Chica and Jo
...simplifying life
Chica and Jo
...simplifying life
Chica and Jo



Make your own reusable shopping bags

by: Chica

Like many people these days, Jo and I are becoming more aware of our impact on the Earth, and are trying to be more “green” and reduce waste. One of the biggest wastes of materials that we see in our daily lives is the rampant use of disposable plastic bags in grocery and department stores. More and more people (and even a few retailers) are completely cutting themselves off from plastic bags, and Jo and I are making an effort to do the same thing. The first step was to come up with some reusable tote bags to use instead.

Our main requirement for a reusable tote bag is that it fold up into a small size so that we could easily carry a few with us at all times (either in a purse or in the car). Additionally, we’d like the bags to be durable, inexpensive, and fashionable. We found a ton of bags online, and we purchased two samples to look at — made by Baggu and Envirosax — and we studied them closely. We decided we liked the super-durable ripstop nylon fabric that the Baggu used and we liked the handles of the EnviroSax. We also thought both bags were a bit small and a bit too expensive for us to buy in bulk. We quickly identified what features our ideal bag would have, and never ones to back down from a challenge, we knew we could make our own bags that were just what we wanted.

In the spirit of helping the environment by reducing waste, Jo and I encourage you to make the switch from plastic bags to reusable shopping today. You can buy them just about anywhere, and now I’m pleased to be able to provide you with very detailed instructions for making your own!

Step 1: Choosing your fabric

For the fabric for this project, we decided to use ripstop nylon because it super durable and also very thin. The “ripstop” part refers to the tiny grid of strong threads that run through the fabric, so that if the fabric ever tears, the tear will stop at the next thread it reaches. The nylon composition makes the fabric thin and lightweight, so it’s really the ideal fabric to use for this bag.

The only drawback is that ripstop nylon is not available in a very wide variety of colors or patterns. I’m willing to sacrifice fashion for durability in this case, but if any of you ever find some patterned ripstop, let me know! If you really want patterns, you could use any non-stretchy fabric you want, but be sure to choose something thin and lightweight, so that your finished bag is easy to store and carry.

Step 2: Making the pattern

Pattern for reusable shopping bag The first thing you need to do is make a paper pattern for your bags. Whenever I need a large sheet of paper, what I reach for is an old roll of wrapping paper that I won’t ever use again. I grabbed some old Christmas paper that I never liked and I rolled it out on the table, face down, and used it to make my pattern. I decided my bag would be 15″ deep and 22″ wide, with 12″ handles. I wish I could provide you with an online, life-sized pattern to work with, but the best I can do is to provide you with this small-scale sample that includes as many measurements as possible. You can use it as a guideline and adjust the measurements as you like, but these measurements worked well for me. Draw the pattern on the paper and then cut it out with scissors.

Step 3: Cutting the fabric

You will need a total of five pieces of fabric for this bag. Two pieces will be the full 28″ x 22″ design depicted in my sample pattern. Two more pieces will be a shorter version, which includes the handles but stops at the dotted line (these are used for the lining of the handles). Finally you’ll need a 2″ x 10″ pieces for the snap enclosure (to be described later).

Bag Bag Bag

To cut the two main pieces, fold the fabric in half and lay the pattern on it and pin it in place. By folding the fabric first, you can make both pieces at one time, which will save you time and make both pieces the same size. Cut the fabric about 1/2″ larger than the paper (for seam allowances). For the two handle lining pieces, position the handle portion of the pattern on the fabric (once again, in a double layer) and pin it in place. This time, don’t cut the entire bottom portion — just leave about 4″ of length.

You will end up with four pieces of fabric — two long ones and two short ones, both with handles.

Step 3: Finish the rough edge on the lining

BagBagThe two short pieces you have, which will be used as a lining inside the bag, need to have the rough edge on the bottom trimmed. To do this, take one piece and just fold the bottom edge over about 1/4 – 1/2″ inch and sew it down. Then fold that edge over again and sew it again, completely enclosing the rough edge.

Repeat this step for the other piece of lining.

Step 4: Sew lining in place

BagBagBagLay the lining on top of the larger piece, with the finished side up (folded edge face down). Pin the lining in place and sew all along the sides of each handle, about 1/2″ from the edge. You should only sew the sides of the handles and the top edge of the bag. Do not sew the top of the handles or the sides of the bag. See the photo to the right where I’ve marked in yellow exactly where you SHOULD sew (and in red where you should NOT).

