It’s Not Too Late to Make a Last Minute Hostess Gift: My Top 5 Purses to Knit, Felt, and Finish Just In Time For Spring and Summer Visiting

by Nora J. Bellows

I’ve put together a list of five of my personal favorite purses to give as gifts on special occasions: for this selection, I’ve focused on small purses that you can knit quickly, finish quickly, and give as a gift just a day or two later. These projects are quick, but they don’t look quick. They look as gifts for special people on a special day should look: You took the time to make something unique for someone you love. Decorate with beads, knitted flowers, ribbons, or with screw-in embellishments. Knitting the perfect gift doesn’t have to take a long time. Take a look!

Amazing Grace Purse

1. Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace is a smallish purse that is incredibly versatile: the cute handle you see here (with its felted cover) is removable! Gently pinch the base and it comes out of its hosing. Thus, it’s a clutch! There’s more: it has chain loops so you can attach a chain to make it a handbag (or 2 chains to make it a cross body bag). While not in use, the chain waits patiently for you on the inside of the purse.

It requires only 4 ounces of yarn: you will need 2 ounces of two colors plus any other colors you like for flowers. The only hardware you need is the purse frame and chain. This makes it a great purse for gift-giving. You still have time to knit it for Mother’s day!

I was inspired to make this bag as a gift for a dear friend of many years. She has had a rough few years: brutal divorce, raising her kids on her own now, diagnosed with, fought against, and won that battle with breast cancer, lost her mom to Covid (and almost her dad). And, yet, through all this (and it does get her down, but . . . ) she manages to pull herself out of her roughest days, by focusing on what she does have. She focuses on the blessings around her, the smiles (and even the petty tantrums) of her kids. She’s here to see it all. She inspires me: she is an amazing mom, an amazing teacher, smart, funny, gracious, generous. I adore her. And in the Month of May I will finally be able to give her this purse to show her how much she means to me.

Maybe this is the perfect purse for your Amazing Grace.

For size specifications, materials, and yarn requirements, go to the pattern page on the Noni Website or on the Noni Ravelry Page.

This tiny yellow and grey striped felted purse is decorated with yellow cherry blossom (knitted) flowers with grey beaded centers.
The Welcome, Spring! Purse fits in your palm.

2. Welcome Spring!

Welcome Spring! is a tiny little bag that will fit in the palm of your hand. You can purchase just the purse frame or purchase the hardware kit that includes a key-ring component so it can be clipped to the handle or inside of any purse, attached to a belt-loop, or clipped anywhere you need it. The instructions include the stripe pattern information as well as the flower pattern. This one is a great stash-buster, a super-fast knit and a fun finishing project. It is so quick to make, felt, and finish that you can make one for every special lady on your list before Mom’s Day.

This little cutie purse only requires 20 yards of each of two colors for the striped pattern or 40 yards of a single color, making it an amazing stash buster. And the flowers only need about 3 – 4 yards each. Take a look at the Additional Details tab on the Noni Website or the Noni Ravelry Page for more particulars.

Big Flirt

3. Big Flirt

Big Flirt is another diminutive purse that has a big impact visually. Fun to knit, a great stash buster, and quick to put together, this little cutie is perfect for tiny treasures, big enough for lipstick and change, and just so stinkin’ cute! Big Flirt is pretty darned irresistable. The hardware kit includes a handle that is easily attached with screw-in handle loops.

I’ve carried Big Flirt to a party when all I needed was my lipstick and a little mirror. I wore it all night dangling from my wrist like a bangle. Decorate it with sparkly beads or buttons or pretty ribbons for a gorgeous keepsake. The perfect purse to use as a fancy “gift box” for a jewelry or other rare and special gift. Also a great hostess present!

See the pattern page on the Noni Website or Ravelry for additional information about size, materials, and yarn requirements.

Hearts On My Sleeve are perfect for those close to your heart.

4. Heart On My Sleeve

Heart on My Sleeve is for anyone you love. It is for your oldest friend, your daughter just becase or on her wedding day, for your son’s new wife, for your mother when you want to say without words thank you . . . for everything, for putting up with me. Add cherry blossoms and all-over beading and it is a celebration of Spring for yourself. Cover it with sparkle rivets and it is a celebration of joy, of life.

How will you dress it so that it expesses your most heart-felt emotions?

This purse is the perfect size for your credit card, lip balm or lipstick, some change, a few bills. Or it is the perfect little container for a special gift of jewelry, or a heart-felt poem written small on slender paper.

It needs only the Classic Purse Frame and a Classic Purse Chain (in 10″, 12″, or 27″ lengths) for hardware. Pick a Seed Beads and Thread combination that matches the yarn you have chosen or pick a fun contrast for a delightful surprise.

See the Additional Details page on the Noni Website or the Noni Ravelry page for more information about yarn requirements, hardware, and other particulars.

Dragon Fruit Purses are elegant little treasures.

5. Dragon Fruit Purse

The Dragon Fruit Purses make lovely pouches for special gifts, or they are the gifts themselves. Diminutive, perfect for special treasures, or change, or a small assortment of cosmetics. These little purses are quick to knit and great for stash busting.

If you’ve never tried stranded colorwork, this might be the perfect project: small, easy to knit, and easy to felt and finish.

Take a look at the pattern page on the Noni Website or on Ravelry.

Noni Sale Happening Now!

RIGHT NOW the Amazing Grace complete kits are listed at 10% off. Use promocode 15more for an additional 15% off Amazing Grace as well as 15% off anything in the following categories: *Tiny Purses*, *Our Latest*, and all *Hardware and Accessories* except for leather handles. ALL orders over $100 will receive a free purse frame for Amazing Grace and all domestic orders over $100 will receive free shipping.

