Ravelry Design Spotlight

For this issue we really wanted to feature a design from Ravelry that’s a little different.  That’s not to say that we’ve fallen out of love with our other favourites, rather that we wanted to share a project that you might not have considered making before.

The Grrlfriend Market Bag by Laura Spradlin (aka Sugar Bunny Boulevard) is one of those quick, easy knits that is eco friendly and makes a great little gift.

The bag is cleverly constructed, beginning with a square bottom on DPNs, that increases in size. Once large enough, you switch to circular needles to complete the mesh, before changing to a smaller needle to knit the handles.

The design is written for worsted weight yarn, but is easily adaptable and makes a great stash-busting project perfect for using up odd balls of yarn.

We caught up with Grrlfriend Market Bag designer Laura Spradlin and asked her a few questions about knitting and her popular design.

When did you learn to knit and who taught you?

My mother believed that  busy children had no time for getting into trouble. I was taught to embroider at about 6-7 years old, which I did very well and enjoyed the artistic aspect very much. When I was about 8-9 years old, during the cold season of spending time indoors near the fire while my mother prepared meals and cared for my younger siblings, she taught me to knit. First to cast on, then the knit stitch. She gave me a ball of red acrylic yarn from her small stash of leftover project yarn and a pair of long aluminium golden coloured straight knitting needles to use. I cast on 20 stitches and knit them back and forth, over and over until the ball of yarn was used up. The stitches were impossibly tight. She pointed out my errors then we ripped it all out and started over. Being only eight or nine years old I had no use for this nonsense! There was no progress being made and I wasn’t passionate enough about knitting to continue this pointless exercise. So I went back to reading books, embroidering, and staying out of trouble in my own way!

Do you remember your first project and if so what was it?

Fast forward to my early twenties and my first pregnancy, the minute I learned that I was expecting I went to the yarn shop because it’s what my mother would have done. I didn’t exactly remember how to knit and never learned how to purl but I had taught myself to crochet following High School so this shouldn’t be too difficult. I picked out a gender neutral pattern, mint green acrylic baby yarn and set to work to make an entire baby layette of sweater, mittens, booties, and bonnet. It was an eyelet lace pattern with tons of shaping and pattern instructions that I didn’t understand. A lady at my office brought her knitting to the break room at lunch so I asked her to help me learn to purl. She gave me a little refresher and I got started at home. I proudly brought my work to show her and she pointed out that I was twisting every one of my purl stitches by wrapping the yarn the wrong way. After a quick rip and re-do I was on the right track. I finished every last piece of that sweater (sleeves, fronts, back), bonnet, both booties and both mittens. Amazing!  And I never. Sewed. It. Together.  Because I didn’t know how.  About 10 years ago when I was a snobby knitter thinking wool was best, I found that old project of mint green acrylic baby yarn when unpacking after moving house.  Oddly, after admiring my diligence at completing all of the unjoined pieces, I threw it in the trash.  I’ve never regretted a purge more than that one.

When my first baby was crawling and I was expecting the next, I decided I needed some knitting PRACTISE.  Having gained some of the wisdom of a person who realised they want to improve their skill before tackling projects beyond their ability, I started knitting dish rags and giving serious thought to technique, learning how to read my knitting, how to deconstruct, how to recover from mistakes, and what it took to create a piece I was proud of. Until that point I was petrified that I might drop a stitch or make a mistake because all I could do was rip it all out and start over. A lot of learning can happen with a dish rag. I’ve made many of them now and always use it as a first project for my knitting students. I also urge my students not to rip out their first project but to keep it so they can see the evidence of their progress.  Oh how I wish I had done that.

Do you have any knitting memories you’d like to share with us?

I have more knitting memories than you have room for in your magazine. I spent a few years blogging my knitting experiences which were interwoven with the joys and sorrows of life. Most of my favourite knitting memories involve people I was with while knitting, people I taught to knit, or people I was knitting for. A lot of knitting memories taught me things about LIFE and what’s really important. Once I was knitting a sweater that I decided to enter into the Kansas State Fair. I finished the sweater, took pictures, then went to write a blog post about my accomplishment. While at the computer posting about my pride, my 2-year daughter was cutting a hole in the middle of the front of the sweater with scissors!! Another knitting experience that I hold in my heart is a project I called “Rebuilding Greensburg: Block by Block”.  It was a project to collect knit and crochet squares and sew them into blankets for the people in the tiny town of Greensburg, Kansas, whose entire community was destroyed and 13 people killed by a tornado in May 2007.  It’s been 10 years but I still enjoy many of the friendships made during that time with knitters from around the globe.

