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Make Your Own Reusable Grocery Bags

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Just when you think you're the reigning Queen of Green – reusing and recycling your way through the day, someone rains on your parade. Stories have hit the media in recent years about everyone's favorite green choice: the reusable store grocery bag. Turns out we should be washing those things after each use or they can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Problem: if you've ever tried washing the ones you often get at the market, they start to fall apart or go as limp as week-old lettuce. Great. Then, more stories pop up that show many of these same bags are coming from overseas, containing potentially unsafe levels of lead. Great x2. Time to make our own: prettier, safer, and sturdier. Reclaim your throne, Queen of Green!

You want a substantial fabric for this project, a canvas, heavy cotton duck or an outdoor fabric. We went the outdoor fabric route, which worked well and looked great. Now... we can already hear some of you screaming that outdoor fabrics are dryclean only. First, it's not nice to yell. Second, the recommendation to "dry clean only" is often listed because consumers don't/won't follow instructions carefully. Manufacturers fall back on this professional cleaning warning in an attempt to avoid problems attributed to improper care. Here's the inside scoop: these fabrics can be laundered if you closely follow a few simple rules. Use mild soap and the gentle cycle. Then, either air fluff in the dryer or simply hang to air dry. 

The other reason to go with a heavier weight fabric is for stability. The shape and structure of the bag comes from the fabric itself; there is no interfacing. This also allows it to fold flat for storage. 

If you're a fan of all kinds of shopping carryalls, we have several other grocery bag projects you may like:

Rip Stop Grocery Bags with Carry Pouch

Soft & Stuffable Fabric Shopping Bags

Farmer's Market Laminated Tote

If you want to read more about scary store bags, check out:

The bacteria article from the Denver 7 News

The lead article from the NY Times

Our bag finishes at approximately 12" wide x 14" high with 8" base and sides. 

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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  • ½ yard of 44"+ wide heavyweight fabric for the main body of the bag and the main straps; we recommend a bold printed motif
  • ¾ yard of at least 44-45" wide heavy-weight fabric for the base of the bag, bottom insert and strap accents; we recommend a solid coordinating color
  • Sturdy cardboard, plastic or similar for bag bottom insert; approximately 8" x 12"
  • All purpose thread to match fabric
  • See-through ruler
  • Yardstick or measuring tape
  • Fabric pen, pencil or chalk
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Pressing cloth if working with outdoor fabric
  • Straight pins 

Getting Started

  1. From the fabric for the main body of the bag and the main straps (the print in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 11½" high x 42" wide rectangle for the main upper exterior
    TWO 2½" x 44" strips for the handles
  2. From the fabric for the base of the bag and the strap accents (the solid in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 9" high x 42" wide rectangle for the main lower exterior
    TWO 9" x 14" rectangles for the base insert 
    TWO 2" x 44" strips for the handles
  3. On the 9" x 42" base rectangle, use your fabric pen, pencil or chalk to draw four vertical lines, measuring from the left raw edge as shown below: 5",  17", 25", and 37". These four lines represent the corner folds, and one horizontal line at the exact middle of the rectangle.
    NOTE: For this marking, as well as the handle marking below, you are working on the right side of the fabric. Make sure you are using a tool that will wipe away easily when done or vanish with exposure to the air. 
  4. On the 11½" x 42" main rectangle, use your fabric pen, pencil or chalk to draw four vertical lines for placement of the handle straps.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Create and attach the straps

