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!

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.

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.