BagBagNow you must cut little notches in the seams wherever there are curved edges on your piece. This is necessary if you want the fabric to lay flat after you turn it inside out. Just make tiny cuts up to the edge of the stitches (but not across them!) along any curved edges, as indicated in yellow in the picture to the right.

Repeat this step for the other piece of the bag.

Step 5: Finish the edges of the top

BagBagBagTurn your piece inside out and smooth it down as flat as possible. Pin all your edges for stability, then run a line of stitches along every sewn edge, as close to the edge as possible. This will strengthen your edges and make the bag lay flat and smooth. Again, do only the sides of the handles and the top of the bag — do not sew the top of the handles shut. The picture on the right shows the finished piece held up to the light. You can clearly see here how the notches have opened up inside, thus allowing your fabric to flatten and make a nice flat finish.

Repeat this step for the other piece of the bag.

Step 6: Finish the handles

BagBagBagTo me, the trickiest part of the bag is sewing the top of the handles together. Because we had to leave these ends open in order to turn the piece inside out, we now have raw edges that need to be taken care of.

BagBagBagIn addition, this will be a stress point on the bag, so it needs to be sewn well for strength. Start by folding the two ends towards each other. Take the one on the right and fold the edge under and place it on top of the other side, pinning it in place.

BagBagBagThen flip the handle over and do the same on the back, tucking the other edge under and pinning it in place. Sew both seams down, removing the pins as you go. For extra security, you can also sew the sides, where the little half-inch overlap is, so that it doesn’t come undone.

BagBagBagTo ensure that the second handle is the same length as the first one, lay the finished one on top of the other one and line up all the edges. Fold the ends of the handle over the finished handle and pin together. Use the process described above to finish the second handle.

Step 7: Create the snap enclosure

BagBagThe next step is to create the snap enclosure that you’ll use to keep your bag all bundled up so that it’s easy to store in your purse, pocket, or car. Start with a 2″ x 10″ piece of nylon and fold it in half lengthwise, then stitch along the long side and one short side. Turn the tube inside out (poke a pencil in the sewn end to help you flip it) and cut it to 8.5″ in length. Tuck the final open end of the tube in 1/2″ and sew it in place. Stitch along all four edges, as close to the edge as you can, for support and to force the strip to lay flat.

BagBagSew two halves of a snap onto either end of the strip, making sure to put them on opposite sides of the fabric, so that the finished strap will snap closed in a circle. Test and re-test before you sew that second snap on, because it’s very frustrating if you sew it on wrong and have to start over (trust me!).

Step 8: Assemble the bag

BagBagBagFinally you’re ready to sew the two sides of the bag together! Put the first half of the bag on the table with the lining side facing down and the other half of the bag on top of that, with the lining side face up. Then line up the handles and the top of the bag so that everything is even and straight, and pin the two pieces together in several places. Then take your snap enclosure and fold it in half and tuck it in between the two sides, putting the fold near the edge of the bag, and lining it up with one side of one of the handles. Sew the sides and bottom of the bag together, being sure to sew right over the snap enclosure as you go. When you’re done, turn the bag inside out. Hang on, you’re almost done!

Step 9: Finish the edges

BagBagBagThe last thing to do is finish the outside edges of the bag (much like we did for the handles) to reinforce the seams and make the pay lay flat. Start by pinning the sides and bottom together, then stitch as close to the edge as possible. You’re done! Now you’ve got a great and sturdy tote bag that’s ready for your next shopping trip!

Step 10: How to fold the bag

BagBagBagOkay, I guess there’s one more step before you’re done… you need to know how to fold the bag up for easy storage. You may come up with your own brilliant method, but here’s how I do it:


  1. Fold the handles in towards the middle.
  2. Fold each side over one fourth of the way towards the middle.
  3. Fold the left side again.
  4. Fold the left side again, so that it completely covers the right side.
  5. Fold the top edge down to the bottom edge.
  6. Fold/roll the top edge down until it meets the bottom and secure with the snap enclosure.

P.S. Three or four of these bags would make an excellent gift for the person who “has everything” or for a devoted shopper. If you really enjoy sewing, you could make a bunch of these bags and make all your friends very happy.

Related products: Baggu and Envirosax bags.

42 comments so far:

  • 1
    Tabitha 03/30/2008 at 9:02 pm

    I made one of these bags and added a little loop to the outside of it that easily attaches to the metal bag holder at the grocery. The Envirosax you link to has this feature and it is well worth the little bit of extra stitching to add it to the bag!

