How to Sew Reusable Shopping Bags (Four Styles)

Four styles of DIY reusable fabric shopping bags

Want to swap your shopping habits from plastic to fabric? How about sewing your own reusable washable fabric shopping bags?  For inspiration, check out our instructions (and incremental photos) on how to make a basic reversible tote bag, an insulated grocery bag, a heavy-duty walkabout tote bag with internal pockets, and see-through mesh produce bags. The DIYs require a sewing machine (or LOTS of hand sewing) but you don’t need to be a sewing whiz (I’m not!) to make any of these bags.

Bringing Your Own Reusable Shopping Bags

Reducing Plastic Bag Use

We’re solidly on board with BYOB, but still haven’t eliminated plastic bags all-together. Check out the bonus notes at the end of the post on getting more use/re-use out of well-organised plastic bags, if you have them. In addition to random bags from guests and other sources, our council requires plastic rubbish bags, so they’ll be in our routine for the indefinite future. 

I also have yet to find a suitable alternative for plastic when packing up my homemade dog breakfasts, which are bulk prepared around five weeks worth at a time. I use skimpy bags for each breakfast (two dogs worth in each) and big sturdy reusable containers to corral them in the freezer. Ideas welcome! I’m far too space constrained for individual containers (in-fridge freezer only). I get as much efficiency as I can working in bulk (less packaging, energy use, time), so I’m ok with the current compromise.  Our pets’ environmental pawprint is part of our ongoing efforts to be a more conscious household. 

Creating the Habit of BYOB

Small changes matter. Even if you still use plastic during your main shopping trips, some reusable bags can be handy. Having a reusable bag or two that you use market shopping, running errands, strolling the high street, or at the mall means you’re still making a difference. 

If you’re like me, you’ll soon start to feel guilty when you forget your bag. Even worse, when you remember you bag but run out of space! I like the ease of rolling up a basic tote as an extra inside my heavy-duty bag or keeping a little bag inside my purse. Slowly but surely new habits take hold, and it all adds up.

DIY reusable fabric shopping bags

Don’t be Shy About BYOB

Around here, “I have my own bag” is usually met with surprise at the shops, but I’ve gotten used to it! Sometimes people are a little curious, but it’s generally positive. (Mini update: In the years since this post, NZ has banned single use plastic shopping bags. Now BYOB is the norm. Yay!)

A favourite moment was when a shop clerk complemented my bag (the heavy-duty tote). She was really surprised when I replied that I had made it myself.  A brave moment as I typically wouldn’t have shared that it was my own work. She was so complimentary checking it all over and ooohing at the pockets and the spare tote tucked inside for extra shopping. She wanted to know if I sold them (hahahaha…) and suggested I should think about it. I’m happy just sharing how-tos, but my confidence grew three sizes that day. Thanks nice shop lady!

Buy vs. DIY 

If you want to reduce your own plastic and are comfortable with sewing, I definitely recommend giving DIY a try. It’s very cost effective and easy to customise the shape, style, and size of the bag to your preferences.

If it seems too difficult or sewing is simply not in your interests, don’t sweat it. You can buy plenty of different pre-fab bags. Even just one for general shopping can make a big difference in your plastics. Local shops, handmade markets, green suppliers, and big retailers all have options. Look for something sturdy and washable (especially important if you plan to use it for edibles).

Tip: If you are planning to make multiples of a bag, make a prototype bag first to ensure you’re happy with size, shape, structure, ruggedness, comfort, etc, then you can confidently “assembly line” bulk cut and sew a whole set. Although I would recommend doing this for any type of bulk sewing project, it can be particularly helpful to make a test piece if you’re customising something to fit your body type, such as handle length.

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How to Sew a Reusable Fabric Grocery/Tote Bag

How to Sew a Reusable Fabric Grocery/Tote Bag

Supplies and Materials

To make your own tote, you will need heavy-duty washable fabric, coordinating thread, scissors (a cutter is also handy but not required), an iron and ironing board, and basic sewing equipment.  For a hard-working tote bag to carry the heavy weight of shopping and groceries, you’ll want to use a heavy fabric that can handle a load. Select materials that are fully machine washable so that you can easily keep your bags clean and hygienic for safe use.

