Design by Lucy B. Gray
Craft this easy folk-art bag from recycled old sweaters. You'll love the intarsia effect created by cutting and fusing simple shapes of "sweater felt" into the bag body.
Finished Size14 x 11 x 3 inches, excluding strap
Materials for Bag
3 adult-size recycled 100 percent wool sweaters in coordinating colors (such as teal, orange and olive)
1/2 yard 44/45-inch-wide cotton plaid fabric for lining
2/3 yard 36-inch-wide tailoring-weight fusible interfacing
8 x 10-inch piece medium-weight fusible interfacing
Optional: heavyweight fusible interfacing for lining
Pearl cotton to match sweater fabrics, plus white for fruit highlights
All-purpose threads to match fabrics
1 sheet plastic needlepoint canvas
16 (1/2-inch-diameter) buttons in assorted colors
Washing machine and dryer
Rotary cutter, mat and ruler
Basic sewing tools and equipment
Materials for Strap
Recycled 1-inch-wide belt
2 (1-inch-wide) D rings
2 (1/4-inch-diameter) double-cap rivets and rivet setter
Hole punch for leather
Optional: bench grinder
Acrylic paint to match belt
Materials for Optional Zipper Pull
6-8 large beads to coordinate with lining fabric for beaded zipper pull
Wire cutters (to cut zipper pull)
Small lobster-claw clasp
Refer to Make It Felt: Sweater Felting 101 to felt the sweaters in your washer and dryer before proceeding with the cutting and bag assembly.
Choose one felted sweater for the bag body. Cut either two 12 x 15-inch pieces from a crew-neck sweater or one 12 x 29-inch piece from a button-front cardigan sweater as shown in Figure 1. If you use a crew-neck style, the bag will have two side seams. If you use a cardigan, it will have a center-back seam.
Note: You can include the ribbing area of the sweater in the panels. Because the sweater is felted, these areas will be more compact, but still add interesting texture to the completed bag.
Cut two 16 x 15-inch pieces from both the lining fabric and the tailoring-weight fusible interfacing.Note: If you want a more rigid bag, cut and fuse two more 16 x 15-inch pieces of heavyweight interfacing to the lining. You will need additional interfacing yardage.
Cut two 4 x 15-inch pieces of lining fabric and tailoring-weight fusible interfacing for zipper panels.
Cut two 2 1/2 x 5-inch pieces of lining fabric and tailor-weight fusible interfacing for the strap loops. Cut one 2 1/2 x 29-inch strip of lining fabric for the upper-edge trim.
Cut two 2 x 14-inch pieces of plastic canvas.Note: Before proceeding with the bag construction, fuse the tailoring-weight interfacing pieces to their matching fabric pieces, following the manufacturer's directions.
Copy the orange and leaf templates on onto scrap paper and cut out. From the two felted sweaters that weren't used for the bag body, cut two large oranges, one small orange and four assorted leaf shapes. Referring to the bag photo, arrange the felt shapes on the bag front and pin in place. If you cut only one bag piece from a cardigan-style sweater, arrange the felt shapes in the center of the 12 x 29-inch bag piece so they will be on the front of the finished bag.Note: Cut an extra fruit and leaf shape and practice the intarsia technique first on a scrap of the felted sweater scrap. It's a bit scary to start cutting into the bag body without really knowing the outcome!
With sharp scissors, snip into the felt of the bag front underneath one of the pinned fruit shapes. Working from the right side, carefully snip the sweater felt all around the fruit shape. Lift out the double-layer pinned shape. Repeat with the remaining shapes (Photo 1).
Unpin each shape from the bag fabric and pat the colored shape into its hole in the bag front. Trim holes as needed for the best fit. Remove the shapes from their holes again.
Place the bag piece with the cutouts wrong side up on your ironing board. Insert the oranges and leaves wrong side up into their respective holes. Place the fusible side of the 8 x 10-inch piece of medium-weight fusible interfacing over the inserted pieces with a press cloth on top. Fuse the interfacing to the sweater felt with a hot iron and plenty of steam. The heat and moisture from the iron will felt the wool even more and make the cutouts meld into the bag piece.
Working from the right side, use pearl cotton to hand-stitch each cutout to the interfacing below. Use tiny stab stitches around the shapes' perimeters for a terrific folk-art effect. Stitch also around the cut edges in the bag front. With white pearl cotton, stitch a few highlights on each fruit piece with French knots. (Photos 2 and 3).
If you cut your bag in one piece from a cardigan: Fold in half with right sides facing and short ends even. Stitch 1/2 inch from the raw edges and press the seam open. Center the seam on the back of the bag and stitch the bottom edges. Press the seam open.
