Noni’s Iconic “Lipstick and Change” Purse: The Story Behind the Design and a Free Pattern!

A bright yellow felted "Lipstick and Change"  purse is held aloft in the hand of purse designer Nora J. Bellows's hand.

My purses and bags often begin with hardware components. What I mean is, I design around a particular piece of hardware, or a handle. This purse was no exception. I had been collecting sew-in purse frames for some time. I knew I wanted to design purses for them. Just one sticking point. I think sew-in frames look terrible when the sewing through those little sew-holes is visible. I stared and stared at those holes trying to figure out how I could make the stitches look pretty, or hide them.

A group of small felted purses called Lipstick and Change Sparkle are arranged horizontally on a white surface. They range in color from black, to grey, to orange, pink, and finally green.
Lipstick and Change Sparkle was a second iteration of the classic design, this time with sparkle rivets. The perfect purse to wear like a bracelet to a party.

And then one day I had the idea to use seed beads as anchors for stitches that went through the holes but not around the frame. So, instead of stiches that had to move from fabric around the frame, into a whole, and then around the frame again, my concept was to put the needle through each hole twice, with a single bead on the outside to hold those stitches in place and the purse in the frame.

That epiphany exploded my purse and bag world . . . and took a little bit of the knitting world by storm!

Lipstick and Change is my effort to recapture that beloved first purse. My update is colorful, playful, and has 3 size options, because who doesn’t love options?

A bright orange Lipstick and Change purse dangles from a woman's wrist. She wears it like a bracelet.
The early frames did not have loops for the lobster claw purse chain to attach to. Frames with built in handle loops came later.

I had solved an engineering iproblem. Now for the design itself. I write about the inspiration for Lipstick and Change in the “liner notes” for the purse:

I remember one of the first purses I ever owned: a gift for my birthday, it was made of black leather that was soft to the touch. It was tiny. Perfect for treasured things when I was a little girl and then for grown-up girl things, like lipstick . . . and change. It carried these essentials until its sweet little kiss lock would no longer kiss.

Lipstick and Change is my effort to recapture that beloved first purse. My update is colorful, playful, and has 3 size options (who doesn’t love options?).The tiniest size is perfect for when you can leave the house with just about nothing except a car key, lipstick, and a few crisp bills.

The medium size is ideal for the after party where smart phones are just not cool. And the celeb who spots your bag will probably ask you where you got it.

And the largest size is large enough for an I-phone and everything you really need. You really can’t make just one.

An array of rainbow-colored Lipstick and Change purses sits against a white background.

After the first Lipstick and Change pattern came Lipstick and Change Sparkle, and then I made a series of tiny purses that were more pared down and sleek, called Lipstick and Change City. I’m still hooked on tiny bags . . . you might have noticed.

The knitted gift for a bride, a woman friend, family member, or teacher just got a lot easier . . .

They are speedy purses to knit, and relatively quick to finish. They make great gifts: an economical gift, both in terms of time and cost.

Make Your Own Lipstick and Change! Promotion

If you’ve always had a mind to try making Lipstick and Change, now is a great opportunity. Below I have included the pattern for the smallest size.

And for 24 hours, the entire Lipstick and Change pattern is Free on my website and on Ravelry.

But that’s not all! Use the promo code 5dollars for $5 off your order of $25 or more off of everything, EVERYTHING in the Noni Store until Midnight on Monday, January 25th.

Small Lipstick and Change Pattern

Difficulty Level

The knitting is intrepid Easy: Requires knowledge of knitting and purling, knitting in the round on circular needles, and some hand-sewing during the finishing process.

Abbreviations Used In The Pattern

  • BO Bind off
  • CO Cast on
  • K Knit
  • K3tog Knit three stitches together
  • Kfbf Knit in the front, back, and front of the stitch
  • P Purl
  • pm Place marker
  • RS Right side or knit side
  • st/sts Stitch/stitches
  • St st Stockinette stitch
  • WS Wrong side

Pre-Felted Gauge

20 stitches and 28 rounds = 4″ (10cm) in stockinette stitch

Post-Felting Approximate Finished Measurements

4″ (10cm) wide across the front/back at bag bottom x 4″ (10cm) wide across the front/back at bag top x 2″ (5cm) deep4″ (10cm) tall from bottom to frame

Yarn Requirements

75 yds (69m) of worsted weight feltable yarn

Knitting Needles & Other Materials

  • Size 8 (5mm) 16″ (40cm) circular needles or needle size to obtain pre-felted gauge
  • Sharp sewing needle
  • 1 Stitch marker to mark round
  • 1 Noni Lipstick & Change Bag kit: Includes frame, 10″ chain, clear, silver-lined seed beads, white nylon beading thread, stiffener for the bag bottom, and 6 tiny bag feet.
  • Awl or size 6 (4mm) double-pointed needle to help with the finishing process
  • Clear-drying fabric glue or Locktite Extra Time Control super glue

Small Lipstick and Change Purse Instructions for the Bag Bottom and Body

With a single-strand of yarn, CO 24 sts. Work in St st for 16 rows. BO. With the RS facing you, pick up and knit stitches around the bag bottom, beginning with a short side as follows: *pick up and knit 6 sts, pm, pick up 6 more sts across the short side, then across long side, pick up 24 sts; repeat from * once for remaining short and long sides, pm for beginning of the round—72 sts.