  1. Find the two 2½" x 44" main strap strips.
  2. On both strips, fold back the long raw edges ½" and press. Your finished width should be 1½".
  3. Find the two 2" x 44" accent strap strips.
  4. On both strips, fold back the long raw edges ½" and press. Your finished width should be 1".
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  5. Pair up a pressed main strip with a pressed accent strip.
  6. Center the accent strip WRONG sides together with the main strip, sandwiching the folded-back raw edges in between the two pieces.
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  7. Pin in place the length of the strap.
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    NOTE: It's worth taking a little extra time to double-check with your seam gauge as you pin to make sure the accent strip stays centered. Eyeballin' it isn't as precise as you might think.
  8. Thread your machine with thread to match the main body of the bag; this should be a lighter color that will stand out nicely against the accent color on the strap.
  9. Topstitch along both sides of both straps. Your stitch line should be ⅜" from the outside folded edge (the main strap), ¼" from the inside folded edge (the accent strap).
  10. Place the finished straps on the right side of the bag body, using the lines you drew above for positioning. Place a pin and/or make a mark 2" down from the top raw edge of the bag body. This is the point at which you will pivot and turn to stitch your reinforcing box.
  11. Pin in place, aligning the raw ends of the straps with the bottom raw edge of the bag body. Also, check the handle loops to make sure they aren't twisted.
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  12. Topstitch each strap in place, very carefully following the original topstitching line on the strap; you want it too look like a single line of stitching.
  13. When you get to your 2" mark, stop, pivot, and stitch across to the opposite line of topstitching. Stop and pivot again when you get to this line, then carefully follow along the stitching down the opposite side of the strap.
  14. Reposition the bag under your needle at the horizontal stitch line of the 2"-from-the-top mark. Create a 1" box with an "X" through the center.
    Click to Enlarge
  15. Repeat to attach opposite side of the first strap, and then to attach both sides of the remaining strap.

Construct the bag

  1. Rethread your machine with thread to match the bag base in both the top and bobbin.
  2. On the 9" x 42" base piece, run a double line of topstitching approximately ½" to either side of your horizontal marked center line. As noted above, your topstitching will look better if you increase your stitch length.
  3. Place the bag body and the bag base right sides together, aligning the bottom raw edge of the bag body with the top raw edge of the bag base. Pin in place.
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  4. Stitch in place, using a ½" seam allowance. Stitch a second time to reinforce.
  5. Rethread your machine with thread to match the upper bag body in both the top and the bobbin.
  6. Because our simplified bag design does not have a lining, we created a flat felled seam to finish the raw edges of the seam allowance. To do this, press the sewn seam together and flat. Trim back the seam allowance of the bag base ONLY (the solid in our sample) to ¼". We also trimmed out the bulky strap ends so it would be easier to fold and wrap the seam.
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  7. Fold the un-trimmed bag body seam allowance (the print in our sample) over the trimmed seam allowance, matching the raw edge to the seam line. Press.
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  8. Turn this 'wrapped' seam down toward the bag base (the solid in our sample), hiding the raw edge. Press.
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  9. Edgestitch the folded-over seam allowance in place.
    NOTE: You can use a straight stitch, but we opted for a narrow zig zag stitch instead. The outdoor fabrics we used frayed easily and our flat felled seam was very narrow. We worried this important seam could weaken if the straight stitch wasn't perfect and something pulled out. A zig zag kept everything secure and it still looks cool.
  10. The photo below shows you what our finished flat felled seam looks like from both sides. If you're brand new to the technique, we have a full, step-by-step tutorial you can review
    Click to Enlarge
  11. Since you are so good at flat felled seams, lets make another. This one will be the bag's side seam. It's going to be easier because we're making a wider seam.
  12. Fold the bag in half, right sides together. The raw edges of both sides should, of course, align. Another 'line up check' is to make sure the handle loops are even with one another.
  13. Stitch together, using a 1" seam allowance. Yes, one inch.
  14. Trim back one side of the seam allowance to just over ¼".
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  15. Fold, wrap, press, and edgestitch just as you did above.
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    NOTE: We stayed with the lighter colored thread in the machine, which meant the edgestitching matched along the bag body and was a highlight seam along the bag base.
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  16. Hem the top of the bag all around with a simple double turn hem. To do this, fold back the raw edge ½", then fold again ½". Stitch in place close to the inner folded edge. This puts the reinforced top of the handle straps 1" from the hemmed top of the bag.
    Click to Enlarge
  17. Rethread your machine with thread to match the bag base in both the top and bobbin.
  18. Flatten the bag, and pin the bottom raw edges together to create the base of the bag.
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  19. Stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance.
  20. With the bag still wrong side out, the next step is to box the bottom corners of the bag to create an 8" x 12" base.
  21. To do this, using both hands, pinch and pull apart the bottom corner.
  22. As you pull, the fabric will begin to make a little peak with the corner point at the top and the seam line running down the middle of one side.
  23. Center the side seam within this triangle peak.
  24. Measure 4" from the point of the peak seam and draw a line.
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  25. Repeat to create a matching peak with the opposite corner.
  26. Stitch back and forth along the drawn lines two or three times to reinforce.
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  27. Trim back the 'ears' of the peaks to about ¼" from the seam line. Because our fabric frayed easily, we also overcast ALL the bottom seams with a zig zag stitch. The seams themselves will all be hidden beneath the bottom sleeve, so if your fabric is not prone to fraying, there is no need for this step.
    NOTE: Check out our full How to Box Corners tutorial if you are new to this technique. 
    Click to Enlarge

