Fabric Bags Tutorial (Originally published 12/19/2011)

Wrapping season is upon us! Run for the hills!

Or, if you’re like me, instead of buying more wrapping paper (killing trees, creating more waste, etc.), you can look to your favorite hobby, and fondle some fabric!

For the last couple of years, I’ve made fabric bags to wrap all our presents in. There are several ways to make them, and today, I’d like to show you the latest method I’ve come up with. It’s a drawstring bag, with a flat bottom and a ruffle. I think it makes a very cute bag! I’m lazy…I make it once, and use it again and again!

I usually tend to kind of wing it, but I decided to take measurements, just to make sure they worked out correctly because I know some people simply can’t handle winging it.

Step 1. How big a piece of fabric do I need?

Start out with the box that you want to wrap.

First, measure the box, both around the sides (S), and around from top to bottom (T). Write those measurements down. The measurements don’t have to be really precise. You can round up to the next inch, and it won’t affect much. Or you can be as precise as you want, and deal with the math in a few minutes.

Now for the math. You need at least one side seam, plus a little ease, so that you can get the box into the bag. I tend to be generous, so Side+2″ for one direction. I’ll try to come back later and add direction for a two seam bag.

The fabric will need to go from the middle of the top of the box, completely around the box. Now since you’re going to be using TWO sides of the bag to cover from bottom to top, you’ll take that measurement and cut it in half (top/2). Don’t forget a seam at the bottom (+1″). In addition, it needs about two times the size of what ever ribbon you’ll be using as ties. I used 1/4″ ribbon I had sitting around, but I don’t like to go less than 1″ on the drawstring, for looks and usability, so I added 2″ (+2″). Plus twice a nice ruffle on the top. The bigger the box, the bigger the ruffle needs to be to look good. I thought a 4″ ruffle would look good (+4″) And, you’ll need that ease as well, plus some to finish the edge…about 2″ again. So (Top/2)+1″(seam)+(2xribbon width)+(ruffle height)+2″(ease+top edge finish).

As you can barely make out in the picture above, my box was 31″ around (S) by 23″ top to bottom (T). So my formula was 23″+2″=25″, and (23″/2)+1″+2″+4″+2″=20.5″. So I needed a piece of fabric that was 23″x20.5″.

To check, you can lay out the fabric, and fold the fabric around it, to make sure you haven’t missed any thing. I found a piece that was a bit bigger in both directions, and just used that

Step 2. Cut the fabric.

Step 3. Sew the basic bag.

Here, you’re going to use what ever sewing method works for you, to sew the basic bag shape. If you measured like I did, you will need to sew a bottom seam and a side seam. I have a serger, so I used that. But you can just as easily use your regular sewing machine, and either go back and either pink or zig-zag the edges.

Step 4. Finish top edge.

I used my serger to do a narrow rolled hem. You can do the same on either a serger, or your regular sewing machine, or fold down a narrow 1/4″ hem (fold twice, pressing, for best results) and sew it down. Your choice.

Step 5. Pin the casing.

Remember how tall you wanted the ruffle, and how you were going to use twice how wide your ribbon was? Add those together, and fold over that much of a cuff, wrong sides together. Since my ruffle is 4″ and I said 1″ minimum for ribbon, I measured down 6″ (i.e. 4″ + 2×1″).

Mark it if you want to, or just pin as you go. I placed my pins near the folded edge. Make sure you only pin through two layers of fabric, not four! I just lifted the fabric to either side of my ruler, and pinned it. Like I said, I kind of wing it. If you’re making a wide bag, slide the ruler down, and repeat as necessary.

Flip it over, and do the same thing to the other side.

Then flatten the sides, so you can pin the side seam. Now the only tricky part here is the side seam. You want to try and make sure that the seam doesn’t twist…and mine ALWAYS want to. So open up the cuff till you can see the seam and make sure it’s not twisted before pinning it.

Step 6. Sew first casing seam.

Now that you have it pinned, you can sew the first seam of the casing. How wide was your ribbon? Make your seam about 1/4″ wider than that, so that your ribbon will fit, even after you finish the casing.

My ribbon was only 1/4″, so 1″ works fine for my bag. You want to reinforce stitch across the side seam, so when you sew past it, reverse back across it and continue sewing. Or if you forget (like I kept doing), just go back and sew over it again. Trim all your threads when you get done.

So now you have a bag with a nice finished top edge, and a flange in the middle.

Step 7: Sew down the casing.

Fold that flange down. Pin it if you like, or just hold it down while you top stitch near the edge. (Wish I’d chosen less busy fabric for this.)

Step 8: Measure and mark to square up the bottom.

You can skip this step if you’re in a hurry, or just don’t care. The bag will still work fine, and serve you for many years to come! But squaring the bottom only requires two short seams, and makes it look much better, and stand up a bit better.

First you want to start with the corner between your bottom seam and side seam. Turn the bag inside out, and flatten the corner so that the bottom and side seams are touching. Do the same for the other side, and lay it out so that the bottom seam is up.

I know there are better explanations of how to fold it, but you can see how the corner is folded so that bottom seam is running across the middle of the folded corner. It will look kind of like dog ears.

After you have the bag folded and laid out (the top of the bag gets folded out to the side out of the way), and you’ve gotten your box on there, move the box out toward the corner until both box corners almost, but don’t quite touch the folded edge of the fabric. Draw a line along the box, across the corner dog ear. That’s your stitching line. If you stitch there, the box bottom will fit nicely into the bottom of the bag with a little ease. Pin if you like.

Move the box and repeat on the other corner of the bag. Now if you move the box into the center, you can make sure that your bag won’t try to squeeze your box.

Step 9: Sew to square off the bottom.

Sew along both of your marked seam lines. Cut off the dog ears. Now go back and pink or zig-zag the finished seams. I used my serger.

Step 10: Drink a glass of wine (or your favorite adult beverage) because the hard part is over, and you’re almost done. You deserve it!

Step 11: Cut the stitching at the seam in the casing.

Remember where you reinforced the stitching across the side seam when you sewed the casing? Good, because it will keep your side seam from unraveling after this step.

Using a seam ripper, or a pair of small embroidery scissors, clip the seam in the casing, so that you’ll be able to slide your ribbon through it.

Step 12: Cut your ribbon to length.

If you’re like me, even though you measured everything, the idea of measuring the ribbon is just soul deadening. So lay your bag down flat. Unroll your ribbon and lay it doubled across the bag where the casing it. Add enough to both ends to make it pretty and so that the ribbon doesn’t get lost in the casing.

Ok, Ok, Measure the width of bag, and multiple x two. Add length of ribbon tail x two. Six inches is always a good minimum. (width x 2) + (6″ x 2). Happy?

Step 13: Thread ribbon through the casing.

I have this really cool, long, red plastic bodkin that threads through the casing, and then you thread your ribbon through a big eye on the end, and pull the ribbon through. I LOVE it! You can always use a safety pin on the end of the ribbon to thread the ribbon. Tie the ends of the ribbon into knots so they won’t easily pull back through the casing. Or you could tie little beads or jingle balls on the ends if you like.

Step 14: Wrap your box!

You’re done!!!! Drop the box into the bag, pull the ribbon tight, and tie a bow. Isn’t that gorgeous!

Now go finish that wine.

I’d love to see pictures if you use this tutorial to make one!