Round 1: Join and knit in the round as follows: *knit across short side, k6, [kfbf, k1] 6 times, k6; repeat from * once more—96 sts.

Round 17: Divide the sts in half to create the 48-st bag flaps as follows, removing markers as you come to them: knit across short side, knit across long side, k6 short side sts, rm; join a new ball of yarn and k6, knit across long side, remove beginning of the round marker, k6.

Flaps

Row 1 (WS): Turn and work flaps simultaneously with separate yarns, p48 across each flap.

Rows 2 – 7: Work each flap in St st.

Row 8 (RS): K3tog 16 times—16 sts each flap.

Rows 9 – 10: Work in St st.

Row 11 (WS): BO knitwise. Weave in ends.

Felting, Blocking, and Finishing

Prepare to Felt Your Purse

It is imperative that you have your purse frame available to check the size of the purse so that you do not over-felt. For best results, felt your bag until it the flaps are about 1 inch wider than the entire width of the purse frame. Once the purse is the desired size, rinse and then spin until slightly damp. Keep the purse slightly damp (not wet) in a plastic bag in the fridge until you can glue the purse into the frame (see below).

Felting in conventional (non HE) top-loading washers

Place items to felt in separate lingerie bag(s) or zippered pillow protector(s). Make sure any ends are cut to no longer than 2″ (5cm). Choose the smallest load size that accommodates your project and allows it to move freely – in this case, the extra small – small load size. Add tennis balls, sport shoes devoted to felting, or a soft canvas bag to the load to provide extra agitation and balance. It is critical that you do not use towels or other items that will release lint onto your felt. Choose hot/cold water setting and add a tiny bit of detergent. Check often and move the bag around in the washer, making sure no set-in creases develop.

To conserve resources, turn back the agitation dial until the bag is finished felting to your liking or reaches the finished measurements here, rather than letting the machine complete multiple cycles. When your bag has reached the proper size, rinse (with no agitation or rinse in cold tap water) and spin dry. Remove and pull into shape.

Felting in HE/front-loading washers

For those with washers that cannot be opened or do not provide agitation, or those with high-speed spin cycles that might crease your bag, felt in the clothes dryer (below).

Felting in a clothes dryer

Soak your project in boiling hot water for about 10 minutes. Put in the dryer. Felt just as you would in the washer: the agitation of the dryer and project wetness is what causes the felting. Stay close by, smooth out, check size, and re-wet often. Once the bag has shrunk to the desired measurements, pull it into shape using the photographs on the cover to direct your efforts.

Glue and then Sew Purse into Purse Frame

Take a look at my blog tutorial on this topic. Or follow the instructions below.

Apply clear-drying fabric glue (instant-bond glues not recommended) into the “slot” of the purse frame using the flaps in place while the glue dries with long basting stitches that go through the purse fabric, through a frame hole, and around frame to another hole 2 – 3 holes from previous one. Remove basting stitches once glue has dried.

Use a needle and beading thread to sew flaps to the purse frame. Beginning on inside of purse, bring threaded needle through felt, through a metal purse frame hole, and through a bead.

To reach the next sew-hole, angle the needle toward that hole as you put it back through the same frame hole the needle just came out of. Pull snug. Your needle is now on the inside of the bag: again, angle the needle toward the next sew-hole as you place the needle through the bag almost where it came out. You can also put a bead on the thread here on the inside for a lovely effect. Repeat steps until each hole on frame exterior is filled with a bead. Finish off thread with a knot and cut.

Line the Bag Bottom with Stiffener and Attach Bag Feet

Take a look at my blog tutorial on this topic with step-by-step instructions and pictures.

Cut two pieces of stiffener that fit nicely in the bag bottom. Use bag feet to secure this first piece in the bag as follows: Use a paper hole punch to punch holes in the stiffener at even intervals for bag feet. Use an awl or size 6 (4mm) double-pointed needle to create a hole for the bag foot prongs in the felt. Insert the prongs into the little hole and press through both the felt and bag stiffener piece already positioned inside the bag. Open the prongs and press down.

Repeat at desired intervals. Last, place the second sheet of stiffener inside the bag and tack in place. If desired, it looks nice to “line” this second sheet of stiffener with some fun fabric.

The Story of The First Nonibag and The First Nonibag Pattern

Three felted bags are arranged on a white background: a large black one with huge red flowers, a medium sized bag in red stripes, and a small sized bag in white and grey stripes.
The Carepet Bag in Three Sizes with Camellia Flowers

My life as Noni started years ago during a lonely stretch of time when I was a graduate student at the University of Maryland and living in Baltimore City–in Charles Village and later Bolton Hill for those of you who are local to me here in Maryland.

