knitting bags

I have a thing for canvas bags, big and small, plain or printed. Some contain knitting projects; some are dedicated for errands, groceries, packages headed for the P.O., and thrift-store finds; some corral kitchen-appliance accessories in drawers; some hold clothes waiting for dry cleaning or, when traveling, the dirty clothes in my suitcase.

My oldest bags purchased new from Berkeley Bowl 10 years ago in another life were about $8 each; unfortunately, the handles have frayed over time, making them near-useless as totes, so I have barely one left of the original four. By contrast, my unloved Trader Joe's canvas bags bought for $3-4 each around the same time as the Berkeley Bowl bags are faded but structurally sound. In other words, you don't always get what you pay for.

When thrifting totes, I spend no more than a couple dollars per bag, depending on size. The big Milwaukie Farmers Market tote now storing my car supplies was $2. My cheapest tote was free, a small Bitch Magazine bag found (empty) a few years ago in an alley puddle, the handles all muddied (the stains mostly came out). There's a thin, organic-cotton, not-canvas HOO (Hands On Owner) owl tote I got for volunteering for six months, three hours a week, at my local co-op grocery—i.e, will heft bulk beans and rice for tote bag and temporary additional 10% discount. Newest is a bird-watcher bag, which feels like it should belong instead to my beautiful, colorful, butterfly-wearing great-aunt Mary, who has begun drinking white wine "for her heart." (Moral: When old, do as one likes.)

bird-watcher tote, washed & ironed (!)

We are what we carry. Totes convey status and other socioeconomic messages. A monogrammed L.L. Bean tote bag, probably the quintessential WASP canvas, is reputed to be extremely durable, as in will-last-longer-than-you-do. Most bookstores have long sold logo-ed canvas totes, though the cotton ones at Powell's I only see in-store, not online. Most nonprofits, of course, print up a canvas tote as a free-gift-with-donation, but they're usually made in China, like everything else. Even entrepreneurial artistic types are getting in on the tote-bag marketing action. But at the thrift store, I most often see canvas ads for stores-selling-stuff, as well as insurance companies and banks for fundraising or one-off commemorative events; I tend to avoid those. Also, though many grocery stores now give back a nickel per bag you bring in, the reusable bags they tend to sell seem made of the strange stuff of airline-pillow protectors, not exactly machine-washable, so, no.

Aside from being trendily eco, my canvas bag fetish is probably in reaction to my mother's germophobic obsession with plastic bags. No purse or tote of hers will ever touch a surface outside her own bleach-cleaned home, thank you very much. The woman (love her, I do) puts her purse or tote inside a plastic bag and transports it that way in public. She does reuse plastic grocery bags as bathroom garbage-can liners, so there is that.

My mother's child, I do wash my bags as needed. Even after ironing they look rumpled, part of their plant-fiber charm. Note to self: To reduce ink smears like those below, after washing, iron inside-out and go easy on the spray bottle.

Title Wave Used Books tote

P.S. While not canvas, here's a clever DIY project for creating cotton drawstring bags-within-bags to further reduce plastic use. I hate sewing, but this one sounds easy.

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