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Soft & Stuffable Fabric Shopping Bags: Shop Pretty

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As more and more stores up their recycling commitment (some entire cities have banned plastic bags), it's becoming pretty common to have to bring your own shopping bags. Fabric bags are the go-to alternative and widely available, particularly the heavier, structured bags. Lightweight, flexible bags that would best replace plastic can be harder to come by. Luckily, you're a clever sewing person and can make your own... with a little help from your friends at Sew4Home.

These bags are made from two layers of quilting weight cotton with just a bit of batting in the base. As the name implies, they're meant to be wonderfully soft and stuffable. 

We chose three different coordinating florals for our sample bags, alternating the fabrics to create the exterior and lining sets. We love the fresh colors, which are sure to make shopping more fun.

We traditionally recommend pre-shrinking your fabric prior to starting your project, but it's and especially good idea for this project, since the finished bags are likely to be laundered often. For our favorite tips, check out: Preshrinking: Learn the What, Why, When, and How.

Roll up or even wad up the bag to fit one or more into your purse, the glove box or your bike bag. Will it wrinkle? Yep. But it smooths out as soon as you load it up, and if you're worried about wrinkles in your shopping totes... well, we really can't help you with that!

Two layers of cotton are quite strong, and these bags can hold a lot... more than a plastic bag for sure! The single strap, which is adjustable, keeps them well-balanced and easy to carry. Load up at the grocery store and farmer's market. Or use one as the perfect lightweight tote for a lazy afternoon in the park. 

Our simple design is super fast and easy. You could whip up several in a single afternoon for yourself – or how adorable would these be as a wedding shower gift in the bride's favorite colors?! We offer a multi-part pattern download below. 

The shoulder straps knot at the top so they're easy to adjust. A shortened strap will make it easier to carry a heavy load. 

If you like this bag design, you may also like our other on-the-go shopping bag alternatives:

Foldaway Grocery Bags with Carrying Case
Rip Stop Grocery Bags with Carry Pouch
Classic Structured Grocery Bag
Insulated Shopping Tote

Each shopping bag finishes at approximately 12" wide x 6" deep x 20" tall from the small top knot to the base. The strap is adjustable with this simple knot.  

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • 1 yard EACH of  TWO 44"+ wide quilting weight cotton fabrics for the bag exterior and lining; both the exterior and the lining take a full yard - see the diagrams below for our recommended cutting plan
  • Scrap or ¼ yard of low loft batting for the base 
  • ONE package of ½" bias tape; we used Wrights Extra Wide Double Fold Bias Binding in Ivory
    NOTE: This binding is optional; we feel it creates the nicest finish, but you could also use a machine sewn finish on the base panel's visible seam allowance.
  • All purpose thread to match fabric and bias tape
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors 
  • Rotary cutter and mat
  • Tape measure
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. Download and print the FIVE pattern pieces, whiche have been bundled into ONE PDF to make the download easier.
    IMPORTANT: Each page in the pattern download is ONE 8½" x 11" sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide line on each page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale.
  2. Cut out each pattern along the solid line. Assemble the four pieces that make up the full body of the bag, aligning the guide arrows on each piece.
  3. From the fabric for the exterior, cut TWO from the assembled body pattern and ONE from the base pattern.  
  4. When cutting on the fold, to make the best use of the one yard of fabric, first place the fabric right side up and flat on your work surface with the 44-45" width along the top and bottom and the 36" length along the sides. Fold in each side about 10" toward the center. You are folding in the raw edge just enough to fit the pattern. Do not cut down the center of the fabric. 

  5. Pin and cut one piece from the right folded edge.
  6. Then pin and cut a second piece from the left folded edge. As you can see in the illustrations above and below, you will cut one with the pattern right side up, then flip the assembled pattern to cut the other.
  7. Unfold the fabric to reveal the remaining fabric at the center. Use this section to cut the one base rectangle. 