Press APPLY at checkout to activate your discount. Sale lasts until Sunday, May 2 (my birthday!) at Midnight.

Meet The Magnolia Tote: Or Why I Make My Own Luggage

The Magnolia Tote

It was over twenty years ago when I saw a knitted and felted purse on the counter of the yarn shop where I worked at the time. It was quite small–big enough for a wallet, keys, a few other items. In spite of its diminutive size, it had a big impact on me . . . I had never seen the way that knitting could become a three-dimensional object with structure, architectural integrity, durability, and style. I wanted that. It was in that single moment that knitted felt became a canvas for my creativity.

I love making my own fabric. I love that I can design and make my own bags, and totes, and make purses that are exactly what I want: understated and neutral, or vibrant and whimsical, covered with flowers, or bold with sleek hardware, tiny and romantic, for my own secret pleasure, or, like these bags, big and roomy, ready for any adventure. 

And I really loved designing, making, and now carrying the Magnolia Tote. It is a roomy tote, perfect for an I packed light overnight with a dear friend, or a trip to the farmer’s market, or a trip to the mall. I use it as a shoulder bag, a knitting bag, my put everthing in it when I am shopping bag.

And check out these three different ways to style the bag, depending on your mood and the way you are using the bag . . . today.

Lately, I have been working on a new colorwork bag: this new one, The Magnolia Travel Bag (you can pre-order both the pattern and the complete kit now), is the friend of the Medallion Travel Bag you see in the picture below. The Magnolia Travel Bag wears the same large medallion shared by both the Magnolia Tote and the Medallion Travel Bag and it will be a large bag, perfect for adventures, for traveling. I will carry it as my carry-on luggage. And sometimes it will be my only luggage.

The Medallion Travel Bag

I can’t tell you how great it feels to make my own luggage. Now, even my carry-on bag is an extension of my creativity.

Making these big bags is, however, a bit stressful. What if . . . something goes horribly wrong?

Don’t let fear or trepidation stop you.

I have a solution.

Making these big bags is, however, a bit stressful! All that knitting and what if the felting process goes horribly wrong? What if it is distorted, or won’t felt, or felts too much, or felts wacky? I have not had it happen . . . because I stand over the washer and baby these big colorwork bags through the whole process. I jimmy the top-loader door open so I can mess with it while it is felting (possible video . . . do you want to see what I do? Let me know in the comments).

I have a solution: my Felted Colorwork Tote class.

My Felted Colorwork Tote class is your opportunity to make one of these beautiful felted totes with the benefit of all the knitting, felting, and finishing tips and tricks I have learned over the past 20 years. In 12 hours of instruction, I will tell you all my secrets.

We begin with a new way of picking out colors, proceed to casting on, review chart reading, go over the unique requirements of knitting in two colors when you are going to felt, preview the challenges of felting large totes in either the top loading washer or the clothes dryer, then felt together via a zoom, block our bags together, then cover and practice professional fine finishing, make linings, and finally plan artful embellishing.

In this class, you get to make all the decisions when it comes to the Magnolia Tote, Magnolia Travel Bag, or the Medallion Travel Bag you carry: you choose the colors, how long the handles are, whether it is lined and how many pockets the has, how it is decorated, and whether there are matching accessory purses for all your must-have possessions.

What You Will Make

You get to choose from one of three patterns to make your own fabulous, felted, colorwork bag. Choose the soon-to-be released Magnolia Travel Bag, the recently released Magnolia Tote, or the classic Medallion Travel Bag. These gorgeous bags demand attention. And admiration. And now you can make one that is uniquely yours. . . The first component of your own luggage set!

What You Will Get

  • The pattern for the Magnolia Tote or the Medallion Travel Bag
  • 12 hours of hands-on, student-focused instruction divided between four 2-hour instruction and practice-focused meetings and 4 1-hour “check-in” meeting
  • $15 store credit you can apply toward anything in the Noni Store – this credit it placed on your account as soon as your class registration is confirmed by Noni
  • Access to the recordings of our zoom classroom sessions
  • Small class size that allows for personalized attention, including 1 thirty-minute personal meeting

What You Will Learn

In this class, consisting of 12 classroom hours of instruction, plus personal help when you need it, you will learn new skills and refine existing ones:

  • Use color theory and some unique strategies to pick colors that work together (or pick from Nora’s selection of curated colorways),
  • Learn how to read a color chart,
  • Learn different techniques to knit with two colors flat, for the bag bottom, and in the round in order to make either the stranded colorwork Magnolia Tote or The Medallion Travel Bag,
  • How to maintain the even tension required for stranded knitting that will subsequently be felted,
  • How to felt a large bag in the top-loading washer or the clothes dryer,
  • How to block your bag for a beautifully smooth felted fabric and crisp silhouette,
  • How to finish your bag so that it looks sleek and polished: learn how to apply bag feet, stiffen the bottom of the bag, use different types of magnetic snaps for the closure you want, apply a turnlock, set in a zipper, apply custom-made leather handles, and use other premium bag hardware for a beautiful finished product
  • Decorate your finished bag to take it from fabulous to art: short tutorials on knitting flowers, embroidering on felted fabric, beading, and more.

Class Dates

Dates of the instruction and practice classes: 2-hour meetings from 9 – 11am every other Saturday (to give you time to knit!):

May 8, May 22, and June 5 and June 19.

Dates of check-in meetings in the evenings from 7 – 8 pm on alternate Thursdays: 

May 13, May 27, June 10, and June 17.