My father and stepmother still lived in Maryland then and invited me to spend the weekend with them. Our adventure: a trip to the Mannings, a destination knitting and weaving store for generations that has since then sadly closed. As most of us know, the sample sells . . . I walked into the shop and saw a Dale of Norway colorwork sweater on the mannequin. Arranged below were balls and balls of Dale of Norway yarn.

I made the sweater exactly as you see it above. To practice – I had not knit anything of any consequence since I was about 13! – I made the hat on the way home. I am a continental knitter and had no experience with color work. I just (to this day I do this) knit with one color, dropped that strand, picked the other up, knit with that, and so on. I’m slow but my knitting stays nice and flat.

I worked on that sweater as a sort of solace. This was before smart phones, before the days of social media and constant interruption. I didn’t even have a TV. I would knit in the quiet of my Baltimore row house, the sound of the clock ticking, the radiator clancking periodically. It was the sweetest meditation.

When the sweater was finally finished, I took it to the local knit shop, Woolworks on Falls Road. It, sadly, closed last year, but it was a veritable institution for generations of knitters. I took it there, laid it on the counter and said, “I need to finish the plackets and cuffs with embroidery. Do you have Dale of Norway yarns?”

Two ladies crowded around the sweater and started inspecting it, running their fingers over the stitches, looking at the pattern created by the carries on the inside of the sweater, turning it over, inside out, looking at every inch, fingers delicately following the purl row that allows a flat turn at the collar and cuffs . . .

“Did YOU knit this?” said W, a pretty, petite woman with a slight New York accent. She had dark, unruly wavy hair cut close in an almost pixie. She wore an oversized hand-knit sweater with slim grey jeans, ballet flats. Her face was narrow and intent. She was warm, and inquisitive.

“Are you married?” said R, the other woman, a tall, elegant,handsome person. She wore jeans that had been pressed to creases. Her fitted t-shirt also looked pressed and was tucked in. She, too, was wearing a hand-knit sweater with classic lines, small buttons, all fitted with lovely details. Her hair was combed into perfect waves and kept that way, no doubt, with a cloud of hair spray. I wondered what she looked like without make-up.

“Do you want a job?” they both said, nearly in unison. I laughed. The two of them eyed me intently, both still leaning forward, their hands still brushing absently over the sweater on the counter in the middle of our little circle.

In fact, I did want a job. “Yes, yes I want a job. Yes, I knit this . . .” I told them the story of finding it at Mannings, the weeks knitting. They listened as they led me back to the left side back recesses of the store where the bins of Dale of Norway were and we stood and discussed color combinations. They took turns asking me personal questions until other ladies entered the shop and their help was needed elsewhere.

They were serious about the job. And I took that job. Thus began my part-time-while-a-graduate-student-job and a crash course in everything knitting that I had never known or paid attention to in the past: swatching, gauge, yarn weight, fiber content, making mistakes, fixing mistakes, altering patterns, writing patterns . . . I learned by making my own mistakes, figuring out how to fix them, and by helping other people fix their mistakes. This was central to my own philosophy of knitting and teaching: mistakes are the treasure trove of knowledge. Don’t be afraid of making them, even though it’s stressful sometimes . . . mistakes are worth their weight in gold nuggets.

I was mostly contented to make sweaters from the pattern books in the shop until one day when the two owners came back from the big knitting trade show (TNNA . . . sadly this pandemic has forced its demise only last year, too). They had seen a felted bag at the show and had both made small ones at night after the show when they were in the hotel room. Now, these little bags sat on the counter by the register. I had never seen anything like them. They were adorable, captivating. I had to make one.

“HOW did you do this?” I asked W. It was furry, a small creature in my hands. I didn’t want to put it down. A bag that was like carrying a small, obedient puppy. W handed me a very simple hand-written pattern photocopied on a half-sheet of white paper. I bought some feltable yarn in a bunch of fun colors and added some hot pink mohair that I had from a sweater I had recently knit and made the little bag below. It is, truly, the first Nonibag. I was absolutely in love with it. I carried it everywhere even though it is so small it can hold nearly nothing except for wallet, car and house keys, pen, maybe a small paperback book. . . I think I did carry a copy of Othello around since I was teaching Shakespeare at the University of Maryland at the time.

A small felted bag with stripes in reds, pinks, and yellows sits against a white background. It has soft, felted handles.
This is the first ever Nonibag . . . It is just barely big enough for a wallet, pen, car keys, and maybe a small paperback book.

I started experimenting immediately. Questions, theories, and mistakes were my teachers. What if I wanted to . . . What if I did this? What would happen if I . . .

