Cardinale Montano Makes Bags From Her Hands — And Heart
By Lisa Green
Cardinale Montano is a maker, a seeker, and proof that if you follow your passion, a path will open up. It might lead you to places you didn’t quite expect to find yourself. But in a good way.
Montano’s journey, which one senses she will always be in the midst of, currently has her creating a line of handmade bags that are slowly but surely seeping out into the consciousness of women in our region and beyond. “Handmade has a different energy about it,” she says, and her customers are no doubt picking up on that energy.
With her company, Lineflax & Roving (the name refers to fibers and textiles), she’s a bona fide entrepreneur now, but she’s always made things. Her mother and grandmother were knitters, and she learned to sew at an early age. She attended a Waldorf school in Spring Valley, New York, which had a strong emphasis on handwork. She made her own clothes, harvested from her garden, created her own face cream.
Born in Hartford, she and her now ex-husband visited friends in the Berkshires, where she found a group of like-minded artisans. They settled in Housatonic, Mass., and she worked as a cook and in management at Baba Louie’s for 20 years. In 2012, when her two sons were older, it was time to exercise her maker muse.
“I totally threw myself off a ledge,” she says. “I didn’t know how long I could sustain it, but I just had to do it.”
She was primarily interested in doing something with linen and wool, but she also considered interior design. She catered. She played around with what she had on hand. When fabric shopping in West Springfield, she picked up a vinyl remnant that caught her eye, and made a “crude” tote bag out of it.
The muse had a good — and principled — eye: After some research, Montano found that the fabric she plucked from the remnants bin was made in the U.S. from GREENGUARD certified vinyl, which complies with strict indoor emissions standards, meeting with her desire to stay ethically strong in everything she does. And it’s perfect for a bag: tough, washable, oil resistant and breathable, not to mention pretty darn good looking.
Along her journey, she says, women have shown up and been supportive and helpful. One offered her work space for a while. Others chipped in financial support. Another helped with her website. Montano refined her first designs, and two summers ago began selling them at the Great Barrington farmers’ market, where they were a hit. One Mercantile in Great Barrington was the first retailer to sell them. A few stores in Hudson will be carrying them soon, and she’s got some possibilities in New York. The bags are also available through the website.
The BOAT bag. Photo courtesy Lineflax & Roving.
Every bag in the line is simple and functional. Her first design, the SHOP bag (each style has a name) was an open tote with an outer pocket, ideal for city to country. Based on feedback from customers, she’s expanded into both larger and smaller styles, ranging from the ETC bag at $28 to the capacious BOAT bag at $325. Thanks to the environmentally sound vinyl, each size is lightweight but stable. Depending on the size of your picnic, there’s a bag here that says Tanglewood all over it.
Up to this point, Montano has singlehandedly crafted each bag in her attic studio lined with antique and just plain old industrial sewing machines (she uses all of them). Demand is increasing, but as successful as she may get, Lineflax & Roving will expand only as much as sound ethics allow. “It’s not only where they’re made,” she says,” but who’s making them, and under what conditions?”
Keeping it local is important, and Montano is bringing in two women who will put together the pockets, zippers and strapping. Then she and her son will finish the pieces together. It’s hand (and heart) intensive, the way she wants it to be.
Reminder to self in the studio.
For Montano, a deeply spiritual person, the bags are a means to making other things happen, one step in her journey. Farther ahead on her path she envisions starting a program to pass on the maker tradition.
“I sense a real hunger for people wanting to make things,” she says. Her program — paid by donation — would bring people to her Garden of Eden-like property for workshops, where she’d coach them in knitting, seeding, cooking — any maker skills they want to learn. She’d like it to happen in the next three years. And if it takes longer, she’s alright with that, too.
“That’s the most challenging thing —to really be patient, be okay with the time it takes,” she says.