Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tutorial Tuesday: Reusable Shopping Bag

Given that California recently made it illegal for grocery stores to give out plastic bags and it seems likely that other states will eventually follow, it makes sense that fabric grocery bags will become even more popular over the next few years.  These are super-soft, since they're made from vintage linens, and they can easily fit into your purse or bag, so you're less likely to leave yours in your car when you go into the store.  Plus, they're totally machine washable, so if you have a mishap with something sticky or yucky in the bag, you can just pop it in the machine and it will be sanitized and beautiful again...unlike the polypropylene bags you can get in the store.

I'm sure there are other ways to do this, but after a few years of trial and error, I have found this to be the simplest way.  It uses all of the pillowcase and has a minimal amount of waste.

This has been my favorite go-to sewing project for the past several years.  It's relatively fast and simple, pillowcases are plentiful, the ideas for customization are endless, and the final product is both beautiful and useful.  It's a win all around. I often make them as gift bags, too, and put a birthday gift on the inside, so it's like two gifts in one (and no wrapping paper mess!).

A couple years ago I even made some for my kids so they could carry their own stuff down to the beach.  Rocked. My. World.

No more, "Mom!  Can you put this in your bag and carry it for me?" One of the best parenting decisions I ever made.

So let's get started!

You'll need:
- 1 pillowcase (OR two pieces of fabric, approximately 21" by 30")
- a piece of fabric, around 4 inches wide by 48 inches long (for the handles)

Here is the standard Pottery Barn (thrifted, of course) pillowcase that is the basis for my bag.  If you don't have a pillowcase nearby you can cut up, I have a bunch here in my Etsy shop. You can also buy the finished bags in my shop.

*Note: I made this bag on a sewing machine and a serger, but if you don't have one or the other (or either) and have more patience than I do, you could sew the whole thing by hand.  I'd love to see it!

1. Cut the pillowcase in half crosswise. I sometimes make the top half a tiny bit longer than the bottom half, to account for the fact that I will be adding a small seam with my sewing machine or serger and it will take about 1/4" of fabric. You can do this or cut it exactly in half - either way is fine (see photo 1).  This is a great time, if you're going to do it, to add any embroidery or embellishments, since any of your messy threads or imperfect "bad" sides will be sewn totally inside the bag when you're through.

Photo 1: Cut the pillowcase in half.
Note: if you are using two pieces of fabric instead of a pillowcase, simply put the two pieces of fabric together, right sides facing, and sew up around three of the edges, leaving one of the shorter edges completely unsewn.  Turn everything right side out through this side and press.  Now you have a basic "pillowcase."  Even though it looks a little crude and has a bunch of raw edges, that's fine.  By the time you're done, all of those raw edges will be enclosed on the inside.  After you have your basic pillowcase, follow all of the normal steps from the beginning.

2. Turn the top half inside out and sew along the bottom (or serge) with a straight stitch (see photo 2).  You now have two halves of the pillowcase, both with closed bottom edges, since the bottom half already had a seam from its former (and recent) life as a plain old pillowcase.  No need to finish the edge, since it will be totally enclosed inside the bag.

Photo 2: Make the bottom seam
3. Make box corners on both the top half and the bottom half so that your bag has a little bit of wide depth and is not completely flat.  This will make it easier to accommodate cereal boxes and bigger items To do this, turn the bag piece inside out, pinch the side edge to the bottom edge so the seams (or ironing line if there is no seam) line up, measure in about 2" from each point on the bottom of the bag, and draw a straight line across the bottom of that triangle. I drew lines so you can better see what I mean here, but if you can eyeball it, there's no need to draw a line (see photo 3).  Then sew across this line (see photo 4). You can use a machine or a serger.  If you use a sewing machine, use your scissors to cut off the little triangle of extra fabric.  You will do this four times (twice on the "outer" bag, twice on the "inner" bag).

Photo 3: Making the triangle for the boxed corners.
Photo 4: Sew the box corners.

4. Put the top half, right side out (which will be the outside of the bag when you're finished), inside of the bottom half, which is wrong side out (which will be the inside of the bag when your finished). See photo 5. The right sides will be touching each other. The bottom half should be inside out and the top half should be right side out.  Pin (I don't always take the time to pin, but I usually have better results when I do).  I put the vertical pin on the right there so I'll remind myself to STOP SEWING so I can have a gap to turn my bag right side out.

Photo 5: Put the halves together, right sides touching.
5. Starting at the side seam, sew the pieces together all the way around the top, leaving a 3" gap where your vertical pin is to turn everything right side out (see photo 6).

Photo 6: Sew it all together around the top.
6. Turn the bag right side out, putting the inside of the bag on the inside.  You should have no raw edges now.  Turn under the gap you left to turn the bag, press it in, and sew close to the edge all around the top of the bag with a neat stitch.  This will close your opening and give the bag a finished look (see photo 7).

Photo 7: Topstitch around the top to close your gap.
A note about handles: your handles can be made from any fabric you have on hand.  These are just pieces of upcycled sheet, folded in half and serged.  If you don't have a serger or just want a more finished edge, fold the pieces in half lengthwise, right sides together, and then turn right side out.  Tuck in the ends so they're inside the tube and there are no raw edges showing, and press. Make sure your handles are the same length so you won't carry a lopsided bag :) . You can also use rope, clothesline, or handles recycled from another bag. Some of the bags pictured above actually have handles made out of part of the actual pillowcase.  You can just cut equal pieces of fabric from the bottom and the top half of your pillowcase sections and sew them into handles.  They may be shorter than the "other fabric" handles pictured here, depending on the size of your pillowcase, but if that's OK with you, go for it!

7. Add your handles. I put them about 5 1/2" in on each side and about 2" down, and that seems to be the right length once the handles are done (see photo 8).  Do whatever is comfortable for you.  I attach them with a box stitch (basically, sew around the bottom of the handle, then sew an X in the middle of the box) to reinforce it and make it stronger.

Photo 8: Attach the handles.
8. If you have a label you want to attach, go for it!  I center mine between the handles.

Now go to the store.  Pack up the bag with good food, unpack it at home, and throw it in the washing machine if you need to.  Don't forget to put it back in your car when you're done so it's ready the next time you need it!

I'm also renaming this feature Tutorial Tuesday.  Partly because I like alliteration (a lot), but partly because I couldn't do this last Friday, as I had planned, because of the car-hitting-the-deer situation we had on Thursday night.  So Tuesdays it is!

Now show me your bags!


Kate said...

Such a great idea - thank you!!

Michelle Meehan said...

Thank you, Kate!

Madalyn McArthur said...

I love these! What a great Christmas gift idea! I also love your Etsy shop!

Michelle Meehan said...

Thank you, Madalyn!

Kim said...

Love this! Have been wanting to find something for Christmas gifts and this is it!!! Question... What do you have for with and length for the handles?? They look to vary, but I don't want to make them too narrow/wide.


Michelle Meehan said...

Thank you, Kim! The handles in the tutorial photos measure about 28" by 1 3/4", finished. Some of the other photos do feature smaller handles. I used to make them shorter, but I had someone once ask me for longer handles, and I've been making them this size. It seems to work out the best!