By Karen Parr-Moody
Pam Miller, whose cottage industry of one-of-a-kind handbags and clothes is called Rusted Silk, sews a frothy confection of silken delights for her GasLamp booth, B-305.
Years ago Miller got the bug for selling vintage clothing, then she took a break and worked in interior design for a decade or so. But when she joined GasLamp, she went back to fashion by repurposing vintage textiles into glamorously layered handbags and camisoles.
"I get lost in textiles," Miller says. "Especially what I call 'freckled laundry.' If it has rust spots and stains it makes my heart beat faster."
Miller's initial inspiration for the handbags came from a watercolor she found at GasLamp. Dating back to 1870 or 1880, the painting depicted a fashionable woman holding a beautiful drawstring bag. Miller set out to make one for herself. When she carried her resulting creation to dinner one night, two ladies at the table wanted her to make them one. She did, then went on to make bags for her GasLamp booth. When they began to sell, GasLamp owner Lauren Bugg told Miller she was on to something. That's all it took.
"Inspiration is not that hard for me," Miller says. "I'm either blessed or cursed; I get a lot of inspiration."
Miller gets inspiration from props in a movie, or from the way a random piece of cloth falls onto the floor. In the photo, above right, are two of her creations. With the white bag, slathered in pompoms and fringe, she got the notion that it looked like a banana cream pie ($79). "It seemed to be mounded with whipped cream," Miller says. "Many times these handbags come out looking like dessert to me; I guess you can see where my mind is."
The red bag in the photo is made of cotton velvet and was originally part of an old dress ($32). "I kept playing with those rich colors until it came together," Miller says.
The brown bag in the photo, left, is perfectly suited for the autumn season ($59). "That is just a menagerie of pieces, a potpourri of all laces," says Miller. She says that often the vintage crochet pieces she uses have to be mended before they can be put on a bag. For these pieces, she uses strong upholstery thread to give the material more endurance. "We are all hard on our handbags," she explains, adding that she also repurposes old belts for the handles to give the bags strength. Miller loves using natural colors, such as the butterscotch and chocolate tones of this bag, because she believe Mother Nature is a most talented artist.
With her camisoles, such as the two styles seen in the photo at right, Miller layers on the fabrics (pink camisole, $135; white camisole, $175). "I throw fun things together to be fun," Miller says. "I dare to cover beauty with beauty. It doesn't scare me to do that." The pink camisole is made up of roses, crochet pieces, and satin ribbons. The white camisole is a concoction of faux fur, silk ribbons, vintage crochet pieces, satin and lace. "They're almost kind of prairie looking, a little gypsy looking," Miller says. "It's almost a little like prairie couture."
Miller said that most everything she makes is hand done, adding, "I just bought a sewing machine and can't seem to get the darn thing threaded! It may go back to the store." The clothing has to be handmade regardless, she says, because the the fabrics are so delicate that they couldn't withstand the strength of a sewing machine. And Miller has so many inspiring fabrics, that there's hardly a time she doesn't have several pieces waiting to be assembled. Lack of time is more an issue for her than lack of inspiration.
For the creation in the photo, left, Miller started off with a 40-year-old straw bag ($62). Then she added some faux gems, charms and bangles that had come from an old broken belt. "I thought it made it fun and updated."
Miller procures her fabrics from antique stores, flea markets and thrift stores. The finished look is aptly compared by Miller to home décor. "It's really the shabby chic of handbags," she said. "Everyone likes the shabby chic furniture that's chipped."
And for those who don't "get" the intentionally-worn style, Miller says, "They're not my customer. It takes a certain customer with all of my things, certainly not a traditional person, but a more fashion-forward person. These are attention-getting little pieces." Indeed.