I ran into my massage therapist and her mom at the local garden club's plant sale today. Seeing familiar friendly faces just about everywhere I go is one of the many things I love about living in a small town. It was the first time I had met Judy's mom, but I felt I already had a connection with her since I had made this bag for her a couple of months ago. She lit up when she heard I was the lady who had made it and said how happy her group was with it.
When Judy found out that I sew, she told me about her mom's Franciscan friends who had been carrying their traveling San Damiano cross in a regular tote bag that was too small. For my non-Catholic readers I should explain a little here. It's a devotional tradition among Catholics to take turns having a blessed cross, statue, or icon in their home as a focal point for prayer. While each family has it in their home, they pray for the other members of the group as well as the intentions of the group. It's a lovely way to enhance the bond among friends united in Jesus.
This particular cross is an icon painted in the Byzantine tradition and is a replica of the cross that hung in the church of San Damiano in Assisi where St. Francis heard the voice of Jesus telling him to rebuild the church. St. Francis at first thought Jesus meant for him to rebuild that church building which was falling into ruin at the time, but he came to realize later that our Lord meant for him to rebuild faith and devotion in the entire Church. And he did. Hence we still have devoted Franciscans consecrated as priests, brothers and sisters, and lay people like the Franciscans to which Judy's mom belong. So that's the connection between our local Franciscans and this cross you see here. We were blessed to be able to have the cross in our home during Holy Week and Easter while I was working on the new bag. I placed it on our prayer table and we said our morning and evening devotions there each day.
I started with some "heavenly" quilting cotton covered with blue sky and clouds which I had in my stash. There wasn't quite enough, so I pieced in strips of sunny yellow and flowers in a field of green. I wanted the bag to be strong and firm, so I fused on stiff interfacing and lined all the pieces with quilting cotton before putting them together. I haven't made many bags so far, so I wasn't quite sure if it would turn out stiff enough. Judy had also given me a fluffy massage table pad to repurpose as a soft lining for the bag. I thought that would be firm enough to add support for the bag, but when I got it all together, it was still pretty wobbly.
So I used my favorite problem solving method: say a prayer, get a good night's sleep and see what pops into my head in the morning. Sure enough, it popped. Cardboard. I went to Wal-Mart the next day and bought one of those three-paneled display boards like the kids use for projects. It cut surprisingly smoothly and was just the right size. I glued the pieces of the padding to the cardboard and made a box out of this by taping the corners with packaging tape. It worked beautifully! Oh I was pleased.
Then I tried to put the box in the bag. It was too big! I had to take it all apart, size it down and put it together again. Then it fit! Whew!
I made this little shoulder section in the strap that opens up like an envelope pillow cover. That way a piece of padding can be slipped in and taken out whenever the bag needs washing. The padded box, slips out for washing too. Judy's mom said the older ladies in the group really liked the padded shoulder strap and find it easier to carry the cross now with the new bag. I'm really glad that worked.
This was my first payed sewing project since Judy wanted to pay me. I just charged for the materials though. I figured I'm no expert bag maker and I basically made it up as I went along. And I received plenty of benefits from working on this bag. I learned a lot, we had the beautiful cross for a long while, and I got to make something really worthwhile.