Saturday, 16 June 2012

African Flowers

It was Laura of My House In Africa who got me thinking about making crochet hexagons in her recent post here. I'd not ever tried crocheting hexagons before and her clear instructions and helpful diagrams made me want to give them a go. I had a little search around on good old "Google Image" and found that the world of crochet hexagons stretches far and wide. In particular my fancy was taken by this, the so-called "Mamy Bag", made out of crocheted African Flower Hexagons joined together. The planned crocheted bag that I had in mind a while back, but had put on one side temporarily while other things took priority, sang her little siren song again in my head and despite my other projects on the go, I was hooked.

The pattern for this bag seems to have originated on Cecile Franconie's blog Facile Cecile but the link which I found on Ravelry no longer seems to take you to the pattern. Not to be daunted, I managed to track down instructions for making the African Flower hexagons here on Heidi Bears blog. The pattern for the African Flower hexagons was first published in a South African magazine, Sarie, in Afrikaans but fortunately in her version Heidi has written instructions in English as well as Afrikaans and Spanish or my idea might have got no further. I have only the merest smattering of Spanish and about two words of Afrikaans. Neither of which would have got me far with deciphering a crochet pattern!

The African Flower hexagon is enchanting and actually very simple once you've got the hang of it. Just as well, as for the bag you need nearly fifty of them! I found for the first few hexagons, I needed to pore over the pattern carefully but once I had made a handful, I had it committed to memory and crocheted hexagons began appearing at every odd spare moment that presented itself. I wanted to replicate the intense colours that in my mind's eye I associate with African blooms. I have never been to Africa proper - only to Egypt which is rather different from the rest of the continent -  so my impression may be slightly awry but my perception is of gloriously vivid, gaudy colours so bright they almost dazzle. Intense pinks and hot reds arrayed with flaming oranges and lush greens against skies and seas bluer and brighter than almost anywhere else in the world.

Do any of you know Gerald Durrell's book, "The Overloaded Ark"? In it, he very beautifully describes arriving on his first visit to Africa on a ship from England in the early 1950s. Here's a bit of his description:

"The ship nosed its way through the morning mist, across a sea as smooth as milk. A faint and exciting smell came to us from the invisible shore, the smell of flowers, damp vegetation, palm oil, and a thousand other intoxicating scents drawn up from the earth by the rising sun, a pale, moist-looking nimbus of light seen dimly through the mists. As it rose higher and higher, the heat of its rays penetrated and loosened the hold the mist had on the land and sea. Slowly it was drawn up towards the sky in long lethargically coiling columns, and gradually the bay and the coastline came into view and gave me my first glimpse of Africa. ... The colours of this landscape, after the pale pastel shades of England, seemed over bright, almost garish, hurting the eyes with their fierce intensity. Over the islands flocks of grey parrots wheeled in strong, rapid flight and faintly their clownish screams and whistles came to us. In the glistening wake of the ship two brown kites circled in an anxious search for something edible, and out of the remaining skeins of mist being drawn up into the sky, a fishing eagle suddenly appeared, heavy and graceful, its black and white plumage shining. Over all this, the land and sea seen obscurely through the shifting, coiling mist, lay the magic smell we had noticed before, but now it was stronger, richer, intoxicating with its promise of deep forest, of lush reedy swamps and magical rivers under a canopy of trees." Once ashore he talks of travelling along a red earth road "lined with hibiscus hedges aflame with flower and copses of the yellow, feathery, pungent-smelling mimosa" and finding the town beside the bay "filled with rustling palms, hibiscus and bougainvillaea hedges glowing with flowers" and "sedate rows of canna lilies, like vivid flames on thin green candlesticks."
(From Gerald Durrell The Overloaded Ark (London: Faber, 1953) p17-18)

This heady African vividness that Gerald Durrell describes so evocatively, is what I was after so I threw aside all my preconceptions and prejudices about acrylic yarn (scratchy, hot and uncomfortable) and filled a basket at my local yarn store with the brightest most intense shades I could find. I don't know why, but acrylic yarn seems to come in a much wider range of vivid shades than most natural fibre yarns. Despite quite a full basket, this was not at all an expensive undertaking - acrylic yarn is not only vivid, it's pretty cheap! My haul, apart from one exception, only cost me c £1.50 for every fatly generous 100g ball. It is also of course easily washable which is good for bags that one wants to use. I showed no brand loyalty or consistency, but in fickle fashion, mixed Stylecraft Special Double Knitting, Woolcraft New Fashion Double Knitting and the uninspiringly named but happily inclusive of one or two colours missing from those supplied by other brands, Premier Value Double Knitting. All rubbed shoulders with one another together pell mell as well as with one beautiful and slightly more expensive ball of deep purple King Cole Smooth Double Knitting which I couldn't resist because of its colour. The only governing principle for inclusion in the basket was it had to carol with brightness. One or two yarns were slightly thicker than others but I went ahead anyway and it all worked out fine. I used thirteen colours in total and made four each of twelve different combinations so there is enough repetition in the bag to give a cohesive feel but hopefully not so much that it fails on the multi-coloured front.