The steps/photos shown are for a fully lined (and reversible) bag – sturdy, hard-wearing, and attractive too. To make an unlined bag, you can adapt from the same basic process below, but you will need to finish your exposed seams.

Cutting Fabrics

Prior to sewing, it is recommended that fabric(s) be washed and dried to remove any excess dye (prevent running) and pre-shrink the material. Once dry, iron flat so that it can be accurately measured and cut.

Cut fabric(s) to size. For a lined bag made from four panels (suitable for directional pattern) you will need:

  • Four identical large squares/rectangles (two for the outside, two for the inner/lining) at the desired bag size + seam allowances and extra for the top fold.
  • Two long narrow rectangular strips (standard: double the desired width, thick: quadruple the desired width) + seam allowances at the desired length plus extra to attach. 

Preparing the Layer for the Bag

Starting with one layer (inside/liner or outside) bag:

  • Place the two panels right-side-in. If your fabric is directional, ensure that both are right-side-up to the same side, which will be your top edge.
  • Sew the sides and bottom edges together at the seam allowance. Do not sew the top. Optional: Finish the raw edges (e.g. overlocking) or repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and raw edgesfor added strength.
  • Repeat for the other bag layer layer.
  • Double check to ensure equal size.
  • Iron flat if needed and trim any loose threads.

Boxing the Bottom Corners

Box all of the bottom corners to give the bag added shape. To box a corner:

  • Measure an equal distance in both directions from where the side seam meets the bottom seam and draw a square. Repeat on both sides.
  • Pull the corner into a point, seams flat (ironing recommended) so that the lines from your back/front square meet on the diagonal across the corner.
  • Sew along the diagonal line, taking care to ensure seams are held flat. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam and corner for added strength. Trim excess.
Sewing a reusable fabric shopping tote bag with boxed corners

Adding Handles and Assembling the Bag

Prepare the layers of the bag for joining:

  • Fold an even extra wide seam allowance along the top of each bag and iron to crease.
  • Inverse the outer bags to right-side-out.
  • Place the inner bag/liner wrong-side-out inside the outer, and double check that everything is equal and snug. Place aside while you prepare the handles. 

Prepare the fabric handle strips:

The handles shown are basic double layer – you can also go full quadruple or add interfacing. For simple handles as shown:

  • Fold each handle strip along the mid-line into half and iron to crease.
  • Fold a seam allowance along the edge of each handle strip, and iron to crease.
  • Sew a narrow seam along the open edge, ensuring that you capture the folded edge underneath.
  • Repeat at the same distance from the fold on the closed edge.

Assemble for sewing:

Tip: Before sewing and attaching handles, safety pin the bag and temporary handles together and check for comfort, etc. Is the width right? The length? The spacing? Adjust now and save angst later. For packing and carrying groceries, you may wish to have a nice wide handle spacing, but it is completely user-preference.

  • Remove the inner/liner from the outer and pin the handles into position on the outside (wrong side) of the liner.
  • Sew the handle to the bag using a crossed box, just below the raw edge of the folded top. You can skip this step if you wish and just secure when you sew through when joining them the top, but this method will be stronger – important for heavy groceries.
  • Place the inner/liner back inside the outer bag. Ensure that the side seams are aligned and the the folded top edges are flush. Sew together. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength.

Tip: If your inner and outer are sewn with different threads – like mine – you may have to compromise on visible stitching. You can experiment with the thread/bobbin trick (different coloured threads on each) or stitch carefully to make it work for you as an accent.

Sewing a reusable fabric shopping tote bag
DIY reusable fabric shopping bags

Want a Light Weight Tote Bag Instead?

For a lighter weight tote, check out our DIY children’s tote bags. They were made as reusable fabric gift bags, but are so versatile for many different uses.

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How to Sew an Insulated Grocery/Picnic Tote Bag

How to Sew an Insulated Grocery/Picnic Tote Bag
DIY reusable insulated fabric shopping tote bag

Making a reusable insulated fabric bag is only a touch more complicated that our basic tote, but is insulated for carrying your chilled and frozen foods.