  • 2
    Shirley 05/31/2008 at 9:16 pm

    Thanks for the great instructions! I made one of these and it fits in my fanny pack that I use as a purse. That way I don’t have to worry about forgetting it.

  • 3
    Shelley 06/30/2008 at 7:49 am

    Thanks so much for putting this pattern together and online. I felt the same way about the cost of the envirosax and other like reusable bags on the market.

  • 4
    Chica 06/30/2008 at 9:16 am

    Shirley and Shelley, I’m so glad you like the pattern. I’ve been carrying my bags everywhere and I save SO much plastic from the landfill!

  • 5
    Donna 07/29/2008 at 11:42 am

    Out of all the grocery tote patterns I have seen on the net this one I like the best, Except for one thing. The material used. You can easily use cotton and there are heavy weight cottons that will work perfectly or even quilt cotton. You can find cotton for a dollar a yard sometimes. Any time we use a product that is not man made (nylon) we help save our environment. But just using the bags is a good start, now to push to use natural fibers that won’t last forever or cause pollution being produced…. Thanks much for the great tute!

  • 6
    Chica 07/29/2008 at 3:58 pm

    Hi Donna! I agree that the rip-stop nylon isn’t the prettiest or most environmentally friendly fabric in the world, but it is incredibly lightweight, durable, and most importantly for me, it’s thin enough for the bag to fold up very small (without wrinkling, too!). I did recently purchase some pretty printed cotton that I was going to try to make a bag out of, but I suspect it won’t fold up as nicely as the nylon did. We’ll see!

    Thanks so much for the kind words and have fun making your bags. Btw, I’m also a huge fan of the dollar-a-yard table at Walmart :)

  • 7
    Trina 08/04/2008 at 4:01 am

    I also liked Envirosax out of all the bags and was looking for a pattern and very please to have found it here. Thanks for figuring it out. I got my a scrap fabric at Joannes…..have to checkk out Walmart. Thnx for showing me how it’s done.

  • 8
    Chica 08/04/2008 at 7:28 am

    Thanks, Trina. Let us know how it turns out!

  • 9
    Lori 08/09/2008 at 12:21 pm

    Thanks for posting these directions! I drew out my pattern on old wrapping paper, which worked great, and will be easy to reuse. I also used my serger for all the initial seams, which meant less bulk to trim later. I’m thinking about making a little flat bottom by folding up the sides in a corner and stitching across the top. I’m not sure how that will affect the folding, however, which is a major plus of this design! Here’s my attempt:

  • 10
    Chica 08/10/2008 at 8:50 am

    Hi Lori! Your bag came out fantastic! I’m so happy our instructions worked for you, and I love the blue you used. Let us know how the flat bottom works out. I think it might affect folding, but my main concern is that it won’t stay flat when you put heavy things in it, unless you put some cardboard or something in it, but then you’d REALLY have a folding problem :)

  • 11
    Deb 12/05/2008 at 7:58 pm

    I love this this bag and would like to make one, have looked every where for cute printed ripstop nylon, has anyone found a supplier on line?

  • 12
    Chica 12/06/2008 at 2:16 pm

    Deb, if you ever find a source, please let me know. The only non-solid pattern I’ve ever seen is green camouflage, which is decidedly non-cute!

  • 13
    Elizabeth 01/01/2009 at 5:42 pm

    I have a thought. What about using a tent for the fabric (made out of ripstop or other light weight fabric). That your going to get rid of. I bet you would get lots of bags out of it. Or maybe even a tarp.

  • 14
    Chica 01/01/2009 at 6:06 pm

    Elizabeth, that’s a fantastic idea! I wish I could go back in time and save the torn tent I threw away a couple of years ago and use the fabric to make bags. That would be a perfect way to recycle an otherwise useless tent. I will keep it in mind for the future :)

    Tarps would be too thick to use for bags that you’d want to fold up into a small pouch, but I like the way you think.

  • 15
    Elizabeth 01/01/2009 at 6:35 pm

    Also I copied and pasted the pattern, enlarged the graphic to fit 8.5 x 11 and than set the printing to print at 300% (poster printing), and it printed the pattern on 9 sheets of paper and is the size on the directions. ( I hate to draw because I can not draw) So now I just tape the sheets of paper together and I’m good to go. I know kinda lazy.

