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How to Make Cloth Bags for Zero Waste Shopping

November 20, 2015

Today we have a guest post from the wonderful Zero Waste Chef, Anne Marie Bonneau, showing us just how easy it is to whip up some homemade cloth bags, for Zero Waste food shopping!

I try my best to run a zero-waste kitchen. In pursuit of this quest, my most successful strategies have been:

•    Shopping at the farmer’s market
•    Shopping at the bulk bins
•    Using cloth produce and bulk bags for shopping

These three tips assume you cook everything from scratch. Let’s call that the supreme tip.
If you grow your own food and raise your own livestock (as many of you do), I bow at your feet.
I’m a huge proponent of plastic bag bans but these bans don’t address the amount of trash generated from plastic produce bags that many shoppers stuff into their reusable shopping bags.
If you’ve grown accustomed to shopping with reusable bags, you’ll easily adjust to bringing along cloth produce bags. I keep mine tucked inside my shopping bags so I’ll always have them with me at the market or store.
I have made lots of these (I probably own 25 and have given away at least 100), so I won’t run out when some wind up in the laundry.
You can make these bags from new fabric, from old sheets, or—and these ones practically make themselves—old pillow cases. Drawstrings do come in handy, but I’ve found that the casings can wear out and the simple bags I make, which mimic the size and shape of standard plastic produce bags, work well and last for years. (Plus they are easy and I’m a bit lazy.)
You could also embroider the bags with “pears,” “peaches,” “potatoes” or any other items you’ll put inside (including food that does not start with the letter “p”).
The bin number of the bulk bins you hit regularly could also come in handy, but beware—the store might just change the bin number for pine nuts to the bin number for sunflower seeds.
I use the store-provided twist ties to close up my bags and to note the bin number, so I do bring home minimal waste. Occasionally, I have brought old twist ties to the store to reuse.

Zero Waste bags -P

To make both types of bags—those made from a large swath of fabric and those made from pillow cases—I use my serger (overlocker), which takes no time, but you can easily and quickly make them on a standard machine.

Directions for Bags from Repurposed Pillow Cases  

1.     Cut a pillow case into four relatively equal parts.
As you can see from the picture, I didn’t quite do this evenly and wound up with different sizes. That’s fine. I’m not sewing my daughter’s prom dress here.


2.     For the bags with the finished hem (left in the above pic), sew across the open side and the bottom.
For the bags with the finished bottom (right in the above pic), either serge the top to finish it and sew the open side shut, or sew the open side shut and then hem the top edge.

3.     The finished edge of this pillow case had a very thick border with piping, making the two bags on the left a little heavy. This is fine unless you buy very expensive vanilla beans (which I learned as the cashier rang mine up). You’ll pay for the weight of the bag and at $149/pound, that can cost several dollars.
But for apples, potatoes, tomatoes and so on, even the heavier bags work well. The lighter the better though. In an ideal world, I would have let the hem out of these two bags, trimmed off some of the fabric and finished the edge with my serger.

Directions for Bags from New Cloth (or Repurposed Sheets)  

  
Each finished bag measures about 11″ x 17″.

1.     Cut out a template approximately 23” x 17.5” if you plan on making several bags (I made 10 for this post). This just makes cutting easier. I used an old sheet for this.
Or just cut out your first bag and use that as your template.

 

2.     Lay out the washed, dried and ironed fabric in such as way that you get the optimal number of bags out of it.
Below are my 10 bags cut out.

3.     Serge across the top of each bag to finish the edge.
If you use a regular sewing machine, you can use a zigzag edge. I would skip this part and make a hem to finish the top edge as the last step (or make casing for a drawstring).
Below are all the bags with their finished top edges.


4.     Fold the rectangle lengthwise, right sides together. If your OCD surpasses even mine, iron and pin the bag before sewing it up.

5.     Starting at the bottom corner beside the fold, sew the bottom edge, turn and sew up to the top.
Lift up the presser foot, flip the fabric over and sew back down halfway. This keeps the serger threads tucked inside the bag where you can’t see them (after you turn the bag inside out).

6.     Turn the bag inside out and iron if desired.  

That’s it! Happy zero-waste shopping!

Thanks so much Anne Marie, this is awesome!
You can find out more tips and inspiration for Zero Waste living and cooking, over at Anne Marie’s blog, The Zero Waste Chef, of follow her on Twitter @ZeroWasteChef.

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