How many bags can one person use? Well, in a vintage world without pockets –– unless you happen to be wearing an apron –– quite a few bags, actually. You need a knitting bag, a travel workbag, a sewing bag, an evening purse (for those nights you go out), and a day purse. Most of these need to be updated every year or two as the fashions change. Oh! Don’t forget the storage bags, the travel bags, the organization bags…
For someone who enjoys making bags, the 1910s through the 1950s is a world of creativity waiting to happen. Every needlework magazine offered the latest in bags for this use or that one. Individual crochet booklets offered bags. Once in a while, a company published a booklet containing instructions for bags for nearly every use imaginable.
Vintage bags organized life
In a vintage household, a bag was a sign of organization. Items that needed their own places found themselves nestled into bags or containers specifically made for them. The most obvious example of this in the vintage home was the string holder which hung in the kitchen or pantry.
Have you ever tried to keep a ball of string from unraveling until you used the last of it? Regardless whether it’s thin or thick, slick or rough, string tends to unwind. And it often unwinds in large bunches, a layer at a time. Let’s say you’re in a hurry, you need some string, you open that kitchen drawer and… it’s everywhere. Somehow the string got caught in the ice pick and several layers lie strewn about the top of the drawer. You can’t even see the cut end to pull it. And you are in a hurry. You were on your way out the door to a meeting, and planned to take this package with you….
Keep the string handy
You can see the problem. Thus, one of the most oft-used bags in a kitchen was the string bag. Sometimes it looked like a tomato hanging from a hook. Other times it looked like a puffy round ball of fabric. At all times, though, a thin string of some kind hung from an opening in the bottom of the bag. You pulled the string, it unwound inside the bag, and you cut off whatever you needed to use. The rest of it waited in the bag until next time.
And why did everyone need a ball of string or twine in the kitchen? Because before 1930, Scotch/cellophane tape did not exist. There was no tape. The only tape that existed was for medical use. Everyone else used string. Need to truss a chicken? Cut some string. Tying a roast for dinner? Use the string. Need to get that package ready for the mail? Grab the string. (This, by the way, is why the U.S. Postal Service still states that they cannot accept packages tied with string for mailing. Because for many years, they did! You can find that in this list of packaging suggestions from the USPS.)
Keeping a ball of general purpose string handy is still a good idea. Several times a year I find myself poking through my yarn stash, in search of some inexpensive cotton string or yarn that I can use to tie or measure something. And to keep it neat, I can make a string holder for the pantry.
Organize that linen closet!
If you really had your act together in 1925-1945, your linen closet held a selection of specially made bags. Some held sheets and pillow cases. Others held your best tablecloths. Opening your linen closet door, you could take immediate stock of what was available and what you needed. Your linen closet might even hold a closed bag for soiled laundry of some kind.
Keep your crafting separate
Do you tat lace? Then you need a small bag that hangs from your wrist so that your lacemaking thread remains untangled –– and stays with you instead of rolling across the floor. You also need a small bag to keep your tatting shuttles and other implements safe. In that bag goes your current project.
If you knit, you need a knitting bag. Or two. Or more. Some knitters are One Project At A Time knitters, but most knitters I know have two to three projects going on a time. Often they are a quickly made project, an intermediate length project and something large like an afghan or a detailed cardigan that takes many hours of work. Mixing these together in one knitting bag is not wise. All those knitting needles start talking together while you aren’t looking, and before you know it you have a knitting mutiny on your hands.
Seriously, though, keeping projects separate means that they remain clean. They also survive with fewer poked holes in them. I don’t know what those knitting needles do in there, but I inevitably find a stray needle poking through my current project if I have more than one per knitting bag.
Crocheters need bags too. Even though it uses yarn just like knitting, a crochet project works best by itself in its own organization bag. For one thing, crochet can get bulky as the project grows.
Today many crafters grab a large ziplock bag to create a “project bag” with yarn or thread, needles or shuttle. Then they are ready to go. These individual crafting bags predated the plastic ziplock bag and fulfill the same function. Truly, they were bags for every use.
Sewing on the go
Although makers use their sewing machines a lot, keeping a sewing bag close at hand can be quite useful. A few vintage lovers find themselves making garments and items completely by hand. Others (myself included) prefer handworked buttonholes to machine buttonholes. (The fact that I can’t seem to get a buttonholer attachment to work with any of my vintage machines doesn’t help either, but I digress…)
Mending used to be never-ending in the vintage household. Someone always needed a replaced button, lengthened dresses or pants, darned socks. The clever worker kept a mending bag just for these items, with a darning egg, matching threads, strong threads for attaching buttons, and other such necessities. That way, when ten spare minutes presented themselves, they could grab the bag, open it up, and complete a quick project.
Other people kept a sewing bag specifically for pickup work. This included small handmade gifts, embroidery projects for spare moments, and that placemat project you wanted to start last year. Items you can pick up, spend half an hour on, and put back down until next time.
So when you see those lists of bag projects from vintage years, keep in mind that the vintage worker kept bags for every use under the sun. If you’re looking for an easy project to carry in a bag, these Outline Stitch squares go together to make up a small quilt.