    NOTE: If you'd rather not cut on the fold, you can print TWO SETS of the pattern pieces. Assemble both sets of four, then flip one set to the wrong side and butt together the two assembled units along the center edge – the edge that would have been used to cut on the fold. As above, butt together and tape; do not overlap. Do the same for the base, but you are just working with two pieces, one right side up and one wrong side up, aligned at the center fold line. This is what we did to cut our base as shown in the illustration above.
  8. Repeat to cut TWO body pieces and ONE base piece from the lining fabric. For each bag, you should end up with two pieces for the exterior, two pieces for the lining and two pieces for the base.
  9. Use the base pattern to cut ONE from the batting. 

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Create the upper bag

  1. Place the two exterior pieces right sides together and pin along both short sides. Repeat to pin the two lining pieces right sides together. 
  2. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch each short seam (four seams total).
  3. Turn the sewn lining right side out but keep the sewn exterior wrong side out. Slip the lining inside the exterior so the two layers are now right sides together. Align the side seams and the raw edges of straps. Pin up and around both curves and straps. The straps look like two long bunny ears above the main rectangle of the bag.
  4. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the entire curving seam, starting and stopping at a side seam. Go slowly, stopping with your needle in the down position as needed to adjust position as you move around each curve.
  5. Clip and trim all the curves, both the inner curves...
  6. ... and the outer curves.

    If you are new to sewing, this is a great project to practice keeping your seam allowances even. Check out our tutorial: Sewing Smooth Curves Every Time for extra tips and techniques. 
  7. Turn the bag right side out through the open bottom. Use a long, blunt end tool, like a knitting needle, chopstick or point turner to help round out the curves. 
  8. Press the bag flat. Because you read our tutorial and did such a good job on your stitching and clipping, both the inner curves of the sides...
  9. ... and the outer curves of the top of the straps are smooth and lovely. 

Insert the base panel

  1. Pin the layers together along the raw bottom edge. You are not pining the open bottom closed; you are just pinning the lining layer to the exterior layer.
  2. Run a basting stitch around the entire bottom opening through both layers. Don't lock the seam at the beginning or end so this basting seam can also work as a gathering stitch. In this way, you can both keep the two layers secured for the final steps and can slightly gather the bag if need be to best fit against the flat base. 
  3. Layer the three pieces that make up the base. Place the lining piece wrong side up and flat on your work surface. Place the batting on top of this piece. Place the exterior panel right side up on top. This creates a classic quilt-type sandwich with the fabric wrong sides together and the batting in between the layers. 
  4. Baste around the entire base to hold the layers together. Keep your stitching close to the raw edges.
  5. Fold the base in half horizontally and vertically to find the center point of each side. Place a pin at each of these four points. 
  6. Similarly, find the center point of the open bottom of the bag. The side seams are two of the center points. Place these side seams together and flatten the bag. The outer folded edges are the opposite center points. Press to create a crease, and place a pin at each fold. Bring these pins together to double-check that, when flattened, the side seams are still exactly opposite one another. 
  7. Turn the bag lining side out. Set the base into the bottom of the bag. The base should also be lining side out. Matching the center points, pin the base to the bag, right sides together. 
  8. Match up each center point to start, then fill in all around, easing and gathering the top of the bag to fit the base. 
  9. This is very similar to how you would insert a flat circle into a tube; you simply have more of an oval than a circle. If you're new to this technique, we have a full step-by-step tutorial on the process
  10. Using a ½" seam allowance and starting at a side seam, stitch around the entire perimeter of the base. 
  11. Inserting the base in this manner results in a visible seam allowance on the inside. No worries; you're going to cover it up! 
  12. Cut a length of bias binding to fit around the entire base plus a couple inches for overlap. 
  13. Wrap the binding over the seam allowance, encasing the raw edges to give the seam allowance a finished edge inside the bag. 
  14. Leave 1" extra at the tail for an overlap. Pin in place all around. Don't be afraid to use plenty of pins. 
  15. Fold back the tail of the binding and overlap the head for a clean finish, trimming away the excess binding as needed. Pin in place. 
  16. Stitch the binding in place over the seam allowance. Remember, you are stitching only the seam allowance; don't stitch onto the main bag itself. Go slowly to insure you are catching both the front and back of the binding in the one seam.
  17. Turn the bag right side out and tie the straps together at the top with a cute little knot, adjusting for your best fit.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Leah Wand


Comments (38)

Grandma Tutu said:
Grandma Tutu's picture

I love this market bag!  Can you please tell me the maker and name of the fabric shown in the example?  I am in SC and we don't have many choices in fabric stores.  Thank you!

