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Knitter's Studio


This issue we turn our attention to bags. Surely there are bags for all seasons, but fall, with the start of school and larger knitting projects inspired by cooler weather, is surely the time for a new bag -- be it a little purse, a totebag, or a backpack.

Bags are really fun to make, because you can hardly go wrong. They are a great place to experiment, they don't have to fit, it's okay to have lots of them and they make great gifts.

Super Easy Bag


A tube of knitted fabric of some dimesion that says "bag" to you. It can be a sawed-off sweater, adult size for a tote, baby size for a purse, or, as I used here, a cowl neck that threatened to eat me whole [right]. You'll also need handles, a needle and thread and the embellishments of your choice.


As luck would have it, this turtleneck was apparently knitted top down and then crocheted on to the finished sweater neckline, so the surgery was easy. It was easy to cut loose, and left me with live stitches on the narrower end of the neck. But every sweater is different. You may have to resort to scissors. If your sweater tube was knit in the round, it will be easy to unravel it to live stitches after you hack it off at the armholes. Then, bind off, or, if you like, knit on a border with some jazzy yarn. If your sweater is wool and you wish to felt it, then knit your novelty yarn along with some pure wool so it will felt too.

Close the bottom of the bag. With live stitches at the bottom, you can divide the stitches between two needles and, working from the wrong side of the bag, use the three-needle bind off to close it up. If you want to close the bag on the opposite end, simply sew it shut from the wrong side, either seaming it in a knitterly fashion or sewing it seamstress style.

Note that this bag is floppy. A felted bag using the same technique would be a bit less so. A bag with real structure needs to be stiffened or lined.

The other issue is handles. Many knitted bags have some variation on the knitted i-cord handle. These are fine, but they do tend to stretch over time. Linen stitch (and its variants) creates a nice, flat strap that is rugged and won't stretch. Try it in a multicolored yarn to really add something to an otherwise bland bag.

Linen Stitch (for an odd number of stitches)
Row 1: k1, *slip 1 wyif, k1*
Row 2: slip 1 wyib, *p1, slip 1 wyib*

Truth be told though, I almost always prefer a non-knitted handle. Again, the thriftstore is a great place to look for handles of all kinds at reasonable prices. Craft stores, fabric stores and many yarn stores carry a nice selection of handles too. Often, a great handle can really inspire you to create a great bag so you might want to put the cart before the horse and get your handle first. And remember a handle doesn't have to start its life as a handle! A belt makes a great strap for a shoulder bag. A series of broken watches buckled together also makes a great strap.

If you look at the finished the green bag [right], you'll notice that it has great shape and nice bamboo handles that really set it off. How did that happen? The knitted purse is simply slipped over a straw bag and tacked in place. All the lining and handle attaching is instantly resolved. Knitting is stretchy, so you may be surprised what you can make your bag fit. Take it with you to the store and try it on for size.

Another option: Take a cereal box that fits your knitted overcoat. Cut off one side, then cut down the four seams. Glue your lining fabric to the inside of the box, leaving at least an inch of excess on what will be the top edges. Fold the box back up and secure the seams with heavy duty tape. Fold over the top edges so they meet the top of the knitted purse, leaving at least a quarter inch of doubled fabric to sew the lining to the purse. Sew the lining to the purse and add the handles of your choice.

Adorn it with buttons, knitted flowers, embroidery or whatever inspires you. My easy flowers were simply circles cut from a felted sweater, and then tightly zigzagged in contrasting thread to create the lettuce edge. Vintage buttons add a final touch. And a hint: don't attach your adornments more permanently than you need to. My flowers are safety pinned on so I can swap them out when my mood shifts of the seasons change.

Patchwork felted tote

An assortment of old wool sweaters, scarves, mittens, swatches, etc.
Sewing machine
Lining fabric, if desired
Plastic canvas or heavyweight fusible interfacing
Washing machine repairman
(or zippered pillowcase)


Go to the thriftstore on a sale day and pick up a bag of wool sweaters. Not all sweaters will felt, not even all wool ones. The sweaters should be at least 90% wool, and generally, the more dire the directions on the care tag, the better luck you'll have. Note that things knit in garter stitch like scarves will felt harder than stockinette stitch and make great choices for the bottoms of bags or handles.

Take your bounty home and throw it in the washing machine. No. Wait. Don't! I joke that this is my $250 bag -- that's how much it cost to get the repairman out to install a new pump in my washing machine. Always put anything you are going to felt inside a zippered pillowcase or lingerie bag. Hot water, lots of agitation. A bit of soap. You may need to run it through the agitation cycle several times depending on your machine.

