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Swansea woman creates unique handbags

By Deborah Allard
The Herald News / January 1, 2012
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SWANSEA, Mass.—Fiber artist and designer Emily Myles creates the type of handbags that sell to regular gals and celebrities, alike.

They've sold at both the B.M.C. Durfee High School craft fair and the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Myles said her bags were purchased by Sara Lee and Grace Hightower, wife of Robert De Niro. Author Debbie Macomber bought a bag, and she even used a quote from Myles at the top of chapter four in her novel "The Shop on Blossom Street."

Myles' handbags are as fluffy as they are sturdy. Knitted fibers are strung together to create just the right shade and style, whether it's a pouch to pair with jeans or a signature bag for a bride's wedding day. The straps are strung with stones, some that are semi-precious. The linings are silk. "I started doing them seven years ago on a cruise," Myles said. "I made a bag to go with my dress."

While hoards of people worshipped the sun, Myles lounged in the shade with a duffel bag of yarn. There, she became known as "the bag lady" and sold her first three bags.

"They weren't even glamorous then," Myles quipped. "I was stunned." Since then, she's gone on to design loads of bags and was accepted into the American Craft Council.

"I thought: I'm just a fat little housewife from Swansea. What am I doing here?,'" Myles said. Myles has been knitting since she was 10-years old. She creates all of her own patterns. Storage boxes in her studio contain loads of designs and sample pieces.

Her daughter Rachel, a fashion designer, assisted Myles in starting her own business several years ago. Her bags for a time were hand knit then lined and finished in a factory. Myles has since gotten out of that business and prefers to create her bags in a more personalized way. "Each bag is knit with up to seven fibers," Myles said.

Myles also makes shawls, hats, mittens, neck warmers, and more. Most have a little touch of glitz, as Myles enjoys things that shine. In her home studio which looks like a room in a yarn store are cups of colored pencils, hundreds if not thousands of skeins of yarn, a rainbow of threads, and a sea of embellishments.

"I just love this," Myles said. "It's wonderful to have found a passion late in life."

Myles turned 65 the day after Christmas, though her shining eyes and ready smile defy that age. She has two grown children, Rachel and Teddy, and four grandchildren.

Myles grew up in Long Island. She studied early childhood and minored in design at the University of Maryland. She then studied interior design at the Rhode Island School of Design, and later received a master's degree in infant and toddler preschool needs.

Semi-retired, Myles teaches English for the Sawyer School. She also volunteers for various charities. Besides knitting, Myles also paints in watercolor. Her art quilts are another passion.

"I can put my emotions on fabric," Myles said. "It's therapeutic. It goes to my core."

Her first art quilt started as a way to battle her own despair. It was after her mother passed away from cancer. In the same year, she'd also lost several friends to the disease, two of them dying minutes apart. Myles tore up fabric and "stabbed" it into place. It eventually became a red dragon. For a long time it went unfinished, until one night Myles had a dream that she must complete the quilt.

"It started in anger, but now it's the dragon that will beat cancer," Myles said.

Her work has been shown in various galleries, such as Gallery One in Newport, and others in Connecticut and Long Island.

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