Class Size

The class is limited to 10 participants so everyone gets individualized attention during our meetings. Each participant also receives 30 minutes of individualized meeting time and “emergency” support when needed.

There are still some spots left!

Through Sunday, I get a 10% discount on Noni classes. Use the code 10offclasses at checkout. Don’t forget to press apply to activate your discount.

Join me in class!

The Medium Sized Carpet Bag – Free Pattern!

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

For 24 hours – from 5pm on Friday to 5pm on Saturday, January 16, 2021 the entire Carpet Bag in Three Sizes pattern is free both on Ravelry and on the Noni Website.

I have included the instructions for just the medium sized purse here, as well as finishing tips and tricks to finish the carpet bag with this updated, stunning LIMITED EDITION hardware package you can BUY NOW. JUL was able to make 3 of these gorgeous Curvy handle pairs at special pricing and we are passing the savings on to you.

Click here to purchase The Limited Edition JUL Leather Handle and Hardware Package (only 3 available!)

JUL and I worked together earlier this week to put together this beautiful new JUL “Curvy” flat leather strap handle.

Black leather purse handles with shiny chrome snap hooks.
The JUL Curvy Handle.

Once I had the handles, I put together components from the Noni warehouse to make a hardware package that gives the Carpet Bag a sleek, modern, professional appearance.

This stunning hardware kit retails for $132.90 and can be used to finish the Medium and Rather Huge Carpet Bags as well as any other medium or large tote in the Noni Collection. There are only three at this price! If you love it, please act fast.

The kit includes the following:

  • 1 JUL USA-made Leather Curvy Handles – pair
  • 2 Large Handle Brackets 
  • 1 Amazing Snap (package contains a second rivet-in snap)
  • 1 package of 24mm Bag feet (6 bag feet) – We do recommend you purchase an additional package if you are making the Rather Huge Carpet Bag as it needs more feet to protect its bottom.
  • 1 package of shiny nickel Cabochon Rivets (20 pcs)
  • 1 A Noni Design label (as my gift – not included in the kit price)
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.

The Medium Carpet Bag Pattern

Difficulty Level

I consider this an easy project. I have known of people who learned how to knit by making this bag. The project requires knowledge of knitting, purling, increasing, decreasing, knitting in the round on circular needles, and some simple hand-sewing during the finishing process.

Abbreviations Used – For a List of All Noni Abbreviations, Click Here

  • BO Bind off
  • CO Cast on
  • K Knit
  • P Purl
  • pu Pick up and knit stitches
  • RS Right (knit) side
  • St st Stockinette Stitch
  • st/sts Stitch/stitches
  • WS Wrong (purl) side

Medium Carpet Bag Projected Finished Dimensions

Finished sizes vary with fiber choice, needle size, gauge, and felting time.

10″ (25cm) high x 4″ (10cm) deep at the base

Pre-Felted Gauge

12 sts and 16 rows over 4″ (10cm) using a double-strand of worsted
weight, feltable yarn on larger needle

Yarn Requirements

The Medium Carpet Bag requires 880 yds (805m) worsted weight feltable wool. My favorite felting yarn is Stonehedge Fiber Mill’s Shepherd’s Wool light worsted. I do not recommend using a single-ply bulky yarn as I have seen it torque in the washer, making a wonky shape.

To get the look of the red striped bag, I used 440 yds (402m) – or 2 skeins – each in Christmas Red (A) and Garnet (B).

Needles and Other Materials

  • Size 11 (8mm) 24″ (60cm) circular needle for working the bag
  • Stitch markers to mark corners
  • Tapestry needle for weaving in ends
  • Sewing needle for finishing work
  • 1 Noni Limited Edition Curvy Leather Handle and Hardware Kit
    • Kit contains 1 Noni Amazing Magnetic Snap, 2 pairs of Handle Brackets, 1 package of 6 bag feet, 1 package of 20 cabochon rivets, and, as my gift, 1 A Noni Design lead-free pewter label.

The Solid Colored Medium Carpet Bag Pattern

Bag Bottom (striped bag instructions are below)

With a double-strand of worsted-weight yarn CO 48 sts.
Row 1 (WS): Purl.
Rows 2 – 24: Continue in St st.
BO. Cut yarn. Weave in Ends.

Picking Up Stitches For The Bag Body

With the WS of the bag bottom facing you, pick up and knit stitches as follows: *pu 48 sts along the CO/BO edge, place marker, pu 20 sts on short end (this translates
to roughly 2 sts for every 3 rows and the difference here is because rows felt more than stitches so you pick up fewer stitches to rows to get the same gauge) place marker; repeat from * for the remaining long and short edges, place marker in different color to designate the beginning of the round—136 sts. Cut yarn. Weave in end.

Turn your work so that the RS is facing you, join a new double-strand of A and begin knitting in the round. The round should begin with a short end.

Bag Body and Bag Shaping

Rounds 1 – 64: Knit in the round. BO. Cut yarn. Weave in ends.

The Striped Medium Sized Carpet Bag Pattern

Bag Bottom

With a double-strand of A CO 48 sts.
Row 1 (WS): Purl in A.
Rows 2 – 4: Continue in St st in A.
Rows 5 -8: Change to B and continue in St st.
Rows 9 -18: Continue to work 4 – row stripes, alternating between A and B.
Rows 19 – 24: Finish with a 6 – row strip in A.
BO in A. Cut yarn. Weave in Ends.

