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
- 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)
- 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)
- Pin around all 4 edges then cut around the paper with fabric scissors
- Remove the pins and the paper
- Repeat steps 1 to 3 for the second piece of fabric
- Match up the two pieces of fabric, placing right sides together
- Pin together along one of the short edges (placing pins vertical to the edge)
- Sew along this edge using a 1.5cm seam allowance
- Zig zag or overlock the raw edge of this seam
- Keeping the pieces together, fold over the bottom sewn edge by 4cm.
- Press in place and pin
- Pin along the two longer sides, place pins vertical to the edge (making it easier to remove as you sew)
- Sew along the two long sides using a 1.5cm seam allowance, incorporating the folded edges
- Remove pins then zig zag or overlock the raw edges
- 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
- Fold again by 3cm and press, then pin in place
- Stitch around the hem approximately 0.5cm from the hemmed edge
- Measure the length of straps you want (we’ve used fairly short straps). Add 3cm to this measurement
- Cut two pieces of fabric measuring 8cm wide x the length of the straps required
- Take one of the strap pieces, fold over each short edge by 1cm, right side to wrong side and press with a hot iron
- Fold over one of the long edges by 1cm, right side to wrong side, press with a hot iron
- Repeat on the other long side
- Fold the strap in half, wrong sides together. Press and pin in place
- 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.
- Repeat steps 15 to 19 for the other strap
- 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.
- Take one short strap end and place 3cm to the right of the centre front, pin in place
- Take the other end of the same strap and place it 3cm from the left of the centre front point. Pin in place
- Turn over the bag and repeat steps 21 to 23 with the other strap
- 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
- 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.
- Pivot again and sew along the hem line. Pivot for a forth time until you reach the starting point.
- An optional extra: sew a criss-cross line from each corner
- Press the bag and it is ready to use!
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