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DIY: Reusable Produce Bags

With Earth Day festivities gearing up for tomorrow, I thought I'd take a moment to post a short DIY tutorial on making your own reusable cloth produce bags. (Tutorial inspired by my favorite crafty mom blog, Crazy Mom Quilts. Produce bags inspired by running into my friend Laura at the grocery store while she was stuffing her produce into these.) This is my next step in the fight against the excessive use of plastic bags.

Our family has been making small environmentally minded changes in our daily lives over the past few years. We use reusable shopping bags. We've stopped buying/using Ziploc bags and plastic wrap. I'm trying to commute around town via bike more. I'm being more mindful about where the food we buy comes from and how it was produced. We more often hang our laundry on the line to dry in the spring and summer instead of just throwing it in the dryer. (Which is convenient at the moment since our dryer has decided to quit drying.) As we use up chemically cleaning products I've switched to using mostly natural cleaning solutions (which means a lot of vinegar and baking soda). I've tried to help us adopt practices that can easily become the norm while doing good for the world around us. As we fully adopt one change, I start to introduce another. With the coming of spring and summer we're gearing up for gardening, the opening of the farmers market, and an influx of fresh produce. We recently staked out a larger area to expand our own veggie garden and I've ordered a cute bamboo compost scrap pail for our kitchen. So it whipping up these cloth produce bags just made sense.

I ended up making 2 sized bags. The large is similar in size to a produce bag you'd find in the store. It's intended to fit larger items like broccoli, leaf lettuce, large bunches of grapes, etc. The other is smaller and perfect for items like tomatoes, bulk garlic, limes, avocados, etc. I used some unbleached cotton muslin I just happen to have on hand down in my fabric stash. It's inexpensive and light weight which makes it perfect for such a project. Though if you wanted to gift these bags, I could totally see them made up in a cute light colored print fabric. I've made use of the selvages in the construction for less need to finish raw edges and have based measurements and cuts on the idea of wasting as little fabric as the case of the large bag you use every bit of fabric!

Fabric required:
Larger bag (Finished size is approx. 13 inches wide X 17 inches tall): 3/4 yard of standard 42-44 in. fabric makes 2 bags
Smaller bag (Finished size is approx. 9 inches wide X 13 inches tall): 1/2 yard of standard 42-44 in. fabric makes 2 bags (With just a small strip left to throw back into your stash.)

All seam allowances are 1/4 of an inch and back stitched at each start and stop point during construction. Instructions and photos will be for the larger sized bag except where noted. (I apologize for the crappy photos. My sewing space is kinda dark...hence the dark pics.)

Start with your fabric folded selvage to selvage. (Notice my lovely job of ironing...the nice thing about this project is it doesn't to be exact so one can fudge a few things here and there.)

From the FOLD, measure in 3 inches and cut a strip. Set the strip aside as it will be used later to make the drawstrings for your bags. (For the SMALL bag, measure in 6 inches from the fold and make the same cut.)

With each rectangle created after cutting off your strip, fold in (toward the wrong side of the fabric if you are using a print or fabric with definite right and wrong sides) the 3 raw edges approximately 1/2 an inch and iron. I began with the bottom edge (that opposite the selvage) and then did the two ends.

From the selvage side, sew down each side approximately 2.5 inches. This will secure the raw edge inside the drawstring pocket created in the next step and will blend with the top stitching done later.

Fold down (again toward the wrong side of the fabric if your fabric has right and wrong sides) the selvage side of the rectangle approximately 1.25 to 1.5 inches and iron. Sew (using 1/4 inch seam allowance from the "raw" selvage edge, not the fold) to create the pocket for your drawstring. This is a pretty generous sized pocket, but I hate fighting a small allowance when I'm threading through the drawstring and again...not a project that requires great accuracy so why not make it easy on yourself later!

With your drawstring pocket made, your ready to fold (wrong side to wrong side) your rectangle, pinning to make sure all your ironed edges stay folded and lined up. Starting towards the top of the bag (where your top stitching forms the drawstring pocket) top stitch closed your two open sides. I like this option for two reasons. First I feel like it offers a bit of extra strength since your sewing through 4 layers of fabric instead of just 2. (Raw edges left inside are small and shouldn't cause too much trouble as they fray.) Second it allows one to use fun thread colors to jazz up the plainness of the muslin. I used a variegated thread in "fall" colors (red, orange, yellow, and brown). Clip any stray threads.

With the body of your bag finished, it's time to retrieve the strip you cut away earlier. Unfold the strip and iron it out flat to remove the fold crease. Cut the strip lengthwise into 1.5 inch strips. You'll use 2 strips to make the drawstring for one bag.
Sew together 2 strips to make one long 1.5 inch strip. (Do this twice so you end up with strips to make 2 separate drawstrings.) Iron the seam at this joint open for less bulk as you create the drawstring. Lay the strip on your ironing board wrong side up. (This part gets a little steamy for your fingers so be careful!) Fold each end in approximately 2 inches and iron. This will hide the raw edged inside your drawstring, giving the ends a nice finish without bulk. Fold the whole strip (wrong sides in) length wise in 1/2 and iron. Re-open your strip. You now have a crease down the middle. CAREFULLY fold each side in towards the crease and iron. Then refold down the center line and iron. (Basically making a very narrow strip of bias tape.) If you iron good with steam at this point you shouldn't need to pin. Back stitching at each end, stitch down the middle of your newly created drawstring.

Using a handy dandy safety pin, thread your drawstring through the top casing on your bag.

Viola! Project complete.

With 2 yards of muslin today I was able to whip up 4 large bags and 2 small bags in about 2.5 hours...though that included design time and snapping photos as I worked (and tending to the needs of a ornery 3-year-old), so I imagine actual work time needed was only about 1.5-2 hours to make up the 6 bags. I think these are going to be very handy and I'm excited to grab some more muslin and make a few more to give as gifts.

This project would also be great to do WITH someone else, dividing the ironing and sewing duties, which would cut down time from first cut to finished that much faster. Besides, then you can chat as you work which always makes creating that much more fun.

Happy Earth Day to us all!



amandajean said…
what a great idea! and nice tutorial. good luck with that ornery 3 year old. :)

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