I made lots of little bags. I made enormous bags that became yarn baskets. I made bags shaped like tubes. And I used stripes, a lot. I used mohair to create color complexity and a lovely halo that I, to this day, find quite fetching sometimes. You can see this in several of the Vintage Nonibags, such as The Garden Party Bag with its grass-green, textured body.

A medium sized, red-striped felted bag with red plastic handles sits behind a shorter white and grey striped felted bag with frosted white handles.

My purses started attracting a lot of attention. Ladies stopped me on the street. The ladies at the shop asked me to make bags for them, too. The red and red striped medium carpet bag was my first commissions. M wanted a red bag with big red flowers. “Can you do it?” She asked me. “Of course!” I said, feeling just a little queasy because I was not too sure about the flowers part. I started picking different feltable reds from the shelf. I think I pulled about 15 different reds down and used all of them in a bag that came out AMAZING but rather odd. I carried it around for years . . . it has since been retired. Design work often means taking an idea through several iterations. I tried again. The second bag I made was the Medium Carpet Bag. That first flower was The Camellia Flower.

Another customer wanted a smaller sized after she saw M’s bag. That became the Small Carpet Bag.

The medium and small sized carpet bags are shown in an alternate, slightly side view.

And then someone wanted a briefcase-sized version of the Carpet Bag with big red flowers. The Rather Huge Carpet Bag was born. She’s amazing. Striking. Classic. Fun. Unapologetic. She still stops traffic.

And for 24 hours . . . starting with tomorrow’s blog post . . . you can download this classic Nonibag pattern for free.

In tomorrow’s blog entry itself, I will include the written instructions for the medium sized carpet bag as well as my tips and techniques for excellent finishing. I will also introduce a new finishing package that includes a beautiful new JUL Leather handle and gorgeous metal hardware–handle brackets, a beautiful snap closure, bag feet, and cabochon rivet details. A stunning hardware update for an unforgettable bag. See you tomorrow on the Noni Blog!

Large black and grey striped felted purse with black handles and huge red felted flower in the front center of the bag.

My 2020: I’ve been taking lots and lots of walks.

Since I shuttered my storefront in 2015, I have tried a few different things . . . Most recently, I taught English Composition at the local community college. Like many other jobs everywhere on the planet, that gig was upended by Covid-19. I had to figure out what to do with myself again.

As for most of us, 2020 was a challenge for me. I have been lonely and isolated in ways that made me reach out in order to connect and reach into myself in order to find solid ground: where do I want to stand? What do I want to stand up for, publicly? I have always wanted to stay away from politics when it came to business. But isn’t it true to say that just about all of our decisions have socio-political, cultural consequences and a carbon footprint?

The events of the past year are still very present in my mind: my heart aches for the losses we have suffered because of Covid-19, the losses that go on and on. And I am disgusted by the losses that are the consequence of systemic racism in our country and world. We need to transform our thinking. I can only hope the detestable acts of violence we continue to see may finally be bringing about a cultural reckoning. I am hearing stories I have never heard before – maybe you are, too, truths that are hard to bear but that must be heard and borne in order to grow and do better. I have work to do. I believe that the lives of black people matter. All of them. A writer friend of mine, Reginald McKnight, always said, “Take everyone as they come.” It is the best antidote to any -ism I have found. Like most simple, true advice, it is harder than it seems . . . for all of us.

So, what have I been up to?

I have been in a state of grief and hope. I have not seen my most loved elders and some friends in over a year. I don’t hug anymore. I have been observing my self. All spring and summer I gardened my small, much-too-shady-for-a-proper-vegetable-garden yard. I’ve taught myself how to make sourdough bread with the help of a who knows how old it is? starter from King Arthur Flour company that I came into possession of by way of my dad who took a class there on making bread several years ago and has dutifully tended to his starter ever since. I also studied the book, Tartine. I learned the Russian Kale I like to eat likes to grow even in the a bit too shady sliver of side garden where it volunteered. I have discovered that if you love our planet and you want to reduce your carbon footprint, one of the most powerful things you can do is eat more plants – see for yourself by taking this quiz. The more you replace meat with plants, the better it is for your health (in general, but every one is different) and our world. Maybe you already know this but it was a surprise to me. So this, coupled with some health issues in our little family, spurred me to start giving myself a crash course in nutrition. Physical pain I thought I might always just endure is mostly gone. I have more flexibility than I have had for years, and more energy. My memory is returning: all that menopausal “brain fog” bullshit . . . am I going crazy? feeling . . . Gone. I’m clear. Awake. I remember.

I have started reading novels again, a delicious past time I have not enjoyed much since graduate school. I am even reading one out loud to my husband in the evenings, a chapter or two at a time. Recently, I also picked up my knitting needles again, the designer’s pen, my writing pen. As most journeys are, this one was an indirect path to this moment, this very one. It all began years ago, when my friend James mentioned that he writes Morning Pages. I didn’t know what they were, save that he wrote them in the morning. I didn’t investigate. But I did remember.

The Artist’s Way has helped countless people find an art-filled path and purpose.

