A few months back, a friend tipped me off to the most beautiful tote bag I'd ever seen. I LOVED the dark grey wool outer, the mixed media with the leather straps, and the large size to accommodate knitting projects. What I did not love was the $180 price tag. So when Organic Cotton Plus contacted me about a review, I had a vague notion of trying to copy the twig&horn bag. That notion became a reality when I saw their 100% wool felt. Available in small sheets, by the yard, or even in ribbon, I couldn't wait to nab some yardage and make my own tote bag.
I selected Charcoal and the color is perfect. The lining is 100% cotton broadcloth in Pumice, which is a sort of pinky-lilac color. I don't believe I've ever worked with broadcloth before. It reminded me of a high quality muslin, although a bit sheer. Perfect for a contrast bag lining and very easy to sew. For straps, I went with black hemp webbing in a width of 1.5".
I spent a lot of time searching for a pattern that would get me close to my inspiration bag. Being primarily a garment sewist, the only bag designer I knew offhand was Noodlehead (Range Backpack, I'm coming for you someday!). I checked out her website and found the Wool+Wax Tote pattern, which looked pretty darn close. I happened to run across her booklet, Everyday Essentials, when I was ordering some fabric from another shop, and added that to my cart. The Everyday Essentials booklet contains the Wool+Wax Tote pattern, and two additional ones, although you can purchase all the patterns separately as PDFs.
The pattern was very easy to follow. I think I spent as much time cutting and interfacing as I did sewing! I used a universal 80/12 needle and a walking foot. The wool felt has no spandex or stretch but I did find the walking foot fed the layers much better than a regular foot. I used pink thread for a subtle contrast with the topstitching. The only change I made was to add a magnetic closure, and also to add some ultra firm stabilizer to the bottom.
This project should have been super quick and easy, but I ran into one snag that definitely needs discussed. I chose not to prewash the felt. Here is the description from the website:
Dry clean only - if washed, the wool will have a boiled wool look. It can also shrink depending on how hot the temperature of water is - the hotter it is the more it will shrink.
Based on this info, I thought it would be better not to prewash. I knew I was making a bag and that I could spot-clean it as needed. I have a lot of experience with wool, and when washed they all behave differently. I thought it would be better not to risk it.
My thought process would have been fine EXCEPT that I forgot about interfacing. When I began fusing my outer bag pieces to my interfacing, it shrank (wool+heat+water=shrinkage). It wasn't a lot, but it was enough for me to notice the first piece looked different and to compare it to its identical counterpart.
At that point, I had already cut all my pieces, so I had a decision to make. Prewash my remaining yardage and recut (if possible!), or continue with what I had and trim the lining pieces to match my wool as it shrank. I went with option #2, because the thought of wasting all that fabric really bothered me.
As it turned out, it wasn't a big deal. I interfaced the pieces that required it, and trimmed down the ones that didn't shrink. Since this wasn't a complicated pattern it was easy to know how and when to trim. My finished bag is probably a little smaller than drafted but it works just fine for holding my knitting.
In conclusion, if you want to work with this wool felt (which you should, because it is awesome!) consider whether or not it will ever be hot/wet/washed DURING the project AND after.
One other item to note: the hemp webbing felt fairly stiff when it arrived, and the black color is VERY black. I was concerned about it bleeding dye when getting wet even incidentally, like in the rain. I prewashed it by hand in my sink with Synthrapol. Synthrapol is a detergent meant to pull out excess dye from fabric. I've used it with my own dye projects to help reduce bleeding color. I was glad I took this precaution because there was dye bleed, although less than I expected. A bonus side effect was that the webbing came out super soft afterward.
I am such a huge natural fibers junky, and working with the items at Organic Cotton Plus is always a treat. I've never been disappointed with the fabrics I've gotten, and their shipping is crazy fast. Check out all their beautiful fabrics here!