For the second post in my Sustainability Series, I've got a really simple project for you that can be applied to all sorts of other projects.
Single use plastic is one of the biggest contributors to pollution in the sea. A report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that at least 8m tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean – which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute!
The great thing about being able to sew is that we can easily help minimise our impact by making some simple changes. Whip up half a dozen of these produce bags, keep them with your cloth shopping bags & you can reject the plastic ones on offer in the supermarket. Make a big one for things like potatoes & larger fruit & vegetables, a medium sized one is good if you're only buying half a dozen apples or carrots and the small ones are great for nuts or smaller fruit. Or make a teeny tiny one to replace your teabags, as there's often plastic in those too!
Make them with 100% cotton muslin or voile for breathability. From a metre of fabric you should be able to get a large, 3 medium, a small & half a dozen extra small ones or just 3 large bags. Add a label from our label kits, so that the shops know how much weight to knock off before weighing your produce (otherwise known as the tare). If you use cotton fabric, it will biodegrade when you've finished using the bags but as they’re washable, they should last you several years.
In addition to your fabric you will need something to close your bags with - I suggest cotton twill tape, as this stays within the biodegradable remit but you could equally use ribbon & remove the ribbon before composting - use whatever you have to hand. You will need to use cotton thread too if you want the bag to ultimately be biodegradable.
The cotton muslin that I'm using in this tutorial is 150cm wide - so start with making sure that you're fabric is squared off. The dimensions I use are entirely personal but this was the best use of a metre for me, you can of course make yours whatever size is most useful for your needs.
Following these instructions you should end up with 1 x Large 39cm long x 30cm wide (with a depth of 12cm) 3 x Medium 30cm x 35cm & either 2 x small bags 22cm x 16cm or 1 x small 22cm x 16cm & 6 x extra small 6cm x7cm
- Fold your fabric in half widthways, so that you have 150cm x 50cm & cut a width of 45cm from one end - this is going to be your largest bag & will be boxed at the corners so that you can get all the big lumpy things in - taties aren't flat in my experience! (That’s “potatoes” to anyone who isn’t Northern - P 😉)
- Now fold your remaining fabric length towards the centre but not in half, around 40cm up. I found it easier to measure 20cm (8") from the top & then fold up to that line.
- Cut off the 20cm strip at the top - this is going to form your smaller bag. Cut this in half for 2 small bags - or you can cut one of the halves down further into teabag sized bags - whichever you will find most useful!
- Now divide the remaining fabric into 3 equal parts - these will be your medium sized bags.
Now onto the fun bit - the sewing. I'm going to demonstrate a couple of ways to make the bags depending on your equipment - the first will have French seams, in case you don't have access to an overlocker, then I'll show how you to add in a boxed corner if you prefer more room in the bags, & then just the quick & dirty variety made on the overlocker.
Sewing Up - Simple French Seams
- As this fabric doesn't have a discernible right or wrong side don't worry about that but if you're working with something that does have a right side make sure that wrong sides are together. (This is contrary to how you would normally sew. I know, but stay with me on this!) Measure down from the top 5cm & make a small notch around 1cm deep.
- Now sew from the bottom of the bag up to the notch on both sides of the fabric, using a 1/2cm seam allowance, backstitching at the beginning & the end.
- Turn the bag inside out, press the sides, including the bit that you didn't sew & sew again at 1cm seam allowance, enclosing your first row of stitches.
- Turn the bag the right way & you will have beautiful French seams on the inside. Give it a good press, pressing in the bit that you haven't sewn, tucking the raw side under to form a double hem, (this will hem the edge of the casing.) Now press in the top of each side of the bag by 1cm & again at 2cm forming the channel that the twill tape will run through.
- Now sew the 2 short edges down to stop them fraying use 1 cm from the folded edge.
- Sew down the top of the bag to the wrong side, (use pins if you need to) close to the folded edge to form the channels.
- The final step is to insert 2 ties. Measure 2 pieces of 1cm wide twill tape approx 3 times the width of the top of the bag (for the medium bags that's around 90cm each). Thread one through one way & tie & thread the other the other way & tie, (you should have ties at either end - when pulled together they will hold the bag closed.) Use a safety pin or a bodkin to help you do this.
- Et voila - you're done!
Adding Boxed Corners
I'd suggest adding boxed corners to your larger produce bag but you can of course add them to the medium ones too - just remember that by gaining a bit of girth in your bag you will lose height of the amount that you've you've boxed it by. This one will have a 12cm wide bottom so the finished bag will be 39cm high x 30cm
- With your fabric folded in half, draw a box at the bottom corner at each side of you fabric, measuring 5cm up from the bottom & 6.5cm from the side. (The side is wider to allow for the seam allowance - you can make the box whatever size that you prefer & use a different seam allowance but just remember to accommodate for the seam allowance.)
- Mark from the top 5cm & make 1 cm snip into the sides.
- Sew your side seams as in the previous instructions above - wrong sides together at 1/2cm, turn inside out, press & sew again at 1cm, to create the French seam.
- With the wrong sides together pull the bottom box sides together so that they meet, with the seam in the middle, sew at 1/2cm
- Flip the bag out & press as before & resew the box corners at 1cm.
- Turn to the right side & complete the casings as described previously.
If you have an overlocker & don't fancy giving the French seams a go, then you can just sew up your side seams right sides together at 1cm & finish the seam with the overlocker to prevent them fraying. You can have a smaller seam allowance here if you wish. Then finish the casings as described above.
If you decide to do the teabag sized bags, you will need to reduce the seam allowances to around 1cm in total & allow 3cm for the top casings rather than 5cm. (I also reduced my stitch length to the smallest setting, so that my tea leaves don't escape! ) Be warned - they are a bit more fiddly because they're so small! This size would be great to use as jewellery gift bags though.
There you have it! You should have 6 lovely new produce bags to whip out next time you nip into the supermarket. You can use the same method to make gift bags too, which is a good way to use up some fat quarters.
I will see you next week for some sustainable gift ideas and spoiler alert: you will be able to put what you’ve learnt today to the test!!