Just over a month ago, I heard the term Morning Pages again. Seth Godin mentioned them in a conversation with Marie Forleo about his latest book. Both are content creators who have helped thousands if not millions figure out how to follow a passion and turn it into a business. I could tell from Marie’s reaction that she knew exactly what they were. . . “She probably writes them, too,” I thought. I was intriqued. “Two such inspiring and successful people write Morning Pages?” I wondered to myself. “Those must be some powerful pages.” And then I thought of James, too. “I want to be in that club,” I thought to myself.

The title Morning Pages is just visible at the top of a journal page.

Over Thanksgiving, I started my own. I didn’t know the rules, exactly, as specified by their originator, Julia Cameron, a brilliant woman who has made inspiring works in many fields and is the creative force behind The Artist’s Way, a book – or, more accurately, a self-guided creative program, to help you find your artist self (again) – that has helped many (maybe millions?) find their way to a sense of purpose and intention.

Somehow I did know that I was supposed to write three long-hand pages on 8.5″ x 11″ paper. Analogue writing gets our thoughts and brains to places we can’t reach when we type, because long-hand forces us to slow down. If you can’t write long-hand, however, use the tools you must. While Cameron assures us that long-hand is best, she also acknowledges that writing at all is better than not writing. I am into my second month and have not missed a single day, though I did have to write Afternoon Pages once because I messed up my morning. I am closing in on the last few pages in a notebook that had lain empty for over 16 years just waiting for these pages. I tell you, Morning Pages are hard, annoying, illuminating, tedious, in-my-face, the best therapist I’ve ever had (if I had only known!), damn broken record stop it already confrontational when I’m avoiding something, persistent is an understatement, amazing, amazing AMAZING. Wow.

WOW!

On the first day after writing the Morning Pages, I was seeing differently. I was inhabiting the landscape in a way that felt fundamentally changed. It had been a long time since I was seeing and thinking like a writer, dare I whisper . . . like an artist.

I look forward to them. I work things out, solve problems, ask big and small questions, try out answers. Write down ideas. Sometimes they feel horrible, difficult, laborious, like pulling teeth out of the hard-baked ground. Some days, I recount what happened yesterday, or what I remember from a day when I was four. I am look forward to where they will take me, what I will discover.

Here’s what I do know: I have lots of ideas.

Morning Pages have led me back to Noni: I have turned my attentions to some designs that I teased you with in the past (but did not publish), I am working on some really great new stuff, too, soonish.

My next blog post is a free pattern for a little bag called A Bit of Hope. She is tiny, and lovely, and comforting. Let your knitting friends know to come and visit, subscribe, or look for my latest on my Facebook page or in my Instagram feed. Please share this post with them and other artists you might know who just might need or want Morning Pages.

Black and white, horizontally-striped bag with hot pink handle and flowers.

For now, I invite you to start your own Morning Pages. For a very clear synopsis, try this article by the MasterClass people (they have some great free content) entitled, Journaling Techniques: 12 Tips For Writing Morning Pages

Here is my own shorter synopsis:

  1. Set out your necessary materials. You will need 3 pieces of 8.5 x 11 paper and a pen. At minimum. I humbly suggest you make a committment and give it a go for a while. Get a notebook to devote to your pages. I have recently pillaged my son’s old notebooks from elementary school . . . some empty or nearly empty. Those are waiting to be filled with morning pages. Or go all out on a fancy notebook. Whatever works for you. What is most important is that you write.
  2. Set up your coffee/tea and your space the night before. Think ahead of time about where you want to write and what you will need first thing in the morning so you don’t get sidetracked by your daily routine. Must have coffee? Set it up the night before so all you have to do is get it out of the fridge OR all you have to do is hit a button. I load up my french press and the water kettle so all I have to do is wait for the water to boil and pour. My pen, journal, and a clean, well-lit place to write (with a little side table for my coffee) are all waiting for me to curl up and get to work.
  3. Write without stopping until 3 pages are completed. Some people say you should keep the pen moving without censoring what you are writing. The point is to get used to writing whether you want to or not, whether you think what you are writing is bad, terrible, drivel, amazing, brilliant, publishible, or crap. Write. Write anyway. Keep writing. In order to produce a piece of writing, we must all write through sunny days and gloomy ones. The Morning Pages teach us this. And a lot more, too. I must confess that sometimes I look up when the Carolina Wren scrabbles around the window I can see from my table. When she flies off, I remember to turn again to my pages. I do not beat myself up for this.
  4. Do NOT share your Morning Pages with others. The last thing you need is someone saying something about the pages that makes you not want to write them, or write at all. The pages are for you. Protect them.
  5. Repeat steps 1 – 4 every day, first thing in the morning. But if you can’t make the morning work out one day, write as soon as you can. Sometime-of-day pages are better than no pages at all.

Share Your Thoughs about your own journey this past year. What is one way you have coped with the difficulties of 2020? If you start writing Morning Pages, or if you already write them, what is one way they have worked for you? What have you discovered about yourself and your artist self?

