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Make Your Own Grocery Bags

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Just when you think you're the reigning 'Queen of Green' – reusing and recycling your way through the day, someone rains on your parade. Two stories hit the media recently about everyone's favorite green choice: the reusable grocery bag. Turns out we should be washing these things after each use or they can become a breeding ground for bacteria. I tried washing the ones I got at my market and they fell apart. Great. Then, another story pops up that shows many of these same bags are coming from overseas and contain potentially unsafe levels of lead. Great x2. Time to make our own: prettier, safer, sturdier. Reclaim your throne, Queen of Green!

You want a substantial fabric for this project, a canvas, heavy cotton duck or an outdoor fabric. We went the outdoor fabric route, which worked and looked great. However, a couple Test First; Stitch Second.

Our thanks to our friends at fabric.com for originally providing the great outdoor fabrics. We were able to find enough scraps in our stash to make our sample bag. Reusing, my friends, reusing.

We also did a Nature Brights Kitchen series, which would be great to add into the mix. Do some of these regular bags and one or two thermal totes for your hot or cold items.

If you want to read more about scary store bags, check out:

The bacteria article from the Denver 7 News

The lead article from the NY Times

The bag finishes at appoximately 12" wide x 14" high with 8" base and sides. 

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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    • ½ yard of at least 44-45" wide heavy-weight fabric for the main body of the bag and the main straps: we used a scrap of 54" wide outdoor fabric leftover from our Waverly Sun N Shade Sundial Citrine from fabric.com

  • ¾ yard of at least 44-45" wide heavy-weight fabric for the base of the bag, bottom insert and strap accents: we used a scrap of 54" wide outdoor fabric leftover from our Richloom Solarium Outdoor Solar in Praline from fabric.com
  • All purpose thread to match both fabrics
  • Sturdy cardboard for bag bottom insert: approximately 8" x 12"
  • Marking pen, pencil or chalk: make sure you choose something that will a) wash or wipe away easily and b) can be easily seen on both the dark and light fabrics
  • See-through ruler
  • Yardstick
  • Seam gauge
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. From the fabric for the main body of the bag and the main straps (Sundial Citrine in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 11½" high x 42" wide rectangle
    TWO 2½" x 44" strips
  2. From the fabric for the base of the bag and the strap accents (Praline in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 9" high x 42" wide rectangle
    TWO 9" x 14" rectangles
    TWO 2" x 44" strips
  3. On the 9" x 42" base rectangle, use your fabric pen, pencil or chalk to draw four vertical lines, which represent the corner folds, and one horizontal line at the exact middle of the rectangle.
    Diagram
  4. On the 11½" x 42" main rectangle, use your fabric pen, pencil or chalk to draw four vertical lines for placement of the handle straps.
    Diagram

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Create and attach the straps

  1. Find the two 2½" x 44" main strap strips.
  2. On both strips, fold back the long raw edges ½" and press. Your finished width should be 1½".
  3. Find the two 2" x 44" accent strap strips.
  4. On both strips, fold back the long raw edges ½" and press. Your finished width should be 1".
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  5. Pair up a pressed main strip with a pressed accent strip.
  6. Center the accent strip WRONG sides together with the main strip, sandwiching the folded-back raw edges in between the two pieces.
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  7. Pin in place the length of the strap.
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    NOTE: It's worth taking a little extra time to double-check with your seam gauge as you pin to make sure the accent strip stays centered. Eyeballin' it isn't as precise as you might think.
  8. Thread your machine with thread to match the main body of the bag; this should be a lighter color that will stand out nicely against the accent color on the strap.
  9. Topstitch along both sides of both straps. Your stitch line should be 3/8" from the outside folded edge (the main strap), ¼" from the inside folded edge (the accent strap).
    NOTE: I
  10. Place the finished straps on the bag body, using the lines you drew for positioning. You are placing the wrong side of the straps against the right side of the bag body. Place a pin and/or make a mark 2" down from the top raw edge of the bag body. This is the point at which you will pivot and turn to stitch your reinforcing box.
    Diagram
  11. Pin in place, aligning the raw edges of the straps with the bottom raw edge of the bag body. Also, check the handle loops to make sure they aren't twisted.
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  12. Topstitch each strap in place, very carefully following the original topstitching line on the strap; you want it too look like a single line of stitching.
  13. When you get to your 2"-from-the-top mark, stop, pivot and stitch across to the opposite line of topstitching. Stop and pivot again when you get to this line, then carefully follow along the stitching down the opposite side of the strap.
  14. Reposition the bag under your needle at the horizontal stitch line of the 2"-from-the-top mark. Create a 1" box with an "X" through the center.
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  15. Repeat to attach the remaining three strap ends.

