Shopping Bag Tutorial

Taking a brief break from catching up on the travelogue to bring you a tutorial of one of my "go-to" gifts!

Old Singer Sewing Machine
For the past 33 years or so, I've been using an old Singer that was gifted to me from one of my adopted Grandmas.  She didn't like it, said it didn't work very well, but maybe I could get it working right.  I replaced a few parts and tweaked it here and there and eventually got it working well.  It gave me years of good service.  For years I sewed most of our clothing, sewed for other people to help out the monthly budget, made drapes, did some quilting, and for a time made ballet costumes for a semi-professional company in Arvada, Colorado.  After all of that, it has been starting to show signs of the motor burning out.

My daughter also needed a new sewing machine as she does lots of costuming and has also been using old gifted machines, most of which were already on their last legs.  I believe she had 7 machines taking up too much space so I made her a deal that if she got rid of all but one of them to use as a backup, I would get her a new moderately priced machine.  She followed through and we've been looking at options for a while.

New Sewing Machine!
What a blessing to find two of these new Husqvrna Viking machines ~ so much more than we had even hoped for, on a terrific sale, with great warranties, classes on how to operate the advanced features, etc.  So now, we are the happy owners of a pair of these machines!  What a dream to sew with after the heavy old ones we've been using!  Buttonholes!  Zig-zag stitches that don't bunch up!  Fancy stitches we've never even thought of before!

A basic project was needed in order to gain a basic working knowledge of the machines.  What better than a new set of shopping bags for my oldest son, who has kindly let us move in with him temporarily (until I find a job and a new home)!  He wanted something that didn't have flowers on it, so we ended up choosing a nice blue and beige striped lightweight decorator canvas.  We got 4 yards of 43"wide material to make 8 bags.  I thought I'd share how I make these bags with you!

1 - Fabric and Webbing
Here is what you need.  One yard of lightweight cotton canvas or decorator fabric:  43" wide makes 2 bags.  One yard of 54" wide material makes 3 bags.
One yards of 1" webbing, either cotton or nylon, makes handles for one bags.   Multiply yards by number of bags being made.

2 - Cut fabric and webbing
Cut fabric into 18" wide by 36" long pieces from fabric.  One per each bag being made.
Cut webbing into 18" lengths ~ you need 2 pieces per bag.

3 - Fold and Sew Side Seams
Fold fabric in half, right sides of fabric together, making an 18" square.  The folded end will be the bottom. the matched cut piece of fabrics will form the top.
Sew side seams with 3/8" seam from top to folded bottom.

4 - Production sew side seams
When nearly complete with the first bag's side seam, bring the second one up and continue sewing seams until you have a chain of all the bags seams along one edge sewn in one long piece.  By production sewing this way, you save thread and it really does speed the process up!

5 - Chain of side seam sewn bags
Sew second side seam, continuing the chain as for the first side seam.  When completed, snip bags apart at join, being careful not to snip fabric!

6 - Overcast side seams
Use a zig-zag or overcast stitch of some type to finish seam edges.  This will help provide stability to the bag and prevents edges from unravelling, especially when washed.   In the past I have made the false French seams , but it adds bulk and I found I liked the flatter overcast/zig-zagged seam better.

7 - Fold 1/4" and Iron
Fold over top edge of bag 1/4" and iron.

8 - Fold 1" and Iron
Fold top edge of bag over again,  1" this time, and iron.

9 - Iron bottom corners
Fold bottom corners so seam is centered, making a triangle.  Iron edges.  You will sew across this to create the box shaped bottom of the shopping bag.

10 - Mark Bottom Corner Seam
Measure across bottom corner of bag and mark at right angle to seam.  Bottom width should be between 5" and 6" depending on preference.  I used 5 1/2".  I usually just measure this out on one bag only and use it to mark my measurements on the machine.

11 - Measure depth of Corner Seam
Measure the depth of the corner seam.  For the 5 1/2" width, I came up with 2 3/4".

12 - Mark gauge of depth on sewing machine
If you do not have a wide seam gauge such as this, you can use a piece of tape on the sewing machine.  Use guide to sew bottom corner of bags.

12b - Sew Bottom Corners
Sew across bottom corners of bag at right angle to side seam.

13 - Nylon Webbing frays
If using Nylon webbing for the handles, you will note that the ends fray.  You will want to seal these so that they don't continue to unravel once the bag is made.

If using Cotton webbing, I have not found fraying to be a big problem.  Do NOT try to seal Cotton Webbing with flame!  It is flammable and will simply burn and char!   If you want to seal ends, you can either stitch across them or use a product such as Fray-Check.