If you cut two bag pieces from a crew-neck sweater, sew the bag front and back pieces together with right sides facing. Use 1/2-inch-wide seams and stitch together at the side and bottom edges. Press the seam open.
Box the bag corners by aligning the side seam line or side center of a one-piece panel with the bottom seam line and press to flatten. Draw and stitch a line 1 1/2 inches from the point, backstitching at both ends. Stitch again 1/8 inch from the first stitching and trim away the triangle close to the second stitches (Figure 2).
Place both plastic canvas pieces in the bag bottom, and anchor them by sewing through the canvas holes and into the seam allowances at the bag bottom, using a strand of pearl cotton.
With right sides together, stitch the two lining pieces together at the sides and bottom edge. Press the seams open. Stitch boxed corners as you did with the bag body. Do not turn the lining right side out. Tuck the lining into the bag and machine-baste the upper edges together 3/8 inch from the raw edges.
Fold the two 4 x 15-inch zipper panels in half lengthwise with wrong sides facing and lightly press to crease. Open the pieces and place them right sides together. Measure and mark 1 1/2 inches from each short end with a pin. Stitch on the crease from each end, ending at the pin and backstitching. Fold and press to form the zipper panel (Figure 3).
Pin the closed zipper to one side of the panels, aligning the zipper teeth with the opening in the panels, and stitch all around. Zigzag the raw edges of the panels together all around so that they become one unit (Figure 4).
Fold the zipper unit in half with the zipper tape showing and stitch 1/2 inch from the short ends. Press the seams to one side and turn the piece right side out (Figure 5).
For the strap loops, turn under and press 1/4 inch along each long edge of each of the 2 1/2 x 5-inch rectangles. Fold each one in half with wrong sides together and turned edges aligned. Stitch close to the long edges. Thread each loop through the D rings on the strap, and sew the short ends together 1/4 inch from the raw edges (Figure 6).
Center a loop with ring over a seam allowance at each end on the right side of the zipper unit. Stitch in place 1/4 inch from the raw edges.
With right sides facing, sew the short ends of the 2 1/2 x 29-inch strip together and press the seam open. With right sides facing and using a 1/4-inch-wide seam, stitch the bottom edge of the resulting circle to the outer edge of the zipper unit. Press the seam allowance toward the circle and topstitch 1/4 inch from the seam line (Figure 7).
Unzip the zipper. With right sides facing, pin the upper-edge trim to the upper edge of the bag. Stitch in place using a 3/4-inch-wide seam allowance. Turn the upper-edge trim down over the bag edge into the lining and pin in place on the right side of the bag. Turn the loops up and pin in place. Machine-stitch in the ditch of the seam on the outside of the bag, catching the upper-edge trim and the loops in place. Stitch close to the upper edge of the bag, backstitching and stitching forward again to anchor the loop to the bag and hold the upper-edge trim inside the bag in its recessed position (Figure 8).
Evenly space and sew eight 1/2-inch-diameter buttons to the upper-edge trim on the front and back of the bag.
Make the strap following the directions at right.
If desired, replace the existing zipper pull with a handmade one. String some colorful beads on several strands of pearl cotton and add a small lobster-claw snap hook. Cut off the old zipper pull with wire cutters and snap the new one in its place (Photo 4).
Strap That BeltFor a strap made from a recycled belt from your favorite thrift store (or purchased on sale or at a discount shop)
Cut off the buckle, and using a bench grinder, reduce the thickness of the leather at both ends. This step is not necessary if the leather is thin, but the belt shown was stiff and thick.
Punch two sets of holes with a leather punch and touch up the raw leather with matching acrylic paint.
Thread a D ring on each strap end and set double-cap rivets in the holes.
Make It Felt: Sweater Felting 101Any sweater that is knitted from 100 percent wool will felt, and some will felt more than others. I've had the best luck felting crew-neck sweaters knit with Shetland wool. This sweater style also yields the most felted yardage since the front and back are simply styled. Raid your own closet for "volunteers" or hit your local thrift shop to find just the right sweater for this project.
Felting wool goes counter to everything you've learned about laundering it. You can expect a 100 percent wool sweater to shrink up to half its size and become very thick and soft using the following method.
Set the washing machine for the hottest water temperature and add 1/4 cup inexpensive shampoo to the water.
Use a 30-minute wash cycle and machine-dry the sweater at the hottest temperature until it is barely damp. Check to make sure it is sufficiently felted. If not, wash and dry again. When the sweater has shrunk sufficiently and is about 1/4 inch thick, remove it from the dryer and pat it flat on a smooth surface. Allow to air-dry. The shampoo removes the hard finish that dry cleaning leaves behind on garments and restores a soft, satiny luster to the wool fibers.