Finished Object: The Felted Sweater Tote

It’s fun to make a new thing out of a worthless old thing, in fact sometimes I suspect it’s more fun than starting with new materials for the challenge involved.  While I know better than to try making a silk purse from a pig’s ear (it simply doesn’t work…), I thought I’d try my hand at making a cute tote from a felted sweater like this one I saw a few weeks ago on Pinterest:

Click for source

As soon as I saw this, I knew I had to try it with a hand-knit alpaca sweater I felted several years ago.  I kept it because it hurt too much to let go of the hours spent knitting the fluffy worsted weight yarn into a sweater, not to mention the cost of the yarn.  The Inadvertent Farmer’s tote comes from a smaller gauge knitted sweater- this means the fabric is relatively fine.  This is the type of sweater often found in thrift stores.

Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto says “Are you listening?  The fabric has much to teach us.”  Indeed, as I followed the IF’s excellent construction outline for creating the tote, I realized she and I were working with very different felted sweaters.  While my fabric is thicker, it’s also less densely felted than the sweater used in her tutorial.  The cut edges of the fabric didn’t fray exactly, but they seemed less stable than the example sweater-tote.

I could have tossed the sweater into the washing machine for another round of felting.  Instead, I chose to fold under the raw edges and stitch them in place with some bright embroidery thread.  To me, the fabric looks rather “rustic,” and I thought the simple embroidery echoed that rough element.  Also, while I love the felted roses on IF’s bag, my own felt did not enjoy pretending to be roses.  In fact, it openly rebelled at the idea and I decided it was a battle not worth fighting.

I made two rows of “crafty” embroidery stitches in red before running out of that shade.  I try not to buy new materials for recycled projects, not even new embroidery thread.  The bag laid on my worktable in this state for a few days while I decided where to go next.  I try not to rush a textile recycling project, but wait for the inspiration to come.

Eventually I got sick of waiting around and stabbed another row of pink stitches around the tote’s opening and handles.  I like them, they’re rough and imperfect but not without their charm.  Just like the felted alpaca.  Though decorative, the stitches at these stress points helps stabilize the fabric and prevent it stretching ridiculously.  They reinforce the folded edge of the fabric.

The bag still looked a bit plain, so once again I dug around on Pinterest and turned up a cute felted bow project.  It’s all a bit “crafty” and kind of rough looking, but I don’t think it’s unpleasant.  I like this bow and made a few of them from regular felt, too…

But somehow, despite its charm and my pleasure at making something useful out of a failure, I’m not sure this bag and I belong together.  Look at me!  All bright colors, cool cottons, exposed knees, a bit of a Tropical Lady.  What do I need a fluffy, fuzzy tote for?  For that matter, what possessed me to spend countless hours knitting a worsted alpaca sweater when I live in a place that doesn’t even frost in the winter?

I’ll tell you- I knit this sweater my second summer here.  Yes, summer.  My brain overruled my senses and said “Stephanie!  It’s nearly Christmas- better start knitting something right now!”  So without considering the actual winter weather in my new climate, I knit a virtually unwearable sweater in the middle of the summer.  Yep.  Switching hemispheres is fun.  Even before I felted it, this sweater was doomed.  The winters here are so mild, I had a mid-winter tomato crop this year.

I suppose the sweater is better off as my knitting bag.  Not that I knit as much as I used to…

In case you were like me and the thought of turning a felted sweater into a handy tote never occurred to you, check out a few more nifty felted sweater bags I found:

Click for source.  With applique goodness, and different handle shape.

Click for source- not a tutorial, but nice blog nonetheless.

Click for source. This blogger has many examples, I like this messenger bag.

Click for source- etsy listing for the bag. Great idea though- of course! Use a favorite bag pattern to cut the new bag from the felted sweater. Of course!

Click for source- another way to tackle the re-construction work.

Click for source- one more way to reconstruct

Click for a great resource on selecting and felting sweaters for craft and sewing use.

Wow.  So repurposing felted sweaters as bags is definitely a thing, and doesn’t require sewing wizardry skills.  I like this especially because it seems to me most of us probably have a felted sweater lying around…  Isn’t it amazing that the same source of inspiration (sweater to bag) allows for such a variety of finished projects?

In the lead up to the holidays, I thought I’d work through my hoarded Pinterest craft projects and share my favorites with you.  Simple stuff, easy to make and gift or use as decorations. Christmas is a weird, weird time in Australia if you didn’t grow up with it. (Like the shop windows covered in paper snowflakes when it’s 100 degrees outside…)  Several years of working retail in a shopping mall at Christmas as a teenager forever ruined holiday gift-shopping for me, anyway.  This year I’ll try crafting my way through the Mad Times and we’ll see what happens!