Construct the bag

  1. Rethread your machine with thread to match the bag base in both the top and the bobbin.
  2. On the 9" x 42" base piece, run a double line of topstitching approximately ½" to either side of your horizontal marked center line. As noted above, your topstitching will look better if you increase your stitch length.
    Diagram
  3. Place the bag body and the bag base right sides together, aligning the bottom raw edge of the bag body with the top raw edge of the bag base. Pin in place.
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  4. Stitch in place, using a ½" seam allowance. Stitch a second time to reinforce.
  5. Rethread your machine with thread to match the bag body in both the top and the bobbin.
  6. Because our simplified bag design does not have a lining, we created a flat felled seam to finish the raw edges of the seam allowance. To do this, press the sewn seam flat (ie. not open). Trim back the seam allowance of the bag base ONLY (the Praline in our sample) to ¼". I also trimmed out the bulky strap ends so it would be easier to fold and wrap my seam.
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  7. Fold the un-trimmed bag body seam allowance (the Sundial Citrine in our sample) over the trimmed seam allowance, matching the raw edge to the seam line. Press.
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  8. Turn this 'wrapped' seam toward the bag base (the Praline in our sample), hiding the raw edge. Press.
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  9. Edgestitch the folded-over seam allowance in place.
    NOTE: You can use a straight stitch, but I opted for a narrow zig zag stitch instead. The outdoor fabrics I used frayed very easily and my flat felled seam was very narrow. I worried this important seam could weaken if my straight stitch wasn't perfect and something pulled out. A zig zag kept everything secure and it still looks cool.
  10. The photo below shows you what our finished flat felled seam looks like from both sides. This is the kind of seam you find on most jeans... but without the zig zag.
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  11. Since you are so good at flat felled seams, lets make another. This one will be the bag's side seam. It's going to be easier because we're making a wider seam.
  12. Fold the bag in half, right sides together. The raw edges of both sides should, of course, align. Another 'line up check' is to make sure the handle loops are even with one another.
  13. Stitch together, using a 1" seam allowance. Yes, one inch.
  14. Trim back to just over ¼".
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  15. Fold, wrap, press and edgestitch just as you did above.
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    NOTE: I stayed with the lighter colored thread in my machine, which meant my edgestitching matched along the bag body and was a highlight seam along the bag base.
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  16. Hem the top of the bag all around with a simple double turn hem. To do this, fold in the raw edge ½", then fold again ½". Stitch in place close to the folded edge. This puts the reinforced top of the handle straps 1" from the hemmed top of the bag.
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  17. Rethread your machine with thread to match the bag base in both the top and the bobbin.
  18. Flatten the bag, and pin the bottom raw edges together to create the base of the bag.
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  19. Stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance.
  20. With the bag still wrong side out, the next step is to box the bottom corners of the bag to create an 8" x 12" base.
  21. To do this, using both hands, pinch and pull apart the bottom corner.
  22. As you pull, the fabric will begin to make a little peak with the corner point at the top and the seam line running down the middle of one side.
  23. Center the side seam within this triangle peak.
  24. Measure 4" from the point of the peak and draw a line.
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  25. Repeat to create a matching peak with the opposite corner.
  26. Stitch back and forth along the lines two or three times to reinforce.
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  27. Trim back the 'ears' of the peaks to about ¼" from the seam line. Then, because our fabric frays easily, I overcast ALL the bottom seams with a zig zag stitch. The seams themselves will all be hidden beneath the bottom sleeve with its cardboard insert, so if your fabric is not prone to fraying, no need for this step.
    Click to Enlarge

Create the cardboard pocket

  1. Find your two 9" x 14" pieces of base fabric.
  2. Place them right sides together, pin, and stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance, along both sides and across the bottom.
  3. Clip the corners and turn this pocket right side out.
  4. Create a simple hem along the top raw edge. To do this, fold the raw edge back ½" and press, then fold back an additional ½" and press again.
  5. Topstitch close to the folded edge.
  6. Press and slip in the cardboard. Place this insert into the bag to form and stabilize the bottom.
    Click to Enlarge
    NOTE: The reason the insert is an open pocket is so you can easily remove the cardboard and wash both the bag and the pocket itself. You can also replace the cardboard if it gets wet or damaged.

