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While drinking coffee on a wintry January day, my mother and I decided we needed a spring project. As if making something would quicken the change of season. “Oh, these cups! This blue!” we said dreamily between sips from blue and white faience china cups in a Tribeca cafe.

We ran down a list of possible projects. I was heading towards making myself a blanket when my mom suggested making me a tote bag. Me, the bagaholic: how could I say no?

My mother then went and dug out the last bag she made—a beautiful Chanel-inspired purse with a crisscross pattern in seed stitch.

She lined it, made an interior pocket, and added a silver chain strap. Oh, my mother!

I did some digging myself, and unearthed the last bag she had made for me, a groovy red crocheted envelope with a wild knotted fringe from the ’70s. She even monogrammed it with patches that spelled out my name. It is in such perfect condition, it does not reveal the forty years that have passed.

We both decided that stripes seemed right for Spring. My mother suggested that we look at Sonia Rykiel’s sweaters for inspiration.

Looking through her knitwear, one can see the elegance, exuberance, and endless possibilities of stripes. How things can entirely change with a variation in the width of a simple band of color!

I looked for more inspiration for pattern and pulled out one of my books on the painter Agnes Martin.

The paintings Martin made in New Mexico express happiness and joy through her subtle bands of colors. Could my new tote have a taste of that balance and harmony? How happy I would be to carry a little zen with me as I make my way around this frantic-paced city!

Then we started to knit. In addition to being striped, it was obvious that the bag had to be blue. I couldn’t get those darn china cups (or the coffee) off my mind! We tried two colors. We tried three. There were a few trips back and forth to the yarn shop to get the color combination right. We finally settled on navy and light blue. Once we had the colors set, we went back and forth with size and shape, the number and direction of stripes, and the stitch pattern.

My bag is now finished. It is a deep navy blue with four varied bands of light blue and rendered in a dense seed stitch. My mother surprised me and lined it with a lively Liberty floral fabric that provides a glimpse of delight when the bag is opened.  There are also two thick straps of webbing that are hardy enough for me to really use.

Yes, it is another tote bag … but it is much more. It will make me smile as I carry it around. Now that I am ready for summer, I should start that blanket project. I need another cup of coffee first!

About The Author

Amy Routman is an architect and designer living and working in New York City.

The daughter of a consummate knitter and sewer, Amy has spent years looking at knitting pattern books and fashion magazines with her mother, and is excited to explore the art of knitting through her watercolor illustrations.

Follow Amy on Instagram to see her latest illustrations, art and design work.


  • Lovely, lovely writing!

    • Glad you enjoyed it!

  • So wonderful you and mom ….and projects:)

    • Thanks Eileen!

  • Beautiful work! I would love a copy of the blue/white coffee cup! Where could I order that?

    • What a great idea! I’m going to work on this!!!

    • Me too. It’s so darn cute

  • OMG – my grandmother crocheted that same fringed bag for me back in the day!! Sadly, it’s long since gone, but I think about it every now and then.

    • Glad to have jogged the memory of it!

  • Your writing, and your painting, is beautiful!! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you Martha – so glad you enjoyed it!

  • Kay, Ann, and Amy, please consider stocking the MDK shop with prints of Amy’s art!

    • I’m touched that you like the watercolors – I will talk to them about it!

  • How lucky you are to share such a wonderful relationship—and love of knitting—with your mom!

    • And I’m lucky that such lovely people enjoy the post!

  • Your paintings, your writing, your lovely relationship with your mama…all so incredibly great!!! This makes me so happy!!! Thank you for sharing!

    • I’m touched to know it made you happy! Thank you for your comments!

  • What a wonderful inspirational story. And beautiful paintings. The cup is amazing. Love it. Like another person said, I would also like a copy of the cup.

    • Wow! I will definitely work on making up prints of the cup!

  • The painted 4 x 5 grid of handbags is CRYING OUT to be on project bags you sell! Pls make it realize its destiny.

    • absolutely agree! – project bags, note cards, fabric …..

      • These are great ideas! I’m going to work on it!

    • Bernadette – I am on it! Stay tuned!

  • Moms are the best! Mine sews awesome tote bags. Nothing better on a stressful day than carrying a gift– in my case, usually a special piece of jewelry or a bespoke piece of clothing or accessory. I think of it as armor against the stressful events in my life!

    • I totally agree! And it sounds like you have a lovely mother as well!

  • Love love love this post

    • I’m thrilled you enjoyed the post – thank you!

  • Great story…from one bag lady to another…and stripes…stripes so draw my eye! Have you ever used Plug in your colors , the number of various rows hit, hit search and and endless possible, stripe patterns appear…happy playing!

    • I will check that website out! Thank you!

  • just lovely! I am a big fan of your work.

    • Thank you Karen!

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