..I’m also experimenting with a couple of ideas for decorating/cooking for a midsummer holiday (have you ever tried roasting a turkey in mid-summer?  It’s so gross, ditto for gingerbread… nuts…), so it’s bound to get a bit strange around here…

I’m also stitching some new things for Lila, finishing the Lonestar Burst quilt, and launching the new Sewing Cake site very very soon!  And I want to start sharing all the 1920′s swimwear ideas I’ve been playing with…


25 comments

  1. Steph my bro in Melbourne cooks his turkey in the kettle barbecue and it is to DIE FOR delicious. He brines it and roasts it with the lid on. Luckily (?) here in Nz the weather is almost inevitably rubbish on Christmas Day so we have cold to go with our insane roast dinner and pud (Can’t help it, it’s me, I go all alpha female on my family to do the trad thing because any year we’ve tried something else I have hated it!) ;-)

    • I bet that is delicious! :) I’m going to try to satisfy my holiday cravings with lots of ginger and spicy food… We’ll see…

      hahah! Still don’t have any solid family traditions here for Christmas… We’ll figure it out… Been thinking of going camping, but will probably do that for New Year’s instead…

      Alpha females make the world go round… But you already know that. ;)

  2. I love the contrast stitching that you did. I have several (one handknit by me too) sweaters that felted in the wash…they’re just sitting there, waiting for inspiration to find me!

  3. I like the stitching, too; the pink was a nice touch. Do you have handsewing projects to haul around, if you do not have so much knitting?

    I have a rather felted sweater that I perhaps should felt more (it’s not 100% wool and stretches a lot) and make into a bag. Ha! Do we all hold onto our felted sweaters, I wonder?

    We celebrated Christmas in August one holiday camp; it was wonderful, one of my fondest memories (definitely also because of the people involved). We had roasted chicken legs (traditional Czech Christmas food is carp – not that we’ve ever had it in this family) and local goats cheese from literally next door, with vegetables (tomatoes; mid-winter tomatoes for you?). The goats cheese would be fantastic for hot weather; maybe you should go for something like that. Local, of course. :-)

    • Hmmm- you make a good point, Hana. I can stick all my scattered felt projects in my felt bag… It makes sense. ;)

      ….carp…..? I’ve never heard that before! :) Otherwise sounds like you had a lovely time. Was that tied to the missionary thing? I remember doing Chritmas in August or something like that for Lottie Moon missions when I was a kid… It was fun…

      It just so happens my FIL is a very accomplished cheesemaker… My palate is not sophisticated enough to appreciate just how very accomplished he is, but I do munch on the feta and holoumi and hard ricotta he makes…

      I really want to experiment until I land on a gingerbready sort of flavored sauce for a stir fry… Stephen gets a bit nervous when I stop using recipes… ;)

      • Gingerbready sauce? Hey, one of the traditional ways to make carp is with a “black sauce” that uses gingerbread (and dried plums)! That means having gingerbread around, of course. In this country, you can buy a special kind of gingerbread that’s meant for grating in your cooking… I’ve never had the sauce, but I do have a recipe in a magazine somewhere, so if you wanted it…
        Carp as a traditional Christmas food around here is tied to us Czechs having our family Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve, which is still in the fast period. So it’s fish. And carp is one of the fish held in our fishponds.
        I see I got confused about the mid-winter tomatoes. I’m still firmly set in my northern hemisphere mindset. :P

        And no, that was not during that missionary thing; it was on a holiday camp with the youth of my presbytery. One of my fondest memories from the missionary holiday camp in Estonia is hanging a banana on the wall for the greater glory of Kingdom of God… heh, I really should write about that one. :D

  4. It’s sweet – I like the addition of the bow. Coincidentally I have just posted a tutorial on making mittens from a felted sweater :)

  5. Steph, the sweater tote is so darling. I have a few sweaters that now that we are heading into colder weather in the US I have been imagining hats. mittens and collars. Now I will have to add the tote to my ‘to try’ list. ;-)

    • Oh cool. :) And thanks.. I’d be interested to see what you come up with, it’s such fun to see the variety of items that can spring from one idea… :)

  6. Steph, us Brisbanites have to pretend its cold outside by putting on the air con and turning it down. Then your hot roast and pudding goes down a treat. Our tradition is to have prawns or other seafood served first for the Qld touch. But don’t you just love Bing singing White Christmas when you’re sweating, lol.

