Right then. The story so far was that I'd resurrected a good-quality bag that had lain unused in a drawer at home for four years, a terrible waste. The bag itself was brilliant, but I was irritated by its short strap, which kept slipping off my shoulder. I'd made a longer, experimental strap out of black webbing, plus brass fastenings that I'd cannibalised from another bag strap. This was a good solution. But to achieve perfection I wanted a dark brown strap, preferably leather.
I pondered how to buy or make a wide, dark brown leather bag strap of the right size and quality. And by and by it occurred to me that a long and supple leather belt, suitably adapted, would do the trick. And after a couple of hours touring the shops in Brighton, I had identified some that would work in Marks & Spencer, New Look, Next, and the Jasper Conran section of Debenhams. They were all the right size, although the prices varied enormously. I made sure that I looked at both ladies' and men's belts. In the end I settled on the belt in Debenhams. Adjourning to the Sussex Arms in The Lanes for a lunchtime gin-and-tonic and snack, I found myself explaining what I was going to do with the belt to two women from Eastbourne, visiting Brighton for the day with their husbands. They thought it was a great idea, and agreed that the belt, once transformed, would suit my bag wonderfully.
Once home, I detached the black strap, and began my preparations.
The buckle had to be snipped off, and also the tapered tongue at the other end. That left enough belt in between to curl a short length through the brass fastening at either end, and then sew it in place. It was the sewing that caused sore fingers and tired hands, and a couple of needle-stabbings. It was surprisingly hard work, requiring a lot of effort and ideally the right tools for the job. I can easily see now why leatherwork is best left to the expert.
But the whole point about the Melfords is that they do not give up. Nihil cedo is our motto, and after two and half hours of patient and dogged labour, I had a decently-stitched leather strap that looked right.
But it had taken a fair bit of trial-and-error to get there, including having to punch sew-holes in the belt, and trying four different kinds of thread. One of the threads was too thick for the holes, and I broke a needle forcing it through. That was one of the occasions on which language unbecoming to a lady of refinement and sensibility passed my lips. Two of the threads snapped when I needed to pull them really tight, and had to be unpicked. Again, to the accompaniment of mutterings that would make a doxy blush. And when I lanced the same finger a second time, I unleashed a torrent of verbal expression that even the most slatternly bawd would be ashamed to voice. These shots will suggest the difficulties:
But finally it was done, and it didn't look a bad job either...
...although at one end of the new strap, its origins as a belt were clear, because the buckle-holes were visible:
Two types of button seemed suitable: plain brass buttons (although the ones I had were all different); and some slightly knobbly ones that resembled round sea shells (of which I had six). I went for the 'sea shells', and I think the result is actually more attractive than brass buttons would be. Anyway, I went off to Hope Gap that very afternoon with my friend R---, and she thought the new strap was a success. So here I am with the bag as it now is:
I suppose there are those who will stop me in the street and say 'It's a man's belt, isn't it?' but I'm hoping that most people will simply see a long dark brown shoulder strap, with shell-like decorations at one end, that matches the bag rather well. And leaves both my hands free.