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Making produce bags for zero waste shopping
The product I get asked to make most are produce bags - the kind of bags that you take to zero waste shops to fill with beans and chickpeas, fruit, mushrooms, pasta.
However I'm very wary of eco awareness simply becoming another excuse to shop, produce bags becoming something to buy so that they will look pretty on Instagram perhaps, rather than a real, sustainable part of life. I'm very aware of it being an example of seeming (to be eco aware) rather than doing.
Making cloth produce bags is the perfect way to use up old cotton fabrics so I thought it would be much better to put together a tutorial than start selling them. The important qualities for a produce bag are that it should be relatively light weight, it should be possible to stand them open non a counter so that the cashier can see the contents and it should be possible to close the top for carrying home without spilling lentils all over the bus.
Any washable cotton/lightweight fabric is usable - if you have something that is already hemmed - such as a sheet - this is even better as it saves you a job. I have given instructions for hand sewing as not everyone has access to a sewing machine but obviously if you do then you can machine sew all seams instead.
Making Fabric Bags.
1. You need - cotton fabric, scissors, needle, thread, something to tie the neck (I use old hair bobbles, elastic bands, ribbon etc. also work)
2. Cut out a rectangle of fabric for your bag. I use an A4 piece of paper for the small bags for pulses etc. If I have a ready hemmed piece of fabric I put 2 pieces of A4 paper upright and next to each other with the top edges along the hem, draw around them and cut out (42 x 29 cm).
3. If you have no hem then fold over one long edge or your fabric twice (about 1/2 a centimetre each time) and iron a good crease in it. Sew the folded over bit it flat with a running stitch to make a hem.
Then fold the fabric in two, wrong sides together, right sides outwards, so it is the size of an A4 piece of paper. Start at the hemmed edge (which will be the top) and sew a running stitch close to the edge down one edge and along the bottom.
4. Trim the fabric very close to the stitching and then turn the bag inside out and flatten well. Use your hands flapping inside the bag to make sure that the seams are stretched out and not creased.
5. Carefully sew with running stitch right round the 3 sides of the bag - this technique is called French seams - and it makes the bag strong and neat with no raw edges. Make sure that your original fabric allowance is within this new seam (that is why you trim it).
6. Turn the bag the right way round. If you want to use a ribbon to tie it closed cut the ribbon to the right length, fold it in half and then stitch the fold to the bag at the correct height. This is simply so you don't lose it.
An alternative is a bit of elastic, an elastic band or a hair bobble.
Of course the main thing about bags for shopping is actually having the bags with you when you go shopping. This is why I suggest that you pack the bags and the ties into a good tote bag and either leave it in the car or packed into a handbag that you will remember to take. You can make these bags any size, but always make them taller than they are wide so that there is room to tie them shut. In your home they can be used for storing pulses, pasta, flour or shelves or the edges can be rolled down to make an attractive fruit/vegetable container.