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A Japanese-Style Shopping Bag

This is a portion of the first piece I wove on my own. It’s a great example of the way in which a very simple, beginning-weaver project, can turn into more than the sum of its origins!

The fibers are just craft store crochet yarns, woven in alternating stripes, on what was then my brand-new Cricket loom.

The inspiration comes from this Japanese rigid heddle weaving book. The Japanese rigid heddle books aren’t as easy for English readers to parse as are the Japanese sewing books, but there’s still a wealth of information (and imagination!) to plumb in these books, which are replete with detailed photos and precise, specific drawings.

Try Kinokunyia, who sell and deliver
in North America*

The design is both simple and quite clever — it’s created by folding the fabric — and stripes are perfectly suited to the style! There are a handful of similar designs in the book, like this one:

Not my bag; this photo is from the book.

The handwoven piece is a square, and once it’s removed from the loom, trimmed, bathed and dried, the square is folded with corners triangulated, turning the appearance of the fabric into something quite different — and, dare I say, more interesting?

Seams are stitched where the fabric joins to make what looks a bit like a greeting card envelope, minus the flap.

Because I intended to use this bag, I cut a lining of ripstop nylon — I know, not exactly organic, but very practical. Ripstop is light, strong, and, unlike the handwoven cotton fabric, dries quickly. The ripstop will also protect the exterior fabric from stretching — a desirable quality in a shopping bag.

Unlike the exterior, the lining is cut to the shape of the sewn bag, eliminating the need for folding the angles. The three closed sides were sewn and I then hand-tacked the lining to the bag inside, along the upper edge, turning the raw edges under.

Because this is ripstop, though, those “raw” edges aren’t really raw — they’ve been carefully melted at the base of a flame. Fray Check, or an equivalent, works too, if you, perhaps wisely, shy from using actual fire. We have a gas range, and I’ve been doing this for many, many decades, so I’m less concerned than I should, uh, I mean, might, be.

There’s no handle built into this bag, so one needs to be supplied. Any sort could be added, or one could even just overlap the “wings” and stitch them together. I’m using a Japanese handle here — actually designed for furoshiki, the versatile Japanese wrapping cloths. Mine came from Lunch-a-Porter in Montreal, but it, too, would be easy to make. It’s just a strap with two rings attached to each end; each wing of the bag goes over and under the two rings, which then automatically lock, just like a webbing belt with a D-ring closure.

The bag’s opening is quite wide, which means it’s not necessarily suitable for carrying just anything, but produce, or baked goods (remember Farmers’ Markets, from the Before Times?) would do happily. On the other hand, that deep dip lets the bag be worn on the shoulder if you’re carrying stuff that doesn’t threaten to pop out fetchingly.

*Why yes, in the Before Times, I haunted Kinokunyia everywhere I went, which meant New York, New Jersey, San Jose, and San Francisco. Inspiration in every aisle! (No other affiliation: see my Disclaimer Page.)

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