Hands On - Dawn McGee

Handbag maker Dawn McGee has set herself a huge goal.  She wants to have 200 handbags, clutches, and keychains ready for the "Circle of Sisters" show at the Jacob Javits Center on Oct 17-18, 2015.  Dawn and I caught up in mid-July, and she estimated she had approximately 20 of the smaller items and a few handbags completed.  She estimates that the end-to-end process for her largest bag, a tote, takes approximately two weeks to complete.  So she feverishly spent her summer painting, sewing, and assembling handbags.

Many years ago, Dawn was browsing through a craft store and came upon a silk painting kit.  She bought it, but it sat on a shelf for years.  Then one day she made a suede skirt for her hairdresser and had leftover material.  She decided to dust off the silk painting kit, combine it with the excess suede, and make a handbag.  She has been making handbags on and off ever since - about 15 years.  

While Dawn got her degree in fashion design with a focus on tailoring from Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, she is completely self taught when it comes to handbags.  She said she's spent a lot of time reading books, Googling and watching YouTube videos to learn new techniques and solve problems that she encounters with new paints or materials.   

Dawn paints in beautiful, vibrant colors

Dawn paints in beautiful, vibrant colors

Dawn's bags are a combination of silk and suede, and she uses the sertie method - dying instead of painting, to handpaint the crepe dechine and charmeuse she uses as her silks.  She then finds suede to match one of the dye colors to use as an accent. Her mother is an artist, and Dawn often uses her drawings as inspiration for her patterns.  When asked what part of the process she likes best, Dawn answered that she loved the painting of the silks, despite the fact that it is the longest part of the process.  She does a beautiful job on her paintings and is very creative with her colors and color combinations.  Her least favorite part is dying the solid linings for the inside of the bags and sewing.

She cuts several items from one painting

She cuts several items from one painting

Dawn makes 6 types of bags: totes, mid-sized purses, clutches, wood handled purses, and small and large wristlets, as well as two sizes of key chains.  Her creations are for sale on Etsy, where she has been doing business for the past year.  She has also recently created her own website: www.dawnmsquared.com.  Stay tuned on those sites for product expansions, most likely after the Circle of Sisters show...Dawn is looking to create phone and tablet covers.  I encourage everyone to check out Dawn's website or visit her at the Javits during the Circle of Sisters show if you live in the NY/NJ/CT area. 

I'd like to say a huge thanks to Dawn for allowing me into her workspace while she prepared for the show.  It was great to catch up and I learned a ton about painting silk.  Best of luck at Circle of Sisters, Dawn!

I'm keeping my eye on this tote!

I'm keeping my eye on this tote!