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.
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 bag finishes at appoximately 12" wide x 14" high with 8" base and sides.
Sewing Tools You Need
Fabric and Other Supplies
- 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
- Seam gauge
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Straight pins
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Create and attach the straps
- Find the two 2½" x 44" main strap strips.
- On both strips, fold back the long raw edges ½" and press. Your finished width should be 1½".
- Find the two 2" x 44" accent strap strips.
- On both strips, fold back the long raw edges ½" and press. Your finished width should be 1".
- Pair up a pressed main strip with a pressed accent strip.
- Center the accent strip WRONG sides together with the main strip, sandwiching the folded-back raw edges in between the two pieces.
- Pin in place the length of the strap.
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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Repeat to attach the remaining three strap ends.
Construct the bag
- Rethread your machine with thread to match the bag base in both the top and the bobbin.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stitch in place, using a ½" seam allowance. Stitch a second time to reinforce.
- Rethread your machine with thread to match the bag body in both the top and the bobbin.
- 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.
- 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.
- Turn this 'wrapped' seam toward the bag base (the Praline in our sample), hiding the raw edge. Press.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stitch together, using a 1" seam allowance. Yes, one inch.
- Trim back to just over ¼".
- Fold, wrap, press and edgestitch just as you did above.
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.
- 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.
- Rethread your machine with thread to match the bag base in both the top and the bobbin.
- Flatten the bag, and pin the bottom raw edges together to create the base of the bag.
- Stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance.
- 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.
- To do this, using both hands, pinch and pull apart the bottom corner.
- 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.
- Center the side seam within this triangle peak.
- Measure 4" from the point of the peak and draw a line.
- Repeat to create a matching peak with the opposite corner.
- Stitch back and forth along the lines two or three times to reinforce.
- 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.
Create the cardboard pocket
- Find your two 9" x 14" pieces of base fabric.
- Place them right sides together, pin, and stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance, along both sides and across the bottom.
- Clip the corners and turn this pocket right side out.
- 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.
- Topstitch close to the folded edge.
- Press and slip in the cardboard. Place this insert into the bag to form and stabilize the bottom.
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.
Project Concept: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation: Liz Johnson
Other machines suitable for this project include the Elna 3210 Jeans and the Pfaff hobby 1142.