Reevaluating the Carpet Bag

I was holding off writing about this until I got further along with my experiments, but things keep getting in the way.

I found John Humphrey’s directions on making a Carpet Bag in Scientific American Supplement #531 (Oct 1886)  and figured ‘how hard can it be?’  Originally published in the Amateur Work magazine,  Humphrey’s directions are targeted to handworkers, as the first thing he describes is how to make the tools you will need, the awls and clams. (Clams, a sort of wooden spring/vice, are still used in hand leatherwork, and there are some good videos of them in use.)   

Original article extracted
Transcribed and Printable

I pulled down every image of real carpet bags, and I was surprised to find most of the ‘carpet’ used was the more inexpensive and common hooked rug and not just worn out orientals.  I was also surprised to find that the handles are put on after the lining – not just for the added strength, but for ease of replacement, no sense ruining the lining just to reattach handles.
The inner lining is just any sort of replaceable ticking fabric, with no inner pockets, they were just a void.

The bottoms can be leather or carpet, reinforced with heavy card or wood and should have feet for protection. In fact, Eliza Leslie advises women to only put WHITE fabrics in a carpet bag in case it gets wet. (1834) Eliza Leslie The Behavior Book “In a carpet-bag pack nothing but white articles, or such as can be washed, and will not be spoiled by the bag chancing to get wet. Have your name engraved on the lock of your carpet-bag, and also on the brass plate of your trunks. Besides this, write your full direction on several cards, make a small hole in each, and running a string through the hole, tie a card to the handle of each trunk, and sew one on the side of your carpet-bag—the direction designating the place to which you are going. Your name in full should be painted in white letters on every trunk. This costs but a trifle, and secures the recognition of your baggage when missing. It is also an excellent plan to tie round the handle of each trunk or bag, a bit of ribbon—blue, red, or yellow—all the bits being off the same piece.”

(1840) Eliza Leslie’s. The House Book: Or, A Manual of Domestic Economy, “Carpet Bags. The best carpet bags are those that are made with large gores at the sides as they hold much more than when of two straight pieces only It is well to have the owner’s name engraved on the lock. Articles of dress that cannot be compressed into a small compass should not be put into a lady’s carpet bag which should hold the flannel linen stockings night clothes shawl shoes etc that she may be likely to want during her journey those that she will require the first night to be placed at the top where also she should have a bag containing her comb hair brush etc. For want of a bag these things may be pinned up tightly in a towel and she may do the same with her shoes if she has no shoe bag.

(1851)  Across the Atlantic by John Delaware Lewis “The utility of the carpet-bag to the traveller, has been much commented upon, and has furnished the subject of many amusing books and jokes. Standing open, up to the very moment of departure, it constitutes a never-failing receptacle for such small articles, as may have been omitted in the packing of the heavier baggage. Instead of unlocking a box, or unstrapping a portmanteau, for the dignified admission of an odd boot or a stray brush, we unceremoniously kick or plunge the offender into our carpet bag, which, in reference to what it is sometimes made to contain, may be compared to the boa-constrictor on the eve of swallowing a whole horse or buffalo.”

(1864)  Ten days in the Army of the Potomac : being an account of my adventures in the field during the campaign of July 1863 by Carlos Carvallo “Here it was that I first experienced the pleasure of traveling with a Carpet Bag. Not knowing how long my important services might be required, and expecting to be comfortably stationed at Frederick City for at least a month, I had provided myself with complete toilet, which had stretched my valise to the size of an elephant’s stomach. I mounted it upon my back, and after a quarter of a mile’s walk I had all the skin rubbed off. I then placed it upon my head, but the weight almost drove my caput into the thoracic cavity ; I therefore carried it in my hand — continually exchanging sides — until my hands were blistered and swollen and my arms subluxated. I was in quasi-desperation; nobody volunteered to assist me, until we tried to manage it by hanging the infernal bag to a stick, held horizontally at the extremities by Dr. Holly and myself, but for the service received I was compelled to take in my free hand his other carpet bag, as also in order to sustain the equilibrium of my body. Finally we got to the bridge across Monococy River, where I met a large number of Contrabands; one I bribed, under promise of a good compensation, to carry my monster of a carpet bag as far as Frederick Junction.— Jonah, when he escaped from the jaws of the whale, did not feel so relieved as I when delivered from this source of eternal molestation in my voyage.” Transcribed for readability –> PDF

I am running some experiments before I actually buy a carpet to cut up. Upholstery fabric is much too soft, I want my bag to stand up when opened, so one of my experiments is to add a layer of stiffened burlap.  My draft version is also using handles and fasteners taken off thrift pocket books, which I do not advise. Even bonded leather doesn’t like being reused and resewn, but since my experiment involves a thrifted throw pillow and the cover from a photo album, I’m going with it for now.  

The 15″ gatemouth frame from ebay arrived in the mail to nag me, so I need to finish my experiment on the 12″ pillow size. The other findings and fasteners will also be from ebay.  I did find some ‘feet’ at the hardware store – dome furniture gliders. I do have my eye on a carpet at an antique shop, but that’s going to have to wait until I feel confident enough to cut it up.  


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