Supplies and Materials

To make your own insulated tote, you will need heavy-duty washable fabric, coordinating thread, washable insulating batting such as Legacy insulative fleece or Insul-Bright (available at local sewing stores and online), scissors (a cutter is also handy but not required), velcro (optional), an iron and ironing board, and basic sewing equipment. 

The steps/photos shown are for a fully lined insulated bag with velcro closure – sturdy, hard-wearing, and attractive too.  You can double-layer the insulation batting or layer with standard batting if you want extra insulation or padding. If you are adamantly plastic free and dislike the idea of using a polyester-based insulation batting even in a reusable bag, you can work with a basic cotton or bamboo batting – it won’t be as good as insulation but will still be an improvement over a standard bag.  You can also leave the bag without a closure (although it helps with insulating) or adapt to use a zipper or snap closure instead, if you prefer.

Cutting Fabrics

Prior to sewing, it is recommended that fabric(s) be washed and dried to remove any excess dye (prevent running) and pre-shrink the material. Once dry, iron flat so that it can be accurately measured and cut.

Cut fabric(s) to size. For a lined bag made from two panels (suitable for plain or non-directional pattern) you will need:

  • Two identical large rectangles (one for the outside, one for the inner/lining) at the desired bag width by twice the desired height + seam allowances and extra on each end for the top fold.
  • One large rectangle of insulation batting at the desired bag width by twice the desired height + seam allowances without any extra for the top fold. Manufacturer recommendations for sewing insulated fleece batting can vary, so double check and adjust the instructions below if/as needed to suit your materials. Remember that not to iron when you are prepping (melty polyester!).
  • Two long narrow rectangular strips (standard: double the desired width, thick: quadruple the desired width) + seam allowances at the desired length plus extra to attach.

If you’re working with a directional fabric, you can use joined pieces instead of folded, as shown in the tote bag above.

Preparing the Inner Liner Layer for the Bag

  • Fold the fabric for your inner lining into half, right-side-in, and iron to crease. This crease marks the bottom centre for the finished lining. Fold width-wise and iron to crease. Divide the distance between this centre line and the inside of your seam allowance into even increments of your choice and, using this centre crease as a reference point, mark with creases and/or chalk. These will be your marker/guide lines for quilting the insulation to the lining.
  • Layer the insulation batting on the wrong side of the liner fabric, centred, without covering the allowances for the top fold. Pin at the centre line (bottom crease, the future bottom fold) and corners.
  • Sew a width-wise seam along the centre line (bottom crease, the future bottom fold).
  • Starting from this seam and working from the middle out, sew lengthwise from the centre to the edge of the fleece along each of your quilting marker/guide lines.
  • Fold the liner into half, right-side-in, along the bottom crease/seam. Sew the sides together at the seam allowance, through all layers. Do not sew the top. Recommended: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength. Place the liner aside while you prepare the outer bag.

Preparing the Outer Layer of the Bag

  • Fold the fabric for your outer bag into half, right-side-in, and iron to crease. This crease marks the bottom centre for the finished bag.
  • Sew the sides together at the seam allowance. Do not sew the top. Recommended: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength.

Boxing the Bottom Corners

Double check to ensure your bag layers equal size. If you need to amke adjustments, it is far easier to do this now, before you box the corners. Trim any loose threads.

Box all of the bottom corners to give the bag added shape. To box a corner:

  • Measure an equal distance in both directions from where the side seam meets the bottom seam and draw a square. Repeat on both sides.
  • Pull the corner into a point, seams flat (ironing recommended for fabric, but you will need to work without ironing for the insulated layer) so that the lines from your back/front square meet on the diagonal across the corner.
  • Sew along the diagonal line, taking care to ensure seams are held flat. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam and corner for added strength. Trim excess.
Sewing a reusable insulated fabric shopping tote bag

Adding Handles and Assembling the Bag

Prepare the layers of the bag for joining:

  • Fold an even extra wide seam allowance along the top of each bag. Pin the insulated lining layer but do not iron. Iron to crease the outer fabric bag layer.
  • Inverse the outer bags to right-side-out.
  • Place the inner liner wrong-side-out inside the outer, and double check that everything is equal and snug. Place aside while you prepare the handles. 

