My mom has been loving her reusable grocery bags that I made last month. For her set I enlarged the pattern piece so that I could maximize the size of the bag on a typical 1 yard cut of prewashed 44" wide woven fabric. Large enough to hold a good amount of groceries but also not too long that the bag would drag on the ground. So far so good and my mom says the Publix baggers compliment her large bags each time she goes shopping. Now she's asked me to teach her how, so here's the tutorial inspired by the original one on Crafster as well as the version posted on Instructables.
I showed how to use a typical plastic grocery bag as your pattern piece in my original post. However, I quickly realized the advantage to making your own bag is customizing for my needs. I wanted a larger bag so I added some width but also some length. Here is my current pattern piece which is really 1/2 of the bag cut along the fold. Dimensions posted for those who like to work with measurements but you can tweak these dimensions for your own needs as well. I use a 3/8" seam allowance all over except when specified (in the bottom french seam). Also, I use my serger to finish off some seams but you could easily use a tight zig zag stitch instead. Really, this is a very easy project and one that is so satisfying.
For each bag cut two on the fold of your outer fabric (here the beautiful red floral) and two of the inner lining fabric (mine is bleached muslin). I'm still kicking myself for not buying more of that red floral fabric, I love it.
Place one outer fabric piece and lining piece, right sides together. Pin the handle curves together (you're going to leave the tops unsewn for now). Repeat for the other outer fabric and lining piece. Again, right sides together, then pin the handle curves.
Sew along the inner "U" curve of the bag and along the outer curves along the handles using a 3/8" seam allowance.
Clip the seam allowance along the curve inner corners so that the seam lays flat once turned. Repeat for the other two pieces of pinned fabric.
Now we turn the pieces right side out for pressing. I'm also going to get on my soapbox about pressing your seams. I'm not an avid presser when it comes to my clothing. I'm lazy and I eagerly wait for the dryer to finish so I can hang up clothing while still warm, thus triumphantly avoiding pressing any clothing in this household. Sewing, however is a different matter. I do not sew anything without pressing between seams. The pattern pieces will not fit together correctly if you skip this step. Also if sewing a garment, pressing now means you won't end up with wonky seams after going through the wash. The proper way to press seams is to first press the seam exactly as it's sewn. In this case I pressed this tube/handle configuration below before turning.
Then I turned the piece of outer+lining right sides out and with my fingers gently worked the seams out and straight. Then I pressed that edge sharp. This area around the top of the bag and handles will be topstitched later on and if you don't press now, it will look sloppy. Please, please, please press when you sew.
See that sharp upper edge of the bag? Pressing. Okay, enough.
I know, I didn't press the bottom part but we're not there yet. Next, sewing the handles together. You now have two halves of your grocery bag sewn up, turned right sides out and pressed. I place one of these halves on my cutting table with the lining facing up.
On top of that piece I place the second piece, lining side down. You want the lining pieces together and the outer pieces, well on the outside. Just as the bag will look when done.
See? White lining in the middle, red fabric on the outside.
Pay close attention to how I'm going to turn the handles in order to sew them. Once you have the fabric pieces in your own hands this will make sense. Until then, at least for me, it made absolutely no sense whatsover. Go down to where the bottom of the bag will be. Pick up the top layer of the outer fabric only. There will be three layers under your hand and one layer of the red fabric above.
Shove your hand from the bottom of the bag pieces to the top of the handle openings, again with three layers of fabric underneath your hand and the top outer fabric being the only layer above your hand.
Bend your hands to grab those bottom three layers with your fingers and pull them through the bottom of the bag. Almost as if you were pulling a sleeve in a tshirt to the wrong side.
Once you've pulled the three fabric layers through the bottom you'll end up with this. One bag handle right side out and in the middle, with another bag handle wrong side out, surrounding it. Basically the two bag handles are right sides together.
Once you've pulled both sets of handles through as previously mentioned pin them to prep for sewing. Don't worry, if you still don't get this after playing with your own pieces in your hands there's another way.
Alternate handle turning method. Place one of the bag halves on the table, lining side down. Notice this half is still turned right side out.
Turn the other half of the bag wrong side out, then slip it on and over the top of the piece that you had on the table. Kind of like you're dressing the first piece with the second piece as a t-shirt. Oh goodness, this sounds way more complicated than it is. Trust me, cut your pieces and then come back to this part once you're in the process.
