Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A FAL Tutorial: Super quick produce grocery bags

This is a tutorial to make bags for holding fruit and vegetables when shopping instead of taking yet another plastic bag. The tutorial takes longer to select the photos and write than it does to make the bag, and the second bag is even faster.

I had several goals. I wanted my bags to be lightweight so as not to add much weight (and thus cost), washable, easy to see through, easy to make and inexpensive.

I bought a bunch of this mesh fabric on sale. Depending on the number of bags you want, a yard or two is plenty but if you want to make some for family and friends and it is on sale, you can get more. You can also make these bags with fabric from your stash, in which case plan to keep the bag open until you finish at the grocery checkout. Ordinary quilting cotton will  not add much weight but if you are worried, weigh the fabric with your kitchen scale to be sure.


Cut a strip of fabric into a rectangle so that when it is folded in half it is about the size of bag you want. I made a variety of sizes and plan to pay attention to what size I really need as I shop and then make more that size. You can to cut a piece 10" x 20" or 8" x 16". Once you make one you will have a better idea of how you like the size for the next one.


The casing will hold the cord or tie for the bag and provide a finished opening edge. You don't actually need to insert a cord or tie if you don't want, I will show you some options at the end. But either way, it is nice to finish the top so it does not fray. 

This fabric is slippery and slightly stretchy. I used a zig zag stitch for all sewing and just the thread in my machine. First I folded over the edge of the top of the bag about 1" and stitched it down. Then I did the same at the other end of the top. I back stitched at the end.

Then I folded over the top of the bag about 1" (so the two already stitched ends are at either end of this fold) and zig zag stitched across the bag. 

In that photo below you can see the casing/top edge completed.


Fold the top edge of the piece over on top of itself. Do NOT sew over the casing, start below it. Stitch down the side and across the bottom of the bag. I aimed for a seam allowance about the width of my presser foot, it does not matter how wide it is. The start has a bit of a jog because of that folded in bit of the edge just under the casing. Just curve it in a bit. This fabric is slippery, your edges don't have to be perfect, it is a produce bag.

Below you can see the casing at the bottom of the photo, the stitched side at the left and the stitched bottom at the top. Turn it right side out and no one will see that the seams don't line up.


It is entirely optional to insert the cord/tie into the casing. If you want to, cut your cord or tie to be about 1.5" longer on each end than the distance around the top of the bag. In the photo below you can see how I measured that.

Attach a safety pin to the end of the cord. I used a knot to hold it. Then use the pin to inch it into the casing. If you have never done this before, I am guessing there must be a youtube video. Just push the pin into the casing, push the casing over the pin and then push the pin forward and repeat, inching it through the casing. The pin gives you a nice hard item to inch around the casing.

Once you are out the other side remove the pin. I did not have a lot of extra cord at each end so be careful to keep both ends outside of the casing until you tie them, or you will have to fish the ends out.

Tie the ends of the cord together and you are all done the bag! Make another.

Once you close the bag, there is plenty of cord to tie when you are shopping.

If you prefer to add a colourful fabric cord, cut a piece 1.25" wide and long enough to go around the bag and have at least 1.5" at each side of the bag. You can just cut a piece the length of fabric and use the resulting tie for two bags. If your chosen fabric is not long enough, sew two pieces of fabric together (they don't have to match).

Fold the fabric in half, press. Open and fold each side to the press mark and press both sides down, Then fold together and press again, just like you would press a quilt binding.

Sew down the folded fabric (four layers) to hold them together. I did not finish the ends.

Measure the length of the fabric tie, insert it in to the casing with a safety pin, inching it along.

Tie the ends together and again, you are done. Make another bag if you like.

If you think that the ties are too much bother, you don't need them. When you shop put some elastic bands in with the bags and you can add them after the produce is weighed if you prefer.

A piece of selvage also works to tie off the bag (you can also use a selvage inside the casing if you wish). Or use left over twist ties, scraps of ribbon, pretty yarn, whatever you like to close off the bag.

The bags are washable and can go in the fridge. I have not tested to see if they keep my fruits and vegetables as well as a plastic bag does in the crisper of my refrigerator, but if not, I have reusable plastic tubs that I can put the produce in. While it is a tiny step for the climate, every small step adds up - not taking 4 plastic bags a week is not taking 208 bags in a year, and I think my family might take more than 4 a week on average.

Trust me, this is a fast make.  Once you realize you can cut the bag any size, you might, like I did, cut a bunch of fabric without much measuring and leave it handy to make more bags at the beginning and end of other sewing sessions. I expect that a bundle of bags will be a nice present for family and friends.




Natasha said...

This is a great idea. I agree that it would be a good gift to give also. It's an easy way to help our environment. Happy sewing!

Marci Girl said...

What a wonderful tutorial Leanne! I'll have to make some of these myself, as you are right, every little bit adds up!

Anne / Springleaf Studios said...

Thanks for this tutorial Leanne. Just this week I quit using the plastic bags and simply bought produce without any bags at all. So many little ways we can start to cut down on our use of plastic.

Vasudha said...

Thank you for this awesome tutorial. I reuse the plastic produce bags several times before recycling but this is even better. I'll surely make some this weekend.

quiltfairy33 said...

You write the best tutorials. So practical and with thoughtful details! I've made dozens of reversible cloth napkins from another of your tutorials and will soon get started on this one. Thanks, Leanne!

Beth said...

Thanks for this!

Jacquie said...

I'm assuming that you are based in Canada or the US, but many UK supermarkets weigh and price loose produce at the checkout and so we can't avoid using a plastic bag unless we are only buying one or two of something (I am imagining the reaction of the cashier if I put 20 or so loose Brussels Sprouts on the conveyor belt) or were prepared to pay every time for the extra weight of a homemade bag. As the checkout scales are tare weighted to the supermarket's own type/size of bag, I simply reuse those rather than taking new each time.

Leanne said...

Hi Jacquie, my bags are weighing about .02 - .025 kg. I checked the Tesco prices and I'm not seeing much of your produce at more than $10/kg. So at $1/kg the bag adds 2 pence. At $10/kg the bag adds 20 pence. In Canada those would be cents, 2 cents - 20 cents. I see that as a price I can afford to support the environment but if it were a problem one could get the clerk to weigh your produce out of the bag and then rebag it. Of course reusing plastic is a great idea too.

Karen said...

This is a great idea, and, yes, well worth the few extra pennies to keep 200 bags outta the landfill!

leanne said...

They’re fabulous Leanne - I’ve made some in tulle with no ties but the mesh looks way more “upmarket” šŸ˜‚šŸ˜‚