My husband kept carrying things to work in a plastic grocery bag - usually food items. He keeps a small pantry at work. He also was just throwing in odds and ends that he didn't want to lose in his voluminous backpack. Anyway, he kept taking a plastic "might break at any minute" grocery bag with him. Not to mention if he set the bag down, there wasn't anything to identify it as his. Flat totes didn't hold much, boxed corner bags were too bulky, and he wanted to be able to cram the empty bag in the outside pocket of his backpack.
I took a look at how the typical plastic grocery bag is constructed, and came up with a simple pattern. It's sturdy, with 2 French seams, better handles than the plastic version, nice pleats on the sides, its easily stored, washable, takes 1/2 yard of fabric and less than an hour's time to make. (I made 2 in 40 minutes).I wouldn't carry a gallon of milk in it, but I did a mixture of canned and boxed goods and it did just fine. Additionally, it's tall enough to carry one of those long loaves of French bread without having the bread fall out (like it does in a plastic grocery bag).
With this super easy beginner friendly pattern, you can whip up enough in a few hours for your weekly shopping trip. Just scrunch them all down into one bag and throw it in the car. Or take a little time and dress them up and use them for tote bags. They make a quick gift for a child, teacher, or your husband schlepping stuff to work. And if they get dirty, throw them in the laundry.
I made a set for grocery shopping. One is made of heavier fabric and I put an outside pocket for my grocery list. Then I just cram all the bags into the heavier bag.
There aren't any pattern pieces. Materials needed are 1/2" yard x 45" cotton fabric and thread. Tools needed are a cutting mat, rotary cutter, quilting ruler, pins or clips and a steam iron. If you plan to wash your bags, you may want to prewash your fabric. My fabric drew up 2 inches in length! If you want to include a pocket, I used a scrap 6" x 13" as I was using wider upholstery fabric. Coordinating fabric would work just as well.
Note: This bag is not intended to stand on its own. Depending on what is placed in the bottom, it will stand.
- RS and RST - right sides and right sides together
- WS and WST - wrong sides and wrong sides together
- SA - seam allowance
- BS - backstitch
1. On your cutting mat, lay your fabric folded with selvages together at the top. Trim up edges if needed for 18" length of fabric. Cut off selvages. With fabric still folded, measure up 16 1/2" and cut across, making the body at 33" x 18". The remaining two pieces should be cut to at least 4 inches, depending on your remaining fabric, for two straps 4" x 18". Cut optional pocket whatever size you choose, doubling the length for folding over. Quick tip: If you're making more than one bag, layer your fabrics and cut all at once. Also, do each step for all the bag pieces at once.
2. Prepare the straps. Fold in half lengthwise, press, open, fold sides in just shy of creased center to avoid bulk, press, fold in half, press. Stitch 1/8" SA each long side. Quick tip: Chain piece one after the other, pivot at last end, and go back up the other side. If making more than one bag, chain piece all the straps at once.
3. Determine the top of your bag and stitch 1/2" on the long edge for turning the top hem later.
Optional pocket (If not using, skip to Step 8):
4. Fold short ends RST and stitch 1/4" SA on the three open sides, leaving an opening for turning.
5. Clip corners, turn out and press.
6. Position on RS of bag, 4 inches from the bottom centered on the 33" length (this is the front of the bag). Pin.
7. Top stich in place, backstitching at each top edge corner.
8. Next, sew a French seam. Fold the body short ends WST. Stitch the short edge at 1/4" SA. Turn WS out and press the seam.
9. BS at beginning and end, stitch the seam again at 1/2" SA. Press seam flat to one side and turn the body RS out.
10. The body should measure approximately 15 3/4" across. Center the stitched seam line top and bottom and clip.This is now the back seam.
11. With bag RS out, begin another French seam. Stitch the bottom edge at 1/4" SA. Turn the body WS out and press. This bottom seam will be finished later.
12. On the top edge, trim the bulk out of the back seam for 1 1/2" at an angle.
13. Turn under the top edge on the 1/2" stitched line, WST. Press. Turn again 1" and press.
14. With the back seam facing up and the stitched seam line being the center, measure out 3" on either side and mark along the bottom of the hem for the strap placement.
15. On each strap, measure 1/2" from each end. Place one end of a strap at the 3" mark, and tuck under the hem up to the 1/2" mark and pin in place. Do the other end of the strap at the other 3" mark, making sure the strap isn't twisted. The strap inside edges should be 6" apart. The strap will be hanging down on the body.
16. Flip the bag to the front side, find the center, and repeat step 14 and 15.
17. Beginning at the back seam, BS at beginning and end, stitch the bottom edge of the hem at 1/8".
18. Flip the straps up, careful not to curl the bottom edge of the hem, pin in place, and stitch the top edge of the bag at 1/4", again with BS at beginning and end.
19. If preferred, stitch an "X" over each strap for extra strength.
20. Make the pleats. With the bag still WS out and the back seam facing up, fold over each long edge towards the center 2 inches and clip. BS beginning and end, stitch the bottom seam at 1/2" SA.
21. Turn the bag out, arrange the side pleats, and press the bottom seam. Check both back and bottom seams for any thread or fabric tails peeking through.
There you have it - a simple pattern that with a little creativity can be a cute bag. Heavier linen or canvas will make very sturdy bags that should hold up to years of wear and tear and washing. A set would make a great gift for someone just setting up housekeeping. Or a tote for a child's busy bag, library books, going to piano lessons, etc. Enjoy!
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