The Handmade’s Tale: Estelle of Brighton

Welcome to part four of our Handmade’s Tale feature which celebrates crafty and creative women. This week Natasha chats to Estelle Pemberton aka Estelle of Brighton.

Napier-based artist and maker Estelle Pemberton has long been a voracious reader of classic literature, as her own library of well-thumbed Penguin classics will attest.

As well as being an avid bibliophile, the 46-year-old takes creative inspiration from her vintage paperbacks and reimagines her literary masterpieces– in the form of reproduction novelty bags.

Estelle Pemberton aka Estelle of Brighton.



“When you look at bag history in the 20th century, there have been many periods where the novelty bag has been popular”, she says.

“I was thinking about a bag that Schiaparelli designed in the 1930s that looked like a newspaper and this inspired me to create a handbag which resembled a magazine.”

The result was an artfully rendered copy of the famous 1950 Jean Patchett Vogue magazine cover. It was such a hit that it sparked an entire series of magazine style clutch purses- including a limited edition piece featuring the visage of New Zealand’s own country star Tami Neilson!

Whether it’s a bespoke bag modeled after Anais Nin’s celebrated erotica collection Little Birds or a rendition of jazz-age classic The Great Gatsby,  or even a coin purse fashioned to resemble a par avion letter, Estelle of Brighton’s pieces are bound to become conversation pieces and collector’s items in their own right.

Read on to learn more about this clever lady and her creative inspirations.

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How did you first get interested in making bags?

I studied fine art sculpture in the United Kingdom. During this time I was using metal and ceramics. After I graduated, I immediately started making bags, it kind of came from a compelling need to create, to make money and also from having seeing this painting, The Cadet and His Sister by Paula Rego.


Her paintings are heavily symbolic, the bag being so much more than it was… so the idea of the clasp purse and what it could be (and how to construct them) was the challenge I needed.

Novel idea: Some of Estelle of Brighton’s literary inspired creations.

How would you describe your particular aesthetic?

Vintage but in its own time, colourful but quiet.


How did you come to be making your range of purses and pocketbooks?

For a few years I worked for a lighting design firm in Auckland, I specialised in making stretch lampshades.

I worked with linen a lot and I kind of fell in love with it. From there I found how well it dyed and how it looked with embroidery.

This was combined with my love of pop artists like Claes Oldenburg and it developed from there.


Tell me about the process involved in making your bags?

I usually have ideas whirling around my head for a few months or sometimes year. The perfume bottle bag being one example!

I always sketch out ideas and then first of all make a mock up in paper, so I can get the proportions right, then I make one in calico to make sure it’s going to fit in the frame.

I use a lot of techniques from my lampshade-making time too.


What materials do you use? And how long does each piece take to make?

I use mixture of linen, Harris Tweed, Liberty florals, leather and suede.

Some bags take days to make and others are quicker – I will make about 20 in one go and that production line method speeds things up!



What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Lots of things. The moment I come across the last bit of inspiration that makes an idea pop up in my brain for a bag design.

When I’m having a productive day, the moment a bag is finished and it’s perfect…And definitely when a bag finds its owner and they adore it!



How has your technique evolved over time?

When I started making bags back in November 1994, I had all the ideas but really no knowledge of how to make them.

There was no YouTube or Google to help me out, so I was really hindered but over time I got better.


Then 10 years ago I started attending a pattern drafting course. There I learnt how to make the shapes I wanted, and the correct order of making.

In the last few years I have stripped away some of the more ‘crafty’ aspect of how my bags had looked.


Any plans to branch out into other areas/ products besides bags?

I’d like to do some soft furnishings, I still love making lampshades too. I think about getting into illustration as I think the way I use appliqué and embroidery would translate well.


What are your creative inspirations?

I  get inspired from the world around me, objects in my home, paintings, fabrics I find, I stay away from looking at what other people are making as I don’t want to imitate, however there are some bag designers I love.

In the 1930s called a label called Marie of France, made amazing novelty bags – champagne buckets, cocktail bars, telephones…

She had been a total inspiration for many designers and in fact some of their bags are complete copies of hers and other 1930s novelty bags.


Have you always been a vintage lover/ collector?

Yes from a very young age, my mother was and is a collector of vintage clothing. We would go to jumble sales and find beautiful 30s and 40s clothes.

I still have a beautiful and unique Art Deco clutch bag and gown that I bought when I was about 11!

When I visited England last year we went vintage shopping… and she said “let’s find vintage Biba”… and we did – an iconic sequinned chevron waistcoat from the 60s… she has a sixth sense!!


Were you always crafty/ creative as a youngster?

I was forever cutting, snipping and sewing. My mum taught me to sew on an old fashioned treadle machine to make dolls clothes, and the nuns at my convent school taught me to embroider. I can still remember the embroidering a felt owl cushion!

I had a dolls’ house and I was always making furniture out of anything I could find… as I said earlier I’ve always had a compulsive need to create!


Do you have a favourite piece you’ve created?

That’s tricky! I think it’s the Vogue bag… and the popcorn bag! Hard to choose, I love the popcorn bag, there’s no frame so technically, making it to hold its shape was the hard part.


What are you working on at the moment?

I’m starting to work on a bag design for a magazine… it’s a little hush hush and I can’t say what it is but it’s going to be a fun project!


Where can people learn more about your work and purchase their own pieces?

I make to order and do occasional markets and sell through an amazing store in Napier called The Department Of Curiosities & Fine Things.


The best way to contact me is through my Facebook or Instagram pages.

So, what do you think of Estelle’s handmade creations? Which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments.





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