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Back to School: Drawstring Dorm Laundry Bag

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If you're sending someone off to college for the first time this Fall, you're in for a lot of new experiences. There'll be stories of all-night 'study sessions,' complaints about the new roommate who hogs all the closet space, whining about the food or lack thereof. And then... there's the laundry. You will learn The Lesson of Laundry-Deferral. Or, exactly how long one person can go without doing the wash. Often, this can stretch all the way to winter break. So, send your collegian off with this heavy-duty, jumbo laundry duffle. It's nearly three feet tall with a drawstring top that allows for easy stuffing. Then, with its sturdy strap slung over-the-shoulder, he or she can arrive home for the holidays with nearly his or her entire wardrobe in tow. Stock up now on detergent.

Even though those intelligence tests tell you not to attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole, we're doing something similar with this project. The bag body is made from straight-edged rectangles. The base is a perfect circle. In order to match up these two geometric opposites, it is VERY important your cuts are exact. Measure twice, three or four times; cut once. We also outline how to go about cutting a perfect circle pattern.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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Getting Started

  1. From the fabric for the top, pocket and base (Premier Prints Bubbles in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 41" wide by 19" high rectangle for the bag top
    ONE 8" x 8" square for the pocket
    ONE circle 13¾" in diameter.
    NOTE: To make a circle pattern: Fold a 15" x 15" square of pattern or graph paper into quarters. Make sure your original square is even and true. Place a see-through ruler at the exact center of the upper left corner (the 'all-folds' corner) of your folded square. Swing the ruler from the top to the bottom of the square, like a pendulum, measuring and marking a dot at the 6-7/8" point (half the diameter of your circle) in three to four spots. You are creating a semi-circle. Draw an arc to connect the marks. If you own a large compass, you could also use it to create your 6-7/8" arc. Cut along the arc, then unfold the circle. When attached to the bag, the seamed circumference will be at 12¾".  For you math geeks, you'll see that Pi times the diameter (or 3.14 x 12.75) equals 40", which is the finished circumference of the upper part of the bag. Cool huh? Math rocks!

    Take a look at our Here Comes The Sun pillow tutorial for step-by-step photos of this technique.
  2. From the fabric for the bottom and strap (Premier Prints Ele in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 19½" high x 41" wide rectangle for the bag bottom.
    NOTE: If you use the same fabric we did, you'll need to carefully fussy cut in order to get three nice rows of elephants. Cut 1" below the feet on the bottom row of elephants and 2" above the backs of the top row of elephants.
    ONE 5" x 44" strip for the strap. 
    NOTE: Again, if you are using our fabric, carefully fussy cut again, this time cutting one row of elephants.
  3. Cut ONE 7" x 7" piece of fusible interfacing.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

  1. Pin the top and bottom rectangles right sides together along one 41" side.
    NOTE: If you use the same fabric we did, make sure the elephant fabric is going the right way. You want the elephants on the bottom half with their feet at the bottom edge.
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  2. Stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance.
  3. Press the seam toward the bottom half. Topstitch very close to the pressed seam on the bottom half (the elephant half). Then topstitch again ¼" from first line of stitching.
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The pocket

For those industrious souls who actually make it down to the laundry room during the term, our duffle's handy zippered pocket can hold room keys, quarters for the machines and student ID.

  1. Center the 7" x 7" fusible interfacing on the wrong side of the 8" x 8" pocket piece. Adhere, following the manufacturer's directions.
  2. Measure 1½" from the top of the pocket piece and make a horizontal cut. You now have two pocket pieces: one at 1½" x 8" and one at 6½" x 8".
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  3. Press back each of the two edges you just cut ½".
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  4. Place the zipper face down along these two pressed edges so the pressed edge of the fabric is ¼" from the teeth on each side. Pin in place.
  5. Change out your regular sewing machine foot to a zipper foot.
  6. Sew the zipper in place with contrasting thread.
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  7. Press the edges of the pocket under ½" all the way around.
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  8. Pin the pocket in place on the top half of the bag. It should be centered and the bottom edge should be approximately 1" above the middle seam.
  9. Edgestitch in place around all four sides of the pocket, pivoting at the corners.
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Bag assembly and drawstring casing