Picking Up Stitches for The Bag Body

With the WS of the purse bottom facing you, pick up and knit stitches with a double-strand of A as follows: *pu 48 sts along the CO/BO edge, place marker, pu 20 sts on short end (this translates to roughly 2 sts for every 3 rows), place marker; repeat from * for remaining long and short edges, place marker in different color to designate the beginning of the round—136 sts. Cut yarn. Weave in end.

Turn your work so that the RS is facing you, join a new double-strand of A and begin knitting in the round. The round should begin with a short end.

Bag Body & Bag Shaping

Rounds 1 – 3: Knit in the round in A.
Rounds 4 – 7: Change to B and knit in the round.
Rounds 8 – 80: Knit in the round, alternating between 4 – row stripes in A and B, ending with a stripe in B BO all sts. Cut yarn. Weave in ends.

Felting & Finishing

Felt Your Bag – please read the entire section before felting

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 medium – large 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–for dryer felting it is crucial that your bag stay sopping wet during this process.

Block Your Bag During and After Felting

The finishing process begins in the washer or dryer. As your bag goes through the felting process, it is important to take it out of the washer or dryer and check it. Is it creasing or curling? Is the top felting too slowly? Stretch the bag body to match the width of the top, Make sure it is felting evenly. Stretch and pull the fabric to encourage even felting. Uncurl the bag opening if it is trying to curl.

You can encourage even felting by sewing the top together with a cotton yarn or contrasting superwash yarn. Big stitches, just enough to stabilise it. Why do this? Because then the top will felt at the same gauge as the body and not flare at the top. Do not sew all the way across because you do want to be able to cut the stitches afterwards and pull the yarn out. If the top does flare slightly, it’s not terrible: simply fold the ends in, as pictured, and block carefully for crisp shaping.

Once the bag has shrunk to the desired measurements, pull it into shape using the photographs on the cover to direct your efforts. Below is the picture of a felted bag that has been well blocked but has no structure and is yet unfinished.

A grey and black striped felted bag body after felting but before finishing is lying on a grey background.

Attach Bag Handles Using Hardware Brackets

Attaching the Handle Brackets is the first step in the finishing process.

Gorgeous Handle Brackets

Measure carefully so that handle brackets are equidistant from each end and properly centered in the bag.

Press the bracket prongs through the felt and expose the little prongs on the inside, put the plate over the prongs, then put a dot of super glue on the prong and another inside the rivet “cap.” Press the cap over the prong and hold in place until let.

NOTE: If you are attaching a plastic handle or handle rings to the bag using fabric loops or “tabs”, see my step-by-step photo-tutorial and instructions for this, called “Handles 101.” I use fabric tabs or sturdy ribbon and a doublet-strand of sewing thread that matches the color of the bag. Use small stitches and take some of your stitches all the way through the felt fabric.

Line the Bag Bottom with Stiffener

I do recommend that you stiffen the bottom of your bag. I have, in the past, used Plastic Artist Canvas to line bag bottoms, but I have not been able to get the product I prefer lately. A good alternative is the stiff Mat Board that is used in the matting and framing of pictures. I like the feel of the Mat Board in the bag because it is bio-degradable (I’m always looking for ways to reduce the use of plastic)

Attach Bag Feet

BF6-24mm-NIC
24mm bag feet in shiny nickel

Take a look at this step-by-step blog tutorial on attaching bag feet. Instead of the stiffener mentioned and pictured in the post, consider using Mat Board, the thick board used in the matting and framing of pictures.

Attach the Amazing Snap or Sew-in Snap

The Amazing Magnetic Snap. The snap included in the kit has a rivet-in back.

Attach the Amazing Snap or Sew-in Snap

Amazing Snap
Measure carefully to identify the center of the bag opening. Place the front or “knob” portion of Amazing Snap on the Flap. Place the “screw-in” back on the wrong side of the Flap and screw into the knob front. Once this is complete, snap the magnetic “back” to the front and locate the proper position for the magnet prongs on the bag body. Press magnet prongs through felt from outside to inside, slide the washer onto the prongs, and open prongs outward. Snap closed. Open by pulling on the knob.

Best sew-in snaps are one of the most invisible ways to put a snap in your bag.

Sew in the Best Sew-in Snap or Glue on the Rivet-in Snap

Find the center of the bag opening and mark. Using Nylon beading or sewing thread
and a sewing needle, sew the Sew-In Snap in place directly on the felt or over the lining.

Rivet-in snaps are easy to apply with super glue. They also put a nice “rivet” top on the outside of your bag for a sleek look.

To attach the Rivet-in snaps, simply place where you want the snap, pressing the snap prong through the felt toward the outside. Then put a dot of super glue on the little prong and a dot of glue inside the female part of the rivet (the “cap” that shows on the outside of the bag), press the two sides together and hold in place until set.

Attach the Noni Metal Label

A pile of A Noni Design labels are arranged on a wooden surface.

Take a look at this blog tutorial about how to Attach the Noni metal label to the top center back of the bag (or in the location you desire) using a sharp needle and nylon beading thread and four no. 8 seed beads and beginning on the inside of the bag, bring the threaded needle through bag fabric, through one of the metal label holes, and then through a bead. Go back through the same hole and through bag fabric. Travel on the inside to next label hole and repeat the procedure until the label is secured through all four holes using beads. Cut the sewing thread and secure.

Attach the Cabochon Rivets

Mark the places around the top of the bag opening where you want to place a cab rivet. Place all the rivets. When you have them where you want them, “set” them with super glue by taking the cab front off the back, put a dot of glue in the center of the cab front or the center of the cab back while it is still in place in the fabric and then press together again. Hold until the glue has set. Take a look at my blog post about this topic.