Prepare and attach the fabric handle strips:

The handles shown are basic double layer – you can also go full quadruple or add interfacing. For simple handles as shown:

  • Fold each handle strip along the mid-line into half and iron to crease.
  • Fold a seam allowance along the edge of each handle strip, and iron to crease.
  • Sew a narrow seam along the open edge, ensuring that you capture the folded edge underneath.
  • Repeat at the same distance from the fold on the closed edge.

Tip: Before sewing and attaching handles, safety pin the bag and temporary handles together and check for comfort, etc. Is the width right? The length? The spacing?

  • Remove the bag’s inner/liner from the outer. Sew (or baste, if you prefer) a seam around the top so that the fold is securely in place without pins as working over the fleece can be somewhat unwieldy.
  • Pin the handles into position on the outside (wrong side) of the liner.
  • Sew the handle to the bag using a crossed box, just below the raw edge of the folded top. You can skip this step if you wish and just secure when you sew through when joining them the top, but this method will be stronger – important for heavy groceries. You can measure and align so that the Velcro below covers your boxes, if you wish.

Adding the optional Velcro closure:

Personally, I don’t like it when Velcro goes completely to the seam of a shopping bag. I find it fights to re-close itself, which is not what I want for a grocery bag. This is why I prefer to add the Velcro after joining the sides instead of before and sewing through. In addition, I added a simple little cover flap at the corners (small strip folded to centre and hemmed at raw edges), which hides my end seams on the Velcro (yes!), but more importantly, helps keep my corners open and Velcro apart when the bag is opened for filling in the store.

  • Position your Velcro from seam to seam just below the raw edge of the folded top.
  • Sew securely into place.

Struggling with velcro and pins? You can use self-adhesive velcro or simply use double-sided tape to hold until you sew.

Assemble the inner/outer layers for final sewing:

  • Place the inner/liner back inside the outer bag. Ensure that the side seams are aligned and the the folded top edges are flush.
  • Sew together. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength.

Tip: Start a few centimeters from a side seam. Although you have measured and checked for equal sizing above, if you have a tiny mismatch (no worries – it happens to us all sometimes, especially with batting) you can make a small pleat at that side seam as you close the loop to “hide” the excess.

Sewing a reusable insulated fabric shopping tote bag
Homemade reusable insulated fabric shopping tote bag
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How to Sew a Heavy-Duty Tote (With Pockets!)

How to Sew a Heavy-Duty Tote with Pockets

This is a heavy-duty pedestrian friendly shopping (or whatever you wish) tote bag. The contrasting darker bottom helps mask any dirt and grime from laying the bag down in transit, and it does double duty for adding strength. The long straps are securely fastened and custom sized for my use, so that the bag can be shoulder carried and sits perfectly nipped under my arm whilst walking. The lining layer is interfaced for a little more structure in the bag than a basic tote and includes pockets helping to wrangle your load in some semblance of order. Last but not least, there is a detachable padded strap band in case your shoulders need a little extra help carrying all of your heavy shopping home.

Reusable heavy-duty fabric shopping tote bag with pockets

Supplies and Materials

To make your own tote, you will need heavy-duty washable fabric, interfacing, coordinating thread, scissors (a cutter is also handy but not required), an iron and ironing board, and basic sewing equipment.  

Cutting Fabrics

Prior to sewing, it is recommended that fabric(s) be washed and dried to remove any excess dye (prevent running) and pre-shrink the material. Once dry, iron flat so that it can be accurately measured and cut.

