Fabric Scrap Busting Gift Bags

Are cotton tote bags worse for the environment than plastic bags? It is a debate we have been reading this year, first published by Quartz Magazine after the results of Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food 2018 life cycle assessment were published. Taking into account the amount of earth’s resources it takes to produce cotton they argue that a plastic bag could be less impactful than a cotton one. Click here to read the full article.

One view we think is missing from the conversation is a bag made from scrap fabric. If a single use plastic bag creates litter and a cotton bag uses up valuable resources, how about making a bag from textiles that would otherwise be thrown away?

Below are the instructions to make a small tote bag, perfect to use as a gift bag and save on sparkly paper that can’t be recycled. Or keep for your own use, they work brilliantly to carry a packed lunch, water bottle and reusable coffee cup.

How to Make a Small Gift or Tote Bag

Materials required
  • Two pieces of fabric , both the size of an A3 piece of paper (apx 30 x 42cm)
  • Or sew smaller scraps of fabric together to create a bigger piece
  • Dressmaker pins
  • Polyester all sew thread
  • Fabric scissors
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Sewing machine (or come to our free class at The Create Place to use the machines there)
Instructions
  1. Lay a piece of A3 paper one one piece of the fabric (or measure with a tape measure and mark with a pen or tailoring chalk)
  2. Pin around all 4 edges then cut around the paper with fabric scissors
  3. Remove the pins and the paper
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 for the second piece of fabric
  5. Match up the two pieces of fabric, placing right sides together
  6. Pin together along one of the short edges (placing pins vertical to the edge)
  7. Sew along this edge using a 1.5cm seam allowance
  8. Zig zag or overlock the raw edge of this seam
  9. Keeping the pieces together, fold over the bottom sewn edge by 4cm.
  10. Press in place and pin
  11. Pin along the two longer sides, place pins vertical to the edge (making it easier to remove as you sew)
  12. Sew along the two long sides using a 1.5cm seam allowance, incorporating the folded edges
  13. Remove pins then zig zag or overlock the raw edges
  14. Hem the top of the bag: fold over the top edge of the fabric by 1cm, right side to wrong side, press with a hot iron
  15. Fold again by 3cm and press, then pin in place
  16. Stitch around the hem approximately 0.5cm from the hemmed edge
  17. Measure the length of straps you want (we’ve used fairly short straps). Add 3cm to this measurement
  18. Cut two pieces of fabric measuring 8cm wide x the length of the straps required
  19. Take one of the strap pieces, fold over each short edge by 1cm, right side to wrong side and press with a hot iron
  20. Fold over one of the long edges by 1cm, right side to wrong side, press with a hot iron
  21. Repeat on the other long side
  22. Fold the strap in half, wrong sides together. Press and pin in place
  23. Sew the two short edges and then the long edge together, sewing as close to the hemmed edges as possible. This can be done in one long stitch if you pivot at each corner. Click here for a YouTube video on how to pivot on a sewing machine.
  24. Repeat steps 15 to 19 for the other strap
  25. Lay the bag flat and find the centre point at the top of the opening by folding the bag in half width wise and marking the point with a pin. Lay the bag flat again.
  26. Take one short strap end and place 3cm to the right of the centre front, pin in place
  27. Take the other end of the same strap and place it 3cm from the left of the centre front point. Pin in place
  28. Turn over the bag and repeat steps 21 to 23 with the other strap
  29. At this step, decide if you want the strap ends to show on the front of the bag or place them on the inside of the bag. Either way, line up the short edge of the strap just below the line of stitching on the hem and re-pin in place
  30. Sew the straps in place by sewing in a square on the strap. Start at the point where the top edge of the bag lines up with the strap. Sew a horizontal line then pivot and sew down to the same level as the row of stitching at the hem.
  31. Pivot again and sew along the hem line. Pivot for a forth time until you reach the starting point.
  32. An optional extra: sew a criss-cross line from each corner
  33. Press the bag and it is ready to use!
Suitable Fabrics

Cotton and linen woven fabrics are the most versatile and will withstand washing. More delicate and stretch fabrics will look pretty as a gift bag and handy to store items at home.

Where to find scrap fabrics
  • Old bed sheets, quilt covers and pillow cases
  • Old tea towels or bath towels
  • Scrap fabrics left over from dress making (the blue and yellow bag is a combination of fabrics left over from 3 different dressmaking projects)
  • Piece squares of fabric together to give a quilting effect and help use up smaller pieces
  • Old clothing beyond repair
  • Pieces of fabrics left over from alterations such as taking up the hem on jeans
  • Use ribbon for the straps or lengths of hem cut from clothes with their stitching intact

The Big Swish

24 November 2019, 11am to 5pm, Islington, London

Part of the Festival of Sustainable Fashion

Clothes swishing, swapping and sustainable fashion event from Betsy’s Closet Swap Shop. Along with swishing your clothes for new, join free workshops from Fast Fashion Therapy, Sunny Jar, Talula Fashion, Art Hopper, Endless Bunting, Take It Up Wear it Out and Eco Active. Plus talks, live music and comedy. Tickets cost £3, available from EventBrite.

A fun day full of sustainable fashion ideas, takes and workshops. See full schedule below.

Ready for a Fashion Revolution?

How to get involved for Fashion Revolution Week: 22 to 28 April 2019

Monday is the start of Fashion Revolution Week. The sixth year in which the charity are encouraging us to get involved and challenge our favourite fashion brands with the question ‘Who Made My Clothes?‘. The charity was established in 2013 a year after the Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1138 garment workers in Bangladesh. Since then the charity has been campaigning globally to challenge the human and environmental consequences of the fashion industry, encouraging them to change their practices to a more transparent and circular model.

Want to learn how to be a fashion revolutionary? Choose your favourite piece of clothing. Text, email and write a letter to the brand on the label using the hashtag #whomademyclothes? – find more tips on how to approach the fashion brand effectively on Fashion Revolution’s website. Including downloadable posters and kits. Don’t give up, keep contacting the brand until you get an answer. Keep the message positive and professional. Last year Sarah took part in a three week Future Learn online course designed by Fashion Revolution and the University of Exeter to take an in-depth look of ‘who made my clothes?’. Read how she got on here.

We are excited to be taking our Fast Fashion Therapy workshop on the road for two events during Fashion Revolution Week. Pebblefest is an ethical lifestyle festival hosted by Pebble Magazine. It takes place on Saturday 27 April in London Bridge. We have two demonstrations to show how to mend clothes through darning and boro style patching. Click here to buy tickets to the event and find out all the amazing ethical brands that are taking part.

On Sunday you can find us at the Fair Fashion Fair hosted by Betsy’s Closet Swap Shop. A fun day out swishing clothes and eating food that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Tickets and more details about the swishing event found here. Our workshop has sold out but stop by in case we have had any last minute cancellations.