A Finished grey and black striped felted bg sits on a grey background
This bag is shown with a Prague handle, a handle similar to the Curvy . . . but not as curvy.

Any questions about felting, finishing, or this pattern, please post your questions in the comments below. If you don’t see your comment right away, rest assured that I will get it. I have to approve them in order that the comments section does not become filled with all sorts of really weird spam.

If you have any suggestions for short videos you’d like to see, or blog photo tutorials, or even a zoom class, let me know! I am in the process of creating a lot of new content and I would love your feedback.

Happy knitting and felting!

Nora

Cultivating Solace Part 1: Or How The Korean Side Dish Dubu Jorim Brings Me Joy

A Korean dish of spicy braised tofu, called Dubu Jorim, sits atop some steamed Jasmine Rice on a square black plate. Metal chopsticks sit on the edge of the plate.

This last week has been tense for me. For a lot of us. I was with my sister, Laura Bellows of JUL Designs on Thursday. It was to be a working as well as social visit. But it was tough: I was agitated and upset by what was unfolding on Capitol Hill. We were alternately talking about our latest creative projects and absolutely sick about and rivetted by the news coming out of DC. I was distracted, sad, angry, worried, disbelieving, not surprised. So many emotions. It was hard to concentrate and settle down: I didn’t get my Thursday blog post written, or my Friday one.

As the afternoon became evening and I worked on pictures of fruit as inspiration for new colorways and as I knit and reknit a new small bag I will share with you this coming week, I found myself seeking solace, some joy to balance the anxiety of the day.

Once home, I wanted something soothing after such a day. My husband and I decided to relax by watching a lovely, quiet Japanese import TV series we have been enjoying on Netflix: Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. Here is a review that you might like to watch. The stories center around a tiny little diner in Shinjuku, Tokyo, that is only open from Midnight until 7am. There is only one thing on the menu, but the cook, know only as Master, will make anything you ask for as long as he has the ingredients.

The show is an homage to comfort food, to foods whose deliciousness is as much about the fresh ingredients and skill of Master as it is about the memories and emotions the different diners associate with their requested dishes. it is beautiful, poitnant. I cherish each episode. I want such a diner to be tucked away in my own town . . . the sort of gem you want to succeed but you want to keep it secret so it will always be intimate, special, welcoming. Watching the way Master prepares food, and the way his customers enjoy it, had made me take more care with the dishes that I make myself.

I thought I’d share with you here one of the dishes I have recently made . . . ia Korean dish called Dubu Jorim, officially a side dish, or “banchan,” that we had been buying already prepared from a local asian grocery store. But it was expensive there and served in plastic packaging that I really didn’t want to take home and wonder if it was ending up recycled or the landfill. Plus, it was not always as fresh as I would have liked.

Lately, I have been trying to learn how to make some things that I have always previously purchased, such as Naan, tempeh, my favorite Indian dishes, harissa spice paste, and things like this tasty Korean braised tofu. What I have discovered is that it is always better when I make it myself. And my life is better, too. . .

A Korean dish of spicy braised tofu, called Dubu Jorim, sits atop some steamed Jasmine Rice on a square black plate.
This is the version of this dish that I served to my son during one of his breaks in on-line school.

At first, I didn’t know what it was called . . . but some googled descriptions turned an abundance of recipes quickly. I’ve made it many times now and from several different recipes, so here is my own rendition of a “double” recipe using 2 cakes of extra firm tofu. You can serve as banchan, eat as a main course with sauteed baby bok choy over jasmine rice, or make a wonderful innovation of your own. Delicious!

Steaming sauteed baby bok choy with the extra Dubu Jorim sauce drizzled over the top. Umami!

Here is what you will need:

For the tofu

  • 2 cakes of extra firm tofu
  • 2 tbs neutral oil such as grapeseed or canola for frying the tofu

Prepare the tofu by removing it from the packaging and draining off any water. Place the two cakes on a paper or cloth towel and pat dry.

Next cut the tofu into 1/4 inch slices. Pat the slices dry if necessary.

Put the oil in a non-stick pan and heat over medium heat. Add the tofu to the frying pan in a single layer – for 2 cakes, you will need to fry in 2 – 3 batches. After one side has browned slightly, flip using tongs and lightly brown the other side. My son likes the tofu to be slightly crisp while I like a softer skin . . . try both and see what you like. Once each piece is browned on both sides, remove and arrangeattractively on a plate. Some people lay the pieces down so that they are like dominoes that have already been toppled. You can also simply arrange them so that they are not touching. I try different things each time.

While the tofu is gently frying, you can mix up the sauce.

For the sauce (mix in a small mixing bowl – this reciipe makes enough to have some left over):

  • 6 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 2 tbs water
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp korean red chili flakes
  • 1 tbs sesame seeds – I like to use black and white mixed but just toasted white is nice by itself, too.
  • 1 large or 2 medium cloves of garlic minced finely or grated using a fine grater
  • 4 – 5 fresh scallions
  • Extra sesame seeds, chili flakes, and scallions for garnish.

Mix all together with a spoon or fork until well integrated. Separately, wash and remove the roots and any yellowing bits of 4 – 5 scallions. Cut into small rounds. I use the entire scallion, not just the white or green part. These will be sprinkled on top of the dish. You can certainly add some to the sauce as well so the scallions marinate.

Scallions both whole and chopped sit on a dark wood cutting board.

Once the tofu is arranged on a plate, spoon the sauce over the top, making sure each piece of tofu has some sauce and that all pieces are sitting in a little bit of sauce.

