Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Made: Embellished tote bags and quick knits

I have finished up my sewing/knitting year with a pile of little hand-sewing and knitting projects, probably because they're all the kind of thing you can do while sitting on the sofa watching Christmas TV and hanging out with family.

There's been a bit of a trend in some of the (many) blogs I read of people trying out the Alabama Chanin books and methods this year. Normally I'm not very excited by a lot of embroidery or embellishment, but something about the AC garments I've seen appeals to me and I really wanted to make something similar. I ordered one of the books just recently, but while I was waiting for it to arrive I decided to take a detour from the actual AC project suggestions from the books (which mainly use knits and involve hand stitching the whole project) and try out some simple reverse appliqué by hand on a woven fabric that I then constructed (by machine) into a tote bag.

Tote bag embellished with "Bloomer" stencil reverse applique and running stitch
For the first bag, I slightly modified one of the simpler stencils that I downloaded from the Alabama Chanin website (this stencil is "Bloomer") and then added in a circular "frame" in running stitch. The bag is a very simple box bottom tote bag with a separate lining (so where the reverse appliqué is there are three layers of fabric -- calico outer, mustard appliqué layer, mustard lining). From a distance I really like how this bag turned out, but the close up view of my hand-stitching/reverse appliqué is, alas, extremely unimpressive. It was immediately obvious why the AC projects tend to use knits, because it is definitely much harder to do reverse appliqué when you have to worry about turning under the fraying edges as you do the appliqué. Getting the edge turned over properly at any kind of point or corner turned out to be pretty much beyond my skill level.

Book bag embellished with Alabama Chanin "Anna's Garden" stencil

Nevertheless, I decided to make a second calico bag using the same technique but with a different, more complicated stencil ("Anna's Garden"). I left this one as a book bag (also lined, in the same green sateen as I used for the reverse appliqué) rather than a boxed base so that I could fill the whole of one side of the bag with the stencil. However, I realized almost as soon as I started stitching the stencilled section that some of the shapes in the stencil were just totally outside of my ability level with reverse appliqué if I was going to turn the edges under. I decided therefore to just outline many of the smaller and more complicated shapes in running stitch. The kindest thing I can say about the quality of the actual reverse appliqué bits is that I was probably slightly better at it by the end than I was at the beginning of making this. Very slightly.

Overall, I feel like the second bag did not live up to the image in my head at all, mainly because of the amount of running stitch I ended up doing. If I were to do it again, I'd probably do something different with the parts I couldn't appliqué and/or try to get a different balance of reverse appliqué vs. stitching for a better outcome. However, you know, it's a tote bag that cost me about £1 to make in materials, I am not going to cry over it not turning out quite as well as I hoped.

In conclusion, although my outcomes from these Alabama Chanin inspired projects were not very good from a technical point of view, I found the process of stitching these bags very enjoyable and I do like the outcomes aesthetically. I definitely want to have a go with (hopefully much more forgiving!) knits in the very near future.

Yoyo bags: version 1 with lines of yoyos; the interior with dancing hippes; version 2 with a heart and silver beads
The third and fourth bags I could possibly have included in my recent finishing-up-WIPs post as they're partly made from a very old project. However, that would suggest that I have any idea whatsoever why I (a) originally made 50 red and white yoyos back in 2011 and then (b) put them in a sealed plastic bag, inside another bag, inside a box where they then stayed for two and a half years. I am pretty sure I had some sort of plan, but whatever that plan was I evidently didn't follow through and it didn't stick in my memory; when I found them again the other day, I honestly couldn't bring to mind a single clue what it was I thought I was going to do with them. Lacking any specific purpose for them, I decided that I might as well sew them onto some basic white cotton twill tote bags that I made. The lining in each bag is Dancing Hippos from Ikea. I'll probably fling these onto my Etsy shop eventually.

Gap-tastic Cowl in blue and grey aran weight
I have also been knitting furiously and over the last couple of weeks I've made two easy cowls. The first is another Gap-Tastic cowl (Ravelry link) which I previously made in September 2013. This time I used two very light aran weight yarns held together in two different colours, which is the first time I've tried this technique. The yarn is Aldi's 'Rustic Aran', which I got several enormous skeins of while I was living in Ireland. The pattern actually called for chunky (bulky) weight and working with two light aran yarns made for a very dense knit. I ended up finishing up about 10cm short of full pattern width because it was turning out so very heavy. I do like the finished product though, especially the grey/blue colour mix from using the two yarns. I'd like to make a hat to go with it but I am struggling for the perfect slouchy hat pattern for this yarn weight. In the meantime, my mum has requested a cowl of her own to this pattern for her birthday (in January) so I have more yarn on order for that already.

Seriously Chunky Christmas Day Cowl
The second cowl is in cheap and cheerful Cygnet Seriously Chunky (in the Nightjar colourway). I just did a very simple 18-stitch wide moss stitch scarf on giant 15mm needles and then seamed it together at the end as I have done before with similar yarn from Aldi. I started knitting this on Christmas morning after we had all settled down post-present opening in the morning, and I finished it up in the early evening just before I went home, to the amazement of my little niece. She was quite taken by the idea of knitting. I actually got her started for herself with a stocking stuffer gift that my mum had coincidentally bought her, a knitting dolly (also called a knitting nancy, or spool knitting or French knitting). She did also ask if she could have my scarf when I finished it, but I am sorry to say I told her no as I wanted it for myself!


  1. From the distance of the photos, those first two tote bags look incredible. I wouldn't worry about up close because no one is going to be putting their nose up to your bag.


    1. Thanks! I found the actual reverse applique really frustrating to do, which is probably why it seems so technically incompetent to me.

  2. Those are lovely! I don't quite understand the Alabama Chanin thing in general, but these I really like, and leaving the stitching plain, without the reverse aplique thing going on reminds me a lot of sashiko stiching and suddenly I like it a lot more!

    1. Thanks! :D I did want the running stitch to look similar to sashiko. There are some much more geometric Alabama Chanin templates as well that remind me very much of the sashiko embroidery I did last Xmas, so it's likely that I'll continue to make things that sort of combine bits of both.

  3. Holy cow - your tote bags are amazing!!