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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.
    Click to Enlarge
  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.
    Click to Enlarge
  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.
    Click to Enlarge
  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 (95)

TheresaFromOhio said:
TheresaFromOhio's picture

Liz,

Each year I get a little something for my co-workers for Christmas, The city I live in is considering a plastic bag ban. This gave me the idea to make some reuseable bags....I really like your pattern.     I have 12 of these bags to make....what am I looking at in terms time per bag?  I'm not a master at the sewing machine but I do okay. The machine is circa 1978..simple but works well. Once I get one under my belt I think I'll be okay but I'm wondering if I'm biting off more than I can chew this close to Christmas. I appreciate your feedback. Happy Thanksgiving!

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

@ TheresaFromOhio - we rarely give an project time estimate because there are SO many variables in terms of skills, tools, fabrics, interruptions, etc. As a guesstimate, working start to finish, the first one will probably take you about 3-5 hours. Once you have it down, do some "assembly line" construction, like getting all the pieces cut and staged. Then, as you say, the next 11 should go more quickly. It might be a little tight, but if you can focus a couple full weekend days on it, you should be fine. 

TheresaFromOhio said:
TheresaFromOhio's picture

Liz, thankyou for the guesstimate. I understand it's difficult to give a range due to all the variables but really do appreciate you offering the ballpark timeframe. I'm definitely the assembly line type! I used to make little hospital gowns for my grandmother when she was in a nursing home....had fabric designs for every holiday and season. Must have made 30 or so I suppose. That is where my first assembly line experience began.  Thanks again. Happy Thanksgiving!

Linda Bee said:
Linda Bee's picture

Awesome directions...clear and concise.  Usually I have to read and re-read directions to understand, but not this time.  You rock Liz.  Thanks so much.

Ana Eguia said:
Ana Eguia's picture

Hi, I would like to know the total cost of making this bag. 

Thanks!

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

@ Ana Eguia - we don't provide a cost-to-make for our projects as there are too many variables: the type of fabric, the place of purchase, sales and coupons, etc. But - we do give you a very complete supply list so you can figure it out based on the cost in your area of the fabric and notions you choose to use. 

Kasey said:
Kasey's picture

Would oil cloth be an appropriate material for this project?

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

@ Kasey - it depends on the stiffness of the oil cloth you use. The outdoor fabric we used had a lot of inherent stability so the bag holds its shape nicely. Some laminates don't have a lot of body, so they wouldn't be great for this particular project since there is no lining. We do have a couple laminated totes you could try, like this one: 

http://www.sew4home.com/projects/storage-solutions/mothers-day-fabriccom...

Rachel Skipper said:
Rachel Skipper's picture

Quick question about the pattern and bag size... At the beginning of the instructions, you write that the final dimensions of the bag will be 14" tall by 8" wide. However, the large rectangle of body fabric is only 11.5" tall, and the piece of base fabric would not be wide enough to make up the bottom of the bag, plus fold to go up the sides of the bag (adding height to make the bag 14" tall). 

Basically, it seems that you would need a larger piece of base fabric in order to end up with a bag that measures 14.5"x8". Is there something about the dimensions or pattern that I'm misreading?

Thanks for your help, and for the otherwise very clear instructions! :)

Rachel

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

@ Rachel Skipper - The bag finishes at appoximately 12" wide x 14" high with 8" base and sides. Remember, the base is created by making box corners. So in figuring the height, the two panels are 11.5" and 9". From this 20.5" total you use 1" for the top hem, .5 from each for the horizontal seam (1" total), .5 for the very bottom seam for a total of 18", but you lose 4" of that in the base, leaving a final height of 14". If you look at the drawing within the box corners section, you can see better how the base is formed. 

Rachel Skipper said:
Rachel Skipper's picture

I see now! Thank you for the explanation, that makes a lot more sense. :)

Time to get sewing!

Rachel

Rachel Skipper said:
Rachel Skipper's picture

Also, I notice that the fabric for the insert in the bottom of the bag should only 9" wide - the same width as the base fabric. If the base fabric should create the base and also extend up the sides of the bag (making the brown "rim" around the bottom of the bag), the initial dimensions of the base fabric piece would need to be larger than the dimensions of the insert fabric piece.

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

@ Rachel Skipper - as mentioned above, that same drawing will help you visual how the base panel to help stabilize the bag fits. After seaming the width is 8" (just like the depth of the bag) and after seaming and heming the top opening, the length is 12" - again the same as the bag. You want a nice tight fit for this insert. 

pamfg said:
pamfg's picture

Am totally lost. If I attach the base to the side, the corners won't be right. The bottom is sewn as one long seam to the not-yet-closed bag?

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

@ pamfg - the "sides" don't actually appear until you box the bottom corners. So, I'm not sure that I'm understanding where you are having trouble. Yes, when the bag is still and open "tube" you do stitch straight across the bottom with one seam, then you box both corners to create the shape. Here is a link to our box bottom tutorial if this is a new technique to you: 

http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/sewing-tips-tricks/romantic-retre...

Mary Iverson said:
Mary Iverson's picture

Add a large brown paper bag to the inside of the cloth bags. This gives the bag a stable side & the ability to 'stand up'. Checkers (been one!!) love the help! Have made bags out of dog, cat food bags, pellet, feed bags. Fun!

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!

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