Sewing: grocery bags

Ten grocery bags later, and I can say that I really enjoy the process of making reusable grocery bags from a yard of fabric: ideally a half-yard from two different fabrics, of course, so that the reversible lining provides a contrast and the bag can be turned inside-out for a different look.

The pattern is simple. The shell and the lining are each composed of two 18″x18″ squares, and the two handle pieces (one of shell and one of lining) are each 3 1/2″ (3.5″) by 18″ long.

  1. Sew (shell-to-shell and lining-to-lining) two 18×18″ panels along three sides, with the right sides of fabric together.
  2. Sew the two pieces of handle (lining to shell, lining to shell) to each other, right sides together, along three sides. Turn right-side out and press/iron.
  3. Turn lining right side out, and place inside shell, so right-sides of fabric touch. Pin handles in place along long sides.
  4. Sew 1/2″ in from the edge of lining/shell, catching handles in seam, EXCEPT for the space between the insides of two handles. Turn through opening.
  5. Top stitch along the top, again catching the four ends of the two handles in the seam.

Don’t understand the directions? This is part of the reason why sewing has been so mystifying for so long. My friend Eric Arneson has called it floppy inside-out geometry, and it is — making bags, making pouches, making purses and wallets and coats and blouses and blazers involves steps that are remarkably simple once you’ve mastered cutting and pressing and turning (and most of these involve incredibly simple tools). But most of these steps are best learned and understood under the guidance of a teacher; whether by YouTube or in-person, it’s quite easy to learn to sew from someone else, and difficult to learn to sew alone.

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