Serving up a Sophie Bag in fuchsia for summer. I’ve been using this all summer and loving it. I know summer is "officially" over, but these summer colors will be a bright spot as we head into the the dark days of winter. Oh, wait, we still have autumn!!!
The bag goes from shapeless to shapely
by using a firm plastic bottom (!) which I had custom cut at a local plastic shop for only a couple of dollars which included rounding the corners. They called the material ABS
and you can read all about what it is at their site: Tap Plastics. Hint, lighter colors, like white, make it easier to see into the depths of your purse, so if you are making anything larger than this little bag, I recommend you use white or a light color.
It’s stiffer than a milk carton and you don’t have to sew it in. You just place it in the bottom of the bag.
When you go to launder the bag, you just lift it out. I had the corners rounded at the shop so that there would be no sharp edges to rub and wear against the felting and eventually poke a hole in all my hard work!
Larger than MY Life…
Crocheting is like riding a bike. You never really forget how to do it. You may forget the nuances, how to count the stitches, etc., but it all comes back really quickly. It’s been 30 years since I switched from crochet to knitting and haven’t looked back. In defense of crochet, I learned to do it first and I credit it for teaching me how to keep an even tension in my work and for "teaching" me combination knitting since after crochet, that is what felt most natural to me for the knit stitch (or else I just interpreted the knit stitch incorrectly, but my knitting comes out perfectly, so there you go.) There is a lot to be said for crochet in terms of dropping stitches: there is only one stitch to drop, so no big deal. Great for entry level users of yarn. And, ripping out/back is a LOT easier. And, you can make some cute edges and flowers with it, so all in all, crochet has its benefits.
I am always looking around the web for new ideas for knitted purses when I happened upon Cecily Keim’s "Larger Than Life" Bag on various knitters blogs (Spring 2007 issue of Interweave Crochet). I was distracted, obsessed, and determined to make this bag!! They say it is the bag that will turn knitters into crochet-ers. Possibly.
The tale of my Larger Than Life (LTL) bag begins. First I tried out the seemingly simple block the bag is based on. There’s a reason this bag is so compelling. It looks simple, but the block it is based on, while not overly difficult, is complex enough to make a knitter want to crochet again. It takes me several (OK, 5!) tries to get it right, plus a trip to Sugar Bunny, who has provided an excellent tutorial on the Willow Block (the square used for this bag from 200 Crochet Blocks by Jan Eaton (Interweave Press). There is something to be said for the saying, "a little knowledge is dangerous". Thinking or remembering some of my crochet knowledge caused me to either mis-read the directions or skip them all together!! OK, I finally achieved a block that looked like it was supposed to.
Next issue: Gauge. I had pretty much decided to use Tahki Cotton Classic because of the color choices, although Cascade 220 was in consideration. Cotton Classic won out because of the sheen, the wider range of colors, and the stitch definition. The crochet hook specified produced a loose, floppy block, about 6.5 inches square. So, I started ratcheting down hook sizes until I was happy with the result: a 5.5 inch square using a Boye steel hook, Size 1, 2.75 mm.
Before we go any farther on here, let me say that my plan was to deviate from the pattern when it came to the lining of the bag. I have a sewing machine, but I don’t really want to use it any more than I have to. I don’t usually use bags with zippers, so if I did make a bag, I wouldn’t be installing a zipper. I am a fan of the magnetic snap! My inspiration came from Ellen, who posted on the LargerThanLifeCAL. From her post, I got the idea of making the front, back, sides, and bottom as a slip cover for an already existing tote bag. I would then attach (method to be determined) the crocheted "LTL – WORK of ART" to the existing bag and a.) minimize work on my part, and b.) end up with a better lining/inner bag than if I made it myself.
After much looking around, I found a reasonably priced ($5 approx.) black tote bag at Michaels, 17"w x 13"H x 4"D. These were close to the dimensions of the pattern and I thought I could make it work. The top of the bag had an inch "border" made by stitching, where the handles were attached. This ended up serving three purposes. One was as a design feature, the border was the same dimension as the handles, so leaving a canvas border at the top, looked intentional. The other was, by have the canvas bag border at the top, it kept the crocheted material away from the top edge where most the the wear and abrasion happens, so the bags stays good looking longer!!
The third was using up an inch of the 13". With my squares measuring at 5.5 inches, 2 squares would = 11". The crocheted border would add 1/2" to the front/back panel making it 11 1/2" and the rest (getting it to 12") I could make up with blocking and cotton’s natural ability to stretch……. it worked.
The handle was just long enough to go over my shoulder but not too long.
Now the fun began. COLOR. COLOR. COLOR. Well, embarking on this project gave me an excuse to purchase every possible interesting shade of Cotton Classic in green, turquoise, red-purple, oranges, reds, and of course chartreuse. I quickly realized a couple of color guidelines for this project:
- I was going to modify color scheme of the pattern block. There is a center "circle" of one color, then a "ring and petal" (my words) of another color, and finally a border of a third color. For my taste, the middle section was too much of the same color so I modified this section by adding a 4th color, usually in the same color family and value, but different to give this area some variety and depth (but not always, as you can see in these examples!)..