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

@Grandma Tutu - As with all designer fabric collections, they don't necessarily stay around forever (dang!). The original samples we made were done with the Aloha Girl collection from Fig Tree Quilts by Joanna Figueroa for Moda Fabrics. It is no longer readily available. You might be able to search online to find some cuts at Etsy or in smaller online shops. But... any quilting cotton will work - and there are so many lovely options out there, with more coming each season.  

Grandma Tutu said:
Grandma Tutu's picture

Thank you for your reply!  I found some lovely fabrics at a small local quilt shop with only slight variations to the Aloha Girl print (also a Moda fabric).  I'm on a roll now!  Next tote will be a bookbag for granddaughter's French class with a French script fabric.  Ooh, la la!  Thank you!

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

@Grandma Tutu - Whoohoo! You really on are a roll. Congrats! And... you are so welcome. Thanks for being a fantastic follower.

Mrs G said:
Mrs G's picture

I've just made this bag. Small variation: I didn't want to have a knot, so I sew close one strap only, leaving the other partially open.  Then I inserted the closed one in the open one, folded the raw edge and stitched two lines of seam. Then I have topstitched all around in order to secure the seam. I always find very difficult to use bias binding,  I missed a lot of places, but luckily it's the inside of the bag, so the extra stitches are not really visible. 

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

@Mrs. G - so glad you were able to customize the bag to make it your own! That bias binding does get easier 

Lor_etta said:
Lor_etta's picture

Turned out great! No binding so just interfaced the outer base and added bases to sides individually before sewing outer and lining together, then topstiched to seal the turning gap!

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

@Lor_etta - Sounds super innovative. We'd love to see a picture. If you follow us on social media, please post a shot or two so we can all be inspired. We're sew4home on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, and sew4home_diy on Instagram. 

Elaine Gibson said:
Elaine Gibson's picture

Just finished my first bag.  Made it with horses on it for a young granddaughter of mine.  Came out nice.  Thank you.

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

@Elaine - Oh... I bet she loves it! Thanks for letting us know about your success 

DelSur said:
DelSur's picture

I finished my first bag a couple of weeks ago as a present, and the recipient was really happy.  I was too, because it was so easy to make and the result was a beautiful bag.  I just bought fabric for two more and I will be making them this weekend.  I love the design: just super elegant!

Thank you for such a good idea.  Well, you have so may good ideas and i have so little time...

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

@DelSur - Thank you, and we're delighted to hear that not only was ONE a success but that others are already underway. We'd love to see pictures. If you follow us on social media, post a picture or two so we can all be inspired. We are Sew4Home on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter, and sew4home_diy on Instagram.

Susan Barton said:
Susan Barton's picture

Thank you for this! The instructions are so clear and I love that the pattern pieces print to actual size and we are not told to up size them on the printer. I am sifting through to find mynext project.

Susan Barton said:
Susan Barton's picture

Thank you for this! The instructions are so clear and I love that the pattern pieces print to actual size and we are not told to up size them on the printer. I am sifting through to find mynext project.

Gwen McKinley said:
Gwen McKinley's picture

found the pattern very useful for my daughter's lunch box. we love the size and openness of the bag.

Cyndi said:
Cyndi's picture

Have made 3 with 2 more cut out. I am putting pocket in them now. I used the base pattern for the pocket, put iron on interfacing in the pocket and sewed into the lining over the seam . Came out nice. They tie handles make it easy. I had made another pattern and the  handle was more complicated. 