Create the cardboard pocket

  1. Find the two 9" x 14" pieces of base fabric.
  2. Place them right sides together, pin, and stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance, along both sides and across the bottom.
  3. Clip the corners and turn this pocket right side out.
  4. Create a simple hem along the top raw edge. To do this, fold the raw edge back ½" and press, then fold back an additional ½" and press again.
  5. Topstitch close to the folded edge.
  6. Press the pocket and slip in the cardboard (or similar). Place this insert down into the bottom of the bag to help form and stabilize the base.
    Click to Enlarge
    NOTE: The reason the insert is an open pocket is so you can easily remove the cardboard and wash both the bag and the pocket itself. You can also replace the insert if it gets wet or damaged.


Project Concept: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation: Liz Johnson


Comments (33)

Sarah Woodside said:
Sarah Woodside's picture

Hi, I really like the design of this bag but I need to make one of a different size to suit my purpose. However, I'm not really sure how to alter the dimention for the pattern and I was wondering if you could help. I need the bag to have a base of 14inches by 18inches with a height of 17/18inches. What size cut outs would I need to measure? and how big would the triangles at the bottem need to be to give the appropriate base dimentions? 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@Sarah - We're sorry, but we are unable to create revisions to our patterns or projects for size or usage variations. It's a challenge to change dimensions long-distance, especially without access to the item and/or person for whom the project is being adjusted. We would feel awful if we gave you inaccurate advice that caused your finished project to turn out less than successful. Our basic article on boxed corners might help you better understand how to figure things out:

Jennypoocheeleong said:
Jennypoocheeleong's picture

Your tutorial is fantastic, I have sewn several bags from it. Thank you for kind posting which is very detailed and precised!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ Jennypoocheeleong - That's great news! We're happy to hear you find our pattern so easy to use. If you follow us in social media, we'd love to see a picture. We are sew4home on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, and sew4home_diy on Instagram. Thanks!

Kimber'Gale said:
Kimber'Gale's picture

Liz, love the tutorial, I'm in the process of making two bags right now. A question though. In step 6 of "construct the bag" you say "Because our simplified bag design does not have a lining"  I have extra solid color heavy weight fabric and was wondering how I could use this to Line the bags. Is there another turtorial?

Thanks :)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

Kimber'Gale - Adding a lining to this particular design really is a different project, so we can't retro-fit the directions for this one, but you could check out our insulated grocery tote (listed first below), our all-weather tote (second) or our Kite Tote (third), which is just a very simple lined bag -- in addition, you can also browse the Totes and Bags category from the Project Index tab above.

Evie said:
Evie's picture

Fabulous pattern and instructions. Thank you so much for taking the time to make them available online.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ Evie - You're welcome! We're so happy to know you found all the steps so easy.

