Sewing: Xmas bags

My friend Ocean was wondering how to deal with the question of wrapping paper, ribbons and the accouterments of Christmas/Solstice/Winter Giftmas in a way that’s sustainable and functional and intentional.  My solution/theory was to make bags and wrappers out of fabric, either in the form of large napkins with some sort of built-in tie, or bags that could double as purses.

Not willing to let a good idea go to waste, I immediately found some examples of how to turn Fat Quarters into bags; I’ve already published on one possible design, which is itself based on another design I borrowed from someone else.

There are functional limits to how large a bag or wrapper you can make with a fat quarter, of course. Nothing can be larger than 1/4 of a square yard, or about 18″ x 22″.  If you want to line the bag (and you should (to prevent peeking!), you need more fabric to enclose a smaller present.  The typical roll of wrapping paper is 10,800 square inches, apparently, or about 30″ x 10′ (that’s thirty inches by ten feet).  A yard of cloth (which is typically 45″ wide) is around 1,620 square inches, or about 6 2/3 yards.  Just as you lose portions of a roll of wrapping paper — this scrap is too small; that scrap is too big, but if I cut out this piece for this present, then I can’t wrap these two as well —  so in the same way do you lose scraps of fabric to the project of wrapping.

The advantage, if there is one, is that these bags will last considerably longer than the average wrapping paper, which only has to conceal an object for 22 days and counting (less for Hanukkah or Solstice).  These bags are more labor-intensive, but the chances are that your family (if they’re attentive to not losing the bags in the long-term, and store them faithfully from December to December) will still be using them when your grandchildren are giving presents to your great-grandchildren.  Or, your friends will use them five or six times this year, as gifts get gifted and refitted down the line… and then they will wind up in the miserly curmudgeon’s basement, the fellow who neither gives presents nor can reliably refused one.  And there these bags will remain until house fire or burial claims them.

That may not be ideal.

All the same, I’ve managed to produce some nice little bags for nice little presents.  I have to figure out a design that will comfortably hold one or two wine bottles with handles, of course.   I’ve also figured out a couple of designs that make adequate use of directional fabrics, like these two sweet “chickadees in the snow” print bags lined in a Christmas red.

The closures leave something to be desired, though.  I was trying to do some thing resembling a wrap-around tie. But it doesn’t work.  Back to the drawing board, although these will do in a pinch for this year. The ones with handles are still the best.

I think the trick, as always, is quantity rather than quality.  It’s not cost-effective to get perfectionist on these bags.  It’s also a complicated thing to pay too much attention to “matching fabrics” for a great purse or a great shoulder bag.  Ideally, the bag should be reversible — Christmas trucks collecting fir trees on one side, festive red on the outside; or royal blue on one side, and pale gray snowflakes o the other.  If the bag is made/kept reversible in some fashion, they’re more likely to see use from year to year, rarely getting boring.

Some thoughts to be thinking about.

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  1. Great idea with the fabric gift bags. Everyone in my family knows that I reuse the regular paper gifts bags over and over and they expect it. I also know the family members that (gasp) actually throw away good gift bags and I ask if I can have them. Hmmmm maybe it is time to go with the fabric bags. I may be getting a negative reputation. 🙂

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