Contributors

Project Concept: Alicia Thommas

Sample Creation: Liz Johnson

Other machines suitable for this project include the Elna 3210 Jeans and the Pfaff hobby 1142.

Section: 

Comments (79)

Marijke Baker said:
Marijke Baker's picture

Would cotton Sateen work, if lined maybe? Would you suggest doubling each piece in that case or making a separate lining?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Marijke Baker - without having testing, I can't give you a guarantee. Even doubled, it would be much more slouchy when empty but would likely still work fine when filled - the groceries would help give it shape. If you are using a lighter weight fabric, this style might not be your best bet as the double layering and/or lining makes it so much more complex. The link below is to another grocery bag we did with insulation and a lining - it uses standard weight cotton:

http://www.sew4home.com/projects/storage-solutions/nature-brights-kitche...

exoticwitch said:
exoticwitch's picture

i have found to reuse plastic dog food bags they work great making this project just cover with material when making them . hope this helps

Cathy Hackel said:
Cathy Hackel's picture

What are the finished dimensions of this grocery bag? How does it compare to the size of a standard brown-paper grocery bag? Thank you for such a nice pattern!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Cathy Hackel - The bag finishes at appoximately 12" wide x 14" high with 8" base and sides. There are some many sizes of brown paper bags - you'd need to compare to what you are used to. It's a bit larger than than standard cloth bags many stores offer.

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

Awesome tutorial! I now have a beautiful new grocery tote to use, thank you! 

bellamichelle said:
bellamichelle's picture

I just found this tutorial and appreciate the author's time and energy to produce and share this with us.  Thank you!  I plan to try making one and had an idea to add some elastic loops sewn in to the sides of the bag in various places, to hold up jars and bottles, especially if the load is not full as it will help keep the jars/bottles from falling and rolling over, which do in any bag that is not pretty tightly packed.  Has anyone tried this and, if so, any technique suggestions?

Lillace Christianson said:
Lillace Christianson's picture

Haven't tried it yet, but the loops are a fantastic idea~~thanks!!!

Brenda Dorsey said:
Brenda Dorsey's picture

I love this bag!  It's easy and beautiful!!  Thanks.

kurt said:
kurt's picture

i   think   we     better      see     a    vidoe    how     it   is    made

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ kurt - we have great instructions and dandy photos, but we don't offer videos. You can always search YouTube to try to find something similar.

Renate Thomas said:
Renate Thomas's picture

Is there a best recommendation for another substance for the cardboard that can stay in during washing?  (Says the lazy woman)

Ashley Jestin said:
Ashley Jestin 's picture

I used Choroplast.. If you go to a car dealership and ask for a piece of old outdoor signage that they're throwing out, they'll give you lots.. They print on a corogated type of plastic, I use this when sewing all my bags.

Lillace Christianson said:
Lillace Christianson's picture

Renate, I wonder if plastic canvas would work.

Lillace Christianson said:
Lillace Christianson's picture

Ooops!  Sorry~just saw that this was already suggested.  Guess great minds think alike.

Peggy R. said:
Peggy R.'s picture

Use a plastic placemat.... You can pick them up on sale at your local stores....just trim to size

J Kessler said:
J Kessler's picture

I'd consider two layers of heavy weight interfacing sewn together with some template plastic in between. Leave on side of the interfacing layers unsewn. Tack the interfacing at two corners into the bottom of the bag so you can slip the plastic out when washing.

Christi295 said:
Christi295's picture

I finally got a chance to make a couple of these grocery bags and they are great! Just a word  though - they are quite large, larger than your "average" re-usable grocery bag. I'm going to make another set, but will scale them down a few inches. If I put too much in these bags they are too heavy for me to carry. But a wonderful project and I had no problems with the directions, very clear and easy to follow. Thanks again sew4home!!

