Friday, 1 March 2019

Belt and Braces Knitted Bag Construction

Like the daffodils, already flowering in this unseasonably warm February, my companion, Elinor Gotland, has decided Spring is upon us. Fuelled by a couple of episodes of Marie Kondo, the Spring Cleaning Urge has galvanised her into radical action and none of my wardrobe is safe.
"Is that battered old cardigan really 'sparking joy' for you, Beaut?"
I picked at a sleeve.
"Well, I don't feel joyful about the felting and pilling on the cuffs, but I am really fond of this one."
Elinor was not so easily to be thwarted. She intends to take a full bag of my clothes to the charity shop.
"Consider, would you dream of wearing that cardigan outside the home or are you just wasting cupboard space on an item of limited function for foolish nostalgia?"  
I hugged my droopy knitwear round me.
"This is precious. And vintage. I remember buying the yarn in the 1990's at Liberty's and it cost me an absolute fortune. Back in the day, I'd never seen knitting wool like it, quite irresistibly gorgeous. I think the yarn must have been Noro and I think maybe it can still be salvaged."

Once the collar and cuffs had been cut away, the body of the cardigan unravelled quite readily into about 450g of aran single ply yarn, looking like a loose blend of wool and silk in a long colour change. 
My companion positively snarled when she caught me heading upstairs to tuck it away in my yarn stash.
"Surely storing a cardigan as balls of wool must be a step up on folding your Tee shirts really small?" 
Elinor dragged the charity bag into the hall.
"Use it or lose it, Beaut."

With plant dye baths, I find it jolly difficult to achieve slow transitions of dye on yarn. A vague idea of using a long colour change to knit entrelac, as suggested in Margaret Radcliffe's book, The Essential Guide to Colour Knitting Techniques, has been on the back burner of my mind for some years. On a wet Saturday afternoon, I took the book off the shelf and read through the instructions.
"Looks a bit fiddly to do. Have you ever tried this, Elinor?"
My companion was bolt upright on the sofa, transfixed by the rugby. She turned to me as they reset the scrum.
"Entrelac is my middle name. Get a backbone, you'll be fine."
Casting on 60 stitches on 4mm needles, I followed the instructions to create six 10 stitch base triangles and spent happy hours rapt in the pleasure of seeing what colour would appear next and how it would play with the adjacent sections. Entrelac is satisfyingly interesting knitting, holding my attention just enough, but not too much to critically appraise controversial decisions in several successive Six Nations Rugby games. 
"Referee! Knock on!" 
My companion bounced on the sofa as George North charged up the field. 
Like the French team, I'd have done better to start with a game plan and stick to it. When more than half the yarn was used up, I still had no idea what to do with my piece of entrelac fabric, 52cm wide and now 45cm long. Time to finish with a top row of triangles.

Folding it in half, crocheting the long edges together and tucking in the corners to create a squat, oblong box shape, I decided that with a wide brim on top, the piece could become a bag. Casting on 20 provisional stitches and knitting a strip in stocking stitch, when it was just a little shorter than the total distance around the top of the bag, I joined the two ends with a three needle bind off.

"I doubt you washed that cardigan very often." My companion watched the dirty water swirl away after the two knitted pieces had had a thorough scrub. I heaved a sigh as I laid them out flat to dry.
"The strip for the brim has curled up and though I hoped hot water would tighten up the entrelac, it seems to have got looser. Hey ho, lining the bag with some of Mum's leftover upholstery material might firm up the construction."
"What about folding some of this jute upholstery webbing inside the brim piece? That'll uncurl your knitted strip."
Two inch herringbone webbing fitted perfectly inside the folded circle of knitting I'd made for the brim, forming a stiff belt from which to suspend the entrelac bag. To give the bag shape, I sewed another length of webbing against the seams on the short sides and tacked it to every junction of entrelac squares across the base, folding each end of the strip over the belt for the brim.
A third length travelled up from under the base webbing, crossing outside the brim, looping over to form a handle, passing back down under the base and coming up on the other side to loop over as the second handle and finishing under the base. Wherever they touched, the strips of webbing were sewn against each other, except where the handles crossed the brim.
It took an unconscionable number of pins to hold the lining against the brim, the brim against the top of the entrelac and the knitted strip over the brim, but once everything was in place, a single circuit of running stitch sewn with button thread through the lower edge of the brim webbing held all these elements securely together. Next day, I was due to travel up to Edinburgh to visit my daughter. Desperate to find a project to keep me entertained on the journey, my companion watched me scuffle about, madly rejecting patterns and casting aside unsuitable skeins of yarn.
"Calm down, Beaut. Why not take the entrelac bag with you as hand luggage and use up the last of your recycled yarn knitting covers for the handles while you're away? You could even use the buttons off the old cardigan to reinforce the handles flat against the brim."
Sounds improbable, but this plan worked perfectly well.
When crocheted inside a ten stitch wide strip of knitting, the webbing didn't so much roll as crumple into a tube shape, but the handles are both sturdy and comfortable to hold. I even had enough time and yarn to knit pockets for inside to hold my purse and phone. 
This could become my basic construction method for all sorts of knitted bags, upholstery webbing making them strong and giving them shape without needing to felt the knitting. All in all, I'm very pleased to have recycled something old and learned something new.
E.E.G. Elinor Entrelac Gotland. I never would have guessed.


  1. How lovely. Great recycle idea and I bet it 'sparks joy' now.

    1. It does :) No problem keeping it now. Thanks for writing.

  2. Lovely bag, and interestingly constructed. Well done for reusing the yarn - the colours have slotted together beautifully

    1. I'm pretty sure it was Noro yarn, always alluring. I loved the knitting, I think I shall have to start dyeing in the wool and spinning some long colour changes.

  3. interesting middle name, who'd have guessed:) the bag looks nice, too - and I like the idea of reinforcing with web. normally knitted bags tend to "grow" a lot, esp. for me with all the stuff I cram in! I learned my lesson a few years back, when I went on a trip with a knitted bag and the handle grew so long just on my way through the airport, that I had to carry the whole shebang under my arm:(

    1. I can picture you trailing your bag a yard behind you ...