Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Homemade Reusable Produce Bags: Reduce and Reuse Before Recycle

I never learned to sew.  The whole concept is fascinating and mysterious to me.  I don't know how to sew on a button or how to properly fix a hole or a hem.  My current previous method for fixing minor clothing issues is my red swingline stapler.  Seriously...

However, it has become very clear to me that if I want to reduce my impact on the environment and my budget, I need to learn how to make things from scratch.  And that includes learning how to sew.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Last year, I bought an old sewing machine off of craigslist.

I'm reusing something that may have gone in a landfill by buying second-hand and as an added bonus the older Singer model sewing machines have barely any plastic in them; aka they are very sturdy and I'm reducing my plastic consumption.

Then it sat in my guest room for six months.  I would think about it sitting silently upstairs but I kept procrastinating.  Whenever I am going to learn how to do something new that I may not be good at, I put it off.  I'm super late planting seeds in my garden because I couldn't seem to grow anything last year.  The obvious answer to the problem is to stall by doing other projects and feel badly about it every night.

Luckily, the draw to procrastinate the garden was stronger than the procrastination of the sewing machine so I finally learned how to sew.

My mom actually used to sew my clothes when I was little.  Here's an old picture of me in one of her masterpieces.

Click here for other great stories about my mom!

Sewing & Knitting Gauge
Note the plastic slidey thing
When I told her I needed her help she came right away and she brought all sorts of supplies I hadn't seen since she quit sewing when I was little.  Isn't it odd the memories you have from when you were young?  I remember thinking that pinking shears were the coolest and oddest scissors and her measuring tool was fun to play with because you could slide the little plastic tab back and forth.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Here's my first grand leap into sewing and it involves Reducing AND Reusing so I don't have to recycle at all.  Both my husband and my mom think I've gone off the deep end because I'm reusing old stinky shirts but I'm used to that by now.

Homemade Produce Bags

Start with an old shirt that even Goodwill wont want.  Cut off the arms, collar, and bottom seam.

You end up with two pieces of cloth.  Hence you will get two bags.

Fold one piece of the cloth in half and pin two sides.  The third side of the bag is formed from folding the fabric in half.  Then press down that foot pedal and get to sewing!  I used a double seam for the sides so they could hold up better to heavier items like potatoes.

Finally, sew a large seam around the top opening to allow for a cord to run through it and Viola!

It takes me about 15 minutes per bag now but I'm sure experts could go much faster.  On a side note, I did buy the cord for the ties on these two bags.  Then I rummaged around and found old bits of ribbon from a craft project to use for my next two.  If you want to get REALLY eco-adventurous then you could use the leftover fabric from the t-shirt to make a cord by either sewing a small strip of cord together, cutting a strip, or just cutting out the original bottom seam of the t-shirt and using that.  I'm going to try sewing a pretty seam next and I'll post an update if it works.

Anyone else have odd ways to reuse and reduce instead of recycle?  Does anyone think you've gone off the deep end because of your commitment to reducing and reusing instead of throwing things away?

Don't miss one moment of my misadventures!  Head over to my Facebook page and "like" me.  Really like me!  I'll give you a Ginsu knife.  (ok.. not really)

This blog post is linked up to the Homestead Revival's Homestead Barn Hop and to  Simple Lives Thursday over at Sustainable Eats.  Head over for more great ideas.


  1. Those look great and so easy! Great job.

  2. Thanks! I've realized that the only thing I'm missing is some sort of tag that gives the tare weight of the bag so I don't overpay for anything. It comes to about .13 lb. Perhaps its time to take out good old fashioned puffy paint LOL

  3. Welcome to the world of sewing! Sewing machines are one of the few things that age very well. I had to promise my repair guy not to ever get rid of my mom's 1972 Singer because it's so well built. One piece of advice I can give you is to find a good sewing machine repair person and have them tune up your machine every so many years or so. I thought I killed my machine one year sewing Christmas gifts and my guy repaired it and it runs like a top! It was the best $80 I ever spent. Sounds spendy but try buying a new machine for that!

  4. @Condo Blues - I'm loving sewing so far even if I'm still quite challenged at it. I did discover that the machine may need a tune up and the chop was trying to get me to trade in this model for a new one instead but I kept thinking about your words. I just hate letting something that has lasted this long go.

  5. i just might be able to make these! my mom and grandma wanted to teach me to sew when i was younger but i never wanted to sit still or stay indoors long enough. :) my parents bought me a sewing machine a few years ago for a birthday present but i barely know how to use it. this looks like a great starter project to give sewing another go.

    besides, i hate using those plastic bags... i save them with the intent to take them back to the store but i always forget them and then end up with a huge collection...

    question though - how do these work in the checkout line? can the checkers subtract the weight of the bags?

  6. Great question, Stacey. I know my co-op will subtract the weight of the bags (I was going to sew on a tag or something so show the tare weight). I'm not sure about conventional stores. I once brought in a reusable container to Safeway for some bulk nuts I bought and the woman asked me why I didn't use a plastic bag. She seemed very upset with me.

    If your store won't take off the tare you could always make the bags out of lighter material shirts that you may have been giving to goodwill so the tare amount is less.

  7. This is one of the good ways to recycle unused items like clothes. Making bags out of clothes can save you money while helping the environment as well. You can also use bags for shopping instead of using single-used plastic bags. These plastic bags can ruin our environment. It's good to always use recyclable and Eco-friendly bags all the time.

  8. You can cut up plastic bags into strips and crochet them together and make a real sturdy tote bag. I've seen them made as gifts and their really colorful and appreciated

  9. Also I've sewn since i was a young girl got an A on my 9th grade home-ec apron and then made bib overalls. And been sewing every since, got a job sewing wedding apparel and doing fittings . Then sewed quilts for 10 years and now make Duvet covers out of my quilts and have made tablerunner's , curtains, vests, skirts, the list goes on and on There's no end to what you can repair,reuse reinvent. when sewing




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