In the 2016 election California voters decided to ban plastic bags at the grocery store. Quite quickly local grocery stores began providing much sturdier bags that are reusable and compostable and dum-dum dum: 10 cents each. They are also loud and crinkly, and not very cute to have to carry around. We have a large family to provide for so we were suddenly buying a LOT of these bags.
For years I’ve been saying we should use reusable bags but I never did, mostly because I am busy doing what I want and not being inconvenienced. It’s the sad truth. So I’m glad they passed the law, because what did I do? Start making and using reusable bags. And it was a fun project! And they are cool. People seem to love them. My husband at least really likes using them. It took a push, but here I am doing what I should have done all along.
The first thing I did when the law passed was pull up Pinterest, my absolute favorite place to look for sewing ideas. I searched “reusable grocery bags” and quite quickly found several free patterns to try. When I had decided on a few patterns I hit up the Black Friday Sale at JoAnn’s for 75% off fabric, because fabric these days is stupid expensive. I picked out some materials I just loved, which always makes sewing more enjoyable.
I made this bag first: Pleated Tote- Free Sewing Tutorial
The tutorial is easy to read. You will have to make your own pattern given their dimensions, I used craft paper to make mine. The finished bag is spacious and cute. I made a mistake making mine by using very old and too-stiff interfacing. It did not damage the integrity of the bag, but I feel that if I carry bulky items it will wrinkle the bag. I do not suggest making my mistakes ever. I like the bag enough though that I bought new, lighter interfacing so I could make myself another.
And then I made a bazillion of these: Tutorial: Fat Quarter Reusable Grocery Bag with free pattern
This is a really nice tutorial complete with a free pattern that you can print easily on your home printer, easy-to-understand instructions, and lots of pictures. The sewing techniques are basic and you can put a bag completely together in under two hours. Maybe others are faster than me but I get hungry and have to pee or take the dogs out, so never trust my estimations if you are a pretty focused, efficient person.
I did not at all use fat quarters to make this bag. I started out making these bags with flannel that I had bought at Joann’s 75% off doorbuster event, and they are cool. But they are bulky when you roll them up between uses and pick up animal hair and stuff easier than cotton. We have pets galore so I prefer cotton for this project.
I bought some fabrics I perceived as “manly” to make reusable grocery bags for the manly men in my life for Christmas. The men around me are the grocery shoppers of the family and had been griping constantly about having to pay for bags. I picked an Army motif for my dad, and zombies for my husband and guy friends. These turned out so fun. The guys are telling me that they get asked about their bags, or complimented on their bags every time they use them.
I liked this project enough that I ended up making these bags in numerous color/pattern combinations for all of my loved ones. I made dozens. I made eight just for my husband. For real. And then after Christmas, when my husband began really using his bags, he asked that I make another full set of eight bags to keep in my car, after the first time he used my car to shop and didn’t have any of his bags because he forgot them in his car.
I’m so sick of making them now. Thankfully, I finished the last one yesterday. I’ve received a few requests to make more, have had people ask after a price for a set. I regretfully admit that it doesn’t make sense to sell these bags. When you add up materials, even purchased at a steep discount, and factor in the two hours you spend making this bag, you’d have to charge at minimum $25 per bag to make minimum wage. Nah. Who is going to pay that? I wouldn’t.
I made mine for probably about $4 per bag, which means they should pay for themselves in 40 uses. They are really sturdy so I believe they will give me at least 120 uses. If so, each bag will save us $8 over time and will keep 120 bags out of landfills. And they are snazzy. And I learned a new technique- french seams! Don’t worry, it’s easy.
Project time: approximately 2 hours if you take breaks and are slow like me
Project materials: I’ll let you check out the tutorial for those, but I made 6 bags in each color combination with 4yds of the main pattern and 2 yards for the linings.
Thoughts: Cotton makes a sleeker bag, but many sturdy fabrics would work for this project so it’s perfect for destashing old fabric. I also used flannel to make these bags and they are fine. I think it would be cool to put together a little carrying case to hold four bags, to keep them nice and squared away between uses- if I ever do that I’ll hook ya’ll up with a pattern.
Product review: we’ve put everything in these bags now and they hold up great. We put four bottles of champagne in one on NYE and it was comfortable to carry and plenty sturdy. The first time or two you use them you may struggle just a tad to fold them back up properly- I made sure to show my friends how to do it so they wouldn’t get too frustrated. I like to keep one rolled up nicely in my purse for impulse purchases. The cotton bags are sleek enough that you could probably fit several in your purse if you carry a bigger bag than me. I’ve always preferred a small purse.