Thank goodness for the fantastic support of friends and family. Otherwise, this bag was leading me down a path towards a existential crisis regarding my creativity!
I wanted to contribute a bag to my dad's Lions Club's annual fund raising auction. I had my eye on a felted tote bag in a fabulous knitting book I have called "Alterknits" by Leigh Radford. I knew it would be a great project for using up a bunch of wool odds and ends. And there was a variation in the book that has handles made out of clear vinyl tubing. I really liked that handle idea. Here is a picture of the bag from the book's website, this being the version with felted handles:
I decided to make the version that is supposed to be about 20"x20" after felting.
So I followed the instructions religiously, following directions for needle size and the number of stitches to cast on. I did what is a pretty crazy combination of colors for me, but I liked the tropical feel to the mix. I knit and knit and knit. Luckily it was mindless knitting on circular needles (all knit stitch), good for movies, car trips, etc. When I finally reached 35" long as directed, I did a 3-needle bind-off for the bottom seam and here it is:
A long skinny sack. I was suspcious of how long and skinny it was at this point (like the perfect size for a long, skinny skirt), but I know that knitting shrinks more vertically than horizontally when it is felted...so I wasn't worried. I finished the bottom as directed so it would be flat like the bottom of a paper grocery bag and popped it into the washing machine to felt.
I was expecting a square bag, so I was a bit shocked to see a most definitely rectangular-shaped felted bag come out of the machine -
I don't think this picture even does justice to how long and skinny the bag was at this point. It went from about 34" to 20" long, but I didn't measure the beginning width for a comparison there, darn it! It ended up being about 13" wide. Darn! Not the big tote shape that I had in mind.
I was soooo frustrated with the long skinny shape. I was ready to cut several inches off the top or the bottom. But I took it for "show and tell" to my knitting buddies, and a couple of them came up with the idea of simply turning down a cuff -
The fact that there would be two layers of "fabric" for the handle to attach through seemed like a great bonus. So that's what I did. Thanks a ton, my wise and clever friends!!
You probably have no idea how hard it is to find clear vinyl tubing with no permanent lettering on it, and I wouldn't blame you for not knowing. Take my word for it. Our local pet store had enough of the right size tubing for one handle. This tubing had very little writing, but it had a slightly bluish tint which I didn't really like. I found beautiful crystal clear tubing at McLendon's Hardware, and I spent an afternoon trying to figure out a clever way to remove the lettering on it. No solvent that we have worked. I tried different abrasive attachments with the Dremel, and that left long frosted patches instead of print. So did a little buffing attachment I have for the Dremel. I thought that maybe if I carefully heated the frosted area up with a little tiny butane torch it might shine it back up, but that made the tubing have a slightly opaque cast. Grrr. Finally I tried a pet store further afield and found more of the bluish tubing and decided I'd have to go with that and the little bit of writing it had on it. Amazingly enough, I discovered in the end that I could rub the lettering off of the pet store stuff with my fingernail. Crazy.
The instructions in the "Alterknits" book say to attach the tubing by hand-sewing it onto the bag through a couple of holes, with a button sewn onto the outside of the tubing in the process. This was not bullet-proof enough for me. I came upon something to use that is now my new favorite fastener - copper rivets!
We had some of these in the hardware that we brought home after cleaning out my step-grandpa's basement workshop, but I had no idea what they were for, until now. Thanks to some awesome help at McLendon's, I realized that these rivets would do the trick to fasten my handles to my bag in a very solid way. Luckily the rivets come in different lengths, because I had some serious thickness to fasten together.
Here's what the attachment looks like on the outside -
And here it is on the inside -
That copper washer and the head of the rivet both are about 1/2" in diameter. I added larger washers under the copper ones to spread out the pressure and/or keep the little copper washer from pulling through or something. The coolest thing was that I learned that you use the round end of a ball-peen hammer to flatten out the end of the rivet! I never knew what you would "traditionally" use that round end of the ball-peen for.
Finally, I cut and finished a piece of masonite to put in the bottom (on the inside of the bag) to give it a good, solid base. Here that is, on the outside, obviously -
Done, and in time for the auction. Even if it wasn't quite how I had envisioned. I actually enjoyed the problem solving challenges of this project, except for the fact that it was a bit too down to the wire.
The real frustration/self-questioning came when there were three minutes left in the section of the silent auction that the bag was in. There was only one bid on the bag, and that was for the starting bid of $15!! I was flabergasted, after putting all that work into it. So Eric encouraged me to bid on it and just get it back, which I did after one other bid by that first bidder. That was a crazy blow to my creative ego. But luckily my wise women knitting council came through again this Monday and pumped me back up with their outrage and encouragement. At their suggestion I will either keep the bag for myself, put it up for sale in my (still empty) etsy shop, or donate it to the junior high auction next spring.
On the other hand, my fused-glass windchime in the auction went for the "buy it now" price of $45, which I think was actually much too low. (I am terrible at pricing my own work - after it was too late to change the value for these auction donations an awesome woman who works at the glass supply shop suggested a value of $60-$75 for it...) The time spent on the windchime was a fraction of that spent on the felted bag! I don't think you can ever get fairly compensated for your labor/time spent on a decent-sized knitting project....