Knitting Bags for the Farmer’s Market

A couple of years ago, I knit my first farmers market bag. I first tried knitting a market tote in 2008 and didn’t have a lot of luck. I’m still going to farmers markets, still taking my own bags, and still trying to figure out the best pattern for a hand knit market bag.

Farmers markets are a great thing in and of themselves because you can find local produce, breads, and meats at great prices. I usually go to the Waverly Farmer’s Market (32nd and Greenmount); I prefer it because it’s Saturday mornings until noon and that tends to be convenient. I don’t know if everyone’s markets are like those here in Baltimore, but a lot of the vendors don’t offer plastic bags. They may have small plastic bags to put your stuff in and many have paper bags, but you don’t want to walk around with a bunch of little bags while trying to pick out ears of corn.  This isn’t a complaint by any stretch; I like that you have to bring your own big bags with you. I like looking at the different bags, totes, cardboard boxes, and other containers people bring to collect their hauls in.

My bag of choice is (of course) a hand knit bag. Mesh/lace bags can expand to hold the weirdly shaped things you may buy – those ears of corn (this is possibly the only time I will mention corn twice in a blog post), cucumbers, packages of ground bison, peppers, etc. In figuring out what to knit, I wanted a bag that was taller than it was wide, had shoulder straps and a solid bottom so things wouldn’t poke out. I picked up some cotton from Michaels in pretty shades of blue and brown.

Too small for all the farmers market goodies.

The first issue is the bag was just too small and there wasn’t enough non-lace area at the bottom to hold stuff securely. The blues and browns are nice, but the colors pooled. I still have this with the other bags, but I’m not sure I’ll ever actually use it for anything. With the lessons learned from this bag, I edited the pattern, picked different colors and tried again.

The bag is the right size; the straps are a little long.

This bag was pretty much what I wanted. The only real flaw is that the straps are a little long so as the bag gets filled, it really hangs low, almost to my hip. These are actually mom’s colors so she co-opted the bag and I got some more cotton to make myself a bag. I picked white and green variegated yarn for my bag. Since I was having so much trouble figuring out the right length for straps, I decided to not make long shoulder straps.

The top handle rather than shoulder strap bag.

As I knit the top border, I knit the same width I liked on the other bag and then bound of 80% of the stitches (40% of each side) and then used a thumb-cast on to add them back in on the next row. I like carrying this bag, but having it and the shoulder strap version, I decided I liked the shoulder strap better. The fourth bag I have to share is the one that I actually carry to the farmers market.

The bag I use.

Some tips if you’re considering knitting your own market tote.

  • Make the bottom large. I knit the bottom of the turquoise and green bags flat and made them 4″ by 15″. I actually knit the bottoms on a diagonal because I like the way it looked. There’s no structural advantage to having a diagonally knit bottom, but it does make picking up the stitches easy.
  • Then add a little bit more to the bottom. Once you’ve got the bottom done, knit some more in a solid pattern. If you’re thinking of doing the bag entirely solid then this isn’t relevant. However, if you’re going to use lace for the body, I think having a couple of inches of solid around the bottom is a good for providing a solid base to hold in the heavier produce.
  • Make the top and bottom match. You could go straight from the lace to the straps, but if you’re doing two different colors like I did, consider doing some stitches around the top to match the bottom in both color and pattern. It creates a nice symmetry.
  • Slip the first stitches on each row on the straps. The biggest different between the turquoise and green shoulder straps is that I slipped stitches on the green. This helps keeps the straps from stretching out too much.

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