Friday, 16 November 2012

Supermarket bags ~ say NO to plastics & make your own!

~ Article updated 8th July 2015 ~
One way to reduce waste is by not getting it in the first place.  One of the easiest things NOT to get are plastic shopping bags.  Make your own!

As we all know such bags are useful for many purposes

The easiest way to get a pattern that works is to snip apart one of the plastic ones, think about what dimensions suit your purpose and draw the shape onto a handy piece of paper.  I do not copy the pleats of the plastic bags as they are unnecessary and the extra thickness would take longer to dry.  However, broad handle straps make for comfortable carrying.

I find the wrappers of A4 packs of photocopy / printing paper excellent for making pattern pieces as they are nice and strong:

A single simple pattern piece is all you need:

Cutting out:
Material can be cut either in two pieces - as per the photo above, or, from one, which reduces the construction required.  To cut in one, fold the material to double thickness and place the pattern piece with the tops of the handles of the paper pattern piece on the fold.  Pin the pattern piece in place and then cut out, being careful not to cut along the tops of the handles.
For the simplest possible construction: 
  • Zigzag stitch the edges around the top and the handles to prevent fraying before you do the side seams.  
  • If you have cut the material into two pieces stitch the tops of the handles to each other, linking the two pieces of material to each other.  If unsure as to what is meant here have a look at your plastic supermarket bag.
  • Construction is created by a single seam: down one side of the bag, along the bottom and up the other side - easy!
  • Zigzag stitch this single seam to prevent fraying.  
When using these for food storage I have the seam allowance on the outide to prevent food particles from lodging in them
When using them for carrying I prefer to have the seam on the inside as I think it looks a little smarter, but really it doesn't matter at all.

If you want your bags to be a little bit smarter and maybe last longer you could follow this slightly longer method:
  • Zigzag stitch all your 'raw' edges
  • If you have cut your bag in two pieces sew the tops of the handles to each other - in the same way that plastic supermarket bags are joined.
  • Turn over the edges of the handles and upper edges of the bag itself about a quarter of an inch (half a centimeter) and iron them flat
  • To do this at the base of the handles you will need to clip diagonally into the corners - you may wish to 'stay stitch' these corners first.  Stay stitching is to prevent tearing or fraying and is a row of small stitches made where the final stitching will go over the top of it, or in this case the fold line itself. 
  • Turn your bag piece or pieces so that the 'outside' of the bag is uppermost, and the narrow seam allowance underneath
  • Top-stitch very close to these folded and pressed edges
  • Turn the material so the the outside of the material is innermost and pin the sides of the bag together 
  • Stitch along one side seam, along the base and up the other side in a simple 'U' shape
  • Reverse it so that the right side is outermost, iron it and you're done!
You can see a little of this detail in the photograph below:

If this works for you, remember that you read about it here first, because yes, the design is original.

I have made most of my bags out of old polyester sheets - worn in the middle, but still perfectly good around the outer edges.  The excellent thing about using this durable lightweight material is that it washes like a rag, dries rapidly and requires no further fuss and care.  One big drawback of many  reusable shopping bags which are commercially available is that they are difficult or impossible to wash.  Not so with these.  I use mine once, then toss them into the wash so they are always clean and fresh.

It is a huge help to make different sizes in distinct colours as this helps you find the ones you want when you need them.  

Ideally any household needs sets of these bags in at least two different sizes: one for carry bags, and the other for fruit, vegetables and other such items.  However, as I already use plastic crates instead of carry bags my slightly smaller cloth bags are used for fruit and vegies.  

It's marvellous not to have to do battle any more with rolls of flimsy plastic bags which tear with the least stress and are difficult to wash and re-use.  And I like being able to loop one of my own bags over my arm while I fill it with apples or onions or whatever it is.  Finally, they weigh very little, so I'm quite happy for the shop assistant to put them on the scales with my produce inside them.  They may well weigh a small amount more than a plastic one, but my conscience is clear - I am not contributing those particular items to rubbish dumps. 

What about the little snap-lock plastic bags provided at the self-serve units for nuts and other such food?  I use small paper bags provided for bag-your-own coffee beans or mushrooms.  I write the name of the item and its code on it and secure the top with a couple of cunning neat folds.  You can find instructions for how to do this in my article linked to below in which photographs show this step by step.

Meanwhile, have fun making your bags, or maybe look over those few old sheets you somehow haven't managed to clear out of the linen cupboard - what luck!  Make them for yourselves, make them for friends and give them away.  Now that's a nice Christmas present - hand made and with a green theme.  What could be better!

Since making a whole swag from old sheets I've used nylon fabric to make others:

Here is the bag I made for my swimming gear:  

I purchased the material for it at 'Spotlight'.  It is called 'parker nylon' and cost $10 a metre.  One metre was enough to make three bags across the width.  I chose this bright yellow so I can easily find the bag in the back of the cupboard.  

Tip: an easy way to check the degree of waterproofing is to place the material against your lips and see if you can blow through it.  If you can't blow through it at all, it's likely to be reasonably water resistant if not actually waterproof.

Companion articles about bags and packaging can be found here:

My other articles about housekeeping and shopping can be found by clicking on the link below:

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