It’s Flower-Knitting Season

Web-Flowers-are-Quick-Knits

Knitted Flowers are the quintessential quick knit. Add knitted flowers to anything old, new, hand-made, ready-to-wear, unapologetically for you, and that made-to-be-special heirloom gift.

While a scarf of simple construction takes days, or much much longer if it is made in fingering weight yarn and has any sort of color-work, short rows, or gradient color changes and patterning so popular now. Brioche can take weeks.

Flowers, on the other hand, require a few hours, or as little as 20 minutes. I was sitting at the kitchen table the other day making Camellias and Bling Flowers (Cherry Blossoms by another name) in different gauge yarns, from fingering to worsted-weight, so as to achieve a variety of sizes, from delicate cherry blossoms to  . . . one right after another.

The picture below shows a purse I recently made: a W purse in Hot Pink with 2 beaded Camellias and many Bling Flowers. After beading all those flowers, I decorated the purse in an extravagant way.

W-purse-with-camellias-and-bling-flowers

Picture a 6-8-10 bag in white and pale green for a spectacular bridal keepsake purse. Or Grace Kelly’s Overnight Bag in black and grey for a gallery opening, or in palest blue with a bright garden of flowers in the colors of sorbet as a Mother’s Day gift.

For smaller, quicker gifts, I make pairs of flowers, sew them onto flower clips and give them as decorations that can be used singly or in pairs to adorn sandals, one’s hair. . . the neckline of a favorite t-shirt. Here is a picture of a purchased ruffly scarf decorated with a single beaded bling flower.

Noni-bling-flower-with-ruffled-scarf

How long does a Bling Flower take to make? you might be wondering.

I timed myself. It took between 15 and 30 minutes to make each worsted-weight Bling Flowers on a size 6 needle. It didn’t take long for me to memorized the pattern. That’s a speedy hand-knitted gift. You could have a lovely hostess gift flower clipped to a bottle of wine or jar of tasty Sundried Tomato bread spread done in less than an hour.

Sundried-Tomatoes-with-Cherry-Blossom.gif

Knitted flowers are a beautiful and economical gift that allow you to demonstrate your devotion to loved one in a heartfelt way. That’s the best kind of gift.

My Knitting to Please Myself Project

follow-your-passion2When a passion becomes a job it often changes the passion or even empties it out. There have even been studies about this. The landscaper who once had a beautiful garden gets so caught up with other people’s hard-scapes and gardens that his own are neglected. The knitter who began designing for herself with a sense of intrepid adventure lapses into design silence. There are no projects on the needles.

There are, of course, landscapers who constantly invest their creativity in their own garden, and so it becomes an oasis, an inspiration for others. If you reclaim knitting for yourself, perhaps the designs that result will be more sought after than the ones you thought would sell.

Lately I have been contemplating what I want to knit. Perhaps it is because Noni is 10 and I am looking back at where I started, the things I have done, and where I want to go.

But before I launch into ideas for myself (and I will in upcoming posts), I bet there are a lot of you who also don’t always knit to please yourself . . .

I’d love to hear in the comments what you would really like to make for yourself, or just for the pleasure of it . . . and for some reason you haven’t, yet.

When you seek inspiration, look into the world

Bluebells-Gauntlets-with-Forget-me-notsI look forward to and enjoy Spring flowers more than I ever did before I wrote my book on knitted flowers, Noni Flowers. It has always been my favorite time of year, but the process of working on knitted flowers for my book taught to me notice things about plants that I had previously been a bit blind to: the structure of a flower, the coloring of its petals, the way it unfurls, the shapes of buds, the procession of leaves, bud, flower. . . there are details I had not previously noticed. I notice the color of stems now, the shapes of sepal leaves, the colors and form of stamens all with an eye not just to enjoy but to knit.

The Forget-me-not flower details we can't usually see.

The Forget-me-not flower details we can’t usually see.

When an interviewer asked me, on the heels of the book’s publication in 2012 what inspired me to make these flowers, “lifelike flowers,” my answer to her question is, in many ways, the same answer or, rather, advice that I gave to writing students so many years ago and to my knitting students now: When you seek any inspiration, the basis for a story, a description of place, events in the past or future, a design theme, a color scheme, a fair isle design, the colors to pick for the tulip you might be inclined to knit out of my book, you don’t have to come up with that material whole cloth out of your own brain.

tulip-color-possibilitiesIf I resorted only to what resided in my mind already, the flowers I might knit would look little different from those in the drawings of daisy-like or tulip-ish flowers I drew as a child. They were approximations of what I was then capable of drawing, the flowers most familiar to me.

