what's in your toolbox

what’s in your toolbox: alice saunders of forestbound

by Ginny

Here at Design*Sponge we jump at the chance to feature young, independent designers. Alice Saunders is the genius designer behind ForestBound, a unique line of accessories made out of upcycled, recycled, and salvaged materials. Alice spends a healthy amount of time sourcing antique, WWII military fabrics coupled with unexpected textiles such as vintage tents, backpacks, and grainsacks. She is quite the trailblazer on Etsy; her wares sell out almost as quickly as they are uploaded into her shop! Oh, and she moonlights as an organic farmer, in her “spare time”. She truly epitomizes ethical and sustainable American design. Alright y’all, give Alice a big, warm internet welcome!

1. Design*Sponge : What is in your toolbox?

Alice Saunders: So many things! Most importantly are my sewing machines… 3 industrials that I use pretty much all day long. The first machine I got, an Adler from the 1970’s, is one of my most cherished possessions.

I incorporate a good amount of leather into the work that I do so I’m also constantly using an array of leather working tools – rivet press, leather punch, various mallets, bevellers, skivers, etc. At a flea market a few months ago I came across a WWII era grommet setter with a few bags of military issue metal grommets. Since I use so much WWII era canvas in my work being able to incorporate bits of original hardware using the equipment that was originally used 60 years ago is a great feeling. I spend a huge amount of time assessing my materials in their original form and then taking them apart. Most of the canvas I work with originally comes as WWII era (or older) military duffel bags, cots, tents, etc. I’ve also started using a lot of grain sacks and feed bags that are 50+ years old. This means I need to take apart lots and lots of hems. I always use a very sharp knife for this part of the process.

I’m never without one of 3 knives – a Leatherman that I originally gave to my boyfriend as a Christmas present a few years ago but have sneakily claimed as my own, a camp knife from the 1950’s with a stacked leather handle, or a Carl Schlieper eye brand knife. And of course there’s fabric – I never have enough space for all of the fabric that I seem to accumulate. I spend a lot of time searching for and carefully collecting all the material that I use for my bags. These days it’s mostly military duffel bags, antique ticking fabric, grain sacks, old Boyscout packs, WWII era tents and cots.

2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank,”When I am in my studio I feel…”

CLICK HERE for the rest of Alice’s interview (her tips for staying organized + what superhero power she’d want!) after the jump!

3. Design*Sponge: What are on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?

Alice Saunders: I’m always inspired by the Japanese magazine Free & Easy, by the photographs of Jonathan Levitt (www.jonathanlevitt.com), and by old military photographs that I come across at flea markets. As far as blogs go I’ve been real into these few lately – http://www.thewilliambrownproject.com/ http://sanforized.blogspot.com/ http://theworldthatsummer.wordpress.com/ http://www.anambitiousprojectcollapsing.com/

4. Design*Sponge: How do you keep yourself organized? Time management is often one of the biggest obstacles for creative minds. Do you have an agenda book and do you make “to-do lists?”

Alice Saunders: When it comes down to it – I’m a pretty unorganized person. I’ve tried agenda books and to-do lists… But I always end up losing them or starting a list that never gets finished. I mostly just have an elaborate, ever changing list in my head (which works surprisingly well!). For the most part I just possess an incredibly strict and rigorous work ethic. I’ve found when I’m working really, really hard all of the time I’m able to get things done in a timely manner and then move on to the next task pretty seamlessly.

5. Design*Sponge: If you could have one superhero(or magical) power, what would it be and why?

Alice Saunders: I’d love to be able to teleport so I could visit my best friend, francesca of the snail and the cyclops, on the other side of the country whenever I’d like!

6. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks? What tools do you use to keep your creativity flowing?

Alice Saunders: You know… I don’t think I really experience creative blocks all that often. When I’m not in my studio sewing away I’m usually out searching for new materials to work with. Uncovering a beautiful piece of fabric or leather from many years ago has proved to be by far the most inspiring thing for me. And since I usually experience this on a weekly basis I’m able to keep the new ideas and the creativity following regularly!

7. Design*Sponge: In addition to being an organic farmer and designer, what would you like to conquer next?

Alice Saunders: So much! But right now I’m determined to get myself a cabin in the woods of Vermont or Western Massachusetts. If I don’t come across the perfect old hunting camp I may purchase a bit of land and build something of my own. Nothing too fancy.. just a little place I can escape to.