Can you tell us a little about your design process?

My design process is very organic and passive. Most of my patterns have not been published because I wrote them for instructional purposes and never really thought there was anything that special about them compared to thousands of similar patterns already published. I’ve published a few patterns though, that demanded to be public. They came to my heart and virtually wrote themselves. When I have a design idea in mind I spend a lot of time searching for similar patterns because I think “surely I couldn’t be the first one to come up with this idea”. If I never find something else quite like it, that begins to qualify the pattern in my mind for publishing. I’ve been working on something for about a year that I’m about to decide I can publish because it’s not a remake of another pattern that’s been done a thousand times. I never want to be thought of as unoriginal. I don’t think I could be a successful full-time designer because I would have a serious case of brain freeze if I had to come up with original inspired designs to fit a deadline. It would remove all of the fun from the process and I would rather never do it again than have it feel like work! So the pattern designing, writing and publishing process has to happen in my own time.

Where did the idea for the Grrlfriend Market Bag come from?

If you’ve seen the pattern description on Ravelry it gives the general idea of how the project came to be. My very dear friend Deanna phoned me one Fall day when I wasn’t home and said “I am leaving something on your porch that I think you can use”. I was really clueless as to what it was. When I got home I found a plastic grocery bag on my porch with this very large, very heavy, very heavily-cabled Aran sweater in a natural unbleached linen cotton blend. She called me later to say that it had belonged to her ex husband and she needed to get it out of her house because she still felt too much attachment to him through this sweater. I had to DO something with it. After all, Deanna gave it to me for a reason. I had to fulfil the purpose of the sweater.

The following summer Sheri of The Loopy Ewe announced a challenge on her blog to knit something for someone that needed a lift – someone who could benefit from a random act of knitting kindness. The Aran sweater was the obvious choice but I still didn’t know what it would become. I got out the ball winder and started to deconstruct the sweater. It took forever. There was so much yarn in this thing. Sheri’s challenge was my focus and finally I decided that some of this yarn could become a string bag. I dyed some of the yarn and kept some un-dyed for the top band and handles as the pattern concept came together in my mind. The dye colours were red blue black and green – all very organic looking because of the earthy tone of the original yarn. The first bag was complete in a day – I spent a Saturday at my favourite local yarn shop in Wichita, Kansas, surrounded by friends and people taking classes and just letting this thing come to life. It was red on the bottom, natural on top.

Knitters know that the knitting process is very good for thinking if you have an uncomplicated pattern. I spent my time thinking of Deanna and what this meant to her. I finished the bag that evening at home. The next morning I saw Deanna at church and she told me she was going to the hospital that week for a hysterectomy so I promised to visit her. When I went to the hospital I took the bag and told her the story of how the sweater had been transformed and had come full circle – purging her of something she had to get out of her life, and symbolising what we do for our Grrlfriends – we offer support and encouragement and share each other’s burdens in life. Our friendship was new then but over the years we have done all of that for each other and she is still one of my best friends.

The design is hugely popular, how many have you made yourself?

After knitting the first red bag for Deanna I knit two more for pattern photos and to help with the pattern writing, one in blue and one in green.  I gave those to my friend Jan Thompson who is a missionary in Haiti and who goes to the street market several times per week to pick up produce and various items so these bags are perfect for her needs. I have never made any more! Can you believe it? I have only ever made three.

Does your friend still use the original bag?

Deanna does still have the original bag. She is a little careful with it because she knows that it was the original bag that inspired this pattern so she uses it occasionally as a beach bag but doesn’t want to wear it out because it’s a one of a kind special gift that she could never replace.

Do you still enjoy knitting and if so what kind of things do you like to knit yourself?

Oh YES I still enjoy knitting. I rarely knit items for myself but my favourite things to knit when I need to are cowls and mittens. I’ve been going through a long season of life where I knit to relax so I choose patterns that are beautiful yet simple enough that I’m not a slave to a pattern. I like bright colours, I love cables, and for the most part enjoy the soothing comfort of knitting and chatting and laughing and crying with friends – it’s a social activity

A little Grrlfriend Market Bag Trivia for you

  • Laura set up the Grrlfriend Market Bag design page in 2008
  • There are over 5,500 Grrlfriend Market Bag projects listed on Ravelry at the moment.
  • Washcloth cotton is the most commonly used yarn.
  • Blue is the most popular colour used for the Grrlfriend Market bag, closely followed green.
  • The pattern is a popular choice for many knit-alongs

Like us, we know you love having a look at other makers’ projects and because the Grrlfriend Market Bag is such a popular knit, there are so many different ones to see.