14 - Seal Nylon Webbing
FOR NYLON WEBBING ONLY, seal ends by running the edge just barely along a candle flame.  TAKE CARE please!  Nylon can melt and catch fire quickly ~ DO NOT HOLD IT IN THE FLAME!!!  Rather, just barely skim the webbing along the outside of the flame ~ the heat will melt the nylon causing a bead, which will seal the fraying ends in.  BE CAREFUL!!!  The nylon will stay hot for a surprisingly long time and can cause burns to the skin if touched.  Watch to make sure it is not carrying a spark or smoldering before setting aside.

15 - Sealed end of Nylon Webbing
This what the nylon webbing should look like once it is sealed.

16 - Measure Handle Placement
Measure and place pins at 4" from the side seam ~ there should be 4 pins, 2 on each side.  Place handle just to the inside of the pins and push all the way up into the fold.  In other words, the outside edge of the handle should be placed at the 4" marks.

17 - Place Handle
Pin the handle in place.  Take care not to twist the handle!

18 - Handles Pinned
This shows the handles pinned on one side and getting ready to place the handles on the other side.

19 - Handles all pinned in place
The handles are all pinned in place.  Fold the bag at the side seams and check to make sure the handles all line up, making any necessary adjustments.

20 - Sew Bottom Edge of Top fold
Using a 1/8" seam, stitch along the bottom edge of the folded and pressed top, catching in the handles.  Reverse after sewing across the handle and restitch the seams (3 passes in all ~ see next photo)

21 - Reverse Stitch over Handles
Reverse and sew over the handle again to reinforce the handle.  This makes the handles of these bags very strong!  There will be a total of 3 rows of stitching one on top of the other right over the handles.

22 - Fold Handles Up and Pin
Now fold the handles up into their final position and pin in place.  Finger press the handles in place to minimize bulk.

23 - Pinned Handle in final position
This shows the handle folded up and pinned in its final position.

24 - Topstitch top of Bag
Using a 1/8" seam, topstitch the top edge of the bag, reverse stitching as before on the handles.

25 - Optional Side Seam Topstitching
If you like, you may press the side seams to one side and topstitch the side seam 1/4" from the seam. I like to do this from the inside to be sure to catch the edges in without them folding, but it tends to look neater if you do it from the outside.

26 - Topstitched edges with handles
This shows the inside and outside of the topstitching and how the handle appears.  If done correctly, these handles are quite sturdy and strong!  The bag can carry a surprising amount of weight!

27 - The Finished Bag
One view of the finished bag!  The triangular flaps are simply folded down inside to the bottom of the bag.  I rarely sew them down.  

2nd View of Finished Bag.
These bags end up a very nice size and can carry more than a typical plastic grocery bag.  I use them for groceries as well as all of my other shopping.  While the decorator canvas that I used says to hand wash, I throw them in the washing machine (on cold wash) and then in the dryer.  They do fade slightly and will shrink a little with time, but they are sturdy and will last years!

You can see some variations of bags I've made here (I still use these bags!) and here!

I have also made them out of upholstery weight fabrics, but have found that unless it is relatively lightweight, it makes the bags too heavy and bulky for comfort when carrying groceries!

When I give them as gifts, I usually make them in sets of 8 or 10.  They store nicely by folding them and keeping the rest inside of one of the bags.  By keeping them by my front door or in the front seat of my car, I find I remember them and rarely need to use a disposable bag anymore!   Just be sure to wash them once in a while so they don't harbor unwanted bacteria, especially if you buy meat that leaks from the package!

Have fun!


Kath said…
great tutorial. I have many smallish pieces of hoarded furnishing fabric.
How are you settling into being back at home, was it hard after such a wonderful trip?

Kath in England
hpk said…
The 8 bags you made for me are still one of the best Christmas presents ever. At the grocery store the call me "the bag lady" but they mean that in a good way! :) Great tutorial. I may share the love and make bags for a few of the folks on my Christmas list this year. <3 Love, your sis.
Mindy said…
Work has been challenging so just this morning, I printed out Psalm 121 to help me regain my strength. At noon, as I am wont to , I came to your blog to find respite. In nearly every page, this Psalm and your pictures came to me. I feel that I've been blessed and supported through your blog. Thank you so much!
Susan Elliott said…
Oh Wow!! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!! We just switched names for Christmas and I've been wanting to make about 20 of these for my sister in law. Thanks for the tutorial!! I'll be using it A LOT!!

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