D.I.Y. and tote your stuff in eco-friendly style

Photo: www.greenlivingonline.com

Express yourself by making your own reusable bag following our easy instructions.

Why tote?
Grabbing a loaf of bread on your way home? Need something in which to carry your lunch and a book for the train ride to work? Forget your plastic or paper grocery bag of yore. These days, enviro-conscious folks are toting their purchases and essentials in bags of the eco-friendly variety.

Each year, an estimated 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide, making for exceedingly toxic landfills.

Reusable bags are all the rage
Numerous grocery and retail chains have recognized the harmful bag backlash and hopped on the green bandwagon, creating their own reusable carryalls; Loblaws, Sobey's, Costco, even The Home Depot (for items smaller than a two by four).

The style-savvy will have heard of Anya Hindmarch's über-popular "I'm Not a Plastic Bag". Launched with the best of intentions and seen on the arm of various celebrities, the British tote crossed the pond this past June and three thousand sold out from Holt Renfrew in less than an hour. There were some embarrassed fashionistas when it was revealed the bag was neither organic nor fair trade. Protest spin-offs with rude but funny slogans popped up immediately but the whole episode encouraged people to start making their own.

Do it yourself
So while fashion fads come and go, let's hope the reusable bag will not be a fading trend. As easy as it is to get your hands on one of the numerous styles out there, it is also pretty easy to make your own to suit your style. For beginners, a few straight lines on the sewing machine can create a perfectly functional tote.

Fabric ideas
In keeping with a recycling theme, take a look around the house. Is there an old pair of drapes your mom has hidden from the sixties? Maybe an apron that hasn't seen too many sauce stains? You'll already have the apron ties to make the straps.

Old skirts or jeans can be pieced together. A thick cotton pillow case or exotic cushion cover will just need a handle – consider old belts, ties and purse straps.

Carrying a carton of milk that might sweat a little on your lovely creation? Sew a liner out of an old windbreaker or rain jacket.

The bag shown here was made using a vintage Bloomcraft material from a bolt that was probably once used to create draperies or tablecloths. Scour your local vintage shops for an antique patterned treasure.

Materials needed

  • Fabric: 1.17 meters (46 inches) long
  • Fabric scissors
  • Ruler
  • Fabric pencil
  • Stitch ripper (optional)
  • Thread
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine needle
  • Sewing machine
  • Steps to tote bag bliss
    Step 1: Choose your fabric; raid your scrap bag, drawers and closets for vintage fabric or revamp-able items.

    Step 2: Wash, dry and iron fabric.

    Step 3: Measure out the dimensions of your bag. For a square bag, cut out .64 by .64 metres (25 by 25 inches) will give you a square bag. For a longer, more horizontal, cut out by .64 metres across by .38 metres long, (25 by 15 inches).

    Step 4: Fold fabric in half and cut out two equal panels of cloth. Be sure to add 1.27 centimeters (½") to each side to allow for a seam allowance.

    Step 5: To prevent fraying, right-side facing down, turn in sides .64 cm (¼ inches) on both sides, pin and sew. Or, run a zig zag stitch along the edges.

    Step 6: Fold bag in half. Turn down the top edges and fold down once and then again (about 1.27 cm or ½ to 1 inches) to create a finished top.

    Step 7: Pin sides together, right sides facing in. Sew .64 cm (¼ inch) down each side. Depending on the thickness of the fabric, you may have to hand-stitch the sides where the top edge has been folded down.

    Step 8: Place your hand in the bottom corner of the bag to create a triangle. The seam should be in the middle. Measure out from the tip of the triangle about 5.08 cm (2") to create a 10.16 cm (4-inch bottom). Pin. Sew across the bottom of the triangle two or three times to reinforce. Repeat on the other side.

    Step 9: Turn bag right-side out.


  • Old belts or ties make great handles, but to create your own, decide on a width and add .64 cm (¼ inches) for a seam allowance. With the wrong side facing up, turn over the edge, pin and sew about .64 cm (¼ inches) from the edge. Fold fabric in half, right side facing in, pin sides and top stitch .64 cm (¼ inches) from the edge.
  • Using a knitting needle, turn the handle right side out. Repeat above steps for the second handled.
  • Iron flat, with the seam in the middle on one side.
  • With the bag right side out, pin the handle ends to each side seam side down.
  • Use the presser foot of your machine as a guide to sew each side of the handle from the top edge of the bag down to where the handle ends.
  • With the bag complete, you may want to give the sides definition as has been done here. Iron to create the required lines, then use the presser foot of your machine to sew as close to the edge as possible.
  • Sign up for the Green Living Newsletter and you could win this bag filled with assorted enviro-friendly products valued over $200.

    Tara Nolan is a Toronto green crafter.