How I Made My Dazzle Bag

So for the past six weeks I have been working on this:

[image bag]Wakulla dazzle camouflage tote bag

What is this crazy bag you say? It is a dazzle camouflage bag. It is not something you need [as it is primarily an art object.] It is something, however, that you may WANT. Well, it just so happens I’ll be selling this bag and two other designs starting next week. Watch this space for more info.

Right now I’d like to show you how I made this bag.

I started by being a major, unapologetic, lifelong nerd. I have loved history and esoteric corners of design since I was a kid. I remember handing in a book report on the sinking of the Bismarck (a World War II battleship) when I was nine years old. I remember a teacher trying to correct one of my words. That word was “alas.” As in “Alas, with her steering gear disabled, the Bismarck’s fate was sealed.” Or “Alas, my naval history bonafides did me no favors on the playground or later, on OkCupid.”

Back to the bag. Six weeks ago I had a crazy idea. What if I made things and sold them? My first concept—and my main goal—is to make printed leggings. The designs will come from my vast mental catalog of design nerdery. Dazzle camouflage was an obvious starting point for me. I have been fascinated about it since childhood. I have long dreamed of dazzle painting a boat, or a car…why not bags, leggings, other wearables?

So I started by obsessively researching dazzle camouflage. I started with Roy Behren’s Ship Shape and moved on from there. Online I found countless images, paintings, and diagrams. I noticed that most images online are black and white photographs. But I learned from my research that dazzle was often IN COLOR. Fun colors. Pinks, reds, blues, and so on. Very exciting.

I also researched manufacturers…How would I make these things? Turns out a lot of companies will make printed leggings for you: the Zazzles and Redbubbles of the world, as well specialized printer/shippers like Printful and Art of Where. I zeroed in on Printful because they don’t control your pricing (as Zazzle and other marketplaces do), and because they are based in the US and have a slick interface.

I began the process of designing leggings, but quickly realized I was in over my head. I want to both honor the original dazzle patterns and make a flattering garment that women will like. I need to spend (a lot) more time researching and prototyping. So. Enter THE TOTE BAGS. Much easier forms to work with. No concerns about sizing. Vaguely boat-shaped, even.

First I chose a ship: the USS Wakulla. There are two major styles of dazzle, British and American. I tend to prefer the American designs as I find them more whimsical, more geometric, more colorful. I found the Wakulla in Ship Shape and quickly found more images online.


I started designing by sketching little paper mockups.


Then I moved to Illustrator, adapting the paper designs to Printful’s templates.


Then I uploaded the design to Printful and got back a digital mockup. I ordered a real sample.

I went through two samples, making minor adjustments, until I came to the finished bag.

For the most part I have really enjoyed this process. I love the initial concepting, the fussing with Illustrator…but most of all I love getting the sample in the mail. It’s like design dork Christmas. I am very happy with the bags. The colors are vibrant. The designs are eye-catching, striking, inviting. People get excited when I tell them the whole story. I feel good about these bags. I feel good about sharing them with others.

As far as challenges: learning the bag templates was quite the puzzle. Seams are very tricky. It took me several iterations to figure out how to line them up. And even then they will never look perfect, as the bags are made individually, by an actual human person.

Also, I occasionally wonder if anyone will want these things. I struggle with doubt. I wonder if I am capable of being an entrepreneur. It remains to be seen. I have to be content with just making the damn things. Process. The outcome is not the focus, is not the point. I may not sell any of these. But I will learn something through this process, I will be wiser. And I can say: I am a person who makes things. Because here, look at this thing I made.

Alright, I intended for this post to be a short list of steps, but I’ve gone on for a bit now. Stay tuned to this space. I will have very exciting news on Monday.


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