- The centers of the blocks, the "circles" were all going to be green, medium to light green. I chose not to make them identical, but it was an option I considered.
- The border rounds usually were a darker color, often green, but not always.
- Originally I was going to have 12 different blocks, no repeats, but for various reasons, I repeated several blocks.
I wish I could say that it all went smoothly. The crocheting was fine, the color choices were not always fine, so there was a lot of ripping out… One trick: instead of cutting the yarn when changing colors, use locking or split stitch markers to temporarily hold the last stitch (as if it were cut and pulled through). When you finish the square, and see all of the colors together, you can decide if you like the combination. If you don’t, rip it out, and your yarn is still intact: no pieces of yarn, (which I detest!).
I didn’t keep count, but I probably made almost 20 squares before I got the combinations I was happy with. I tend to be a little particular.
Assembling the blocks. Of course, as I was making the blocks, I was putting them beside each other, designing as I went which can make for some exciting moments, but definitely slows down the production process. No pattern to tell you what to do. At some point you just have to get the black yarn out and start whip stitching these puppies together! Of course, after you proudly sew these cute squares together, you have to crochet around them several times…
Now comes the side and bottom band which seems simple (the stitch pattern IS simple) but takes a long time. I think it was made worse by my choice of BLACK as the main color so it was doubly fatiguing to crochet the long narrow band in black. I did figure out that if I put on some magnifiers, things got a lot easier ;*). Again, after you finish the 4 x 41 inch band of single and double crochet you get to crochet around the whole thing! I think you are getting that I got tired of that part of the pattern, although it IS NECESSARY for the bag to have a FABULOUS finished look!
So, I have made the front, the back, the sides, and the bottom. How to attach my "crocheted slipcover" to my canvas tote bag? Originally I thought of snap tape. But, I abandoned that idea, even though it does come in black. Then I thought of Velcro dots. I underestimated the WEIGHT of the completed piece when you do it in cotton. Probably why Cecily chose merino wool. The Velcro dots weren’t going to do it. There was going to be a lot of sagging…
Then I remembered how we used to hang quilts in our house. We applied the Velcro strip with the hooks to a piece of wood attached to the wall (a furring strip) and sewed the Velcro strip with the loops to the quilt. That way, you could easily hang the quilt without any sags, pressure points, pulling etc.
So, I decided, that was what I would have to do. I machine sewed (OK, my friend Michelle sewed it because my sewing machine needed some repair) the Velcro with the hooks to the canvas bag. I hand sewed the Velcro strip with the loops to the crochet piece and …
Side 1 and Side 2
Final Analysis: Would I make this again? I love the end result!!! It was A LOT OF WORK!!!! Much more than I anticipated. Oh, I forgot to mention, weaving in ALL the ends of the MANY COLORS in each very colorful block. And there is a lot of very careful sewing, loop by loop. I kept telling my husband, as I was going along, "If anyone asks me to make this for them, the price is, …"
Of course, I "went to school" on this one, so the next one wouldn’t be quite so entertaining. I think I will settle for teaching others how to make their own LARGER THAN LIFE Bag and let them take their own journey!
Thanks, Cecily, great pattern, great inspiration.
Is everyone on the planet felting?
After going to a fund-raiser where Booga Bags were being auctioned, I was sorely tempted to make my own Booga. Having never felted anything on purpose before, I spent HOURS online looking at all those photos of people’s Booga bags made out of Kureyon or Silk Garden. Knitters were having a lot of fun with their Boogas.
Then I found the Sophie Bag. So sleek, so simple, so contoured and only uses ONE skein of Cascade 220 . Thank you Julie Anderson. Perfect project for a first time felt-er. I thought, well, perfect size for taking to the opera so I will make it in black. But then I saw some Squiggle and Fizz in colors that reminded me of mossy grass (which we have a lot of here) and a little embellishment had to make its way into the bag.
If you add a novelty yarn that is not felt-able or as felt-able as the purse yarn, the taper of the bag might be somewhat affected. In my case, it caused the bag to not taper as much at the top as it would have if the novelty yarn had not been there since Squiggle and Fizz have no wool in them.
The Sophie pattern is great. There is NO sewing!!!
You knit the bottom rectangle; then pick up stitches around the edge of the bottom and knit in the round, decreasing as you get to the top. Near the top, I carried the novelty yarn (Squiggle and Fizz) along with the Cascade 220 for a few rows, starting about an inch or inch and a half from the top. The handle detail is even better. You leave 6 live stitches on each side. From that you create two 3 stitch i-cords. When the two i-cords are the length you want (the handle length specified in the pattern is not long enough to go over your shoulder. I made the handles just long enough to go over my shoulder* ), you twist them, and graft them to the 6 live stitches on the other side. The whole thing has been knitted "together" and now it is going to be felted "together".
*Note: I-cord stretches even after felting so a swatch may be in order (I did one). Bev Galeskas says in Felted Knits that, " When felted, most I–cord will lose only about 15% of its knitted length. It may appear slightly shorter at first, but it will but it will stretch with use". I followed her advice and she was right. My handles have stretched out to the length I intended and have stayed there!