8. Design*Sponge: Where do you like to shop for inspiration?

Alice Saunders: Going to the flea market every weekend is probably my all-time favorite thing to do. There are a few in New England that I visit on a consistent basis… but there’s one that I hold very dear to my heart. It takes place on Sundays in Davisville, NH and it will forever be the best in my mind since it was the first place I started searching for treasures. Here in Massachusetts I really like Bobby’s from Boston and when I’m in New York I always stop by Stock Vintage for some inspiration.

9. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the studio/toolbox of any designer/artist/craftsman, who would it be, and why?

Alice Saunders: I have a lot of admiration and respect for Jason Gregory of Makr Carry Goods (http:// www.makr.com/). He works on beautiful machines and his craftsmanship is impeccable.

10. Design*Sponge: If you could create your ultimate mix-tape, who would you choose?

Alice Saunders: Inspiration mix-tape: I pretty much have these few artists on constant repeat – Bill Callahan, Dum Dum Girls, Leadbelly, Grouper, The Carter Family.

11. Design*Sponge: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? What is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young, aspiring designers?

Alice Saunders: That’s a real tough question — but I have to say that I don’t think it was necessarily a piece of advice, but rather an example I was shown by my Dad over the past 25 years of my life. Not only does he have the most intense work ethic of anyone that I know.. but he puts so much passion into every single bit of work that he does. Growing up with him as my role model has most definitely made me value hard work and the places that you can get yourself to with the right determination.

The best advice that I could give to someone else would simply be to have confidence in your work and stay true to your own ideas

*here are some alice saunders-inspired tools:

vintage bundle of ticking fabric, $10

vintage adler sewing machine, $250

leather hardware, prices vary

Carl Schlieper eye brand knife, $59.97

Best Made camp axe, $220

**for more glimpses into alice’s studio, click here for a video tour, courtesy of Etsy! For more places to purchase ForestBound, click here!

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  • I love this feature – it’s so great to know how different creative people work! Also, North America is way too big and I also would like to be able to teleport.

  • I love this girl so much! Soo happy to see her on Design*Sponge.
    I can tell you first hand how hard she works to make sure her bags are special. From tagging along with her at the flea market to spending the afternoon with her sewing… I can’t wait to see what else she’s going to come up with next.

  • I really like this series of posts! They are so informative and inspiring. Now, if I were only artistic…

  • She’s wonderful! Her work has that special something and really does fly off the shelf. Knowing Alice has felt like finding a kindred spirit. Really inspiring and I’m so happy to call her my friend.

  • Oh my! I love her bags. If I had the money, I would’ve bought one today!
    Lovely feature–and I really love the bits of knowledge about the creator.

  • i’ve been such a fan of hers for a while now, her bags are total perfection. you can tell how much work must go into collecting the materials and using them to create such beauties! her aesthetic is so unique and yet it fits in perfectly with so many others.

  • I’ve been coveting a nice grommet press for quite some time now. I just need to make the plunge.

    Beautiful work , I absolutely love it!

  • her bags are definitely awesome but is anyone else lusting over her “bangle” tattoos?

    wonderful, inspiring post!

  • I must tell you. I’ve been checking in SPECIFICALLY to read these “What’s in your tool box” features. They are wonderful. Thank you!

  • Thanks d*s for bringing to my attention this talented artist. Am saving pennies now for one of her bags. I went through pages of her sold items on etsy, oohing and aahing.

  • This girl’s the tops!! She really is the coolest and her bags, pouches, and necklaces are my very, very favorite! I already own three bags and a necklace and I’m excited to make my collection grow in the future! She’s so talented and creative and unique and oh dear, I love her bags more than anything! xx

  • What a great interview! Thanks so much for this insight on a truly unique individual and her work. I’ve been influenced by contemporary Japanese craft too, and I’m excited to see that it’s slowly making its way to the states. It’s so interesting to see another take on the aesthetic.

  • I agree – great interview. I’ve been following Forestbounds blog for a while now. I’ve been wondering what kind of equipment she uses to make her wonderful bags with. I love the behind the scenes and what’s in your tool box stuff anyway. But this is really great. Can’t wait to buy one of her bags one day. Thanks for sharing!!

  • love glimpsing her studio, workspace, and products. it all adds up to a very cohesive creative voice. this column is very inspiring! keep the interviews comin’!

  • how rare to find this sort of handmade,classic, timeless and yet still artistic work among the ever going faddish crap on etsy.I want all of them.

  • I would like to get in touch with Alice Saunder regarding a collaboration opportunity – can you supply her contact information?