When your little circus of tiny mis-shapen sweaters have dried, think about what shape you'd like your bag to be. You can do a very quilterly ninepatch, a series of strips, or just sew pieces together as the spirit moves you. Once you've created some pieces of fabric, cut out 2 large sides, 2 small sides and a bottom.

Once you've laid out and cut your patchwork pieces (allowing for 1/2 inch seam allowances on the sides of all pieces), sew the components of each side together on the sewing machine. Your seams can be on the inside for a more tailored effect, or showing on the outside if you want that deconstructed look. With felt, you can trim the seam allowances quite close to the seam. Nothing will ravel. Before the bag is fully assembled, add pockets and handles.

The larger the bag is, the more necessary reinforcement is. Add reinforcement before you sew the sides together. You can cut plastic canvas to the size of each piece (or at least the two larger sides and the bottom) and whip stitch it to the felt, or, you can buy heavyweight fusible interfacing. With the aid of an iron, you can sandwich your felt, the interfacing and the lining fabric together in one step. This is great leap forward in the world of bag lining, trust me!

Sew the two larger sides to the bottom of the bag, then sew the smaller side panels in place.

For this issue's final project, I've called in some help. Diana Hammons has been creating one of a kind coats from recycled sweaters for several years at Mosaic Fashions. After seeing her work, I challenged her to come up with a bag pattern. The result: a backpack created from a second-hand sweater, a pair of suspenders, and other thriftstore finds.

Diana used a man's raglan V-neck fairisle sweater (which should be at least 90% wool), a silk blouse for the lining and an ultrasuede skirt for the detailing.


Prewash the clothing (not the sweater).

Carefully detach the sleeves from the sweater body, by clipping the yarn at the shoulder and opening the seams. The body will still be attached at the sides.

Use the bottom of the V-neck as your guide to cutting the front of the backpack. Cut evenly across the front of the sweater a few rows below the bottom of the V. Rip back a couple of rows and then bind off loosely with waste yarn from the sweater or a similar weight wool. (Obviously, you could use a sweater with a different neckline, and just cut 6 or 7 inches below the shoulder.)

Turning your attention to the back of the sweater, remove the label and unknit the tips of the raglan until you have an even row. Bind off with waste yarn. The back will now be 6 to 8 inches longer than the front.

Join the raglan edges of both sides of the sweater from the armhole up to the edge of the front using mattress stitch.

Turn the sweater inside out and machine sew, with a long basting stitch, the lower cuff edges of the front and back together, leaving a 1" seam allowance. To minimize distortion of the seam, Diana suggests that you put your finger behind the presser foot to bunch up the fabric a bit. This helps avoid stretching the seam too much.

Add some depth to the backpack by creating a purse bottom. With the backpack still wrong side out, flatten the seam and pull it out on each side creating a triangle on each side. Measure from the tip of the triangle in about 3" and seam across the base of the triangle. Repeat on the other side.

Wash the sweater on hot with a cold water rinse. (If you haven't felted before, use the sleeves for practice!) You want to create a fabric in which the stitches are no longer distinguishable, but the fabric still has some drape. Do not overfelt the sweater, as something too stiff won't look as good. Washing machines vary. You may need to run the sweater through more than one cycle.

Once the sweater has dried, finish the flap by cutting a piece of ultra suede a couple of inches larger than the flap. With right sides together, sew around the flap starting where it connects to the rest of the bag, across the bottom of the flap and up the opposite side. Trim the seam allowances, turn right side out and top stitch on the three sides of the flap. Leave the open edge of the ultra suede long enough to cover with the lining fabric.

If you wish, make and attach exterior pockets for your phone, sunglasses and etceteras. Use spare sweater fabric from sleeves and line them or decorate them as desired.

Attach the suspenders. Remove the leather button flaps. Place the two adjustable straps attach at the bottom back of the backpack near the side seams. The remaining suspender strap is cnetered at the bottom of the flap to act as a closure.

Slip a D-ring into the flap on the suspender that used to hold the button down strip. Attach a clasp to the front of the bag to secure the D-ring when the backpack is closed.

To line the backpack, lay it on the lining fabric (a double layer) and cut out a piece that is at least 1" larger than the backpack in all directions and a couple of inches larger at the top. (Better safe than sorry!). Stitch the seams and insert the lining into the backpack with wrong sides together. Fold the excess fabric down at the top and then topstitch it in place.

Some links to some great bags made from recycled products:



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