Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I Came, I Saw, I Felted

I have just completed my first successful felting project (my first felting attempt, many years ago, having been a tragic lesson in yarn labels, specifically about that mysterious stuff called "superwash").

The story: When at home, my mother listens to books on audio all the time. I mean, *all the time.* A few years ago my stepfather had my sister-in-law make her a special little tote bag for her CD and tape players, which she carried around until it wore out. When I was home last weekend, I mentioned that I needed to run to the fabric store to get some Woolly Nylon, intending to experiment with using it as reinforcement thread for knitted socks. My mom said, "Oh, really? What a coincidence." Turns out she'd planned to have another fabric bag made, so I offered to knit her a felted one.

Having never a) felted anything successfully or b) knit a bag of any kind ever before, I decided to use up some leftover Brown Sheep Nature Spun and make the Ultimate Swatch, aka an entire prototype bag. With unusual foresight, I had accepted Vogue Knitting's free preview offer for their first Sitchionary for the sole purpose of getting the free copy of Felting on the Go. I cracked it open and absorbed certain important pieces of information, for instance the importance of knitting to a fairly open gauge, top-loading washing machines, and what does and doesn't felt (yes, yes, superwash bad, thank you).

The one thing that none of felting sources I consulted mentioned was math. Specifically, how one expanded a design proportionally so that it would shrink to the desired dimensions without one side being too long or short in relation to the others and so on. Felting is not an exact science, but I did have certain dimensional needs, and I wanted to keep the bag as compact as I could. So, math.

Now, as some of you may know, I do not have a perfect track record as a math whiz, despite the fact that I actually like math and at one point was capable of doing all that nifty calculus and whatnot. But surely I could figure out a simple ratio and plug it in, right?

Well, sorta. It only took three different formulas, two false starts, and an unfortunate height error resulting from adding said ratio to the desired value instead of dividing by it (tip: cell phone calculators are tricky with that "one extra touch on the button will radically change your result" problem). Still, no real harm done. This was one reason I wanted to knit the prototype first, after all.

I based the design on a carpet bag pattern I had bought, only much, much smaller, and it turned out to be fairly simple. I knitted a flat bottom to the dimensions of the sides, then picked up stitches around and knitted a tube until I got my desired height. The trickiest part was figuring out the strap, since I had no desire to sew one on afterwards. I did it by knitting across the short side stitches while binding off the long sides, leaving one side on holders while I knitted up the strap from the other end, then grafted it together. One piece knitting, my favorite.

I made the strap 2 inches wide, using seed stitch, and longer by the same ratio as the other bag dimensions. I learned after felting that narrow strips don't seem to shrink to the same degree as the rest of the bag, and that wider is better. Other than that, though, the bag turned out pretty much the way I wanted, so I think I can proceed to the real thing next.

I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with the bright purple-and-green striped bag I've created. I suspect that when Boo sees it she'll decide for me.


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