Sunday, June 17, 2012

The J Bag - a beloved sweater re-purpose project

Edited on Friday June 22nd with a J. sweater "before" picture! How fun is that?  And since it's now Friday and I'm under the weather I'm going to some linky parties at the end of the post too!

Last weekend I finished this bag. It's been crazy around here, and I actually became obsessed with finishing it I think because I had so much stress about Teen Wonder's graduation and party plus all the end of year activities with Wild Thing's school, baseball team, etc. But also it had to be really awesome because this isn't just any bag. This was a sweater re-purposed. And not just any sweater - but a sweater made by a good friend. A sweater made with love and numerous hours and lovely Icelandic wool yarn. My college room-mate J. made this sweater for me back in the mid-80s. I thought I took a "before" photo of it, but haven't located it yet. If I do I'll amend the post to include it.  But I'll tell you it was big and roomy (and I'm not small!), with a shawl collar, and it was covered in bobbles (those things are not easy either - well, at least they are way time consuming to knit).
The J. Sweater before - the lighting is a bit green because the photo was taken in our basement right under the fluorescent lights. But you can see the amazing work it took to knit this up!
The thing is, after I moved to California in Fall, 1988, I probably could count on one hand the number of occasions that I could wear this sweater. My sensitive skin meant that I had to wear a full turtleneck underneath, and did I mention it was nice Icelandic wool?  I think I took it to the mountains a few times and played in the snow fully warm and protected from snowballs in this sweater.  But I rarely traveled with it even when I went places I could use it because it was pretty bulky to pack.  But no way could I get rid of such a special gift!

After I learned to knit in 2004 and also learned about felting, I wondered if there would be some way to convert all the lovely knit fabric of the sweater into something else. I made a couple of felted purses, and liked how the knit fabric transforms to a strong bag worthy material. But I didn't have the nerve to suggest this to J. until I had some clear idea how it might look like.  Anyway, this bag design emerged after felting the sweater and spending a few months looking at it and trying to imagine how it would look in various forms before I would even make a single cut. And now this is the end result:

I cut the sleeves off first, and then opted to flip the sweater upside down and make the ribbed bottom band of the sweater the upper edge of the bag. I ended up cutting the sweater at the arm pits, and I snipped out the collar to use for the purse flap.  I did a modest box shape at the bottom corners of the bag to give it some shape.

The handles and lining were constructed using some ultra-suede leftover from my dining room re-upholstery project back here. I will say that I probably wouldn't opt to do this again even though I love the look. I just don't have an industrial strength machine, so multiple layers of ultra-suede and felted wool were extremely hard on my machine. And my fingers!
Inside there is a full zipper divider pocket, so the bag can be more or less a zippered bag with my wallet and any other valuables. I added a smaller patch pocket inside with a pen slot and space for notebook and cell phone. 

I love the look of the hardware details on the handles, and there is a magnetic snap in the flap.  The flap looked nice alone - the angle at the bottom of the ribbed flap is a nice detail. But still a little unadorned, so I made a little fabric flower to finish off the look.

I hope J. will approve - there are a lot of mistakes that I learned from, but none that diminish the end result significantly.  It's a good size for a laptop or folio and books. It's less suitable to a number of fat lumpy things just because the depth of the bottom is not very large. It's also seasonable most of the year here in the Bay Area.

And there is still some bobbly felt that I may be able to use in a second smaller bag or something!

I am entering this bag into the Purse Palooza over at Sew Sweetness . If you are a fan of hand-crafted purses and bags, check it out!

Friday Linky parties!
 at Pretty Bobbins this week


  1. Just wanted to say what a smart move repurposing the sweater. I really liked how it turned out! I think if I were J, I would be thrilled that you did find a better use for the sweater. At least will be be loved and used.

  2. Love the purse and the bobbles look amazing! I would be proud to carry around my lap top in something do nice. Your friend would love what you have done with it and that you treasure it.

  3. I am impressed! I love the idea of repurposing what is so loved ! Great job. I can't imagine your friend would be anything less than thrilled!

  4. Wow, what a great idea! I love it when people repurpose things instead of getting rid of them. Your purse is awesome, Janet! So glad you linked up to TGIFF!

  5. What a lovely bag, the fabric flower really pulls it all together beautifully :) Thanks for popping by and linking up!

  6. It's so cute!! And now it makes me think there might be a use for an Irish wool cable knit sweater I made years and years ago - there may be a purse in my future too! Whoop whoop!!

  7. It's a great bag, and a great idea to get more out of the original gift. Love the handles too. Well done.