

Lace on altered purse

Quick and simple background for altered purse

Quick and simple background for altered purse


Spray paint over a doily for interesting texture

Spray paint over a doily for interesting texture


4. I made black and white and color copies of my photos and used Mod Podge to adhere the copied photos to the purse. Play around with the arrangement of photos and objects until you feel satisfied, then glue. I created a mixed media portrait of my grandmother by gluing the copied photo of her to scrapbook paper (w/Mod Podge) then once dry, painting over the photo with thinned down acrylic paints. The butterfly wings are adhesive backed canvas pieces purchased from the scrapbook section at Michael’s Arts and Crafts. I painted the wings with acrylic paint and outlined with glitter paint. I added the stitch lines and wrote my grandmother’s favorite saying “Be Pertty” in black gel pen.
Detail of portrait. Mixed media/altered art purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

Detail of portrait. Mixed media/altered art purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project


5. Here’s a little tip: the leather purse needed a little support while I was working on it especially to keep it flat when I was gluing on the photos so I inserted a stack of magazines into the purse keep it firm while working and for drying.
6. I printed my grandmother’s full name out from a word document. You can use the lettering as is, cut it apart and glue it down. In my case, I printed the lettering in MIRROR IMAGE (an option when selecting to print) and did a Citrasolv transfer on to canvas paper. I will post the steps for this fun technique in my next post. I detail how I did the stitching around her name in the this post: https://thepursesproject.wordpress.com/category/adding-her-name-how-to-a-clumsy-attempt-at-sewing/
Name on altered purse done with Citrasolv transfer

Name on altered purse done with Citrasolv transfer


6. The other paper items like the restaurant check (my grandmother was a waitress) and a photo of her vintage Falcon are all attached with Mod Podge. Heavier and more dimensional items like the spoon and yellow roses are attached with E6000.
Attach paper with Mod Podge and heavier items with E6000

Attach paper with Mod Podge and heavier items with E6000


7. I hand painted the powder puffs (from the Coty face powder my grandmother used) and the coffee stains on the restaurant check. I added another coat of Mod Podge to seal the surface and keep everything well attached. I outlined the edges of the purse with black glitter paint (reminiscent of the sparkly black glitter heels in my grandmother’s closet) and let everything dry overnight.
detail of 2nd purse in honor of my grandmother

detail of 2nd purse in honor of my grandmother


8. To finish I added two more items to symbolize my grandmother’s life as a landlord and my adoption in to her family. I added the vintage key with a simple jute string and created an altered tag signifying my adoption by my father (a loving sacrifice by my dad that indicates the character she instilled in her children). I Mod Podged a small copy of my birth certificate on to a canvas tag and used parts of the certificate to create a ladder (a symbol of my dad’s profession as a paint contractor) and attached a copy of my hand from childhood reaching for the ladder.
Mixed media tag for altered purse

Mixed media tag for altered purse

Key on altered purse

Key on altered purse


And Finished! It’s as simple as that. Why not create your own unique version today? Remember, this is MY creative expression–you may want to explore a totally different avenue like sewing and IT”S ALL GOOD! You will discover new things about your beloved female as well as yourself!
mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project


Making a purse for the project is not only about your significant female but can provide healing for unresolved grief. Trust me, I was the first one that said,
“Oh, I can do this. My grandmother died over 20 years ago, I’ve already dealt with it”.
I can’t begin to tell you how healing and empowering making the purse has been for me (creativity and healing is well documented). Everyone’s journey will be different, but I would love to hear your story of creativity and healing through this project.
Many thanks for your time with me today.

Live Creatively,
Jamie

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