Slices of tofu are lined up on a black plate and drizzled with a spicy Korean sauce of soy sauce, sesame oil, and chilli flakes to make Dubu Jorim, a classic Korean side dish.

Finally, sprinkle the scallions over the tofu and then sprinkle more chili flakes and sesame seeds over all.

A plate of Dubu Jorim: Slices of fried tofu are lined up on a black plate and then drizzled with spicy sauce and sprinkled with fresh scallions and sesame seeds.

Eat as a snack, with your fingers standing up in the kitchen! Or serve over steaming hot Jasmine rice. Or serve the platter alongside baby bok choy that has been sauteed in a little bit of oil. Put in a pretty bowl while it is still bright bright green and drizzle with the extra Dubu Jorim sauce. Joyful food. I hope you love this dish as much as I do.

I will be sharing more of the ways I add joy to my days or meals.

How do you inject moments of solace and pleasure into your own days? Please share in the comments.

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.

Knitting Old and Knitting New

Knit word bag

Most of us knitters have several projects in baskets, velvet bags, drawstring pouches, little baskets.

As I finish up my Moody Ella Coat, I’m excited about getting to work on several projects, some new, some languishing.

I’ve had a creamy-white, bulky-weight coat in the works for a while (3 years!). She is so close. So close. Sleeves and some decisions about the hem and cuffs. And the considerable but exciting finishing that includes a Mohair goat (beautiful) or Blue Faced Leicester fur collar, cuffs, and trim down the front. She needs a name. Constantia? Constance? She’s been patient. Harlow? (meaning a pile of rocks or a hill . . . I’m thinking ever there, waiting). She’s been very very patient. Hope? You get the idea.

Ella Coat Bulky White

And then there is the blue-black Ella-inspired duster I am going to make for my sister. Ella goes out West?  Ella learns to ride a Palomino? This color is stunning:

blue black yarn

And then the Pumpkin duster I am going to make for myself. The yarn is a DK weight, so I’ll be re-writing the stitch counts for the lighter weight. Of course it will take a while but the drape and swing will be lovely. The pumpkin is show-stopping with blue jeans or a black ensemble.

Pumpkin Yarn

I’m going to work a lovely little easy pattern into the work:  2 rows of St st and one row of K1, P1. Repeat the 3 rows. So pretty and so easy.

Pumpkin stitch pattern

I’m learning to crochet. My friend Roxy is teaching me. She’s tough. I keep telling her how fast I’m picking it up and then she laughs and rips it out and tells me to start over. I like it. This was last night’s practice session on my own. It’s a bit rough but I’ve got some things I want to make so I’m going to stick with it. A little each day.

Little crochet swatch

There is a lot to keep you up-to-date on as I progress through multiple projects!

Next update will be my Moody Ella . . . then we will see what’s next.

 

Recovering and Knitting

Ella Coat Palette.jpgWhen my son doesn’t write to me when he is at camp I know he must be having a great time. It is when the food is terrible or one of his tent-mates wakes up crying in the middle of the night, every night, that I hear about it.

I think I am the same way. You have not heard from me because I feel so great and I have so much energy.  I have not taken a single pain-killer in two weeks time, only 2 weeks out from surgery. I wake up at 6-ish am without an alarm (that never happened pre-surgery). Sleep is so restful. Walking feels amazing. So smooth. So easy. I am taking my little dog for hour-long walks, even in this cold (you should see how I bundle her up). Noni original girl dog coat coming soon!

I have taken everyone’s facebook advice about how to hold on to gratitude in everyday life. I strive to take stock each morning of the abundance around me. It is truly a time of renewal for me, of yet another reinvention. I am working on projects new and languishing. Friends are visiting since I am house-bound until January 10th when I see my surgeon again.

I have a lot to share with you. Today, my latest new project . . . another Ella coat is in the works. Are you surprised? The picture above is my original palette. I picked a number of tone on tone hand-dyes from several different dyers in a worsted weight – I’m pretty sure they are all the same base. You can tell I had stripes in mind. As I started knitting, though, I started to think that I really had two different palettes.

One with the greens and bright turquoise. I’ve since added more colors and some yellow.

ella coat palette partial greens and turquoise

And another colorway with the darker, moodier tones: royal purple, dark purple-magenta, blue-black, royal blue, black-purple with black-magenta elements. There were two skeins of a colorway that seemed so different I had to get both. One has turned out to have too much white, so I’ve gotten an array of sharpies to tone those little bits down. It’s fun! Hand painting stitch by stitch. Meditative. The finished results are really great. More about this below.

This was my first go at the new moody stripes colorway.

ella-coat-palette 1

And here is the palette I ended up with, but including the bright purple-magenta in the center above. I loved it so much I ran out! I searched everywhere in my considerable collection but could only find a brighter, more pink version that just didn’t want to be moody like the rest of the palette.

2017-12-29 16.17.01

And here is how it looks worked in stripes . . . this is my Ella sleeve.

2017-12-29 16.17.36

Back, briefly, to those 2 skeins that seemed so different. One had more color contrast, the different colors in the skein set off in blocks. In the skein it was dramatic and drew my attention. It’s colorway mate from a different dye-lot was muted. All of the same colors were there but they didn’t block up. To me, a different dyer’s hands were in evidence. I loved them both. What I didn’t love is how the color-block skein ended up with too much white. Some parts of the hank didn’t seem to have been dyed nearly at all. These near white stitches drew so much attention to themselves that they were distracting. Unfortunately, in my coat they were right across the bum and the bust. Looks almost like I planned it. Not what I wanted. When the body of the coat was nearly done, and thought about ripping it all out. Several times I thought about it but I kept going, reasoning I”d think of something.

