A while back, I saw this tutorial for an insulated shopping bag, and immediately started balefully eyeing my rapidly decaying collection of $1 supermarket reusable bags with a whole lot of dissatisfaction. Upon close examination of tutorial, I couldn't help but notice that all that loveliness didn't come cheap. Probably around $15-20 for one bag, depending on your fabric choices and luck with sales, and certainly at least $10. And I need at least 6 for a week's grocery shopping! Off course they don't all need to be insulated, but I've found you can't always trust your poorly paid bagger to pick the most insulated bag you have and stuff it full of your most melty shopping items, and leaving out the insulation would only save you around $2.50 per bag anyway. Now $90-$120 for a full set is no doubt an excellent investment, considering that they will last pretty much forever and convey a whole lot of stylish smug-and-green cachet, but "investment" pre-supposes you have cash sitting around in need of a home. Very nice grocery bags are all well and good, but there's the small matter of paying for the groceries to go IN them.
So I let this simmer in the back of my mind for a while, until one day I was cleaning out my closet and I happened to notice a rather hideous old queen-sized bedspread, the finest $20 could buy you from Wal-mart when I was a newly minted college graduate in the late 90s, playing house in a mostly empty apartment. Ah, good times.
Needless to say, it's clocked a lot of closet time since then. On the downside: not attractive. On the plus side: pre-insulated, lots of fabric in good shape not earning its keep, and essentially free. So kind of a no-brainer. I picked up a sort-of coordinating king size sheet at a thrift store for $1.50 to be my lining fabric, and I was off and running. Well, call it a sprint and then a many-month hiatus before resuming the race when the "rapid decay" of my existing bags became a state of emergency.
Part of my cost-cutting measures involved replacing the webbing from the Sew4home version with fabric straps. And as you need some at least 8 feet, and preferably 9-10 for each bag, to say making the straps is tedious is a bit of an under-statement. Hence the three month hiatus.
Some of my straps I made by folding the outer material in half, and some by joining a narrow outer material strip to a narrow lining material strip. After trying several in each method, I think the former is a touch less bothersome. I did NOT try turning any straps. Don't think my sanity is up to that one, though I imagine it would look rather nicer. I just sewed or folded one side and then tucked the raw edges in and top stitched. At first I tried to pin-and-sew, but I soon realized there was much less cursing involved if I hand-basted and then re-enforced at the machine.
I made the first two bags to the tutorial's specs (above), but then I decided that since I'm not adding the Velcro-closure at the top, I wanted my bags to be a bit shallower and a bit wider and (gulp!) the straps a bit longer (11 feet!). By the 5th bag, I was mightily, mightily tired of making straps, so I thought -- in the name of science, of course -- I would experiment with making straps that did not extend all the way across the bottom of the bag, but rather had their ends buried between lining and outer material. This reduced the strap requirements to a mere 7 feet per bag.
I guess it will be at least a year or two before I know how they are holding up compared to what seems like the sturdier option. I do think it looks better with the strap ends hidden, since my straps are far from perfect.
Normally when I sew a bag, I put one seam on the side, stitch the bottom closed, then attach a lining with a gap in the bottom through which to turn the whole thing inside out before hand stitching closed. I think this gives a much neater appearance overall. But I really wanted that bottom to be sturdy, so like the inspiration tutorial, I made the outer fabric bottom seamless and sewed up the 2 sides instead. Unlike the tutorial, I didn't do the more polished inside-out bag lining I usually do. It just seemed more utilitarian to have the lining firmly anchored to the outer fabric, not floating around freely, so I did French seams down the sides, sewing both lining and outer fabric together. With the additional stitching provided by the box bottom and the strap attachment stitches, this pretty effectively quilted the entire bag.
Also, this is not my most professional workmanship. I did a lot of it by hand because it's easier for me to squeeze in hand-sewing time while keeping an eye on the little one (or teaching her to use pins!) than it is to find time at the machine.
So I would do as much by hand as I could, and then go re-enforce everything quickly with the machine. Some of the basting stitches I took out, but a lot of the more moderately sized but still not particularly attractive stitches are still visible. I just couldn't bring myself to put that much effort into a polished product made of cut-rate fabric.
After using the entire set a couple of times, I've decided that what seemed like a bug at first is actually a feature. The first two bags I made have much shorter handles, such that they just barely fit over your shoulders. Turns out that that actually works out well, because you can have two bags with longer straps over your shoulder, and then hold the handles of two more bags in your hands without the bottoms dragging on the ground like they would if the straps were more shoulder-friendly. Being taller would work too, but I don't think I'm due for a growth spurt at this point. Assorted handle length it is, then!
So, for future reference, final sizing & construction method, Straps-Outside version:
|Sandwich outer and inner fabrics, sew along top, turn inside out.||Make 11' strap, sew to outside. Baste/quilt as needed for stability.||Box the bottom (view is from the bottom).|
Straps inside version:
|Make two 3.5' straps. Arrange on fabric top as shown, place lining face down on top, sandwich together.||Turn inside out, top stitch as needed for stability, especially on buried handle ends.||Box the bottom (view is from the bottom).|
Note that I neither measured, nor cut off the corners on my boxed bottom. I just did it by eye, and left the corners in so that if the thread gives some day, at least nothing will fall out. I used a french seam on all the sides, but any sturdy seam will do.
After making 6 bags, I had just a little fabric left over. I could probably have pieced it together to make one last bag, but I decided to try an extra-insulated double-layer mini-bag. I don't know how much extra protection one more layer of fabric gives, but I like the way it turned out.
I did the box bottom a bit different on this one than all the others. Instead of sewing off the corners like I did the others, I folded them in while I was doing the side seam:
This meant I couldn't do a French seam on the sides, I had to do a bound seam instead. But it looks nice inside and out. And it can fit a surprising amount of small frosty items, or about 3 cereal boxes.
So, 6 or 7 months after I started this project, my full set is finally complete and in service. I'm rather pleased with myself. And if the best I can say about the fabric is that at least I'm not likely to forget these somewhere, well, at least my mom thinks it's pretty and my daughter had a lot of fun "helping", by which I mean sticking them all through with unnecessary pins, many of which I do believe I have successfully removed.
I love making and using bags, and this project has kind of whet my appetite for more. Here's a great list of possibilities I've been thinking about lately: 50+ reusable grocery bag tote patterns.
- Victoria, 2012-07-14
This week I experimented with a new Lasagna method that I think is a winner, drafting my crockpot into service for the first leg of the relay.
- Victoria, 2012-07-07
Tasty and easy-to-make, this cookie recipe is fun and a particularly good project to do with kids, arguably even better than the venerable cut-out cookie.
- Victoria, 2012-06-08