Whichever way you've chosen to turn the handles, grab each handle and sew through the top using the 3/8" seam allowance. That's right, you're going to sew through all four layers of fabric. This is also a point where you'll need to finish the seams either via serger or zig zag stitch on your sewing machine.
This is where the magic happens. Grab each half of the bag (outer+lining) and spread them apart at the handles. You're turning the one layer that was wrong side out, right side out. When you spread them you should see this. The handles attached at the top with a pretty join. Remember, give this is a good press before moving on.
Next, we'll sew up the sides of the bag. Take the four bag layers and split them in two to the sides. The two outer layers here on the left, right sides together and the two lining pieces on the right, also right sides together. Pin the down the sides of the bag making sure to avoid catching the bag handles that are floating inside the middle.
Sew down each side of the bag going all the way from the lining to the outer fabric in one long seam. I usually use a 3/8" allowance but this fabric had a pretty wide selvedge.
Again, finish the seam with your serger or sewing machine zig zag stitch. See how the stitching starts on the lining fabric and continues down the side to the outer fabric?
Turn the outer fabric shell right side out over the lining. Give the side seams a good press. The bag is almost done. Sewing the bottom is next but first we need to give the bag its shape.
First, topstitch around the inner and outer edge of the bag handles.
If you remember, our plastic grocery bag has a folded handle at the top that sort of gives shape to the bag's side gusset. So take one handle in your hand and fold half of it underneath. The lining will now be hidden in the middle.
Ugh, pay no attention to the non-hand model's raggedy cuticles and no one tell my mom either. See the seam where the handles were stitched together earlier?
Sew the folded handle by stitching along this seam. Repeat with the other handle.
Hopefully this picture clarifies. You've tucked the handle underneath itself in half and sewn that in place.
Again, going back to the plastic grocery bag design, we're going to create the side gusset. By folding and sewing the handle in place it's easy to fold in the sides of the bag as shown. Just tuck in the sides evenly in line with the fold that exists in the bag handles. Do both sides and press this fold so it's nice and sharp.
This is what the bottom of the bag will look like. See the tuck?
Now this step isn't necessary but I wanted a way to keep the bag folded in case of carrying just one inside my purse. I folded my almost finished bag and marked off two snap areas, then attached the snaps after reenforcing the snap area with a little fusible interfacing hidden between the lining and outer fabric. This is the top snap.
The lower snap. Just be sure the lower snap is placed high enough so that it's not caught in the seam allowance and that your presser foot can clear the snap as you sew the bottom shut. I placed mine about 1.5" above the bottom edge.
Almost done! Take the bag as it is, right side out and stitch the bottom shut, using a 3/8" seam allowance making sure to maintain the folded gussets you pressed into place earlier. I also serged this seam. A little overkill since this edge will be enclosed in a french seam but I'm not taking any chances.
Turn the bag wrong side out. Now this may seem odd but when you turn the bag wrong side out the gussets you just sewed into place will look like you took the sides of the bag and folded them to the front. There is not gusset when you have the bag turned wrong side out.
See? I push my fingers into the fold to push the corners out sharply and make sure that the final seam I sew catches the seam allowance on the bottom of the bag. Press the bottom of the bag and then sew along the bottom with a 5/8" seam allowance (yes that's bigger) to encase the raw edge left by sewing the previous seam.
Here is the bottom inside of the bag all sewn shut. See how the stitching goes over that folded edge?
Turn the bag right side out and you'll see how the french seam encased that raw edge.
Guess what? The bag is done!
This is how I fold my bag. First spread out the bag, snaps facing down.
Fold towards you in half.
Then again, in half bringing the fold towards your body.
With this previous fold you'll see the bottom snap right on top of the folded bag.
Fold the bag handles to your right about 1" above the bottom snap. See how the the other snap pops up at the left?
One final fold. Fold the bag in half left to right so the two snaps meet and snap shut. Voila! Presto! Or, "que chulo!" as we say in Dominican Republic.
See? All snapped up. If you don't have snaps you could use a magnetic snap, velcro or even a button and button hole but I find resin snaps to be very easy solution.
Since my bag is pretty large the folded bundle is a little chunky but not huge. Here in my hand for scale.
And because I had the bright orange thread already in the machine, I made two bags at once. Two down, six more to go. I'll show the others once I'm done.