Cut fabric(s) to size. For a bag similar to the one shown, you will need:

  • Two large squares/rectangles of fabric for the outer bag at the desired bag width by twice the desired height + seam allowances and extra for the top fold-over.
  • Two large squares/rectangles of fabric for the inner/lining at the desired bag width by twice the desired height + seam allowance.
  • Two large pieces of interfacing the same size as your lining pieces.
  • Two smaller rectangles of lining fabric at the same width for your bottom accent panels. Depth is discretionary, but should be greater than the boxing square measurement to extend past the finished bottom.
  • Two smaller rectangles of lining fabric at the same width for your inside pocket panels. Depth and placement are discretionary, but must not extend into the finished bottom.
  • Two long narrow rectangular strips for straps (thick: quadruple the desired width) + seam allowances at the desired length plus extra to attach down the sides of the bag. Tip: Ensure that your handles extend below the accent panel hem but not into the (once boxed) bottom using your box square measurement plus a small allowance.

Making and Attaching the Handles:

  • Fold the top of each outer bag panel along the top fold-over allowance and iron to crease. This provides a visual cue, but you also mark if you wish. When attaching your handles, remember to stop short of this line.
  • Fold each handle strip along the mid-line into half and iron to crease. Fold each the sides in to the centre of each strip and iron to crease. The handles shown are quadruple layer, which I find ample for heavy fabric, but you can add interfacing if you wish. Sew a narrow seam along the open edge, ensuring that you capture the folded edge underneath. Repeat at the same distance from the fold on the closed edge.
  • Pin the handles into position on the outside (right side) of the bag panels, taking care to ensure that they are equally positioned, straight/square, and that the raw ends will be “hidden” beneath your bottom panels, when attached (see below). Pin to secure. Tip: Check and double check positioning before you sew.
  • Sew each handle to the bag following the existing stitch lines. Recommended: Add a crossed-box at the bottom of each strap, below the bottom panel line, and at the top just below the top fold-over line. This will reinforce the strap attachment for added durability.
Sewing straps to a reusable fabric tote bag

Preparing the Outer Bag

  • Fold and iron an even seam allowance on the top edge of both bottom accent panels.
  • Position the bottom accent panels each bag panel, with the ironed seam allowance fold under, taking care to ensure that they are equal and even, and pin to secure.
  • Sew the bottom panels into position width-wise along the folded seam allowance.
  • Sew the bag panels together, right-side-in, at the seam allowance. Do not sew the top. Recommended: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength.

Preparing the Inner Liner Layer

  • Layer interfacing to the wrong-side of each lining panel. If you are using iron-on interfacing, you can iron to secure. If you are using sew-in interfacing, you can pin the corners or temporarily baste to secure until sewing is complete.
  • Fold the fabric for your internal pockets (optional) with a double-fold top seam allowance and a single fold bottom seam allowance. Iron to crease.
  • Sew the top hem to secure. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching near the top fold if you would like to mirror the look of the bottom once attached.
  • Sew the bottom hem to secure, stitching as close as you can to the raw edge.
  • Position the pocket panels on the liner panels, taking care to ensure that they are equal and even, and pin to secure. Sew along each bottom panel as close as you can to the bottom edge, and then repeat a second row of stitching along bottom hemline.
  • Sewing from the bottom to the top, sew pocket separations into each panel, if/as you wish. I used simple thirds, for a total of six inside pockets in the finished bag. Trim edges if/as needed.
  • Sew the liner panels together, right-side-in, at the seam allowance. Do not sew the top. Recommended: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength.

Boxing the Bottom Corners to Add Shape

Double check to ensure your bag layers equal size. Trim any loose threads. Box all of the bottom corners to give the bag added shape. To box a corner:

  • Measure an equal distance in both directions from where the side seam meets the bottom seam and draw a square. Repeat on both sides.
  • Pull the corner into a point, seams flat (ironing recommended) so that the lines from your back/front square meet on the diagonal across the corner.
  • Sew along the diagonal line, taking care to ensure seams are held flat. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam and corner for added strength. Trim excess.
Sewing a reusable heavy-duty fabric shopping tote bag with pockets

Joining the Bag Layers

  • Place the inner/liner (wrong-side-out) inside the outer bag (right-side-out).
  • Ensure that the side seams are aligned, then double fold the top allowance on the outer bag and pin to secure.
  • Sew together, once row of stitching near the bottom fold and one near the top, to secure.
Sewing a reusable heavy-duty fabric shopping tote bag with pockets

Optional: Making a Padded Strap Band

To make the optional padded strap band, you will need scrap fabric (preferably the same as your handles), batting, a small piece of Velcro, and coordinating thread.

