Saturday, July 21, 2007

Larger Than MY Life Bag

Larger than MY Life...

Crocheting is like riding a bike. You never really forget how to do it. You may forget the nuances, how to count the stitches, etc., but it all comes back really quickly. It's been 30 years since I switched from crochet to knitting and haven't looked back. In defense of crochet, I learned to do it first and I credit it for teaching me how to keep an even tension in my work and for "teaching" me combination knitting since after crochet, that is what felt most natural to me for the knit stitch (or else I just interpreted the knit stitch incorrectly, but my knitting comes out perfectly, so there you go.) There is a lot to be said for crochet in terms of dropping stitches: there is only one stitch to drop, so no big deal. Great for entry level users of yarn. And, ripping out/back is a LOT easier. And, you can make some cute edges and flowers with it, so all in all, crochet has its benefits.

I am always looking around the web for new ideas for knitted purses when I happened upon Cecily Keim's "Larger Than Life" Bag on various knitters blogs (Spring 2007 issue of Interweave Crochet). I was distracted, obsessed, and determined to make this bag!! They say it is the bag that will turn knitters into crochet-ers. Possibly.

The tale of my Larger Than Life (LTL) bag begins. First I tried out the seemingly simple block the bag is based on. There's a reason this bag is so compelling. It looks simple, but the block it is based on, while not overly difficult, is complex enough to make a knitter want to crochet again. It takes me several (OK, 5!) tries to get it right, plus a trip to Sugar Bunny, who has provided an excellent tutorial on the Willow Block (the square used for this bag from 200 Crochet Blocks by Jan Eaton (Interweave Press). There is something to be said for the saying, "a little knowledge is dangerous". Thinking or remembering some of my crochet knowledge caused me to either mis-read the directions or skip them all together!! OK, I finally achieved a block that looked like it was supposed to.

Next issue: Gauge. I had pretty much decided to use Tahki Cotton Classic because of the color choices, although Cascade 220 was in consideration. Cotton Classic won out because of the sheen, the wider range of colors, and the stitch definition. The crochet hook specified produced a loose, floppy block, about 6.5 inches square. So, I started ratcheting down hook sizes until I was happy with the result: a 5.5 inch square using a Boye steel hook, Size 1, 2.75 mm.

Before we go any farther on here, let me say that my plan was to deviate from the pattern when it came to the lining of the bag. I have a sewing machine, but I don't really want to use it any more than I have to. I don't usually use bags with zippers, so if I did make a bag, I wouldn't be installing a zipper. I am a fan of the magnetic snap! My inspiration came from Ellen, who posted on the LargerThanLifeCAL. From her post, I got the idea of making the front, back, sides, and bottom as a slip cover for an already existing tote bag. I would then attach (method to be determined) the crocheted "LTL - WORK of ART" to the existing bag and a.) minimize work on my part, and b.) end up with a better lining/inner bag than if I made it myself.

After much looking around, I found a reasonably priced ($5 approx.) black tote bag at Michaels, 17"w x 13"H x 4"D. These were close to the dimensions of the pattern and I thought I could make it work. The top of the bag had an inch "border" made by stitching, where the handles were attached. This ended up serving three purposes. One was as a design feature, the border was the same dimension as the handles, so leaving a canvas border at the top, looked intentional. The other was, by have the canvas bag border at the top, it kept the crocheted material away from the top edge where most the the wear and abrasion happens, so the bags stays good looking longer!!

The third was using up an inch of the 13". With my squares measuring at 5.5 inches, 2 squares would = 11". The crocheted border would add 1/2" to the front/back panel making it 11 1/2" and the rest (getting it to 12") I could make up with blocking and cotton's natural ability to stretch....... it worked.

The handle was just long enough to go over my shoulder but not too long.

Now the fun began. COLOR. COLOR. COLOR. Well, embarking on this project gave me an excuse to purchase every possible interesting shade of Cotton Classic in green, turquoise, red-purple, oranges, reds, and of course chartreuse. I quickly realized a couple of color guidelines for this project:

  1. I was going to modify color scheme of the pattern block. There is a center "circle" of one color, then a "ring and petal" (my words) of another color, and finally a border of a third color. For my taste, the middle section was too much of the same color so I modified this section by adding a 4th color, usually in the same color family and value, but different to give this area some variety and depth (but not always, as you can see in these examples!).


  2. The centers of the blocks, the "circles" were all going to be green, medium to light green. I chose not to make them identical, but it was an option I considered.

  3. The border rounds usually were a darker color, often green, but not always.

  4. Originally I was going to have 12 different blocks, no repeats, but for various reasons, I repeated several blocks.

I wish I could say that it all went smoothly. The crocheting was fine, the color choices were not always fine, so there was a lot of ripping out... One trick: instead of cutting the yarn when changing colors, use locking or split stitch markers to temporarily hold the last stitch (as if it were cut and pulled through). When you finish the square, and see all of the colors together, you can decide if you like the combination. If you don't, rip it out, and your yarn is still intact: no pieces of yarn, (which I detest!).

I didn't keep count, but I probably made almost 20 squares before I got the combinations I was happy with. I tend to be a little particular.

Assembling the blocks. Of course, as I was making the blocks, I was putting them beside each other, designing as I went which can make for some exciting moments, but definitely slows down the production process. No pattern to tell you what to do. At some point you just have to get the black yarn out and start whip stitching these puppies together! Of course, after you proudly sew these cute squares together, you have to crochet around them several times...

Now comes the side and bottom band which seems simple (the stitch pattern IS simple) but takes a long time. I think it was made worse by my choice of BLACK as the main color so it was doubly fatiguing to crochet the long narrow band in black. I did figure out that if I put on some magnifiers, things got a lot easier ;*). Again, after you finish the 4 x 41 inch band of single and double crochet you get to crochet around the whole thing! I think you are getting that I got tired of that part of the pattern, although it IS NECESSARY for the bag to have a FABULOUS finished look!

So, I have made the front, the back, the sides, and the bottom. How to attach my "crocheted slipcover" to my canvas tote bag? Originally I thought of snap tape. But, I abandoned that idea, even though it does come in black. Then I thought of Velcro dots. I underestimated the WEIGHT of the completed piece when you do it in cotton. Probably why Cecily chose merino wool. The Velcro dots weren't going to do it. There was going to be a lot of sagging...

Then I remembered how we used to hang quilts in our house. We applied the Velcro strip with the hooks to a piece of wood attached to the wall (a furring strip) and sewed the Velcro strip with the loops to the quilt. That way, you could easily hang the quilt without any sags, pressure points, pulling etc.

So, I decided, that was what I would have to do. I machine sewed (OK, my friend Michelle sewed it because my sewing machine needed some repair) the Velcro with the hooks to the canvas bag. I hand sewed the Velcro strip with the loops to the crochet piece and ...

Side 1 and Side 2

Final Analysis: Would I make this again? I love the end result!!! It was A LOT OF WORK!!!! Much more than I anticipated. Oh, I forgot to mention, weaving in ALL the ends of the MANY COLORS in each very colorful block. And there is a lot of very careful sewing, loop by loop. I kept telling my husband, as I was going along, "If anyone asks me to make this for them, the price is, ..."

Of course, I "went to school" on this one, so the next one wouldn't be quite so entertaining. I think I will settle for teaching others how to make their own LARGER THAN LIFE Bag and let them take their own journey!

Thanks, Cecily, great pattern, great inspiration.


Blogger KnelleyBelley said...

This bag is beautiful - and worth all the time and effort you put into it! Now I want to make one. I'll put it in line behind all the other projects on my list. Nice!

7/22/2007 10:30 AM  

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