  1. Following the manufacturer's directions for your sewing machine, mark and make a vertical 1" buttonhole, which will be the opening for the top casing. This buttonhole should be centered (use the pocket as a guide for centering) with the top of the buttonhole 2" from the raw edge of the top fabric (the Bubbles fabric in our sample).
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  2. Sew the bag together, using a French seam to create a finished inside seam. To do this fold the bag WRONG sides together and stitch a ¼" seam. Trim the seam allowance back very close to your stitching - to about 1/8". Then, turn the bag inside out and sew the seam again, encasing the first seam, using a 3/8" seam.
    NOTE: If you are new to making a French Seam, check out our Finishes tutorial as well as our Birthday Backpacks project.
  3. To make the casing for the drawstring, fold the top raw edge of the bag under ½" and press. Fold again 1" and press again. Pin in place.
  4. Stitch all around the top opening ¼" from top fold and again ¼" from the bottom fold.
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Make and attach the strap and insert the base

  1. Find your 5" x 44" strip. Fold the strip in half (so it is now 2½") right sides together. Pin in place.
  2. Using a ½" seam allowance, along the entire long edge. Leave both ends open. 
  3. Roll the seam to the center and press open the seam allowance. With the strip still wrong side out, use a ½" seam allowance to stitch across one end. 
  4. Clip the corners.
  5. Turn right side out, poking/pulling out the corners so they are nice and sharp.
  6. Press flat. The seam should be centered as shown.
    NOTE: Take a look at our tube turning tutorial for some handy hints.
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  7. Pin the right side of the strap's finished end to right side of bag just below casing with the strap's seam line matching the bag's side seam.
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  8. Secure by stitching a rectangular box approximately 2" long. Reinforce by stitching an 'X' through the middle.
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  9. Pin the opposite, raw edge of the strap to the bottom of the bag with the seams matching, as above, and the raw edges of the strap and bag flush.
  10. Find your base circle piece. Fold it in quarters and mark each fold with a pin.
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  11. Fold the bottom edge of bag in quarters and mark each of these folds with pins as well.
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  12. Place the circle inside the bottom of the bag, with right sides together. Match up the pins you put in place on your quarter folds. Pin all around, making sure to catch the unfinished edge of the strap with your pinning.
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  13. Using a ½" seam allowance, sew around the circle.
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  14. Finish the raw edges of this seam allowance with a zig-zag or other finish stitch.
  15. Press the seam toward the base and topstitch 3/8" from seam. This helps reinforce the base and the strap... so the bag can hold an entire term's worth of laundry (just kidding... sorta).
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  16. Attach a large safety pin to one end of the cording and thread it through the buttonhole and casing.
  17. Trim the ends to a length you like. Knot each end. Then, melt the ends with a lighter to seal.
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Project Design: Alicia Thommas 
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Julia Chapman



Comments (24)

kiwibkute said:
kiwibkute's picture

I don't understand how the strap works. I can't press the end flat like it's shown. I'm not sure how else to interept the instructions. What am I missing?

kiwibkute said:
kiwibkute's picture

I had looked at that earlier and I don't see how the sewn end of the strap comes out flat like in the picture. If I were to press the strap with the seam in the center like it's shown, then the swen end is facing the wrong direction and I get a triangle for an end. I'm not sure how I was supposed to sew the end of the strap closed so that the seam will lay perpedicular to the center seam after being pressed.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ kiwibkute - We took another look through this tutorial. It is over six years old, and we've certainly changed how we prepare our instructions since then! There's an in-between step that has to happen and isn't described very well. Fold the strip right sides together and stitch that long seam (but not the one end). With it still wrong sides out, roll the seam to the center and press open the seam allowance. Now... stitch across the one end. Trim the corners and turn right side out. Flat tie . We'll add a note above as well. 

