Niddy noddy

Thursday, August 06, 2009

knitted felted bags

One of the projects I've been working on lately is knitted felted bags, which I've been making for made4aid.

These are so satisfying to make! and especially as I'm using up bits and pieces of yarn which I've been hoarding for years and years... plus the odd find from a charity shop or car boot fair, plus some recycled yarn, reclaimed from other things.

So, here are some ideas and guidelines based on what I've done.

The first thing to say is that I've found making bags like this to be a very very forgiving process. I've been knitting with a few strands of yarn combined - which helps with using up leftovers, and mixing colours that match. But using yarns of different weights and thicknesses doesn't seem to matter. Different kinds of wool felt differently, but this also doesn't seem to matter. Unevenness in yarn or knitting evens out in the felting process. The saying that "it will all come out all right in the wash" is most definately true for this process!

The bags before felting look unshapely and baggy - but the felting process transforms them. And if they come out of the machine looking rather lopsided (they almost certainly will), this doesn't matter as they can be shaped while they dry. So you don't need to be an expert or experienced knitter to try this, or a beautifully consistent and even knitter. But, if you don't like unpredictability or if you want to be sure of the size of the bag you will end up with, this might not be a project for you.

So, the first thing I do is choose which yarns and colours to work with. You do need to use all-wool yarns. One of the bags I made had a little yarn which was obviously mixed fibres, and it only partly felted. The resulting effect was quite nice, but I'd be cautious about using wool you are not sure of, especially for starters. But if you're not sure, knit a square, bung it in the washing machine, and see what it does! Some other animal fibres - eg. alpaca - also felt very well.

I am combining anything from 3 to 8 strands of wool together while I knit, as I have some cones of quite fine wool to use up. But the number of strands can vary, I don't necessarily use the same throughout.

I'd suggest that you start with this bag pattern, which was the first one I used and which gave me a good start, though I used 5.5 mm needles as I couldn't find my 6.5mm ones... And I made the colour stripes wider than the pattern suggests.

If you are new to felting, there is a useful piece about felting in the washing machine here for front-loading machines, and here for top-loading. Its certainly worth experimenting a bit first, knitting little squares and putting them through the wash - as much for reassurance as anything - so that you can see what happens and get some idea of how much it will shrink.

If your bag doesn't shrink enough first time, I'd suggest you put it through a second wash at the same temperature - it will shrink still further - though going to a higher temperature will have a more dramatic effect. My advice would be to start with cooler washes - you can always put the bag through twice to felt it more. But once tightly felted and shrunk on a hot wash, there isn't too much you can do about stretching it to make it much larger again.

In the UK we have front-loading washing machines, so can't keep checking on how far the knitting has felted. But whether or not you want to keep checking depends how definate an idea you have of the result you want. My bags tend to be left rather to chance...

I also leave the bags in the machine through a short spin cycle and I think this possibly makes it easier to start shaping them right away, which is more difficult when they are very wet.

I tried this first bag carefully in a 30' wash, which wasn't enough. Then 40', then 60'. In the end it went through at 90' to get the result I wanted. But I have found since then that 60' is usually about right.

Shaping the bags while they dry makes a huge difference to the end result. I have used cake tins, books, jigsaw puzzle boxes.... anything the right dimensions. Some I have left hanging up, where I want the handles to stretch to be a a little longer.
Felt is very tough and its okay to really force in a box or tin which doesn't seem to quite fit.... the wool will give a little bit, and drying fairly tightly stretched gives the bag a nicely defined shape.

This grey stripey bag was about 15 by 17" before felting, and about 12 by 12 afterwards.
The only other change I made to this pattern was to add a little internal felt pocket afterwards, using a square of wool I'd knitted and felted as a test, plus 2 vintage fabric pockets.

This next bag was knitted to the same pattern, but with an intarsia type of colour pattern (stranding colours across the back) and using 6.5mm needles as the pattern says.

On this bag I experimented with knitting pockets as part of the bag before felting - picking up stitches from the bag along where I wanted the bottom of the pocket to be, knitting a square or rectangle straight up and then attaching the sides of the knitted pocket to the bag. This bag has one little mobile phone pocket on the outside, and 2 internal pockets. The blanket stitch around the external pocket was because I thought the join looked a bit bumpy and lumpy - I have since then got better at stitching the pockets on so that the join is more invisible after felting.

Before felting I tack some pieces of cotton fabric inside the pockets to stop them felting closed for ever.

These first two bags were sold on Joyce's Bags for Darfur blog - which was the inspiration for made4aid.

Same pattern, 3rd bag, 6.5mm needles - this one was 14.5 inches by 16 inches before felting, handles 33.5 inches.
After felting it was 10.25 inches by 11.75, and the handles were 30". On this one I just did external pockets in knitting, and then lined with fabric including internal pockets.

I put this one recklessly into a 90' wash and it did felt a bit smaller than I'd wanted. But I'm really pleased with the result, its a nice size and shape (though I am now routinely starting with 40 or 60' washes though, just in case....).

The second knitting pattern I tried was this one. This looks really too large and shapeless once knitted being done on 9mm needles - but once again, it came out transformed.

I wanted a gusset in this bag, so allowed an extra 3 inches or so on the total length you knit, to allow for the base of the bag. Then after knitting the main body of the bag, I worked out where the base would be - 1.5 inches either side of the midway point. Picking up stitches along this bit of the bag I then knitted up a long enough strip on each side to reach the top edge and then sewed them into place.

This bag was felted at 90' - I forgot to measure it before washing, but after washing it is 18.5 inches wide, 11 inches deep with handles nearly 30".

And here is another, same pattern with the added gusset, and knitted felted pockets. This came out really nicely textured because of the way the intarsia stranding had felted, and this was the first item sold on made4aid.

The 3rd pattern I tried was adapted from this textiles book - the base is knitted first, then you simply pick up stitches around the edge of the base and then knit up in stocking stitch until the bag is tall enough (about 15 inches), do a few rows of garter stitch for a slightly thicker top edge. Add handles, and pick up some stitches in the middle of one edge to knit a little button tab.

This is also a nice easy pattern which would be good for beginners to this process.

This is knitted on 9mm needles. The pattern suggests using a double strand of 8-ply / double knitting wool though I have used my usual combination of bits and pieces.
The base was 45 stitches, and 34 rows in garter stitch and stitches are picked up around the base - 45 stitches on each of the long ends, and about 15 (one every other row) on the short ends. I took the handles from the second pattern I've linked to above but you could instead use the handle instructions from the first pattern.

Before washing the bag was 22 inches measured across flat, the base was 18.25 inches by 6 inches, the bag was 15 inches deep from the base to the top edge and the handles were 44 inches long.

Here is the bag before felting :

with the handles, button tab and the external pocket.

and here it is after felting, which was done in a 60' wash
- it is drying now as I write this, with some jigsaw puzzles and books inside it to keep it nicely shaped.

And after felting the dimensions are: 14.5 inches wide, plus 4 inches on the sides/gusset; 11 inches deep; the base is 14.5 inches by 4.5 and the handles are 36 inches.

3 of these bags have already been sold to raise money for aid to refugees in Darfur - the others shown here, and more which are in process, will also be auctioned in the autumn/winter, so keep watching if you want to buy one... and if you're a knitter - have a go. These are so much fun to make.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,