I suggest to all of my students to become better observers of the world, but also to trust their own creative impulses. So often we talk ourselves out of our ideas. The first idea might be so grand we don’t think we can possibly make it real . . . but maybe we can. Maybe you can. When I started working on my book, I didn’t know if I could pull it off. But I said I could and I told Random House I could. And then I did. There were flowers I chose not to try, telling myself they were too hard: orchids, for example. but I am quite certain now that if I set my mind to sit down and work on an orchid until I could hold the finished one in my hand, I could do it. I could make an orchid out of yarn.

It’s not easy to sit down and do what you don’t think you can do. . . but what if you do and you create something amazing. There are examples of this everywhere. Take a look at this inspiring Ted Talk “Embrace The Shake” by artist Phil Hansen. And his inspiring and unconventional work:

Phil Hansen's beautiful portrait on Starbucks cupsHis recipe for exploring the limits of your creativity?

phil-hansen-quoteDon’t talk yourself out of your creativity.

Expect to fail. Expect the creative process to lead you to a place you might not have thought you’d go.

 

Better: Adding a simple flower to a tiny bag for a big statement

 

Red-Bag--better-with-flower

Above you can see our little red bag dressed with a single Camellia flower. I love this look. Simple, big statement, quick knit. If you’d like to knit this flower yourself, you can buy the pattern from the Noni store or buy the pattern now on Ravelry To make the flower as pictured, I used a size 6 needle and a single-strand of worsted weight feltable yarn. I made 5 larger petals (as written) and then 4 smaller petals.

Check out my post about another Better dressing idea for this little bag.

Noni Q&A: Beaded Hearts on Heart on My Sleeve

2-Hearts-2Noni’s Heart on My Sleeve Purse is embellished with beaded hearts . . .they are beautiful, but took a bit of trial and error before I hit upon the right technique for getting a solidly beaded heart that was a pretty shape.

I rejected a bunch of lop-sided hearts (all of which got undone) before I came up with a plan for beautiful hearts every time.

Find a clean, well-lit place to work, of course: Lay down a piece of clean of paper or other material on your work surface – when beads are involved, sometimes it’s nice to put down a slightly damp towel so if beads go astray they don’t roll everywhere.

Gather Your Materials: No. 8 seed beads, a small dish in which to keep them, a beading needle, nylon beading thread, your almost finished purse, and scissors or thread nippers.

Decide on the Location for a Beaded Heart:  If you can’t decide, just pick some place with abandon. Start on the inside of the purse with your double-strand of thread knotted on the end.

Zinnia-Heart

First, Outline The Heart with Thread:

As you can see, I used a modified running stitch. A backwards running stitch will also work. I use the outline to guide the beading process.

Outline-the-Heart-with-thread

Second, Outline The Heart with Beads:

You can see above that I have started to follow the thread outline with beads. I go all the way around and then decide how much of the heart to fill in. Sometimes, I only filled in part of the heart.

Christmas-Red-Heart

Others, I filled the hearts completely with beads.

hearts-at-the-bottom-of-the-bag

Fill the Heart With Beads:

I have no scientific method for my beading process, only that I keep traveling (like a mole under the surface of the garden) through the felt until I push the tip of the needle up and out of the felted fabric again, put a bead on the needle, and then go back into the felt (rather than all the way through it to the inside of the purse). In this way, I stay working on the outside of the bag, catch a bit of the felt, and out comes the needle somewhere else ready for another bead. I do not feel that I must start at the bottom and fill in from the bottom up or the inside out or the outside in. My only concern is that I stay inside the lines.

Questions?  Post them here and I will answer in the comments or add to this blog posting.

Noni Q&A: Turnlocks 101

Bettie-Boop-resizedI have had a number of inquiries as to the best way to put a turnlock in a felted bag. In fact, in a workshop last year some of the participants chided me for not having done a video or blog tutorial on this subject. I took the pictures below at that workshop as we were working through the steps. So, thank you to the participants in the bag finishing workshops at Ann Marie’s shop Yarn Diva. What follows is a step by step explanation of the method I taught in that bag finishing workshop, and the same method use in the bags I make myself.

First, gather your materials: The turnlock flap can either be the flap of a bag – the Dinner Party Backstage, for example, could sport a turnlock instead of a fancy magnetic snap – or a narrow flap made specifically for the turnlock – this is the case here.

Materials-List-CompleteYou will also need newspaper to protect your work surface, a damp paper towel for clean-up, a bottle of fabric glue or Locktight Superglue, specifically the Extra Time Control formula (sorry, not pictured!), a pen to mark the turnlock flap, a small screw driver, scissors. and, of course, the turnlock itself.

Step 1: Place the turnlock

First, you should place the turnlock in the center of the turnlock flap. You may want to measure with a tape measure to make sure it is where you want it.

Measure twice, cut once.Measure Twice, Cut Once.

Step 2: Mark The Spot for the Lock

I recommend using a black pen or Sharpie to mark the location of the turnlock on the front or back of the turnlock flap. While we show it on the front of the flap here, it may be better to mark up the back just in case you need to revise the placement.

Mark the spot where the turnlock will sit with a black pen or Sharpie.

