Friday, 10 March 2017

The All About Bag Knitting Pattern

Well, this is the fourth anniversary of Wool Tribulations blog. Last year, I was digging up madder roots and melancholically musing - what's this blogging game about? This year, finds me more cheerfully inclined and after all, it is March, when an old bag's mind usually turns to thoughts of felting. The basic pattern common to these two bags is given below, with the variations.

For posterity, the annual review. Shortly after posting the last anniversary's virtual existential crisis, loads of people started reading the blog, boosting the cumulative tally to an astonishing 421,000 page views. I reckon that would hearten any small time, niche blogger and it has certainly encouraged me to stick at it. As a Sole Trader, I set out the Rich & Strange Silk and Wool Work stall at five events in 2016 and while selling craft items will never keep me in cigarettes, I did better than break even, so the self-funding hobby concept can now be deemed a success. While artistic aspirations took a knock back, with flat rejections from some open exhibitions and no sales at the few that I did get a piece into, an impulse venture, The Plant Dyes for All Seasons Calendar, exceeded my wildest hopes, selling over 200 copies online. Thanks very much everybody, especially Shiela at Hand Spinning News, I am planning some lavish spending at Wonderwool Wales next month. Better still, through the calendar, I have got involved in helping with other people's interesting dye projects and have had a few invitations to speak. Off to the Women's Institute on Monday, I'll be trying to persuade them to start their own dye plant gardens this Spring.

As ever, I digress. The All About bags use the helix knitting technique to make a spiral of six colours of yarn knitted on a circular needle. The helix is an easy way to give the effect of stripes, without any carry overs of yarn and only the six beginnings and ends of yarn to sew in afterwards. 
I made the first bag with alder bark dyed yarn and took it to the Madrona Fibre Retreat, where I had lots of compliments - all about the button. This photo shows how it looks after several weeks on the road, stuffed with knitting project, book, tickets, passport and packed lunch.
The second bag was made with yarn dyed with brown onion skins and has one colour knitted in purl, to make the spiral stand out. The base of the bag shows off the construction best - this picture was taken before felting and final shaping. With a brighter colourway, a more dramatic flap and no button, this modified version is intended to be All About The Bag.


150g bulky yarn in Main Colour A (96m)
50g bulky yarn in colours B, C, D, E and F (32m of each)
If you intend to felt your bag in the washing machine, choose 100% wool of a durable type. I used two 200g hanks of Super Chunky Cheviot from World of Wool. They have Super Chunky Merino already dyed in a whole range of colours, merino should felt well, though I don't know how strongly it would withstand hard use. I quite fancy trying yarn from some of their other breeds and overdyeing the ones in natural colours. Their Super Chunky is certainly competitively priced, the yarn comes as a lightly twisted, fat single, it is loose in structure yet not elastic, which I think works fine for making felted bags.

6mm circular knitting needle
Spare yarn and crochet hook for provisional cast on
Large darning needle for sewing in ends
Stitch holder or extra 6mm needle
Snap Fastener
Decorative Button if desired

Tension Gauge
Stocking stitch - 13 stitches and 17.5 rows = 10cm square before felting.

Felted Size approximately 32cm deep, 35cm wide with a 66cm handle.


Using the spare yarn, make a crochet provisional cast on of 84 stitches on your circular needle. 
Set Up Round - Using the Main Colour A yarn, knit across all the cast on stitches, place a marker and join to knit in the round.

First Round
From the stitch marker at the beginning of the round, continue knitting in Main Colour A for 14 stitches. Now use colour B to knit the next 14 stitches, colour C to knit the next 14 stitches, colour D to knit the next 14 stitches, colour E to knit the next 14 stitches and colour F to knit the last 14 stitches back to the marker.
Second Round
Continue knitting with colour F for 14 stitches.  Here, you will find the yarn from the ball of Main Colour A dangling below the 14th stitch. No twisting the yarns round each other, just drop colour F, lift up colour A and adjust the tension on the last colour A stitch so it is just the same as all the other stitches.  If you leave it too loose or pull it tight as you start to use it again, you will end up with a seam running vertically up the knitting. Knit 14 stitches with Colour A, to where you find Colour B dangling down.  As before, check the tension on the last stitch of colour B and use B to knit 14 stitches, pick up and use Colour C to knit 14 stitches, pick up and use Colour D to knit 14 stitches, pick up and use Colour E to knit 14 stitches, arriving back at the round marker.

Working with six balls of yarn, to avoid getting the dangling ends in a twist, keep them on a flat basket or tray on your lap and rotate the whole thing anticlockwise at the end of each round. For the following rounds, always continue knitting with the same colour you were using at the end of the round for another 14 stitches starting from the round marker, then pick up and use each colour in turn for 14 stitches.

After six rounds,the six different colours will all have completed one circuit. After sixty rounds, they will have made ten circuits, so it's easy to keep track of the row count. After sixty rounds, begin these reductions to form the base of the bag.

Continue to work with the six yarns in a helix throughout the base.

Reduction Rounds
From the stitch marker, knit 1, knit 2 together, continue knitting til you reach the next colour. With the next colour, knit 1, knit 2 together, continue knitting til you reach the following colour. Repeat til you get back to the stitch marker again, then continuing in the same colour as you were using for the end of the last round, knit 1, knit 2 together and knit to the next colour.