Jo Ann D said:
Jo Ann D's picture

Just finished my first bag, great instructions, getting ready to make another one......but because I am not a fan of binding I did a French seam on the bottom.  Looks better than if I would have used binding (as in my binding skills) Thank you! 

Ell said:
Ell's picture

Could you explain how to finish the bottom of this great bag with a french seam? My binding looks very "wonky" on the two bags I've finished.

Thanks so much!

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

@Jo Ann - Excellent - the French seam on the bottom sounds like a great option.

Angie L said:
Angie L's picture

I would like to offer this bag as a class in my store...do you have printed or printable copies of the pattern that I can sell to students?

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

@ Angie L - Thank you for checking with us, but all Sew4Home patterns and instructions are copyrighted and are for personal use only. The instructions themselves and any associated patterns or pictures can not be reproduced or reprinted, which also means they cannot be re-printed as a handout for use within a class, as that would be similar to copying pages out of a book to share with an entire group.

Louise C said:
Louise C's picture

This pattern! These instructions! I just finished my first bag and was amazed at how easy it was to make such a lovely and professional looking bag. I will be making many more of them to give as gifts. 

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

@Louise C - we're happy to hear you had such great success!

Cyndi said:
Cyndi's picture

I have made 2 they are easy to make. I think they would make a great purse. I think I will put a pocket in the next one. I made one purse in 2 different fabrics. One side pink with roses and the other side black with roses. Turned out great. I plan on making more.

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

@Cyndi - Thanks! They really are pretty enough to be a purse. Thanks for passing along your success story - and your good idea!

Runningoutofhands said:
Runningoutofhands's picture

I'm making a few of these as teacher gifts :) These are great instructions - thanks! Two bags done, three in progress.

I've found my kryotonite with bias tape and curves. I'm persevering, but do you have any tips?

DelSur said:
DelSur's picture

Hi: I just finished my first bag and I am very happy with the result.  I say my first because I am planning to make more to give my friends.

Thank you for such practical and beautiful project.

Thanks again

LynnAnn said:
LynnAnn's picture

I wanted to make a few market totes for my friends bithday and this pattern, with excellent instructions, is perfect! I immediatly went to my local fabric store but they didn't have any fabric like the ones you've chosen. Could you please tell me the name/maker of these fabrics and I will try to find them on-line.  I can hardly wait to get started!

Thank you!

Louise C said:
Louise C's picture

I got some lovely floral print fabric right at my local Walmart for less than $9 for both pieces!

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

@LynnAnn - So glad to hear you love the pattern! Our sample bags were made from a collection by Fig Tree Quilts for Moda that is no longer readily available. Much like fashion, designer cotton fabric collections do come and go by season. However, there are so many gorgeous options out there, I'm sure you can find something similar. Check your independent retails in-store or online for the best selection of designer collections. FatQuarterShop has a great selection of Moda fabrics, including Fig Tree Quilts: https://www.fatquartershop.com/catalogsearch/result/index/?limit=all&q=f...

Dee Foss said:
Dee Foss's picture

Am looking forward to making a few of these. Love the patterns and detailed instructions.

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

@Dee - Thanks! We happy to hear you love the pattern. We're pretty proud of all our instructions, so thanks for the nice compliment!

Kathleen Beecher said:
Kathleen Beecher's picture

Great bag!  I didn't have a full yard of two fabrics, so I cut each piece out of a different fabric and used an old sheet for the lining.  Came out great!  Your patterns are ALWAYS so easy to read and follow and the photos show exactly what you're talking about.  I know if I follow the directions, I'll have a beautiful project at the end.  Thanks so much and keep up the good work.

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

@Kathleen - Thank you! And, thanks for letting us know how you customized yours to make the best use of your stash. We're so happy to know you've had such great success with our patterns.

Judy Bartolini said:
Judy Bartolini's picture

Thank you for these great articles.  I always learn something new!  I have saved the pdf's if you don't mind.

They are now on my wish list of things I have to tackle.  Thanks again.

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

@Judy - Thank you so much! We love that you have such a long list of great things to do! And yes, saving is ok