  • Cut a rectangle of fabric double the desired pad width (+ seam allowances) and roughly 2.5-3 times wider than your straps (+ seam allowances) to wrap around the handles and overlap for attachment.
  • Iron to crease a seam allowance on all sides, a centre crease for your width, and creases for your handle wrap-arounds and overlapping attachment.
  • Cut, position, and sew a scrap of Velcro for your attachment. Tip: Velcro can be tricky to pin. If you wish, you can use double sided tape to hold in place for stitching.
  • Cut a small scrap of batting to fit inside, half the width of your fabric and without seam allowances. Place batting inside, fold fabric with the ironed seams folded in, and pin to secure. Sew around all edges. Optional: To help with natural positioning for use, you can also sew a small double seam on the fold-overs.
Sewing a padded strap band for shopping tote bag straps
Reusable heavy-duty fabric shopping tote bag with pockets
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How to Sew Reusable Mesh Produce Bags

How to Sew Reusable Mesh Produce Bags

BYO bags are not (yet) common where I live. Offering up a reuseable shopping bag at the checkout is usually met with surprise and I have yet to see another reusable produce bag. Forgoing produce bags may work nicely for markets, but not so well at a grocery store. My big items (pumpkin, squash, celery…) or onsies/twosies don’t get bagged, but these reusable bags are a great compromise for multi-buys as well as corralling smaller items like beans, brussels sprouts, etc.

Desirable Features for Reusable Produce Bags

I wanted something that was convenient, washable, durable, see-through (identify without unbagging), and lightweight (minimal added cost for pay-by-weight items). Our local shops operate via name not scan for bulk produce, so the stickers are only needed to verify varieties (e.g. which of the dozen different apple options).

Sewing a reusable mesh produce bag

Fabric Options and Limitations

Options at our local fabric shop were tricky and limited. The fabric that I chose is washable, surprisingly stretch and strong, very lightweight, and sufficiently transparent to readily identify the contents as well as read stickers if needed. It’s that super strong sheer mesh fabric that is used for dress/dance/sports outfits. The downside is that it is tricky to sew, especially using basic equipment/techniques. If you don’t need to see through your bags (e.g. market shopping), you can make a custom-sized standard drawstring bag in a solid or solid-mesh (think laundry bag) fabric. 

Fraying was not a factor but the durability of seams and the drawstring sleeve (especially with heavier fruits and veggies) were concerns, so I did some mini test-bag trials. My final DIY produce bag design was a basic drawstring bag (bottom fold) with the following custom adjustments:

  • French seam sides with finished (or overlocked) edge, standard for basic sized bags, wider for large/heavy items. I didn’t yet have my serger/overlocker when I made these bags.
  • Double-layered fabric drawstring sleeve with notched openings.
  • Single string through the double opening sleeve for quick open/close.
DIY drawstring reusable mesh produce bag