Continue with these reduction rounds.  Once the tube of knitting gets too small to work easily on the circular needle, start using magic loop or change to double pointed needles until there are only 2 stitches of each colour left on the cord - total 12 stitches. Break the working yarn leaving a 20cm tail, thread it onto a darning needle and run it through the loops of all 12 stitches, removing the round marker and the circular needle cord.  Pull tight, fasten off and sew in the loose ends of all six colours.

Handle and Front Edge
Unravel ten stitches of the crochet cast on, picking up the ten live stitches on your circular needle. Secure the loose end of the crochet cast on. Using Main Colour A, with the wrong side of the work facing you, knit across the ten stitches, turn and knit back making one garter stitch ridge. I knitted 74 ridges for my preferred handle length. While felting will shorten the handle, remember when you carry heavy things in the bag, it will stretch, becoming both longer and narrower. 
Leave the last ten stitches on a spare needle or stitch holder and cut the yarn, leaving a good long tail for grafting.
Unravel the next 42 stitches of the crochet cast on, picking up the live stitches on your circular needle. Graft the ten stitches of the handle to the first ten stitches now on your needle using Kitchener Stitch.
Working with the 32 stitches still on your needle, knit back and forth for four rows, making two ridges of garter stitch, then cast off. Cut the yarn leaving a long tail and use this to sew the cast off stitches back against the inside of the bag, two rows down the helix.

Top Flap
Unravel the remaining 32 stitches of the crochet cast on, picking up the live stitches on your circular needle. Using Main Colour A, work in stocking stitch to and fro, one row knit, the next row purl, for 20 rows, finishing on a purl row.
To shape the curved edge
Row One 
Knit 2, slip 2 stitches from the left to the right needle, then insert the left needle through the backs of the loops and knit the 2 slipped stitches together(ssk), knit to the last 4 stitches, knit 2 together(k2tog), knit 2.
Row Two
Purl all stitches.
Row Three
Knit 2, ssk, ssk, knit to the last 6 stitches, k2tog, k2tog, knit 2.
Row Four
Purl all stitches.
Repeat Rows Three and Four until only 6 stitches remain, then cast off in purl. Don't worry about the 3D dome shape, it will be flattened to a 2D semicircle by blocking after felting.

Sew in the loose ends. Put the bag in the washing machine on the hottest cycle (mine is 95 degrees centigrade) with old towels or clothes to help felt it.
While it is damp, put a large plastic bag inside and stuff it with clothes, squashing them about until you are happy with the shape. Put the bag upside down on a mat and pin out the flap so it is flat and its edges are uncurled. Leave to dry before removing the pins and stuffing. Sew on a snap fastener to secure the flap and a decorative button to finish.

Variations used for Bag Two
To make the opening of the bag narrower, I cast on 72 stitches and started the helix with 12 stitches in each colour.
To make the main colour A stand out within a garter stitch ridge, I worked colour F in purl (the yarn just dangles at the front instead of the back of the work) . On the third and fifth rounds of the helix, I increased one stitch after each colour change by knitting 2 then making one stitch left, or in the case of colour F, purling 2 and making one left in purl. From round 6 the work was back to 84 stitches and completed like the first bag, only purling 2 together in colour F on the reduction rounds. 
From the 72 stitch provisional cast on, the handle was still made ten stitches wide, leaving only 26 stitches for the front edge and 26 for the flap. To create the long narrow triangular flap shape, I knit 2 together in the middle of each knit row until only one stitch remained to fasten off. When the number of stitches remaining was even, I knitted half the stitches before knitting 2 together.

The All About Bag has a decent capacity, is strong enough to carry potatoes and has proved its worth on an epic journey.

These are the voyages of the blogship Wool Tribulations. Its four year mission so far; to explore strange new wools, to seek out new knitting and new crochet patterns, to boldly dye with plants as countless generations of women have done before.


  1. Both bags are lovely. I once submitted a handspun, intricately cabled coat to my guild exhibition, and they insisted on adding the words "with feature buttons" to the description. The (quite ordinary) buttons cost me a couple of quid from the market - it still irks me, so I feel your pain.

    1. I suppose we have to take the compliments as praise for our skill in accessorising. Maybe I should start making big wooden buttons for the craft fairs, since people are so impressed :)

  2. Go Boldly! Love reading what you are up to. Therefore ending in a preposition. Helen

  3. You can't appreciate Shakespeare until you've read him in the original Klingon.

  4. Happy anniversary from me and I will extend it from all the readers who don't like to comment, but are feeling very thankful like me that we get to see your work and woolly things! Thanks!

  5. I adore these bags and who knows, maybe one day I'll be good enough to attempt to make one.
    I'm glad you're still blogging and inspiring wooly people everywhere :D x

    1. I'm glad you like the bags, trust me, helix knitting is easy peasy, bet you could do it no trouble. Skip the provisional cast on, just do an ordinary cast on and a couple of rounds in garter stitch to start, then make the handle separately and sew it on.

  6. I love your style, in writing, bags and buttons!

  7. Please do carry on blogging! I love reading about your trials and tribulations and Ms Gotlands words of wisdom. I tried Daffodil dyeing two years ago on some white fleece and the colour was equally pale as yours seems to have turned out.

    1. Thank you. I suspect that different species of daffodil have different concentrations of dye. Shame I have no idea which species I have been using ...