Mark-the-spot1aMark-the-spot2Step 3: Cut Out the Marked Space

Now you will need to cut the felt, so be very careful and deliberate. The image will you have drawn on the back of the turnlock flap will be just slightly smaller than the actual hole needs to be. Cut to that marked size and then slowly shave a milimeter at a time until the lock housing fits through the cut out without any buckling or tightness.

Cutting-out-the-spotStep 4: Apply Glue to the Turnlock Front

The turnlock will be held in place best if it is glued in place. First, apply your fabric glue or Superglue to the “front” of the turnlock housing as shown below.

Put-glue-on-the-back-of-the-turnlockAbout this much glue.  Be thorough but conservative. It is not necessary to take the glue all the way to the edge of the turnlock face because then it may show on the felt – not a good look.

About-this-much-glueStep 5: Glue the Turnlock Flap In Place on the Lock Face

Put the front (right) side of the turnlock flap down on the wrong side of the turnlock face. Press in place with your fingers for a good stick.

Put-the-flap-down-on-the-turnlockStep 6: Apply Glue to The Back of the Turnlock Flap

In order for the flap to be thoroughly held in place in the turnlock housing, apply glue to the cut edge of the felt once the front side is face down on the turnlock front housing.

Put-glue-on-the-backside,-tooAbout this much glue. Again, too much and it will be a difficult mess.

About-this-much-Glue2Step 7: Put the back of the turnlock housing wrong side down on the newly glued surface and press in place. Line up the holes for the screws with the screw housing.

Put-the-turnlock-back-on-over-the-glueUse your little screw driver to tighten the screws.

Screw-those-super-tiny-screws-tightStep 8: Clean-up turnlock with damp paper towel.

Use the damp paper towel you have at the ready to clean-up any glue that got squeezed out and then polish the exposed metal front and back of the lock until shiny and free of glue.

Looks-greatStep 9: Lock the lock and Press Prongs Through Bag.

Before you put the turnlock flap on the bag itself, lock the lock and then position the flap on the bag. Only at this point do I actually baste the flap itself in place on the bag.

Once the flap is basted in place and the flap itself allows to fall to its resting place on the front of the bag (with all parts of the turnlock on the flap–that is, the lock, too), press the prongs of the turnlock “lock” into the bag (so that the prongs are now on the inside of the bag) where you want the lock to sit.

Next, unlock the lock and, holding just the lock itself, press the lock prongs the rest of the way through the bag front. Put the little metal sleeve on the prongs and press the prongs toward the center to secure.

With the lock still unlocked, now you can rivet or sew the turnlock flap in place permanently.

This part of the process is finished!

Still have questions? Ask them in the comments section below and I will answer either in the comments or another blog posting.

Hearts on My Sleeve: Seasonal Favorite Now in Crochet!

Hearts-on-My-SleeveJust in time for American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day: Noni’s  . . . Heart on My Sleeve Bag is available in knit from Noni and a Noni version of the bag is now available in the popular book edited by Laura Zander of Jimmy Beans:  Crochet Red

CrochetRed_BookCover_HiRes For the crochet version of this design, I teamed up with Janet Brani to translate the knitted bag into crochet. I love the resulting tiny purse, perfect for Valentines Day, for any fancy party, or (picture this) in white or in an ensemble of brights for a Bride and Bridesmaids.

CrochetRed_BeadedFeltedBag_NoraBellows_JanetBrani_HiResIn next week’s Noni Q&A, I will be exploring how to do the hand-beading and make beautiful beaded hearts or other images (almost like applique) on felt, but get your bag started now and you’ll be ready to follow along with my step-by-step tutorial in next Friday’s blog. You can purchase Crochet Red for the crochet bag or buy the pdf for the knit version of the pattern by clicking here. Call me at the studio or write to me to order your hardware kit and yarn.

For those who are interested in the ways this sweet little bag can be used for occasions other than St. Valentine’s Day, consider this lovely version of the bag:

Hearts-on-My-Sleeve-with-FlowersHere, I used the Hearts on My Sleeve instructions as written, but I also made cherry blossoms and the cherry blossom leaves from Noni Flowers.

Noni-Flowers-Book-cover-finalSpecifically, I used the flower instructions on page 43 and leaf instructions found on page 152 with the information about the project Cherry Blossom Pauper’s Purse.

Paupers-Purse2

Paupers-PurseAs you can see, the Pauper’s Purse was not a felted bag but worked in Tilli Tomas Plie and Beaded Plie. Nevertheless, the instructions for the knitted leaves and flowers need no adjustment for the wool/felted versions. After the blossoms and leaves are felted and beaded, the results are delicate and romantic in true-to-life shades. They would be dramatic and daring if the flowers were red and the leaves black. Subdued if worked all in shades of grey and white and black.

Check back on Jan 31 for more in the Noni Q&A and share your own versions of this bag on the Noni Designs Facebook page and/or ideas here in the comments.