It was Alan Bennett who said “A book is a device to ignite the imagination.”
And that’s certainly what happened to Huddersfield town centre trader Karen Tyas. In a charity shop she spied a handbag made from a faux ‘50s magazine. Except it wasn’t.
“It looked like a book but it wasn’t really a book,” she explains. “I thought I could do a better job so I had a go at making real books into bags. The idea just came to me.”
A year later she has a client base of several delighted customers. And her book/bags represent some of the biggest titles by some of the biggest authors: Bram Stoker’s arch vampire Dracula rubs shoulders with JK Rowling’s boy wizard Harry Potter, and Sherlock Holmes faces off with rival sleuth Hercule Poirot.
And with a starting price of £95 they’re flying off the shelves.
Karen, 46, who runs The Frameworks in Huddersfield’s Queensgate Market, began scouring charity and antique shops for books that might suit her purpose. The main element was that they should be hardcovers.
To transform a book into a bag she first cuts out the middle of the book by removing the pages. The spine of the book forms the bottom of the bag and a lining, like a pouch, is created inside. Two handles complete the look.
“The first time I took a knife to a book I felt bad,” she laughs. “I felt that I was doing something that I shouldn’t be doing. But actually I feel that I’m giving these old books a new lease of life.”
Working in the evenings at her kitchen table, it takes Karen about a week to make one of her book/bags. The handmade nature of her toils is reflected in the cost – her books start at £95 and can go up to £150.
“I do this as a hobby. My day job is picture framing,” she said. “A lot of hours go into each bag. Some of the books are leather-bound, so they can be quite expensive.
“People have started asking me to make a bag from their favourite book. I’ve done a couple of Draculas, Harry Potter has been quite popular, Murder on the Orient Express, Les Miserables... Sherlock Holmes makes for a big bag as well. I’d like to do a nice Frankenstein.
“I put the first Dracula book up on my Literarti Facebook page and it was snapped up right away. Now people are asking me to transform their favourite books. I use an old 1950s sewing machine that belonged to my fiancé Jason Batley’s late grandma. Her name was Madge Claxton. She also enjoyed sewing so it’s continuing a family tradition.”
Karen, who lives in Whitley near Dewsbury, isn’t about to give up the day job just yet. But who knows what the future holds?
“At the moment it’s just me doing it on my own. When I started the Facebook page I found that I got messages from people asking for specific bags. More than half the bags I’ve sold have been for people that have asked for something special. And every bag is different. If I can find a way of making it work then I’d like to do it full-time.”