Reusable Cloth Grocery Bags in Five Lunch Hours or Less – Day One
August 13th, 2007 | Link

At the end of September, a law will go into effect in San Francisco preventing large supermarket and pharmacy chains from bagging customer purchases in plastic bags. It will be interesting to see how this transition goes over: whether it makes any discernible difference to the volume of plastic bags in landfill sites and of litter, whether it will cause the predicted price increases, whether everybody will suddenly start bringing their own bags when they shop, whether people who can’t afford to buy reusable grocery bags are going to be screwed, etc.

We have some cloth grocery bags, mostly swag bags from several trips to SXSW. They are super-sturdy. But we often use them to take items destined for donation to our storage unit, and then we don’t have any bags until we make a donation run. And we don’t like logos in our house (even SXSW logos). And I felt like sewing, and doing some silk-screening, and I thought they might make nice gifts, so I decided to sew up some grocery bags.

I usually leave work and go home for lunch. I know this is a luxury, but I’m sure you can find a few hours of time here and there yourself.

Day One: Cut and Pin Fabric

I want plain, sturdy fabric for my bags because I intend to silk-screen on them later, so I’ve opted for unbleached cotton canvas in about a 10oz weight. The discount fabric store around the corner sells 58" wide canvas for $3.98/yard: this is enough for three bags.

I also opted to buy cotton webbing for the handles rather hemming and sewing the canvas into strips. 1" cotton webbing runs for $1.69/yard; I like long handles, so I need two yards per bag.

I also bought a spool of thread for just under $3. Total materials cost: about $4/bag.

For handles, cut six pieces of webbing 32" long.

For bags, cut three pieces of fabric 19" wide by 36" long. This is easy to cut from a 1 yard piece of 58" fabric by folding the fabric in half widthwise, and making three cuts 19" apart (using the fold to measure right-angles for the sides). If your fabric isn’t quite straight and you can’t get a perfect 18" out of it, it doesn’t matter that much – a half-inch or an inch off the height of the bag isn’t a big deal. Similarly, if your fabric isn’t wide enough – or is wider -take what you can get and make the bag slightly wider or narrower, to minimize scraps.

If you didn’t already fold the fabric to cut it, fold the bag pieces in half widthwise now. This gives me three 18" high by 19" wide rectangles with a fold on the bottom. If your fabric has a right side, fold the fabric with the right-sides facing.

With the fold at the bottom, pin up the two sides of the rectangles, leaving the top open. Depending on how organized you were, all this probably took you less than half an hour.

Time for me to go back to work. Tomorrow, I’ll sew the side seams.


  • jane says:

    great project! do you own equipment for silk-screening? i’m a bit of a pushover for any t-shirt or skirt with a cute bird or tree on it and have been feeling inspired by browsing then i thought, hey – i could do that, but haven’t gone as far as researching affordable silk-screening equipment.

  • Shannon says:

    I don’t, as yet, have any equipment for silk-screening. I do have a Gocco printer, which is sort of a silk-screening machine, and I have the part to do printing on fabric (and some fabric inks that came with it), so I thought I would start with that.
    However, I’ve also been looking at the Silk Screening 101 article from Craft (they have the article online) and it makes me want to try the real thing. The San Francisco Center for the Book also rents the lamp equipment for making screens, and there’s a place in the Mission that also rents time and equipment.
    Now if only I could draw.

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My name is Shannon Hale. This blog is on indefinite hiatus, but it contains archives of the last 10 years of posts about bookbinding, knitting, sewing. and other random things in my life.


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