DIY Easy Peasy Reusable Produce Bag Tutorial

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 ūüôā Here’s an easy reusable produce bag tutorial you can try.

A Super-easy Reusable Produce Bag Tutorial

Materials

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 ūüôā

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 ūüėČ

 

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Making Textile Butterflies: Experiments, Challenges and Tutorials

I recently needed to sew a butterfly for Dare!, my Lepidoptera¬†(moths and butterfly) quilt. I’ve never made one before, and wanted to create the best one I could. It had to be pretty, three dimensional but not free-standing, and about hand-sized.

In the past, while browsing Pinterest and such (i.e.–in the many hours I’ve procrastinated in front of a computer), I’ve encountered some beautiful textile butterflies on the web. I’ve long admired the work of people like Yumi Okita,¬†for example, or Mr. Finch, both of whom make large, three-dimensional moths and butterflies. When I browsed for inspiration for my quilt, I discovered some other fabulous textile-butterfly artists, such as Laura Jacquemond¬†of Blue Terracotta, and Abigail Brown (whose fabric butterflies you can see on Pinterest, or in this blog post). Both of the latter artists make smaller, two-dimensional textile Lepidoptera, mostly for brooches.

I needed something in-between. Not quite a soft sculpture, but not a flat, two-dimensional piece, either. I needed a butterfly with presence. So I started experimenting.

For my first try, I used upholstery fabrics, since these are the fabrics I like using for most of my work, and these are also the fabrics that the rest of the quilt is made of. I also added some cottons, embroidery thread and beads. The result was rather crude:

This was too two-dimensional, and not what I was looking for. So I tried again, this second time attempting to give the wings some volume:

For this experiment ¬†I used upholstery and silk. I didn’t even try decorating this one, however. It clearly wasn’t what I had in mind. Besides, both these first attempts were small studies, much smaller than what I actually needed.

So I browsed the internet for tutorials and ideas. Turns out that there are numerous ways to make textile butterflies, and many generous people who were willing to share their techniques with the public.

There are tutorials for fabric butterflies that don’t require any sewing, like this one:¬†http://wonderfuldiy.com/wonderful-diy-beautiful-fabric-butterfly/

Some were rather simple, and might be a good place to start if you’re a beginner:

Here, for example, are two tutorials for fabric origami butterflies:

http://www.molliemakes.com/craft-2/make-fabric-origami-butterfly/

http://www.fabartdiy.com/diy-fabric-origami-butterfly/

And two tutorials for simple fabric ones:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/306878162083360262/

http://www.cucicucicoo.com/2016/04/diy-scrap-fabric-butterfly/

But none of these were helpful for my needs.

In the meantime, I also browsed the internet for pictures of real butterflies, because I wanted to find one I liked, and also wanted to see what their veins actually looked like. I settled on one, and printed it out in the actual size I needed:

Then I made a template for myself by copying the real butterfly wings on a thin, hard, clear plastic sheet (that used to be the cover of one of my daughters’ no-longer-needed notebooks). I cut one top and one bottom wing from the plastic:

Then, I kept browsing the web for more sewing ideas.

I found a few more complicated tutorials:

Like this one by Blue Terracotta: https://blueterracotta.com/blogs/news/fabric-butterfly-brooch-in-5-easy-steps

Or this one, which is rather similar, except it uses separate wings and a stuffed body: https://www.livemaster.ru/topic/438689-tekstilnaya-brosh-motylek

Both require top-stitching the wings, with a zigzag stitch.

I loosely followed a combination of both, using my own template, and mimicking the veins on my real-butterfly picture. I abandoned upholstery fabrics because they were too stiff, and went for finer textiles, such as linen and silk, instead. In between the front and back I used quilting batting, to give the wings some body. For my experiments, I picked fabrics that I didn’t actually like too much. I didn’t want to “waste” fabrics that I cared for.

The tutorials call for cutting the wings out before top stitching them. By trial and error, however, I found that for me, it worked better to stitch before cutting:

Once the wings were stitched, I carefully cut around the stitch, trying to stay as close as I could to the zigzag, without cutting into it. Once the piece is cut, you can do another round of zigzag all around, to get a more solid edge.

For the antenna, ¬†by the way, I used a wire saved from my daughter’s said notebook (did I tell you I sometimes love saving things that might, one day, be useful? Dad, this comes directly from you :-)):

This is what I got:

And the underside:

A lot better! Much closer to what I was looking for. However, it was too droopy. The wings didn’t hold:

Still not exactly what I needed. But a good way to make smaller pieces that can remain flat (for a brooch, for example).

I kept looking. I found this tutorial, which requires sewing, turning inside out and stuffing:

https://pinthemall.net/pin/55cfad3d6f105/

Again, I used my own template. The turning inside-out part turned out to be difficult. The long, narrow areas of the lower wings of my template were too narrow to turn inside out, and got stuck mid-way, no matter how hard I tried to push/pull on them. I got this:

I actually liked it. A lot. Even though the shape didn’t quite look like the butterfly I printed. It also held its wings a lot better, since the inside seam helped with the stability:

However, since I cut holes for turning inside-out in the middle of the wings, like in the tutorial, the underside looked scarred:

This method would look better if you use valor, like the tutorial does. The valor would hide the stitches.

So, for my next experiment I decided to combine both methods. For the upper wings, which I needed nice and stiff, I used the second, turning inside-out method, except that I left the opening for turning on the side of the wings instead of cutting a hole in the middle. I simply stitched the opening close by hand. For the lower wings, which I wanted long and trailing, I used the first, top-stitch zigzag method:

That fifth experiment turned out perfect, with stiff upper wings and trailing, if droopy, lower wings:

I was ready to make the real butterfly, the one I was going to put on my quilt. I was actually quite nervous when I sewed and cut it, but it turned out exactly the way I envisioned it. Here it is, perfectly lined up on top of the real-butterfly print I was working with:

And here it is finished, ready to go on the quilt:

Finished textile butterfly

I later framed a couple of my practice butterflies, and like how they turned out:

Making textile butterflies was so much fun, that I continued to play with smaller, brighter ones. I decided to make them into barrettes, but they could also be used as brooches, or put onto stakes in the garden. I’m sure you can think of other uses as well:

If you want to make your own textile butterfly, you can start by trying one of the tutorials I collected here. There are many others as well. This one, for example, looks complicated (as it requires a soldering iron), but seems to produce stunning results: http://eiloren.blogspot.com/2012/09/organza-butterfly-using-soldering-iron.html

There are many tutorials on YouTube, as well.

Textile butterflies can take a long time to make (my final one for the quilt took an entire work-day!). They require patience, attention to detail, careful workmanship and some hand-sewing. They are really fun to make though!