Monday, February 10, 2014

Felted Tote

This post has been a LONG time coming. Seriously. About a year ago, shortly after I finished making the Get Well Soon Blanket, I decided I wanted to make and felt a knitted tote bag. I had seen this pattern several times, and I was definitely inspired by it. The pattern suggests that you construct the bag by knitting one long, straight piece and then folding it essentially in half - sewing up the side seams. I wasn't very excited by that approach. Sewing up seams is annoying. Plus, I knew there wouldn't be a "bottom" using this technique. I was going to end up with a bag shaped more like a baggie than like a paper bag. I knew this would also give me the chance to change the shape of the bag. Personally, I prefer totes that are taller than they are wide, in general. The pattern gives instructions to make a bag that has the reverse proportions. I sort of guessed at the width, and then just kept knitting until the length was more than the width. Easy!

I decided to do something a little bit different: I busted out the round knitting needle, which had been busy working on the Blanket, and knit the bag in a circle.
This worked out really well. I knew I'd have to stitch up the bottom still - boooooo - but I knew that would give me a chance to make a bit of a gusset, which would hopefully give it some shape.

This is the body of the bag - the knitting is done. Felting shrinks the size of an object, which is why the body of this tote bag is 26 inches long.

Oh yeah, and its 16 inches wide. On each side.

I turned the bag inside out just so you guys could get an idea of what the inside would look like. Changing colors when making stripes in knitting isn't very difficult, but it can leave a little bit of a mess behind, depending on the stitch pattern. Here, there's a bit of a mess, but its all on the inside of the bag. Score! After I took this photo, I had to "weave in" each of these strands of yarn. I busted out the yarn needle and sewed them into the knit stitches around as securely as I could. This step is often stressful in a knitting project, because there is always a worry that the strands will come out later. But, felting helps prevent that from happening, so I was less worried about making that step perfect here.

As I mentioned above, I was hoping the bag would wind up having the same basic shape as a paper bag, with a flat bottom. So, I used none other than a grocery bag when it was time to make gussets and stitch it up. The paper bag was less helpful than I'd hoped it would be in terms of holding the bag in shape. But, it was nice to have it right near by so that I could copy the shape.
I also had to knit and then sew on the handles. This was a pretty simple step, and once I finished that and had stitched up the bag, I had a product that was ready for felting - the last step!

And, because the picture above is without any reference points, I wanted to include a shot with the tape measure. Because this sucker is monstrous. From the top of the handle to the bottom of the stitched up base, it's 44 inches long. Why yes, that's right, it's 3 feet, eight inches long. Try hanging that on your shoulder. I did, and even though I'm pretty tall, it hung all the way down to my knees. Sweet.

Next up: felting. I went to Mom and Dad's to use the washing machine. I used clear dish detergent to get the suds. The bag is inside of a mesh bag on the right to make sure that no pieces of it get caught on anything. On the left? An old pair of jeans that are simply being used to ensure enough agitation. Felting was pretty cool - I was neat to pull it out every 5-10 minutes and see it shrinking and the fabric taking on a more rigid texture. The only uncool part was the smell. Seriously! A wet sheep in the laundry room - ick.

 So, after felting and a chance to dry, this is what I was left with. I think it looks pretty good. I suppose I should have included the tape measure in this photo, though, because size presents a bit of a problem. The straps shrunk down a little as a result of felting, but not enough. Its a little ironic, because I'm one of those people who always worries the straps of a particular bag are too short. I guess I went overboard trying to make sure the straps were long enough. Oops!

 It was okay, though, because I developed a plan pretty quickly. I figured I could get away with sewing down some of the extra strap length. I knew it wouldn't look perfect, but the other choice was to scrap the entire project. Given the money and time I'd already sunk in, I was going to try every available option before abandoning ship.

I busted out the yarn needle once again and got to sewing. It's not so fun to sew into knit fabric that has already been felted. It had gotten tough, just as I had hoped it would, so sewing into it wasn't very fun. But, again, it wasn't time to quit yet!

This is a side view - it's pretty obvious the fabric is doubled if you know what you're looking at. I had some vain hope that it would all felt together and you wouldn't be able to tell there was more than one layer. That probably would have worked better if the material hadn't already been partly felted...

I did give the bag another shot at felting, though, because I wanted to do everything I could to secure the stitching I did on the straps. It was nice to do this at Mom and Dad's, where you don't have to use quarters to operate the washing machine. And Mom has this awesome drying rack, where the bag could lay flat!
This is what the extra strap length looked like after felting. It wasn't exactly a dream come true, though it was an improvement. The second round of felting was worth it.

With the felting all complete, this is the inside of the bag.

And now, after the knitting and the felting and the sewing and the re-felting, here is the finished product. All that was left was to wrap it up - I gave it as a Christmas gift to Marigold. Yay! It was a fun project, with a little bit of added mystery: you just never quite know what the felting process is going to do. I've got some wool yarn left over, so I expect there will be some other felted project in my future!

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