Recycled sweater totes

Give old sweaters a second chance by turning them into one-of-a-kind handbags.

Getting started
Photography by John Rizzo (See larger image)

These totes are made from old sweaters that are felted in the washing machine. You can create the handles by cutting the sweater strategically after you felt it or you can take the felted bag to a shoemaker or tailor and ask him or her to attach leather handles for you. Once you start making these bags, I warn you that you may become obsessed with finding "new" sweaters to work with at thrift stores, even in the drawers of family and friends.

Finished totes shown are approx 42 cm (16-1/2 in) wide and 30.5 to 52.5 cm (12 to 20 in) tall.

You need:
Pure wool, large-size, adult sweater (not recommended on care label for machine washing)
Matching thread
Dressmaker's chalk pencil, set square and ruler

(Click here for tote diagrams.)

To make:
1. Fill washing machine with hot water to the lowest level possible, then add 1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 25 mL) dishwashing liquid. Immerse sweater and set machine to agitate. Check results every few minutes – you want to shrink or “felt” knitting into smooth, impermeable fabric with no visible stitches. Felting time varies; it may take several wash cycles.

2. Finish felted machine-knit sweater by spinning, then machine-dry or lay flat to dry (avoid machine spinning or drying hand-knit sweater; squeeze out excess moisture, then lay flat to dry, instead).

3. Turn felted sweater inside out and lay flat on work surface, so neck/shoulder edge is closest to you, then straighten side and bottom edges perpendicular to one another.

4. Using chalk pencil and ruler, mark line from armhole to armhole, parallel to bottom edge, for top edge of tote.

5. Using set square, mark 2 wide handles as shown in Diagram I, perpendicular to first marked line.

6. Cut along chalk lines as indicated, then set aside sleeve and neck sections. Turn right side out, then open and refold so side seams are at centre front and back. Topstitch or machine-zigzag bottom edges together, approx 13 mm (1/2 in) up from hem.

Page 1 of 2 - find out how to finish your tote on page 2.

Adapted from AlterKNITS by Leigh Radford with permission by Stewart, Tabori and Chang.. Copyright 2005 by Leigh Radford. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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