Spotlight: Local woman makes purses out of ties

BY BEN ROSS | MARCH 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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At 66 years young, Sherry Carpenter is living proof that age truly is just a number.

The Coralville native volunteers at her local church and Chatham Oaks, sits on the committee of RAGBRAI, helps plan the parade for the Coralville Fourth of July festival, and found just enough time in her busy schedule to start “Knee Knockers,” a social group for woman who have undergone knee-replacement surgery.

But with all this community service eating up her crammed schedule, how does this married mother of four — with seven grandchildren — spend her precious spare moments? She does what any cool grandmother would do: She makes herself even busier by taking on a new hobby.

Carpenter has helped start a new fashion statement by recycling men’s ties into purses.

From Tabasco sauce and lobster-theme ties to cravats that feature the Iowa Hawkeyes, she turns these often-shunned last-minute gifts for dad into something that women of all ages can use as a part of their favorite ensemble. Carpenter first got the idea to make ties into purses after touring one of the industrial buildings at the Iowa State Fair.

“I happened to see this thing on display,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, someone made a purse out of a tie.’ ”

To date, she has crafted around 40 purses, each one striking and unique. By now, the sewing has become second nature.

“I have been [sewing and knitting] ever since I was a kid,” she said. “I was a 4-H-er way back, and then I had three girls, so I was really sewing a lot when they were young. I always had to have a project.”

Carpenter isn’t the only one in the family who has earned the right to bask in local fame, though. Her husband, Bob, is a retired Johnson County law-enforcement officer who spent 16 years as sheriff. Because his wife is always busy, he jokes, they don’t get to see each other too much, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“She doesn’t sit still a minute,” the former lawman chuckled. “She’s always doing something. She doesn’t have a lot of time for me — she’s either helping the grandkids bake or being active at church, she’s always bopping around.”

Even her kids are enthusiastic about their mother’s unique hobby, although they aren’t surprised she has found something new to keep her busy.

“We love all that she’s doing,” said Rochelle Sowers, her second-oldest daughter. “We got [the tie purses] for Christmas; the kids who are students especially love them.”

The majority of Sherry Carpenter’s ties come from consignment stores or are given to her by friends who want their own fashion accessory. As of now, she isn’t making the purses intending to create a profit, instead giving them as gifts to family and friends. But people are delighted in her work, and if she hears as many good things as she hopes, her purses may become a staple at local art fairs and other events.

“Everyone is so thrilled to get them,” she said. “I’ll just keep going on and see how many I can get made up so people have something to pick from when I do get to sell them. People are so tickled and can’t believe that came from a tie.”

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