Monday, August 19, 2013

Tutorial: How To Make Cloth Shopping Bags, Part 1, Cutting and Pinning Cloth

Sorry to have teased anybody the other day! I accidentally hit "publish" instead of "save" after I had loaded some of the pictures!
I LOVE this fabric! I chose to use red thread because of the cherries. I also used one of my sewing machine's 6 non-straight or ziz-zag stitches for decorative purposes.

Let me be upfront about this right now: my motto when sewing is "Good Enough" Is Better Than Trying To Be "Perfect" and Losing My Mind.

I am NOT a talented sewer; I don't know much about selvage edges or which direction the weave of the fabric is going or things like that, but I have figured out how to make a few things I like that aren't too complicated for me. Still Playing School requested a tutorial for these cloth bags, so here it is finally! You'll see a variety of fabrics in this tutorial because I was working on a couple different projects at the same time. Also, I'm sorry about the pattern on the ironing board cover; my choices were limited.

These instructions will help you make 2 cloth bags. I like to use 2 layers of fabric to make sure the bags are strong; my bags can hold 2 gallons of milk without breaking. I'm sure there are other, better ways to do this, but this is the way I know how to do it.

  • 1 yard of 45" wide material for the outside of the bag (I like to pick something fun and/or pretty for this one.) (Er, I think I used basic cotton fabric.)
  • 1 yard of 45" wide material for the lining of the bag (Often, I will pick a solid color of less expensive cloth for this layer.)
  • 30" of 45" wide material for the straps (You will lose about 2" of length on the straps when you sew them to the bag. Use a measuring tape to see if this is a length you like; if not, make them shorter. I like them long enough to hang over my shoulders so I can carry in lots of groceries in one load. Also, this is actually enough fabric to make 11 straps, so keep that in mind if you're making more than two bags; this gives you enough straps for 5 bags.)
    • Remember that lighter fabric will look dirty sooner, but these bags are easy to wash, so take both things into consideration when choosing.
  • Thread that matches or coordinates with your fabric
  • Tape measure or yard stick
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Sewing machine
  • Serger (but if you don't have a serger, I hear you can use the zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine instead) (for the story behind why I have a serger, despite not being an expert sewer, see here)

Cutting and pinning the bag
This is the fabric I picked for the outer of these bags because my friend likes this particular franchise.
Fabric has little circles of colors on one edge that tell you which colors are in the pattern and which color is most prominent. If I'm not trying to use up fabric I already have, I will use those circles to help me pick out a color for the inside of the bag and the straps.

This is the fabric I picked to go with the outer fabric. I made 2 bags with a dark blue lining, 2 with a light blue lining, and used dark blue (or was it black?) straps for all 4 bags.
Before I cut anything out, I wash and dry the fabrics I'll be using, just in case they are going to shrink at all. After the fabric comes out of the dryer, I iron it, using the steam setting if I need to, to get out the wrinkles. If I'm making more than 2 bags, and have 2 yard pieces of fabric, instead of measuring and cutting at the 1 yard point, I fold each piece of fabric in half and cut there so that the resulting pieces are approximately 1 yard long.

Here is ~one yard of 45" wide fabric, washed, dried, and ironed.

Cut the fabric in half so that you end up with (2) ~22"x36" pieces. I was able to use the pattern on this fabric to cut relatively straight down the middle.

Cut the lining fabric to the same dimensions. Since this fabric didn't have a pattern, I folded it in half....

...held it down with one hand so it wouldn't move, and then cut along the fold.

Place one piece of the outer fabric, with the pattern side facing you, on top of one piece of the lining fabric. I match up the finished sides, the selvage edge(?), the one side of the fabric that hasn't been cut, and make those the top of the bag, if I can. If you are using a pattern that has a definite "up" and "down", pay attention to which way is up so that you don't end up with up-side down bags...not that *I* have ever done that. Ahem.

Pin every so often around the edges so the fabric doesn't shift when you move it.
NOTE: If you are not using the finished edges of the fabric for the top of your bag, you will want to serge or ziz-zag the two pieces together right now.

Fold the pinned pieces in half, with the patterned piece facing itself on the inside, so you end up with a 22" tall, 18" wide rectangle, and pin around the edges again, taking out the pins from the previous step as you go so that you don't accidentally sew over them. I pin the bottom and the side frequently, but put one pin in the top so that I know which side is the top. Trim the edges so they are even.
Cutting, ironing, and pinning the straps

You are going to cut the straps ~30" long, 4" wide. I like to use a yardstick for this part.

I lay the yardstick near the top of the fabric and make a cut every 4" all the way across the fabric. (Pretend I did that correctly instead of cutting every 2 1/2" because I hadn't done this in a while and forgot.) I slide the yardstick down and keep cutting until I have my 4" strips. I'm sure there's a better way to do this which involves a rotary cutter, but rotary cutters make me nervous.

Iron the strip.

Fold the strip in half the long way and iron again.

Open the strip and notice the line you ironed in.

Fold the top down to the middle line. Fold the bottom up to the middle line. Iron again.

Fold the strip in half so that all of the unfinished edges are on the inside and iron again.

Pin the strap so it doesn't come unfolded.
Next up: Part 2, the Sewing (and more ironing and pinning)


Anne said...

A bag like that would be so perfect/fun for Simon's daycare bag! (I carry cloth diapers, bottles/cups, etc. to/from daycare every day.) Too bad I'm already vaguely overwhelmed with just the first post - and you aren't even to the sewing part yet!

C said...

Have you come across rotary cutters? They are a life saver for cutting fabric in straight lines! You use them with a long, usually clear, wide ruler and one of the cutting mats like the one you have there. Cutting straight lines is so much easier when you don't have to use scissors for it.

Doing My Best said...

C-Yes, but they still make me a little nervous =). I did use it for some things the last time I was working with fabric, so I guess I'll come around eventually.