One yarn store told me about Eucalan, a wool wash that you do not have to rinse out, which you will find can prove useful and it smells wonderful. I now use it to wash all my wool and cashmere (!) sweaters.
Another LYS expert advised me to put my items to be felted in a zippered pillow protector with a very tight weave, similar to the anti-allergy pillow protectors used by people afraid of dust mites. The idea here is to keep the "fuzz" from the item being felted "in the bag" and not in your washer’s filter! Some resources will tell you to put the item to be felted in a "mesh" bag, similar to one you would use for lingerie. I’m not certain how this mesh bag full of holes would keep the fuzz away from your washing machine filter…
Sounded like a good idea. I happened to have a lot of those tightly woven zippered pillow protectors around because I, for one, am afraid of dust mites!!!
OK, back to felting… Of course, I had recently replaced my old top loading washer with a fancy pants front loading machine that during the spin cycle sounds like the runway of your local airport. LYS "experts" didn’t have a lot of advice for felting in a front loader. About all they could say was, "Well, I have heard it can be done"… Research on the web offered some encouragement, so… I (or shall we say, Sophie) plunged in.
I set the wash cycle (I have a Whirlpool Duet which allows me to pause the cycle and the water level stays below the door) on the sanitary cycle which goes up to 150 degrees. Put in the Eucalan and set the timer for 10 minutes figuring that at 150 degrees Sophie would be done in 10 minutes. Well, she wasn’t. She wasn’t after 30 minutes. It took three, 30 minute sessions in the wash cycle of the oh-so-gentle-on-your-clothing Whirlpool Duet washing machine to felt this baby. But, finally, Sophie was felted. I stuffed her full of plastic bags, as recommended, and let her dry.
The Sophie pattern tells you to knit in the round. I found that the purl side of my bag felted better, so I turned it inside-out so that the purl side became the right side. Next time, I think I would just purl in the round. I don’t know if this was a function of my washer’s felting ability or my knitting or what… Turns out the Noni Bag pattern talks about the purl side as being the better side after felting for the camellias.
Now for some finishing details:
I wanted Sophie’s bottom to be flat, not sag (like who doesn’t want that!). I cut a piece of plastic canvas 3"x6" and tacked it inside the bottom of Sophie with a few stitches.
The magnetic closer or snap. This purse definitely needs one of these to help it keep its cute shape. I originally tried the idea of attaching the magnetic closer to plastic canvas (Attaching Magnetic Snaps) and that worked for a while. Eventually, my snaps tore through the plastic canvas and my snaps failed. I don’t know if I attached them improperly, or put too much stuff in Sophie or what. Anyway, I had to come up with another solution.
I had made a felted swatch of the purse body color (black) before I started just to see how the Cascade 220 would felt. Since I had recently come upon this revelation that you can CUT felted material and nothing will happen; the material will NOT RAVEL, I thought, why not use the felted material in place of the plastic canvas as the backing for the magnetic snap???
So far so good and it looks better and is easier to sew in than the plastic canvas. Especially since it doesn’t look like I will be lining this purse any time soon, although I bought a "fat square" of silk dupioni to line it…maybe later…
Shaving Sophie. Cascade 220 is pretty good about not pilling, but as you use the bag, some pills will form. Felting resources will tell you to shave the bag with implements ranging from hair clippers to sweater shavers to safety razors. Not being a power tools person (my lawnmower is a old fashioned reel (REAL) mower)), I opted for the least motorized and most controllable option (and the cheapest, I had one in my drawer!): the humble safety razor. Works like a charm!
I carried Sophie around with just her mossy green grass for a few weeks and she didn’t get much attention. Then Noni Bags came into my life. These purse patterns are incredible. Thank you Nora Bellows. I just had to have that camellia pattern. After a few false starts, I was able to figure out how to put the camellia together.
Two Noni Camellias before felting.
I parked the Noni camellia after felting on the Sophie bag.
BTW, I thought I was only going to use this purse for special occasions, but I like it so much I use it every day! I have made a lot of new friends with this purse. People have been stopping me on the street, at the bank, at parties.
Even when I picked up my newly sharpened lawn mower the other day from the repair shop and the guy said, "Love the grass on your purse".
- Carol said…
- I love your Sophie-Noni! I always like to see what happens when yarns are combined – Squiggle looks great in this case. (Sometimes in felting it helps to go from hot to cold water and back again, so I sometimes take my item out of the washing machine, rinse it in cold, and then pop it back into the washer’s hot water).
- 9/28/2006 6:36 PM
- CatKnitz said…
- Thanks for the suggestion, Carol.
- 10/02/2006 5:24 PM
- inkberryblue said…
I love the way you’ve used the novelty yarn in the middle…and I think the colours you’ve used for the Sophie~Noni bag on the One Skein knitalong are glorious!
- 9/28/2007 10:07 PM
- tamdoll said…
- I really like this bag, too. I love wearing my felted bags around town, the comments people give me are always fun.