    • Sigh… But some of us have ecologist husbands who are pretty crabby about electricity use… Especially since the rates went up so dramatically. ;)

      Yes! The seafood is definitely one I’ve noticed since moving here. It’s nice. Except I don’t eat seafood…

      No, Pauline, honestly I don’t… I have yet to fully appreciate the irony. :D

  7. Seriously, felted wool creeps me out and I still think this bag is fantastic! What an awesome tutorial. So simple. And I will not forget YY’s quote. It’s an exercise in meditation.

  8. Is it wrong that I now want to knit something JUST to felt it so I can make something from the felt? If the bag is not really singing to you, maybe Lila would like it? Mine is amassing quite a bag collection, she squeals whenever she finds a new one, its quite funny.

    I lived in Darwin tiI was 3 or 4, and Sydney since then, but my dad is english, and my mum was born in Colorado to an english mother, and moved to England when she was 14.. I cannot do Christmas without a turkey (and all the roast vegies that go with it). We turn all the fans on, open all the doors and windows, and make sure we have a good supply of ice cubes, and then eat outside, under cover. The past few years my husband has BBQd a ham as well, so my son has something to eat (allergic to chicken and turkey, poor thing) thats still ‘Christmassy’. (My mum has lived in Australia for over 30 years now, and still can’t get used to Christmas in the summer, My husband is choosing to ignore the issue entirely, but makes confused/angry faces if he’s reminded.. I had 3 Christmases in California, and firmly believe cold Christmas is completely wrong.. :) But I do agree that all the snow motifs in the middle of summer is totally ridiculous.)

    • No, I totally get that! Grab some of the cheapie wool to knit-felt, I find that does a fantastic job… Or you could be like me and buy the expensive stuff… (sigh.. don’t be like me…;))

      Yeah… Those snow motifs… They really get me going… Also the blank looks I get from shopkeepers when I make a crack about Santa’s inappropriate attire… I mean.. Fur robes??! Sure, Santa in boardies (or-hahahaha a budgie smuggler) is kind of weird too… Can’t he just wear a polo and khakis? Then he’d look like a benevolent retiree about to go play golf… Why not? ;) Or- how about Santa could borrow Stephen’s blue striped beach shirt? I just start to feel sorry for the guy, he must be sweating bullets…

      hehe.

  9. I’m with Hana – Marmota…perfect for hand sewing projects. Really cute. I was going to suggest felted slippers and then realised that they’re about as much use to you as the original sweater! ;-)
    I can’t get my head around Christmas in summer. Or Santa in budgie smugglers, which is an image that will haunt my dreams till the day I die! I might bitch about the weather here for the other 364 days of the year, but Christmas day….not so much. I love the whole traditional malarkey and spend days, nay weeks, beforehand baking and plotting and planning. There’s always a mountain of food, and then I don’t have to cook for days afterwards so we can all relax and make meals from the lovely leftovers. Brilliant.
    BTW – Lila looks adorable with her fringe/bangs. And really very grown up.

    • hahah! But what about Santa as a benevolent retiree? I think there’s something in it…

      I can’t really get my head around it either…

      Thanks! I discovered a wad of hair crammed in the couch cushions the other day… Apparently she wanted some bangs… I said silly bear, just tell me next time and trimmed them up.. She DOES look like such a big girl now. It’s amazing/scary…

  10. Aw, I don’t know what happened to my comment. I did (try to) leave one, but I guess wordpress or my stellar computer skills ate it. Don’t remember what I said, but it probably went somewhere along the lines of:

    I really like your refashion! It turned out super cute, but I can see how it might not suit in your climate. (Be perfect for the Yukon though, and I happen to have a felted sweater in my closet right now…:D) Could be a great knitting bag though, even if you don’t knit much now. Every knitter needs a place to put their long-term projects, yarn, and knitting supplies! :)

  11. I have to admit to finding NZ Christmas with all the northern hemisphere trimmings weird too. We’ve had roast turkey/chickens/lamb etc most years when it a big family get together thing and its just too much. When its just me and my three lovelies we do a BBQ, salads and sausage sarnies. Perfect.

    ‘Tis a cute bag and if it isn’t perfect for Stephanie then perhaps it’d be a perfect Lila bag for putting little treasures in.

  12. I’ll have to keep this in mind. I moved from California to Germany a couple years ago and my Grandma keeps sending me warm wool sweaters. They’re good quality, but usually frumpy and a size too large. They seldom make it out of my closet, so this would be a great way to repurpose one of them.


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