Making Reusable Mesh Produce Bags

  • Cut fabric(s) to size: double desired height plus 4x allowance for drawstring, desired width plus double+ seam allowances for french seams.
  • Use a washable pen/marker to mark all seams and folds.
  • Fold the sleeve allowance into half and sew the bottom raw edge to double layer the fabric. Repeat on other side. To help with finishing tricky stretch seams, I prefer to sew the drawstring sleeve after sewing the sides.  
  • Fold the fabric into half right-side-out (the first step of making french seams), aligning the bottom edges of the top sleeve layer. Sew the sides from this point to the bottom along the first seam allowance to close both sides. 
  • Trim the side edges if/as needed close to the seam line but leave enough for strength. Inverse the bag right-side-in and sew a second seam along the sides, taking care to capture the first seam and edge material inside.  Tip: Make wider seam allowances if you plan to use these bags for heavier loads – the small additional weight is negligible and it will give you a little added strength in your mesh seams.
  • Fold a small double seam at the outer edges of your drawstring layer to notch in the corners. Too much fabric at your edges due to seam allowances? Trim just a little if/as needed and then fold.
  • Sew twice (inner edge, outer edge) from the side seam past the top to secure. Do this for all four corners.
  • Fold, pin to secure, and sew your drawstring sleeves, taking care to cover the initial raw edge of the layering seam under this folded sleeve seam.
  • Sew to reinforce the side seam joint just below the drawstring opening.
  • Overlock (or faux overlock) the outer edges of your side seams up to the intersection with your notches/sleeves but not (of course) above which would close the openings. This extra step really helps tidy up those ugly loose semi-see-through mesh French seams AND helps make things even stronger.
  • Invert the bag to right-side-out. Thread through your drawstring and enjoy! I use a single drawstring through the double sleeve so that I can tighten and loop instead of typing for quick open/close. If you are using the bags for small items, you may prefer to tie or to use a cord lock.
Homemade reusable mesh produce bag filled with heavy fruit
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Bonus: Folding Plastic Bags for Storage and Reuse

We try to minimise our household waste and rarely use plastic bags; however, we still find ourselves with occasional bags for reuse as well as (sadly) council curbside collection bags. Our household approach to storing bags used to be shoving them into a container in a messy jumble. When we moved to a council area that not only mandated the use of plastic rubbish bags for collection but issued each household with an annual supply in a loose bundle (yikes!), I decided to get things in order. I’ve been using this simple method to fold and store bags for use and reuse ever since.
Folding Plastic Bags for Easy Storage and Reuse

Folding Plastic (and Fabric) Bags for Easy Storage, Use, and Reuse

The method I use is the way we folded secret notes as kids. Who knew that naughty little skill would ever come in handy as an adult! Haha! Once folded, they’re easy to store for ready use, whether individually or together in a basket or container. No more messy jumble or tangled bags. Yay!  In addition to organisation, not scrunching the thicker style of bags helps extend their usable life.

The same folding method also works for soft fabric bags (although I prefer to pouch or roll these) for neatly tucking into your pocket, purse, glovebox, etc. to have ready if/when needed.

  • Fold the bag into strip.  
  • Starting from one end, fold the strip on a diagonal (triangle fold-over). 
  • Continue turning and folding the triangle until nearing the end of the strip. The ideal tuck is just a little shorter than the triangle so that it holds neatly in the pocket. If needed, simply fold the end back on itself to shorten before folding for the tuck.
  • Fold the end segment on a diagonal back towards the triangle.
  • Tuck the folded end into the folds of the triangle.
Folding heavy duty plastic bags for easy storage and use
Heavy duty plastic bags folded into small triangles for easy storage and use

Folding Larger Bags

If folding something long (like our curbside collection bags), I like to fold the strip back on itself before doing the triangle folds to make the folding quicker. Definitely a plus when folding a year’s worth of bags! Folding in also helps if the bag has flimsy handles or tie tabs. 

Folding plastic bags for easy storage and use

Folding Bags with Long or Looping Handles

Long handles can be folded in before the strip is folded instead, as shown with the fabric bag below. This keeps folding the triangles straightforward as well as helps to hold everything securely bundled inside the finished folded bag.

Folding lightweight fabric shopping bags for easy storage and use

Folding Lightweight Plastic Bags

Light (single-use) plastic bags are the exception to my folding These types of bags are almost non-existent here now, but if we do happen to have one, I just bunch and loop it around itself in a loose and simple overhand knot. This keeps them untangled for individual use if needed. This technique also works for salvaged bags from the packaging on items like bulk goods, bread, potatoes, etc. Make sure they’re clean and dry before folding. If we can’t avoid the packaging (best if possible), might as well get a few extra uses in before soft plastic recycling if possible.

Folding lightweight plastic bags for easy storage and use

And that’s it! Simple, yet so incredibly helpful in trying to keep things tidy around the house and make sure that we get as much use as possible out of any bags. We use fabric or paper bags most of the time, but for the exceptions, a little effort in folding makes storage, use, and reuse so much easier.



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