Joani said:
Joani's picture

How hard would it be to make these smaller, a hotel wedding guest bag size

Ariadana Ramírez said:
Ariadana Ramírez's picture

muy buena idea para una bolsa del diario!!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ MeganM - Our goal is to always make our instructions as easy as possible. That said, if you are brand, brand new to sewing, this project could be a wee bit frustrating. Some of the seams, such as the flat felled seams and sewing the straps in place, need to be done with real precision and you are working with heavier layers of fabric. I don't want to say anything to scare you away from turning on a sewing machine! But, you might want to make a couple pillows or other super simple projects and then step up to these bags. The other option would be to do the bag project with a friend who has sewn. He/She could then help you over the more intermediate steps.
MeganM said:
MeganM's picture
I've never sewed before (well, occasionally a button or seam by hand), but nothing major and I've never used a machine. Do you think this project is simple enough for a real first timer?
stitchknit said:
stitchknit's picture
Beautiful tutorial. Thanks for the reminder about washing the bags...........and I've never even thought about where the typical store bags were made. Yuk. They will get weaned out here!

Time to get to work on my own bags!
SimplyMe said:
SimplyMe's picture
Thank youfor the Great tutorial. Definitely on my list of things to try sewing.
Mistie said:
Mistie's picture
Love this bag tutorial! It\'s beautiful and green: )

LadyDy said:
LadyDy's picture
I love getting patterns like this and reading the comments. They often give wonderful additions to the project; however, I think everyone that sews looks at these as a concept. I know I do, then I look at my life style needs, and add parts that will accommodate those. Your bag pattern is a great foundation concept and you are to be congratulated. I plan on at least using it for 2 bags. BTW because I have "lost" one or more bags when left on the checkout counter, I now write my last name on the inside so I can identify the bag.
artsymoxie said:
artsymoxie's picture
for the bottom instead of card board im using flexible cutting mats from the dollar store. if they warp in the middle after many uses you can take it out flip it over and reinsert good as new. if they get dirty you can wipe them off and they are cheap 2 for $1. HTH someone
Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

do you mean the acrylic type 'rubbery' cutting mats? I was told to use Peltex. Anyone have any comments on that? I think it comes out less than a dollar to cut a piece for the bottom.

