I’m sure you’ve seen the horrifying pictures of plastic waste accumulating in rivers and oceans, suffocating wildlife and damaging the environment. I’ve been haunted by these images for a long time. Over the last several years I’ve been gradually changing my family’s habits to reduce waste. One of the first things I sewed when I started upcycling fabrics was reusable shopping totes for myself. I later made one for my husband as well. We’re still using them, more than three years later, multiple times a week. I’m estimating that so far we saved at least 462 plastic/paper bags, probably closer to twice that or more.
We’re still far from perfect, though. About 90% of our weekly trash comes from plastic food wrappings of all sorts. A portion of that is plastic produce bags. Many companies now strive to develop plastic-like materials that bio-degrade, compost or feed the fish. I love reading about such efforts, and hope that bags such as these will become widely available soon. As long as they are not, however, reusable cloth produce bags are a great solution to the plastic-bag problem. This week I finally found the time to sew some for my family!
The good news is that cloth bags are really easy to make! You don’t even have to have any sewing skills 🙂 Here’s an easy reusable produce bag tutorial you can try.
A Super-easy Reusable Produce Bag Tutorial
It doesn’t take much to make reusable produce bags. Fabric, cord and thread is all you need.
Note on fabric: since produce is usually weighed to determine cost, you want to use the lightest fabric you can find. To make it easy for the cashier to see what’s inside, you should look for sheer/transparent fabric. Don’t run to JoAnn’s yet, however! Remember that many resources go into producing new fabric, and therefore it’s a million times more eco-friendly to use pre-loved textiles. Look around your house to see if you already have something suitable. An old curtain, a table cloth, or even a worn shirt can be just right. If you don’t have anything suitable at hand, the closest thrift store will surely have something.
As for cord, use something sturdy yet lightweight. Even an old shoe lace would suffice!
How to Make Your Reusable Produce Bag
You can make the bag any size you want. You might even want different-sized bags for different kinds of produce!
Begin by cutting a rectangle that is twice as wide as you want your final bag to be. If you prefer, you can cut two rectangles, each about half an inch bigger in each direction than the final size you strive for.
If you have two rectangles, start by connecting them. Put them right sides together (facing in), and sew a straight line length-wise on the wrong side.
It’s easier (and a lot faster!) if you have a sewing machine, but if you don’t, hand-sewing works, too.
Note: since lightweight, sheer fabric can be delicate, I like to use a zigzag stitch.
Fold the cord in two, so that it’s a bit longer than the width of your bag, and cut:
Place the cord about an inch below the top-most part of your fabric, width-wise, and fold the top over the cord. Since your bag has to be functional rather than pretty, feel free to eyeball this rather than measuring exactly.
Tip: use a clip or a pin to hold the edge of the cord peeking outside the fold, as it will be harder to get it through after you sew!
Now zigzag along the bottom part of the edge you just folded, leaving plenty of room for the cord to move inside. Make sure not to sew the cord itself 🙂
When done, catch the other end of the cord with a clip or pin, so that it doesn’t slip through:
Fold your cloth right sides together. Make sure the top edges meet:
Now you can start sewing the open side and bottom. Begin stitching where the folded part ends–as marked in yellow in the below picture (make sure to leave the “tunnel” you just made for the cord open, so that you can easily pull it out later):
Zigzag along the side and bottom:
Note: Go back and forth with the stitch at the beginning and end of each line, and around the corners. This will reinforce these high-stress areas and ensure that your bag lasts longer.
Tie the two sides of the cord in a knot.
Pull the cord so that it’s evenly distributed:
Now turn your bag inside out. CONGRATULATIONS! It’s all done!
Take your new produce bags whenever you go to the supermarket or farmer’s market. You can wash them as often as you want. They should help shrink the volume of your garbage.
Oh, and if you’d like to put your produce bags inside a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, handcrafted market tote that is also entirely sustainable, I have some available in my Etsy shop 😉
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