JustJen said:
JustJen's picture

Great tutorial!  My son is going away to summer camp and is thrilled to have such an awesome laundry bag.  Thx!  I am almost finished and I am to step where you reinforce the bottom.  I can't figure out how to lay it flat to sew  around the bottom.  What am I missing?:)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ JustJen - Does your machine have a free arm? If so, this is the perfect time to use it. Slip the bag over the free arm and it will be easy to stitch around in a circle. You'll have to kind of "crumple" up the top a little bit to get down to the end, but no worries, just press it again. If you don't have a free arm, you'll have to kind of turn the bag almost inside out in order to flatten that portion - go slowly and keep smoothing.

mj said:
mj's picture


This looks really good and I would really love to try following it, but I'm only a beginner and i don't understand the terminologies you use. I find it so much easier to follow if you video yourself making it? Is that possible? 

From a beginner☺

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ mj - Videos are not within our budget at this time. We go to extra steps to make sure our instructions are super detailed and there are plenty of good photos. There are many tutorial and project options on YouTube if you like videos.

Curious?? said:
Curious??'s picture

Will this project hold using regular lightweight fabric or is it necessary to do the mediumweight fabric?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Curious?? - We wouldn't recommend standard quilting weight cotton - such a large bag is unlikely to hold it's shape in the lightweight cotton. 

Patreeseeya said:
Patreeseeya's picture

I just finished making three of these bags-one each for whites, colors and darks. My fabric store had a sale on outdoor cotton duck and even though they were listed as dry clean only I took a chance and puchased. I used regular heavy duty cotton duck for the bottom half of each bag, also the straps and base. I highly recommend pre-washing the fabric they all shrunk quite a bit. After I ironed them all I cut out all my pieces and began assembling each of the three as I went along. I have a few changes; don't sew one end of the straps closed until you turn it inside out and iron it flat. Don't do the French seam down the side, rather use 1/2" seam allowance and press the seam and reinforce with two more lines of stitching just like you do when joining the top and bottom pieces. I recently purchased a 3-piece quilting set consisting of a rotary cutter, acrylic ruler and cutting mat and that made all the difference in cutting out all the long fabric pieces. Everything matched up perfectly!!! I may never quilt but I've used these three pieces to help do many projects! Thank you for such a great, sturdy, quality project and I do trust that these three bags will enable my daughter to haul home a month or more worth of laundry for the next 4 years!!! After the sale price and an extra 10% off coupon each bag cost me less than $12-and the smile on my kids face and the knowledge that she knows I do all this out of lovE=PRICELESS!!!

Lisa Tierney said:
Lisa Tierney's picture

Where did you get the cording?  I can't find it at any of our craft stores!

Andrea G said:
Andrea G's picture

Cool bag!  I made this for my son and had friends and family sign it with Sharpies.  I also changed the instructions for sewing the strap.  In order to put the long side seam in the center as shown, you need to sew the seam along the length first without sewing either end closed.  Next, press the strap with the seam in the center, and THEN sew one end closed and turn.

MelanieKG said:
MelanieKG's picture
I'm just learning to sew and this is a great project for beginners. It gives a lot of practice with various techniques, and if the seams aren't perfectly straight, it doesn't matter in a laundry bag.
Karen Hart said:
Karen Hart's picture
I made this today and it turned out so cute!! I did a trial run first b/c my daughter wants one with some of the cute fabric like yours is made from!! So I guess I'll be placing an order with fabric.com!! Thanks for sharing your pattern!!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Michele, the fabric we used is listed in our supplies list above. It's from our friends at fabric.com. If you click on the links in the supplies list, it will take you right to the page. Have fun!
Christie said:
Christie's picture
This is great--love the fabric and the pocket for money. Thank you!
SuziQz said:
SuziQz's picture
I've made many laundry bags over the years for graduates...but I really like this pattern best! I WILL be using this one very soon!