Making Reusable Bags from Recycled Fabrics

by 2uesday

Do you like the idea of reusable bags & do you also like the idea of using recycled fabrics to make them? If the answer is yes then this is the page to visit for styles & ideas.

I have always liked making things and sewing. I also hate waste especially if it means something going to landfill when it could be useful.

Add the two together and with the feeling that sometimes the reusable bags that are sold in supermarkets are not as nicely designed as they might be. These are the factors that made me put together a page of ideas for making your own reusable bags from materials you might already have at home.

For anyone new to making things and not confident about sewing a shopping bag is a great place to start. When you make a bag the most important part is its strength and durability. With practice sewing and design skills improve. Each bag you make will be better than the last as your sewing and experience improves your ability. Most things work like that.

Finding fabrics that are suitable.

 I wanted an alternative to the awful plastic carrier bags or even the supermarkets reusable alternatives. It did not take me long to see that this was a good way to use up materials that I did not want to throw away. You can make reusable bags from any suitable fabric which is strong and that you like. It could come from an old curtain or a scrap of upholstery fabric as well as fabrics reclaimed from clothes. If the fabric is not sturdy enough to make it  into a bag you can line it but it is best not use any fabrics that are worn thin in places.

 Good fabrics for making a simple reusable bag.

  • Cotton fabric from curtains.
  • If you want to use a dress weight sewing cotton for a shopping style bag you may need to add strength to it by lining it with a suitable fabric.
  • Cotton - twill, denim or canvas as long as they are thin enough to stitch on your sewing machine.


Simple to make.

Reusable shopping bags can be made from furnishing fabrics.
a simple to make bag
a simple to make bag
photo by 2uesday

How to Make a Bag.

Designing a Bag.

When designing your own reusable bags here is a list of things to consider.
  • Firstly it is pointless to make bags that are not strong enough.

The bags need to be able to take the strain of the weight of the shopping that you are going to place in them

  • Bag handles are often the weak point in a design. 
  • Making the handles from webbing saves the fiddly job of stitching them and then turning them through. It also means that you can make a bag from less fabric if you use webbing for the handles. You can buy webbing in cotton or nylon in lots of colors to go with your bag. You may even have some webbing from a handle that is on a bag that you no longer use.

The handles need to be strong and made of a none stretchy fabric. The design of them needs to factor in the length of handles that will be the most useful for the purpose that you will be using them for. I like a shoulder length strap on a bag that I am carrying when walking anywhere. I find short handled bags difficult to grip hold of for more than five to ten minutes when they are loaded with shopping.

  • How good are your sewing skills.

It is no good designing a complex bag and then discovering you are not sure how to put it together and sew it. Keep your first bag designs simple and easy to put together. 

  • What fabric are you going to use.

This is important because some fabrics will require you to adapt the design to make the bag stronger. For example if you use a sturdy upholstery/furnishing fabric and stitch it with a strong sewing thread and use a good quality webbing for the handles you will have a strong long lasting reusable bag. But if you want to use a pretty printed cotton and still want to load it with your shopping you will need to use some means of reinforcing the cotton fabric with a lining,backing or stiffener.  You will also need to use a different material for the handles otherwise you will need to use something to add structure and strength to them when you make them.

Make a Tote Bag.

When making a shopping bag, some of the best designs are simple and easy to make. Here is an idea for how to make an easy to sew bag.

To make the simplest style of shopping bag -

  • First decide on the size of bag you want to make.
  • Simple bags are usually either a rectangle or can be square.

You will be stitching together three of the sides and neatening the other open edge for the top. You will then make and attach the handles.

If you feel more confident cut a pattern but you can draw the design straight onto the fabric if you wish, use tailor's chalk or a pencil.  

The size you cut out will be the finished size of the bag plus the amount you are allowing for your seam allowances.

When you come to stitch the bag, you may want to stitch the seams twice to make them stronger. With each row of stitches just a small distance apart. You can neaten the cut edges of the bag with a zig-zag stitch if you wish but unless the fabric is likely to fray it is not essential. If you wish to line the bag you make up the inner and outer separately and attach them at the top edge. You can add the handles to the outside of the bag or trap them between the two layers.

Tacking may seem like a waste of time but often holding the seams and edges together with a row of tacking stitches before you stitch them on the machine can save time caused by mistakes when stitching.

Want to make a bag but cannot sew? Try this Furoshiki style bag made with no sewing just folding and knotting.

Japanese fabric folding skills can be used to make bags to carry things in, with no sewing or craft skills needed.

A quick and easy method for carrying things when you have no bag.

Make a Large Square Scarf into a Bag almost instantly with the creative and ingenious Furoshiki style.

A large square scarf from a thrift or charity shop would work well for this style of bag. You can use a square of fabric that you wish to recycle. 

Make this bag with a large square of cloth and there are no sewing skills needed it is made by simply folding and knotting the fabric.
Updated: on 12/20/2013, 2uesday
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2uesday on 08/08/2013

The best thing about these home made fabric bags is that you can make them to work perfectly for the purpose, I use heavy weight close-weave fabrics for larger shopping bags and pretty prints for book bags and to keep my craft work in.

vocal_pen on 08/08/2013

what a novel idea... instead of trashing old fabrics/ shirts and such... it could be a fun hobby craft for a rainy day.

2uesday on 02/10/2013

Thank you, I wanted to provide help with an easy and useful sewing project suitable for all ages and crafting abilities.

sheilamarie on 02/10/2013

Making these bags are a great idea and they are prettier than the ones you can buy, too. Great article, 2uesday!

2uesday on 01/16/2013

That method works too. I hate using plastic carriers now that I know how many problems they cause.

JeanBakula on 01/15/2013

That's a good trick to remember them. I try to put them right back in the trunk of my car as soon as I put my things away.

2uesday on 01/15/2013

Thanks Jean, after making and using these types of bag I now have a range of different sizes. I keep some in the car and at home I keep some near the front door so that I avoid forgetting them and do not have a to use plastic carriers.

JeanBakula on 01/15/2013

This is such a creative idea, and a good one for the environment. I have been using my own shopping bags when I shop for about 8 yrs. now. They are very inexpensive to buy at the supermarket, and surprisingly strong. But I will consider making a nice one the next time I have some material left from something else. I do keep a few better or prettier ones for stuff other than groceries.

JeanBakula on 01/15/2013

This is such a creative idea, and a good one for the environment. I have been using my own shopping bags when I shop for about 8 yrs. now. They are very inexpensive to buy at the supermarket, and surprisingly strong. But I will consider making a nice one the next time I have some material left from something else. I do keep a few better or prettier ones for stuff other than groceries.

2uesday on 12/11/2012

I have a fabric stash that is too good to let it sit there so I am always looking for ideas for sewing projects. I am reluctant to part with clothes if I still like the fabric, so this is a useful way to see them used.

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