And while there seems to be a dearth of written instructions about how to assemble the bag once you have your hexagons, there are pics out there, so following some examples posted on Ravelry, I joined them together to make a single piece of fabric like this:

Which then became this:

I joined the hexagons together by crocheting slip stitch seams into the back loops only of the joining sides and found to my delight that once I had my single piece of fabric, the layout folded up and fitted together very neatly like a jigsaw, whereupon I crocheted the sides together in the same way as I had joined the individual hexagons. Much easier than I had thought it would be.

Handles were a pondering point - D-shaped wooden or plastic ones or crocheted straps? In the end I went for stripy crocheted straps (250 chains long and four stripes of single (US) / double (UK) crochet for each one) because it wasn't that easy to find alternatives in the right size and I wanted the bag to work as a shoulder bag anyway. I just folded over the top three hexagons of the bag on each side and stitched them down inside, over the straps, to encase them. A little stiffening was supplied by applying to the model railway construction department in the household for two pieces of stiff "plasticard" about nine inches long and an inch wide each, which I inserted alongside the straps so that the top kept a nice even edge. On its own, the folded-over crocheted edge went a bit wibblywobbly when you hung the bag by the straps.

There was then just the little matter of sewing in all the ends of which there were an awful lot, despite crocheting in all the ends from the colour changes as I made the hexagons, but it was worth it as the inside is now really neat and is not shouting for a lining or anything.

The end result is a good capacious size - just right for all the normal stuff of handbags and a book and a mini flask of tea and with spare capacity for a hook and a ball of yarn (or two!) What more could a girl ask for?! It is also, as you can see, extremely bright even on a dull day like today! Possibly it's a teensy bit too bright but bearing in mind the very dull, grey and damp summer we are currently having in the UK, I find it's redressing the balance a bit and is correspondingly mood-lifting!

Since taking these pics earlier this afternoon, it is now raining again. 

So any hope of using the new bag to pack up a little picnic will have to be shelved for today. I am hoping however that it is not too much to ask for that there will be at least one day before the end of the summer when the wind and the rain will stop, the miserable grey clouds will scud away and the sun shine hotly and long enough to try it out as an African Flower picnic bag. We'll see! But don't hold your breath, anyone!

Hope you have a bright weekend!
(in synchrony with or despite the weather, depending on where in the world you are!)


  1. Dear E
    What a wonderful, bright, mood enhancing bag! Perfect for lifting the spirits on a dull, rainy day. I hope you'll be able to use it for a picnic this week - weather permitting, of course.
    Best wishes

  2. Your bag is lovely, I have been making an african flower bag forever but my colours are boring me, I wonder if you could tell me what yarn you have used for yours, they really are fab.

  3. Love your bag! My favorites are the orange flowers. I am about to start a crochet bag as well, but it will probably be months down the road before I finish it;)

  4. What a great bag, makes me want to make one tonight and take it out to use tomorrow....I'm quick, but not that quick! Love the colours you've used and your excerpt from Gerald Durrell.....made me smile as I remembered my mil's tale of arriving in S.Africa when they were newly married to start new exciting lives, and on her first night relaxing in the bath of a hotel, she looked up to see tentacles coming out of the hubby grew up just outside of Capetown and often says about holidaying in his folks holiday home, but the bug thing is a biggy for me!

    Love this post, your blog is colourful, interesting and brilliant!

  5. If that doesn't beckon the sun, I don't know what will! Your productivity is incredible - missed you on Thursday.

  6. Wow. And wow again. It's so beautiful and bright and happy. Perfect for bringing some colour into these grey, gloomy days. It reminds me of honeycomb which ties in nicely with your recent bee hive activity!

    I am trying to make a crochet scarf but struggling with it a bit, so between stints on the scarf I reward myself with a couple a granny squares, which I adore and could make again and again... Thanks for sharing the bag. It is inspiring me to hang in there with the crochet. I'm sure that if I can just get over this hurdle it will all "click". xx

  7. Hello. I have chosen your blog for the SUNSHINE AWARD. You can find more about it in my blog: .
    [If you don't wish to receive this award, no worries. I just wanted to mention your blog, because I think it is worth visiting].
    Love your blog, and this flower bag is amazing!!!
    ♥ Ana BC

  8. I love your bag, african flower hexagons are one of my favourite crochet blocks. Oh and I don't believe in 'too bright'! It's a wonderfully cheering sight to see some colour in these dreary days!

  9. Hi I have just found your blog through Ana and have become a follower. I love your bag it's beautiful, what lovely bright colours :)

  10. Hi Elizabeth - your bag is BEAUTIFUL and thanks to the link back to my blog ... you're a star! Why do you think it's too bright? Crochet can NEVER be too bright in my humble opinion! I've been eyeing out Heidi's African Flowers for ages but want to make a blanket so I need a massive amount of wool before I begin! Anyway, gorgeous bag and never mind the'll stop eventually. xxx

  11. I love the colours and the combinations you've used. What a wonderful bag and just what's needed on a dull day.

  12. That is the most beeeeautiful bag ever! the colours are STUNNING - i'm in awe! x

  13. LOVE this pattern. You are good to put in lots of lovely links too! You do seem to crack on with getting things done - and I agree with Laura - crochet can never be too bright.......

  14. You do such beautiful work, and your blog has such aesthetic appeal, too. I love the final shape of the hexagon bag. I'm not much of a crocheter (a little edging here and there), but if I keep looking at your blog, I might be compelled to tackle a crocheted garment.

  15. Well done! It is lovely!


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