Thursday, September 26, 2019

Calla Lily Bag

A while back, I’d guess five to ten years ago, I sewed a purse for myself using quilting cotton. I used the Phlipphlap Bag pattern by Nancy Mirman and Ellen Hauben with some size changes.

The handbag was a challenge to make, particularly because the pattern calls for many layers of fabric plus batting. Even after hammering seams, I struggled to fit the fabric under my machine’s presser foot.

But I have loved this bag! It’s the perfect combination of colors, shapes, and even some (purchased) handmade buttons. I can fit everything I need inside, and it suits almost every occasion. I receive compliments on it regularly, including once by both salespeople and customers in a Coach store!

I have so many photos I could share, but that purse isn’t the focus of this post.

Over time, the fabric has begun to show wear. I’ve made repairs, but it’s gotten to the point that I can’t keep up. It’s no longer just fraying edges; the fabric panels themselves are thinning.

Close-up of colorful fraying fabric purse on dark wood.

Because of my difficulties the first time around — and because I don’t think I could find such an ideal mix of colors and prints again — I didn’t want to make an updated version of the handbag.

My search for a new bag pattern led me to the Calla Lily Bag by Cat Bordhi, which is published in “The Knitter’s Book of Yarn” by Clara Parkes.

Swinging in the opposite direction of my colorful fabric bag, I bought five skeins of Patons North America Classic Wool Worsted in the colorway Dark Gray Mix. The yarn is a little lighter weight than what the pattern calls for, but it’s available locally and I knew it would felt. In order to achieve gauge, I had to use larger knitting needles than the pattern suggests: US-15 (10 mm).

Bottom of loosely knit dark gray wool handbag before fulling.

I acquainted myself with the pattern and its reviews beforehand, so I didn’t have any trouble understanding the construction. The knitting itself is almost entirely stockinette stitch.

I wanted the short side of my purse to be taller than the six inches (15 cm) specified in the pattern, so I knit to 18 inches (46 cm) before beginning the decreases. I also wanted a longer strap; I knit for 39 inches (99 cm) instead of 25 inches (64 cm). In every other respect, I followed the pattern.

Strap of loosely knit dark gray wool purse before felting.

The knitting at this point was so big that when I put the strap over my shoulder, the bag itself rested on the ground. You can find the before and after measurements listed together at the bottom of this post for easy comparison.

I have little experience with felting or fulling, which made that part of the instructions nerve-wracking. I had spent so much time knitting, and once I started to shrink the fabric there would be no turning back!

Bordhi says to set the machine for low, but doesn’t specify if she means the water level or the agitation. To stay on the safe side, I set my machine for a normal hot cycle with regular agitation. In retrospect, I should have used the high agitation setting because I had to run the purse through six cycles. It could possibly benefit from one more, but I’m afraid of making it too small.

Dark gray fulled wool purse with red handmade button and silver metal label on a dark wood background.

I liked the idea of adding buttons along with some sort of buttonhole flap. I would feel like the contents were more secure, and it would give me an opportunity to reuse the buttons from my old handbag.

After the bag was done and I knew the scale I was working with, I knit a rectangle to use as the buttonhole flap. Fulling that piece taught me that the center of the rectangle shrinks differently than the cast-on and cast-off edges, resulting in a sort of bowtie shape — I don’t know whether this is due to the nature of fulling or the way I weaved the ends. I tried again, making the ends narrower this time. That piece of fulled fabric came out as a rectangle, but it still wasn’t exactly what I envisioned. Both pieces have the look of homemade maxi pads gone awry; I’ll spare you the photos.

After giving it more thought, I looped together three dark gray ponytail holders. I love the simplicity of this solution! They look good, they’re stretchy, they’re inexpensive, and I didn’t have to fuss with closing the ends of the loops.

Close-up of dark gray fulled wool purse with yellow handmade button on a dark wood background.

As a final touch, I added a metal label that I found in my button box:

Silver metal label that says "possibility begins with imagination" sewn onto dark gray wool felt fabric.

Cheers to possibilities, imagination, and a new purse!




  • Before: 15.5 by 6.5 inches (39 x 16.5 cm)
  • After: 10 by 3.25 inches (25.5 x 8 cm)

Height on Short Side

  • Before: 18 inches (46 cm)
  • After: 9 inches (23 cm)

Height on Long Side

  • Before: 31 inches (79 cm)
  • After: 16.5 inches (42 cm)

Strap Width

  • Before: 2.75 inches (7 cm)
  • After: 1.5 inches (4 cm)

Strap Length

  • Before: 39 inches (99 cm)
  • After: 24 inches (61 cm)

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