And that something . . . was Sharpies.  I did a little test in a tiny corner with their most enduring original: the black Sharpie. I really liked it. Toned that white right down to nothing but moody wonderfulness, worked with the rest of the coat without being maudlin. The original teal or blue or raspberry was still there but without the distraction.

You probably know that Sharpies come in all different colors now. House-bound as I am until 1/10/18 and alone for the moment because my guys are in Utah skiing (I miss them but it has been lovely to work on my pile of projects). In any case, I had to put off shopping at Staples and the immediate gratification that would have brought me and ordered a 12-pack on-line. They came yesterday!

I love the results and the work is a meditation. I’m painting stitch by stitch. This process has alerted me to other moments in the work where there was not enough dye saturation and a little bit of too-much-whiteness shows through. Dab of the Sharpie in the right color and it’s gone. Beautiful.

Here is a before the Sharpie picture.

Before Sharpie.jpg

And after the Sharpie magic.

After Sharpie.jpg

Side By Side Comparison

Sharpie vs Non Sharpie.jpg

I might go over these sections with a little bit of black, or just paint in some darker bits with the same colors I originally used, or layer different colors sans black. Still a work in progress. I will assess after it is put together and then adorned with finishing touches such as hand-dyed silk around the neckline and cuffs. I’m toying with the idea of a wide hand-dyed/painted velvet collar but that’s going go take a while. Maybe I’ll go with the ruched silk around the neck as my immediate gratification so I can wear it tomorrow as I draft the collar, make the final version, and then hand-dye/paint it at my friend Gwen’s farm. However long it takes is however long it takes . . .  My coats are nothing if not patient.

What are you working on? I’d love to hear what you are doing in the comments. Post pictures, too!

 

What I’ve Been Doing and Where I’ve Been

2017-08-15 16.05.18

You might remember that I shuttered my studio in February nearly two years ago. I went to teach at a small private high school, with fond memories of my teaching at the University of Maryland as a strong motivator for that move in my life. I taught college composition, creative writing, and English literature to undergraduates for twelve years and loved it. Most of my students were thoughtful, motivated (or they became so), and I watched them change and grow over the course of a semester. I am still in contact with some of my students who have now become friends, gotten married, started families, and have interesting lives. It was rewarding, satisfying, intellectually challenging work. But my students of nearly 15 years ago are not the students of today. . . smart phones, and laptops, and the wifi in the classroom transform it and I’m not jazzed about how. It is not my cup of tea anymore.

I decided not to pursue that path though I am now glad I had the short experience I did in spite of the significant pain it caused me at the time. Even negative experiences are so valuable for helping us make choices about how we want to live our lives. For a long time I focused on my garden, on settling into my life in a different way. I read books. I cooked really pretty dinners. I was recovering in a way. Contemplating. Quiet.

Since late this past summer I have been spending time working in a brand new (and thriving!) yarn store called Knits and Pieces of Annapolis Maryland. I love it. I has re-awakened the designer in me and I am working on some new things I will introduce you to in short order, so more on that later.

I have also been in pain. It turns out I have really bad osteoarthritis in my hips. My grandmother on my Dad’s side had both of her hips replaced in a time when the technology was not so great. So I knew I was in for it: I have always had troubles with my hips. But now it’s official and since last winter for sure, it has been debilitating. It takes up a lot of brain space to be in pain. It is a series of constant calculations. How far can I walk. Can I do this. . . or this, or this.

On Monday the 4th of December, I had a double hip replacement. I am healing. I am excited. I am thinking about the mountains I will climb next summer with my son. We have the goal to hike all the 4,000 footers in the Adirondacks, all 46 of them. We will be called 46ers when we are done. We will get special patches that we will proudly wear on our backpacks. We have 44 to go! I’ve told Soma that he better be ready to hike every day for a week next summer.

Some of you may want to know how I am doing as I continue to recover. I will keep in touch with you through my blog and through my facebook page. I will let you know how I am doing and what I am up to, both in my recovery and in my creative life. This parentheses of recovery will be a time of renewal for me: there are some creative projects I want to tackle and I’ll bring you along with me as I do that work. And then there are the designs I will introduce to you.

The picture here is a walkway on a hike that Soma and I made this past summer. It was more or less level ground on my account. The walkway crosses a wetland and is all crookedy because bad spirits can’t turn corners. I love this. And I love the iconography of journey that is embedded in walkways that lead into the unknown. Our lives are full of twists and turns, jaggedy journeys to places we never expected. I invite you on this journey with me.

Thank you for following me. Nora

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.

 

Amazing Amazing Wool!: Felted Soap

I am going to my little boy’s classroom to teach the kids about wool, about felt, and then we are going to make felted soap. I have spent the weekend trolling through videos that show lots of different ways of doing this . . . and I have made a number of bars of felted soap myself. I have to say that I have loved the process. . . and loved the process of thinking about how to introduce my great abiding love for wool to second graders. So, what follows, at least for now, is my lesson plan. I have 1.5 hours in Ms. Woods second grade class. . . I confess that in all my years of teaching (teaching English, Creative Writing, Literature, Knitting, Felting. . . ) I have never spent so much time and put so much thought into a lesson plan. Even this bare bones outline can’t possibly convey the hours, the worry . . . nor can it convey the finished result [to commence at 12:30 on today!]. I plan to take pictures and post them here, but it may be that I get so drawn into the experience I forget and take no pictures. . . hmmmm. Perhaps I will task my son with the role of documentary photographer . . .

