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Knitting Bags: A Primer

The knitter's bag plays a crucial role in our lives. Only rarely do we use the word "bag" in the singular. If you haven't discovered this for yourself yet, knitters acquire knitting bags with the same enthusiasm we do yarn.

Every project needs to be kept close and easily carried. And we couldn't possibly insult a project by making it share a bag with another project, could we? Heavens no. It's only polite to keep each project separate—like keeping warring children in separate rooms.

Peeking Inside
In that bag you must, of course, have a separate set of tools, lest a knitting emergency befall you—or any knitter you encounter—while you're out and about. Those tools are as important to knitters as mosquito repellant is to a summer hiker in the Maine woods. I don't leave home without them.

What kinds of tools, you ask? Things like a darning needle, crochet hook, stitch markers, stitch holders, scissors, needle sizer, measuring tape, cable needle, extra DPN or two, and anything else you deem critical to your personal knitterly health (my extras include lip balm, Band-Aids, and chocolate).

Some knitters keep the tools in a separate case that roams from bigger bag to bigger bag depending on the project du jour. Others simply invest in separate sets of tools for each bag.

The Urge to Go Plural
It is not entirely uncommon for a knitter to have several fully equipped knitting bags going at once. In fact it's perfectly healthy. If you're like me, with archival projects that just never seem to end, you may have six, eight, ten...OK, fine, dozens such bags stored throughout the house, each a sort of archeological relic harking back to the time you began the ill-fated project. I have a few projects whose plastic bags advertise yarn stores that have long since closed.

You may find that some bags hold legendary projects—or they accompanied you through an important period of your life—and the bag must be retired, like a prized jersey, after the project has finished. Other bags hold projects that failed so miserably, so completely, that we’re tempted to retire the bag to keep the bad juju from seeping into a new project. But the bottom line is that if you're a relatively new knitter, you might want to prepare for the arrival of many more bags into your home.

Defining the Knitting Bag—And Why You Can't
Over the years people (especially those who manufacture knitting bags) have asked why I don't review more knitting bags. It's a tricky subject, because if you really think about it, anything with sides, a bottom, and handles could be classified as a knitting bag. But our knitting bags seem to fall into a few categories.

a good old-fashioned plastic bag does the trick

First, we have what I call Old Faithful: The good old-fashioned plastic bag. Whether from your local grocery store or LYS, it's not very glamorous but it always does the trick. It's waterproof, it has handles, and it can double as a pleasant souvenir of your yarn shopping experience. After one or two projects it can start to look a little shabby, but hey, it was free.

Le Bag

Then we have Old Faithful's cousin: a fancy tote bag from a boutique or department store. What you lose in waterproofing and the ability to tie the bag closed, you make up for in greater dignity for your project. These will last through two or more projects before the shabbiness starts to kick in.

a truly one-of-a-kind hand-sewn tote I bought years ago

Next comes The Softy, those long-lasting hand-sewn fabric bags with perhaps a pocket or two inside—or more if they're made by knitters. They come in all shapes and sizes and colors and textures. I confess I have a particular weakness for these and routinely troll Etsy shops online for new finds.

Some of these makers—such as Green Mountain Knitting Bags—have such a loyal following that people wait to snatch the new bags as soon as they're posted online.

the Della Q messenger bag helps Vietnamese women learn how to quilt

From here we veer sideways to the Better World bags, those beautiful imports sold by companies with a decidedly philanthropic bent. Most often these bags are similar in concept to what you may find at a non-knitting store—but they're marketed for knitters by knitters (or people who care about knitters), and a portion of the proceeds are given back to the communities that produced the bags. Lantern Moon, Della Q, and Be Sweet all have such products with philanthropic underpinnings.

all those pockets and pouches, oh my!

And then there's the Bagmaster 12,000. This ultrafunctional bag is designed expressly for knitters and/or crafters. It has 32 inner compartments for your circulars, straights, and DPNs, tiny pouches for your stitch markers, bigger pockets for your stitch holders and cable needles, a built-in measuring tape, three removable volumes of clear plastic pattern sleeves, plus a retractable swift and solar-powered ball winder. It weighs 24 pounds and costs as much as your first car.

Well, not really, but these bags are packed with pockets and pouches and sleeves and compartments to provide a distinct storage place for every single item you ever thought you'd want to carry in your bag. For people who need order and don't mind spending as much time sorting and organizing their tools as actually using them, these kinds of bags are a dream come true. But, as you've probably learned by now, you certainly don't need one of these bags to be a real knitter.

The Real Bags
I haven't yet mentioned the bags that constitute 99% of our collections: Purses, diaper bags, shower caddies, NPR donation totes, gardener's totes, wicker bags, straw baskets, fishing lure and tackle boxes, lunchboxes, messenger bags, laptop cases, carry-on bags, beach totes, laundry bags, shoe pouches, and essentially anything we own that will accommodate our knitting. Those are the real knitting bags, the hard-working unsung heroes that valiantly hold our projects, day after day, asking nothing in return.

The Bag As Something More
The self-titled knitting bag—and by this I mean any bag that we acquire with the express intent of housing our knitting—can also be as much a symbolic object as it is physical. It represents the moment we decide that our knitting merits a special brand-new space all its own. For some of us, that first knitting bag marks the beginning of a journey that doesn't end until we've carved out an actual physical space for our knitting. But for those who can never go there, the knitting bag is a perfect stand-in.


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