Susan Lee said:
Susan Lee's picture

We are working on converting to reusable only in our house! I absolutley love this pattern, thank you for sharing. I found a site that was selling affordable canvas material and used that. The store is called Canvas, Etc. It worked perfectly!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ Susan - So glad you are lovin' this pattern. And, glad to know that canvas was a good solution! thanks 

Pat Brown said:
Pat Brown's picture

You mentioned drawing lines on base fabric & then I don't see a mention of them again.  Can you tell me what those are for?  Thanks

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ Pat - They are used to align the straps -- Step #10 in Create and Attach the Straps. 

Princess Faiza said:
Princess Faiza's picture

 Same here. We have to pay 5p for every plastic bag we buy in EVERY supermarket, here in london. Your blog was a fantastic help! Thank you.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ Princess Faiza - Thank you! It does add up. We're glad to know our site could help you figure out an alternative!

Shaira said:
Shaira's picture

What an adorable idea! Really helped me out with the whole bacteria/ lead crisis! Keep blogging!  

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ Shaira - Thank you so much. We'd love to see a picture of your finished bags. If you follow us on Instagram (sew4home_diy) or Facebook (sew4home), post a pic so we can all share your success story. 

Darlene Anne said:
Darlene Anne's picture

I live in Ontario, Canada and almost all stores encourage you to bring your own shopping bags. Otherwise you pay 5cents per plastic bag.  I love your tutorial.  Will be making some for myself. Thankyou

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@Darlene - Paying for bags is becomming pretty common here too. Thank you for the nice comment - and let us know how your shopping bags turn out!

Niolette Mathee said:
Niolette Mathee's picture

I have used this pattern many times using home deco, denim and even shweshwe (traditional Xhosa fabric from South Africa) and they always turn out beautiful ! Love your blog !!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ Niolette - Thank you so much! And, thanks for letting us know about your success with a variety of fabrics. 

Mrs G said:
Mrs G's picture

Can I use denim? I  just need a reference for the fabric weight? And is it possible to sew the first flat felled seam a little wider? Thanks 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ Mrs G - Denim comes in lots of weights so it's hard to say for sure, but most likely it would be okay, but something more towards the heavier end of spectrum would be best. We can't guarantee everything will fit together correctly if you adjust the seam alowances. 

Cindy in NM said:
Cindy in NM's picture

Beautiful bag. Nice totorial. Another great green bag option can be found at morsbags. I make them out of recycled fabrics - my favorite one to date was a Disney shower curtain my granddaughter outgrew. The fabric doesn't have to be extra heavy, they work fine in a regular cotton. I always wash and dry the fabric normally before cutting out the bag. That way the finished bag shouldn't shrink or distort. They don't have a square bottom, but this works just fine. The bag takes on the shape of the groceries inside. This way you can fold them flat and they don't take much room. Another great option that is simple to sew. And you may want to organize a Pod and sew for the community!

L.A.Holt said:
L.A.Holt's picture

Thanks for the beautiful tutorial! I make lots of bags, and this is such a sweet design. The way you finished the bottom seams and removable insert (for washing purposes) is so practical. Had to give myself a dope-slap for not thinking of it.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@L.A. Holt - Thanks so much! HA!! We do that slap all the time -- there is so much cleverness out there!

JoAnn Mowers said:
JoAnn Mowers's picture

Really impressed with your tutorial. I am just getting back into sewing crafts with a new machine(Janome)...looking forward to making this project! I am so new to the newer sewing machines (recently retired a Montgomery Wards from the 80's...think the Smithsonian might want it !) 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@JoAnn - Thank you so much - and congrats on that new Janome :-) - I think it was time 

Christina L. said:
Christina L.'s picture

Thank you for the great tutorial. You can purchase stabilizer and acrylic specifically made for bottom inserts for bags and totes that would a better option to the cardboard suggested. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@Christina - You're so welcome - and yes! as mentioned in the supply list, there are lots of options for the base insert. But ... in the true spirit of re-use and recycle, we went with salvaged cardboard 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@Dianna - Waverly comes in lots of weights so it's hard to say for sure, but most likely it would be okay, but something more towards the canvas-y end of spectrum would be best.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@Dana376- You are so welcome! Let us know how yours turn out!