South Bend Tribune

December 8, 2002

Bag Lady? You Bet!

Niles resident sews up new career making one-of-a-kind purses


Tribune Staff Writer

NILES -- After a 17-year career in aviation, Ruth Ice is flying solo with a brand new bag.

The bag in question is a "bracelet purse,'' a dainty, stylish little handbag about the size of a wallet with bracelet handles that you wear on your arm.

What began on a whim has developed into a small business -- "Pinky's Purses" -- that's growing by word of mouth.

"It's fun; it gets to my creative side,'' Ice, former owner of a pottery shop, says. "They're little works of art and good for someone who wants a conversation piece.''

The timing was right for such a venture: Ice, a U.S. Airways employee for 17 years, was furloughed as part of the post-Sept. 11 airline cutbacks last year.
While visiting Los Angeles in August, Ice spotted a woman sporting a tiny bag tied around her wrist. Cautious about carrying a heavy handbag since surgery for a ruptured disk nearly a decade ago, Ice was intrigued.

"After I came home, I said 'I think I'll make one of those.' ''

That first effort, made of leopard-print fabric and wood handles, was similar to the ''club'' or "party purses'' that are trendy in larger cities. Ice's bag, containing just enough room for keys and a lipstick, attracted quite a bit of interest. Among those responding positively were college students who didn't want to lug purses to class and social events and garage sale shoppers who wanted their hands free while hunting for bargains.

"Everyone wanted me to make them one. It grew from there,'' Icesays.

Judging from the assortment of bags displayed on Ice's kitchen table, her imagination has increased, too. The display illustrates her interest in materials that catch your eye: zebra prints, luxurious tapestries, chunky wooden and thin, slinky silver bracelets.

Ice scours resale shops, antique shops as well as such stores as Marshall Field's and Claire's Boutiques for the bracelets that add a special finishing touch to each bag.

The handbags' one-of-a-kind feel is part of their appeal, says Julie Godfrey, store employee at Inspire Me! the apparel/gift shop in downtown South Bend where Ice's bags, priced at $20 to $25, are sold.

"There's no one bag that's the same. Every single one is a little bit different from the next,'' Godfrey says.

Ice, whose mother and grandmother were sewers, has learned a lot since her first efforts. She's picked up tips and suggestions from friends and family. Other useful advice came from sewing shop employees and the woman who sold her the used serger that simplifies the sewing process.

"I know the basics. If the passion is there, you educate yourself. Your drive to learn surpasses your ignorance.''

Ruth Ice

Ice sews one of the bracelet purses that she began making a few months ago.

Ruth's Purses

These bracelet purses, with just enough room for lipstick and keys, were made by Niles resident Ruth Ice.

Modeling a Purse

Ruth Ice models a holiday-inspired bracelet purse that's part of the collection she makes and sells locally.

Tribune Photos/ERIN LANTRIP

Pinky's Purses

Available at Inspire Me! at 528 E. Colfax Ave., South Bend, and by calling (269) 695-7616.

That drive recently took Ice to her first craft bazaar and has inspired her to think in new directions: She's added rhinestone and other sparkly touches for holiday bags, and she's mulling over the possibility of adding Velcro to allow you to clip on your favorite bracelet.

But even as she thinks of the possibility of bigger and grander things, Ice appreciates the simple appeal of making the handbags one at a time in her basement work space.

"It's something I enjoy. I love matching the perfect handle to the perfect fabric,'' she says. "Am I going to get rich on this? No. But I'm enjoying myself, and as long as they continue to sell, I'm happy.''

Staff writer Alesia I. Redding:

(574) 235-6244

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