In any case, if you have kids or just want to get your hands REALLY clean, this is a fun project. And here is my lesson plan: I am going to use this blog posting on a smart board in the classroom.

Rules for Today:

If you might want to say EWWWWW, instead say AHHHH, So INTERESTING! You will learn more if you are interested and open-minded than if you reject something as gross.

You will learn more by making mistakes than by getting it perfect, so don’t be afraid to mess up. The worst that can happen is you start over. When you start over, you become an expert faster!  How cool is that?

 

WHAT IS WOOL?

Wool is the hair of sheep.

 

Liester Longwool04-grazers_louise-fairburn

There are MANY breeds of sheep: they all look different.

Rare-breedsSheep have been living with people for so long that most breads have fur that keeps growing and growing. They need people to cut their hair. Cutting a sheep’s hair is called “sheering.”

This is Shrek, a sheep that was not sheered for 6 years!Shrek-before-sheering This is what Shrek looks like during his first sheering.

Sheep-getting-sheeredWool is AMAZING!

It has incredible characteristics:

it is warm. And it can keep you warm, even when it’s wet.

It kills germs! And resists mold.

Wool has an oil on it called lanolin that is a wonderful oil and good for the skin. It also makes wool water-proof!

Wool can felt . . . This means that wool fibers matt together with other wool fibers and make a fabric.

People have used wool’s felting power to make lots of things that are useful:

To make Boots . . .

original_Sheep-wool-booties-group-NOTHSFelted boots2And slippers. . .

felt_slippersAnd Clothes

Felted Jacket1 mens felted jacketnunofeltedjacket

And bags

LIPSTICKANDCHANGE-Sparkle-line-upBag for St. John's Parish School fundraiserAnd Rugs

beautifulrugwormfeltedrug

Here is a video that shows how to make a felted rug.

You can also make Houses OUT OF FELT!

felt_yurtmaking a yurtWhy does wool felt?

Here is a picture that shows why wool felts: each hair has “barbs” or scales that want to lock together with other wool fibers.

fiber_compare-480x296

What makes the fibers do this?

Irritation! By friction (hands rubbing together, pounding on the felt, putting the felt in the washing machine).

Change in PH!  Add a little soap (this creates an alkaline environment) and this irritates the fibers even more. . .

Change in temperature. Shock the wool between hot and cold and the wool freaks out and grabs onto its fiber friends!

 

Now we are going to see first hand how wool felts . . . Before we get started with our project, I want to talk a little bit about how we are going to learn about felting.

Learning Styles: Everyone Learns in a Unique Way

Some people learn . . .

by seeing (watching) . . .

by listening . . .

by speaking . . .

by doing . . .

by teaching . . .

So, for today, this is how we are going to learn:

1. Watch what I do.

2. Listen to what I tell you.

3. Then tell me what i did.

4. Then do it.

5. Then teach someone else. Go home and teach your parents and your sisters and brothers. Teach your friends.

 

Now. . . for felted soap!

First is the decoration . . . Just to get you thinking. . .

MonsterSoapsfelted soap 3mini_monster_felted_soap_blueFelted-Soap-Labelsfelted-soap-kitsfeltedsoap2 feltedsoaps3mini_monster_felted_soap_pink_2red monstor soap zombie_ate_my_brains_felted_soap_1blueowelsoap Brightly-Colored-Felted-Soap

More Felted Soap Ideas

Materials You Need:

Soap

Wool (I am using carded Merino top from New England Felting Supply)

Water

A bit of a “sock” (a bit of stocking works well! I cut knee high stockings into 3 pieces after knotting them in 2 places.)

A bit of friction (rubbing hands and then, at the end, plastic canvas to rough things up)

Temperature differential: have a bath of cold water and a bath of hot water and shock the soap back and forth (if necessary) between the two. Squeeze out excess water and keep going.

FIRST STEP: Make a little bed for your soap that is no bigger than half a sheet of regular notebook paper.

RULE 1: If you are using more than one color, the colors must overlap.

RULE 2: If you are using sparkle, you must put a little wool spider web over the sparkle.

RULE 3: The wool be shouldn’t be too thick, or too thin, but just right.

This is the step in which your creative brain is going to be working. While we are working on our designs, we belong to a creative community!

Rules for a creative community:

1. Learn from each other.

2. Inspire Each Other. Share Your Ideas. Don’t be afraid to Copycat but add your own twist. This is what creativity is.

3. Help Each Other.

4. Comment respectfully on others’ work: all of our creations teach us something.

 

SECOND STEP: Make sure the little bed is not too thick. Think spider web rather than blanket!

THIRD STEP: Put your soap in the bed and wrap it up.

FOURTH STEP: Put the little soup in a blanket in your sock.

FIFTH STEP: Get it wet, then get the excess water out.

SIXTH STEP: Gently rub on all sides until it suds.

SEVENTH STEP: “Wash hands” for 2 rounds of the Cup Song (at least) before checking your soap!

Original Version of the Cup Song

Irish Version of the Cup Song

TROUBLES?

There will always be troubles! This is part of the creative process. The REALLY IMPORTANT part is HOW YOU SOLVE THE PROBLEM, FIX THE TROUBLE, AND WHAT YOU LEARN FROM THAT!

Too much wool? DOES THE SOAP HAVE A MOHAWK OR  AN EXTRA ARM OR SOMETHING?  Fold the extra over onto the soap, rinse, squeeze out all extra water, and keep going. Use your scrape tool for extra friction and keep going.

Too little wool? ARE YOU SEEING HOLES? Add another spider web layer and try again.