OnefoxyGrandma said:
OnefoxyGrandma's picture
Super great pattern, written well with most excellent pictures....They way these bags are constructed you could probably carry 14 bricks and two galleons of milk in each bag.....smilies/grin.gif
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Jolara -- I really don't think a quilting weight cotton would work well; you'd need a super stiff interfacing, and even then -- the lightweight cotton would be more likely to tear with rough use. I'd recommend taking the time to get a sturdier fabric to use for your Grandma's bags.
Jolara said:
Jolara's picture
I just love this bag and I REALLY appreciate how easy you make it look to sew, thank you!!! If you don't mind, I have a question... I'd like to make a couple of these for my Grandmother whom I'm going to visit next week and I don't have any 'heavy duty' fabric on hand, at least none that would look good. Can I use regular quilt quality cotton fabric and just use interfacing on it for added strength? I'm not educated in fabrics nor interfacing to know the basic rules of thumb yet. smilies/cheesy.gif Thank you again for the tutorial!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@Dawlii -- So glad we can help our with a project for your fabric find! Regarding the Afghan netting, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with this.
Dawlii said:
Dawlii's picture
I just paid $20 for an amazing amount of fabric at a garage sale. She told me to take it all. I thought she was joking. There is some Home Decor Fabric Store Swatches that are too heavy for anything other than furniture. Or so I thought until I saw these bags. They are big enough to do 2 sides of a large grocery bag. This pattern is just the thing for these pieces and the smaller 8" ones. There was also quite a bit of Afgan netting. So you think this work for veggie Bags? Looks Pretty sturdy.
Tealvett78 said:
Tealvett78's picture
Can you just make me a few of the above bags & I buy them from you. I love the bags with a wider bottom to put my gallons of milk or boxed foods in at the store... what do you say can you sell me a few. I dont have the time or talent or patients to sew something so cute & practical & reuseable.
KellyF said:
KellyF's picture
I'm making this bag for my son's Kindergarden teacher as an end of year gift. I'm using cotton duck in blue/white toile and solid white cotton duck - it's what my mom had on hand in her "stash". I think I might add a little decorative cursive monogram with her initials as well. Then I want to add a few things inside, but not sure what yet. Thank you for the pattern and tutorial.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Sharon Henley -- no pattern needed smilies/grin.gif - these are all straight, cuts - just rectangles. Have fun!
Sharon Henley said:
Sharon Henley's picture
Puh-leese! I just want the pattern. I can read the comments here!
Katy A. said:
Katy A.'s picture
Just got a sewing machine and am going to make this bag as my first project. I have sewn when I was younger, but am a bit rusty. Love the pattern and can't wait to make it.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Rob -- we are nominating you, King of Green. smilies/cool.gif
Rob Stowe - Prince of Practical said:
Rob Stowe - Prince of Practical's picture
Traine: I purchase bags of Jasmine Rice from my local asian market. It comes in 25# bags that are made of a plastic material thay you are describing. I made several of the Bowtie Neck Pillows and ran the plastic bags bags through my paper shredder for the Filling of the Pillows. I followed the template for the pillow, made a bladder out of Batiste (window sheer material) that I purchased from the local thrift store for $.97, and added an invisible 12-14" zipper to the pillow. Now, the shell of the pillow is washable AND the bladder can be "dunked" in a diluted cleaning solution and left to air-dry. Re-purposing the plastic bags and it makes for a VERY comfortable Pillow!
Rob Stowe - Prince of Practical said:
Rob Stowe - Prince of Practical's picture
Well, without sounding offended, I am not a Queen of anything; just a guy that was taught to sew 40 years ago!!!

I, too, LOVE the idea of being Green and using my own shopping bags whether the store requires it, or not. This shopping bag article is well received and I applaud the editor and creators of the project. A nearby fabric store is having a great sale on material that will work wonders for my own set of bags. I have walked down that aisle many times in the past 2 weeks, wondering what I could do with such great fabrics - now I know. Great idea, great fabrics, great sale...where are my keys?!

P.S. DaisyQ's idea of the corrugated plastic is SUPER!

LucyJane, I am going to incorporate your pocket and key-leash idea into ALL 6 of mine. I may even include an opposite pocket for my dog's leash - we go to the pet store together and his retractable leash is always where it shouldn't be. smilies/wink.gif
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Trayne -- hmmmmm - dog food bags, huh? You have me stumped on that one. Perhaps one of our visitors will have an idea. I suppose you could cut pieces out of it to fashion into a bag. However, I would recommend cutting out some scrap pieces so you can play around with what type of needle to use and how long of a stitch length. That will take a bit of testing I think.
Maxine said:
Maxine's picture

They absolutely make great grocery/whatever bags.  I was taught recently that you basically slice off the bottom (keeping in mind how much of the picture on the bag you want showing) slice off the top so that it's the height you have in mind (you'll use the slices, trimmed to the width you like, for your two handles).  The inside bottom is like you did here with the triangle corners to box the bottom.

Trayne said:
Trayne's picture
Ok, here is a question.... I have been saving the bags that my Dog's food comes in.. They are plastic and have like woven fibers in them.. I am sure you have seen them. The bags are quite large and sturdy. I was wondering since they hold anywhere between 15 to 25 lbs of dog food. Would they be ok for making shopping bags.. not really washing machine washable, but can be wiped out. Otherwise , what can I do with these bags. I have been saving them for quite sometime.
Cheryl
Sharon455 said:
Sharon455's picture

RE; Dog food bags.  I use them to clean up after my dog, or to throw away spoiled food that would stink up my garbage can. At least I've got the reuse part down. 

Becky M said:
Becky M's picture

@Trayne - yes, dog/cat/chicken food bags work well for this, although they are noisy when folding and tend to be a little more bulky.  That said, I love using them because they are sturdy.  My favorite was a huge bag with short courderoy handles that now has a new home. Your post has made me want to go use up my remaining bags!  :)

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