New felt bag and how to integrate handles

Well, I shouldn’t have blogged the other day about the creative juices somewhat flowing because that just seemed to jinx things and it has taken a long time to get my new bag designed and felted!  I wasn’t happy with the initial sample (the one in various shades of orange, yellow and gold) so decided to make a large piece of prefelt from different proportions and stripes of cerice, turquoise and black merino overlaid with black and gold artificial lace, glitzy but subtle when fully felted.  This prefelt I then cut up into various shapes before felting it onto a base of apple green merino, another disaster!  In this instance I didn’t like the contrast between the different prefelt shapes and the clarity of the green when felted, by this stage I had spent a full day and a half without being happy with any of my samples!  Running in tandem with this very frustrating process I kept adjusting and fine tuning my template until at last I was happy with the shape of the proposed bag.  Eventually after some more dithering and debating I decided yesterday afternoon to just get on with the bag using colours that I often combine together (no sample this time!), black with small amounts of light and dark turquoise.  The front of the bag has inserts of textured leather and the back a few glass beads which I hope to stitch or bead around.  Now that the bag is fully felted I am actually thinking of entering it into an Irish craft competition so probably will take some shots of various details to upload here but not post a picture of the whole bag until the entries have been short listed. 

Handles for felt bags seem to be a topic that many of you are interested in at the moment.  For myself I like one of two things, either a felt handle integrated into the bag itself or a handle made from another material altogether, leather, metal or wood being three excellent choices that jump to mind immediately.  Contrasting materials and textures bring excitment to felt so keep your eyes peeled to see what unusual items you may come across that could be put to good use as a handle.  I also like my bags to have a couple of different options for use if at all possible, handbag, backpack and/or shoulder bag all rolled into one.  To this end I sometimes incorporate a loop into the back of my bags, this may then be strung with a long felt cord to form a backpack although obviously it depends on how the integrated handles are incorporated if this is to work successfully.  Now, how to integrate rolled felt handles so that they are totally strong, don’t stretch, will stand up to practically any hardship and most importantly last for many years!  For strong sturdy sculptural bags the alsolute best method that I have ever used is what I learnt from Lyda Rump at Felt in Focus in Denmark last summer.  Felt your handle/handles totally until they are extremely hard and there is no shrinkage left leaving all the ends dry.  Lay out your bag in three layers, layer 1 merino, layer 2 a strong and coarser wool such as C1 or Icelandic and layer 3 merino again.  Wet and soap lightly between each layer and after you have laid your second layer fluff out the dry ends from your handle/handles and place into position.  Don’t forget to allow for the fact that your bag will shrink, the handles should not shrink any further or only a very small bit if they are still a little soft.  This is why it is so important to felt them extremely firmly before inserting them!  Cover the dry ends with a little more of the wool from layer 2 and needle lightly into position.  Continue to lay layer 3 followed by your surface decoration and when you start to felt your bag pay special attention to the ends of the handle/handles and make sure that they felt into place exactly where you want them to end up.  As your bag felts and gets stronger pull and rub at the base of the handles to make them extremely strong and well integrated.  Another great method for handles is to cut your resist out but don’t actually remove any felt.  You then need to stretch the opening in such a way as to form your handles and then felt them fully.  Both Elaine and Carmen’s handles were formed in this way at our recent complex bag workshops and loads of books on felting give different ways of cutting to achieve this result.  Have a look at the images of Elaine laying out her wool (from my recent posts) and then her wearing the finished bag, this should give you an idea of what I am talking about if you don’t have any suitable books.

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4 thoughts on “New felt bag and how to integrate handles

  1. Thank you so much Nicola, and for all the details of several option described as only you can! You now have me thinking about my next project….and your tips remind me that making a bag that’s as strong as the handles is the key to making functional bags that will become favorite bags to use everyday.

  2. Nicola–I wonder whether you could tell me which felt books have the best examples of how to cut felted pieces in order to stretch out integrated handles? I have been amassing quite a felt book collection, but I cannot recall seeing this topic covered in any that I currently own.

    Thanks so much! XXOO

    P.S. Did you try the butterscotch brownies after all? 🙂

  3. Hi Heather and Nancy, You both might enjoy the German book ‘Mit Kindern Filzen’ by Christel Dhom which gives clear instructions, templates and pictures of completed bags with integrated handles. Lyda probably cuts her handles a little thicker than some in this book (which makes them stronger) and sometimes folds the extra flap inside the bag for stability instead of actually removing the it altogether. By folding the extra felt inside the bag you can actually stitch it into place, cut a hole for access and make a secret pocket as well as making the bag stronger! The book is in German but even if you don’t understand the words this is one of the best books that I have ever owned for clear pictorial instructions. XXX PS Heather, not had time to try the brownies yet but I definitely will as soon as I get shopping for the ingredients!

  4. Nicola–Just a follow-up note to let you know that I purchased the book that you recommended…Mit Kindern Filzen…and it’s exactly what I was looking for!!
    Thanks so much for your help–Heather

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