Sew Saturday - Reversible Shopping Bag

OK, so my next resolution - to use fewer plastic bags. I read somewhere that we use 500 billion plastic bags worldwide each year. I also read the average bag will take at least 100 years to degrade, maybe more like 400-1000 years, and that even when they've degraded that they just break down into tiny pieces which might often contain harmful toxins. One site stated that nearly 90% of rubbish in the oceans is plastic and that annually it causes the deaths of around 100,000 marine animals who get tangled up, or mistake them for food.

Sounds like a good enough reason to find something else to carry the shopping home in don't you agree? In the UK supermarkets try to sell us 'bags for life', thicker plastic bags that we're supposed to remember to take back to the store and reuse. The internet tells me you have to use one of these bags at least 100 times before it gets close to reducing the carbon footprint of the bag.

OK, so I'm going to reuse the plastic bags I've already got until they fall apart and then I'll give them to the nice Ocado delivery man who'll recycle them and give me 5p for each one. I'm also going to make fabric shopping bags. I already have fabric, I can sew, perfect solution! Perhaps you'll join me and run up one or two...

You'll need:

A piece of paper to make a pattern (a sheet of newspaper will work just fine)
Sewing kit and sewing machine
Suitable fabrics and thread
Ruler and pen

I've designed this bag to be reversible so you'll need two fabrics. I raided my fabric cupboard and found a nice piece of denim and a printed piece of cotton.

First let's draft the pattern. It's easy.

Get a plastic bag out of the cupboard and see how big it is. I looked at a couple of bags as a guide and then drew a 15" square. To three sides I added an additional 2.5". This'll form a gusset when we box out the corners.

Next I marked the centre of the side without the extra 2.5" and then measured up for the handle. Mine is 8" away from the top of the bag edge and 3" wide. Using a French curve, flexi ruler or a plate, draw a smooth curve from the top of the handle to the top of the bag. This is easier to do without the enthusiastic help of a furry assistant.

Cut out the pattern piece and place on your fabric. The handle should be placed on a fold to minimise seams. If your fabric isn't big enough for this, cut it out not on a fold and then seam together. Do this for both fabrics.

Place right sides together and sew the curved edges together. You can do this on your sewing machine and zigzag the edges, or on an overlocker like me. Use a polyester thread for strength. My seam allowance is about 1/4".

Now turn the bag through the handle. It'll seem like it won't want to go through, but it will, just keep teasing it through and tell it who's boss. If you were using two quite thick fabrics, say canvas for instance, or something quilted (wouldn't that be nice) then it might be too hard to turn through. In this instance you'd need to make the strap broader, say for instance 5" rather than 3".

With the fabrics wrong side together, roll the edge between your thumb and fingers to make the seam sit neatly at the very edge. Press with an iron.

Now line up the bag right sides together and sew down the side seams, you'll be sewing down the whole edge, lining and outer in one run.

Now line up the bottom edge of the outer fabric and sew. Repeat this for the lining but leave an opening for turning through.

Line up the corners so that the seams match and sew across. This'll box out the bottom of the bag.

Turn through and topstitch the opening closed. I like to top stitch the whole seam so it looks like I mean it.

Finally, it's not essential, but it looks really nice to topstitch around the bag top/handle edges. I used a Madeira Aerofil thread in a 35wt which is perfect for topstitching.

And there you have it, a reversible, reusable shopping bag that's a lot better to look at than a plastic bag-for-life.


Use a contrast thread colour for the topstitching to make a feature of it
Team a lightweight quilting cotton with a heavier fabric like denim for a durable bag.
Make use of smaller fabric scraps by piecing them together to make a fabric large enough to cut the bag.


  1. I became very interested when you mentioned sewing scraps together and using that on one side. What a great way to scrap bust and then give them as gifts!!

  2. Thank you very much for this. Can't wait to try it.

  3. Excellent solution to the plastic bag issue. I really detest those plastic bags for so many reasons and they seem to be getting thinner which means the cat food rolls across the garage floor as I unload the car. That said, I think I would use the bag your made for a handbag. It has such a spring time look and I am tired of winter. :) Have a fabulous weekend and thanks!

  4. Loved your bag so much I made my own and posted it on my blog with a link to yours. Thanks for the inspiration, pattern, and instructions.

  5. I'll have a go at this as I love making bags but usually make a more standard tote bag for shopping but this looks great. Some people have moaned about the charge for plastic bags but I love taking and using my own, especially when i can use ones I've made. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Love this bag I've made a few now thank you Laura

  7. Superb Posting....

    Thanks for sharing the useful information and tutorial to make the shopping bags easily. I will try....

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