Jul 21, 2011
Litchfield's Britta Bell Crafts Purses Out of Antique Books
I sat with Britta Bell on the front porch of her beautiful Litchfield home, watching a summer rainstorm as we discussed the success of her business, Bbell Designs, where she crafts trendy purses out of discarded vintage books.
She finds the materials for her creations at antique shops and craft fairs like The Elephant’s Trunk in New Milford. She’s made around 300 different styles so far, each one a one of a kind creation. She uses out of print antique books, and her personal favorites are always those made from Victorian love stories. She keeps the insides of those for herself to read. She admits with a smile, "I flip to the back page and if I don’t find something like 'he clutched her to him and kissed her' I don’t keep it."
This unusual path began when Britta had to leave college, where she studied creative writing, for financial reasons last fall. Britta was forced to experience any 20 year old’s nightmare—returning home to live with her parents. But it turned out not to be such a nightmare when Britta was inspired by a book purse her mother had made for her for Christmas. Britta tried her hand at creating her own purses from antique books, even though, at that point, she had no experience with a sewing machine. She admitted, “It took about 50 tries to get it right, I learned to sew on these purses.” From the success of the purses, Britta was able to quit her job at the Torrington Library and make purses full time.
She recycles the discarded book pages and finishes each piece with antique earrings for clasps and vintage necklaces as chains. Popular titles used in her altered purses include A Little Princess and The Good Housekeeping Cookbook. Britta also takes requests for custom designs, allowing the customer to choose or provide their favorite book and pick the other materials. Prices range from $99.99 for smaller bags to $149.99 for larger shoulder bags.
Britta loves the history behind the books she finds. Unlike newer book covers, manufactured to save money, these old books, “were crafted by people who had an eye for art and taste.” Britta also says her customers have a certain eye for taste. She designs something one of a kind for a one of a kind girl, and her business is a really personal one, as customers usually have a real connection to the titles they choose. She’s giving these beloved books a second life, and gives book lovers a new and different way to appreciate their favorite stories.
So what’s next for the young and talented artist? She’s now working on antique photo album purses and wallets made from smaller books. With her new found passion for fashion design, she’s applying to Savannah College of Art and Design for the spring of next year. She says, “At this point, I’m really okay with seeing where this takes me. This part year has taught me to expect the unexpected. I just go with it, and hope to make a few purses in the mean time.”
Want a BBell creation of your own? Visit her etsy page, stop by The Workshop in Litchfield, R.J. Julia in Madison or her space at The Elephant’s Trunk. She’ll also be exhibiting at the Litchfield Jazz Festival as well as Meet the Artists and Artisans shows.