Cotton Shopping Bags
As more and more stores boost their recycling commitment (some entire cities have banned plastic bags), it’s becoming pretty common 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 here 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. The fresh colors are are sure to make shopping more fun. The Aloha Girl collection from Fig Tree Quilts was our original fabric. As with most designer fabric collections, they don’t necessarily stay around forever, but the options for pretty quilting cottons are endless – and they change each season!
We traditionally recommend pre-shrinking your fabric prior to starting a project, but it’s an 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 via the knot at the top, 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.
As mentioned, 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 Shop Pretty 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
- Sewing machine and standard presser foot
Fabric and Other Supplies
NOTE: Supplies shown are for ONE bag
- 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 45″+ wide low loft batting for the base
- ONE package of ½” bias tape; we used Wrights Extra Wide Double Fold Bias Binding
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 binding
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Rotary cutter and mat
- Tape measure
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
Getting Started and Pattern Download
- Download and Print: The FIVE pattern pieces, which 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.
- Cut out each pattern piece along the solid line. Assemble the four pieces that make up the full body of the bag, aligning the guide arrows on each piece.
- From the fabric for the exterior, cut TWO from the assembled body pattern ON THE FOLD and ONE from the base pattern.
- 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.
- Pin and cut one piece from the right folded edge.
- 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 wrong side up to cut the second body panel.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use the base pattern to cut ONE from the batting.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Create the upper bag
- Place the two exterior pieces right sides together and pin along both short sides. Repeat to pin the two lining pieces right sides together.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch each short seam (four seams total).
- 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.
- 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.
- Clip and trim all the curves, both the inner curves…
- … and the outer curves.
NOTE: 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.
- 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 all the curves.
- Press the bag flat. Because you read our curves tutorial and did such a good job on your stitching and clipping, both the inner curves of the sides…
- … and the outer curves of the top of the straps are smooth and lovely.
Insert the base panel
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Baste around the entire base to hold the layers together. Keep your stitching close to the raw edges.
- 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.
- Similarly, find the four center points 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 tiny 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.
- 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.
- Match up each center point to start, then fill in all around, easing and gathering the top of the bag to fit the base as needed.
- This is very similar to how you would insert any 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.
- Using a ½” seam allowance and starting at a side seam, stitch around the entire perimeter of the base.
- Inserting the base in this manner results in a visible seam allowance on the inside. No worries; you’re going to cover it up!
- Cut a length of bias binding to fit around the entire base plus a couple inches for overlap.
- Wrap the binding over the seam allowance, encasing the raw edges to give the seam allowance a finished edge inside the bag.
- Leave 1″ extra at the tail for an overlap. Pin in place all around. Don’t be afraid to use plenty of pins.
- 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.
- 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 this one seam.
- Turn the bag right side out, push the base down into position, 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
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I love these! I’ve made a number of Sew4Home patterns over the years, with the Box ‘o Chocolates heart shaped pillow being my number one fave, and I’ve made numerous of those to give as gifts. Now this bag is going to be right up there with that pillow in my faves list. I love making things to gift, and this bag is perfect. Thank you so much for sharing this tutorial! BTW… I can’t believe I somehow missed this post, seeing as I’ve been a subscriber for years! I just happened to see this in the email I received… Read more »
Hi Gina! Thank you so much. I remember those little heart pillows — super cute :-). I think you’ll these bags just as much. There are so many pretty quilting cotton options and what a great way to show off your favorite fabrics, right?!
Simply beautiful! I will be
Simply beautiful! I will be making a couple of these, one for a purse and one for a needlework bag.
@MrsTea – That sounds
@MrsTea – That sounds excellent. Make sure to post a picture on social media so we can all be inspried!