  • 16
    Chica 01/02/2009 at 8:44 am

    Lazy? I’d say brilliant! Thanks for the great tip, Elizabeth :)

  • 17
    Carley 03/01/2009 at 10:45 pm

    Thank you for posting these instructions. This is exactly what I have been looking for! Until now I hadn’t seen instructions for the folding, reusable bags I can keep in my purse. Being a sewer, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the $$ on the ready-made bags being offered. Again, thank you…think I’ll whip up several for myself and as gifts for friends.

  • 18
    Chica 03/02/2009 at 7:29 am

    Hi Carley! I’m glad we were able to give you just what you were looking for. We’d love to see your bags when you’re finished, so feel free to post a pic in our Flickr group.

  • 19
    Jeanne Miller 03/19/2009 at 11:43 am

    Ripstop Nylon is available online in quite a few colors at It’s 59″ wide and currently costs $7.49/yard. Shipping is reasonable and based on total spent not weight. 20 yard rolls are available for the seriously ambitious.

  • 20
    Chica 03/19/2009 at 1:33 pm

    Thanks for the tip, Jeanne. What a great color selection!

  • 21
    Barbara 04/16/2009 at 11:24 am

    Love this pattern. Working up these bags using old nylon shower curtains. Great colors and patterns and chance to recycle. I’ve been finding the old nylon shower curtains for $1 at my local thrift stores.

  • 22
    Chica 04/16/2009 at 11:27 am

    Great idea, Barbara! You’re so clever. We’d love to see how they come out. You can share your photos with us by posting them in our Flickr group

  • 23
    Verena 11/10/2009 at 2:05 pm

    I just stumbled across this and am so excited! I’ve been trying to come up with something to make for friends and family for Christmas this year and this is going to be it!

  • 24
    Chica 11/10/2009 at 2:07 pm

    What a wonderful idea, Verena. I’m sure they will make great gifts. Let us know how it goes!

  • 25
    Cheryl 04/20/2010 at 10:43 pm

    I save the big plastic woven bags that dog food comes in.. take the top and bottom off.. you can then open them up and make bags from them.. use the outside in with the print or leave it on the outside… they are sturdy, and sewable… and this recycles them… you can make any size bag you want…. I use the 20lb sack

  • 26
    Chica 04/21/2010 at 7:39 am

    Cheryl, I’ve been wanting to try making something with bags like that, but Jo keeps telling me I’m crazy! I think it’s a great idea and would love to see some of the bags you’ve created if you want to send us a picture :)

  • 27
    Kit 04/25/2010 at 2:04 pm

    Donna talked about using the nylon is not enviro-friendly but if you make this without the handles and attach a strip to wrap and tie with, you can start replacing the plastic produce bags. the nylon does not weigh much more that the produce bags and you can put apples, taters, onions whatever in these and still feel good about it. I make mine about 8 by 16 and use embroidery thread to tie off

  • 28
    Enid 08/10/2010 at 5:13 pm

    Great bag, the ripstop can be personalised with transfer paints, or disperse dyes. Creates your design on paper & iron off onto the fabric [careful not too hot or it will melt!]

  • 29
    Miriam 01/04/2011 at 12:06 pm

    Thank you so much-I have been wanting one of these but did not want to buy it online. I can not wait to make one.

  • 30
    Jenn 11/07/2011 at 12:01 am

    I just finished making one of these. As a beginner sewer, I found it very intimidating at first, but quickly became easier. I would say that the handles are more ‘messy’ than difficult, but I was able to pull it off. I’m on my way to make 30 more of these before Christmas! Here goes nothing!

  • 31
    Chica 11/07/2011 at 7:07 am

    Congrats, Jenn! I’m so happy to hear that you set your apprehension aside and got through it. I can’t believe you’re going to make 30 more! You are going to have some very happy friends and family members this Christmas. :)

  • 32
    Annabel 04/07/2012 at 7:01 am

    I made a similar version, also copying one of my Envirosax, but used old council advertising banners. These are the big flag like banners they put up each month for New year or whatever is on. They are made of some kind of tough woven synthetic material. It’s a bit thicker, so doesn’t roll up as well as an Envirosax bag. Our local “reverse garbage place” sells the banners for $10 (they are several metres long)

  • 33
    Chica 04/07/2012 at 12:42 pm

    Nice tip, Annabel. We love seeing clever ways to reuse materials like that!

  • 34
    Nancie 02/04/2013 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks so much for the pattern! I own 4 Baggu bags, and thought about copying, but got too confused when it came to the handles. This bag looks like JUST what I’ve been looking for. I’ve ordered some ripstop – and will put the little loop on the sides to help fit it to the bagging station. You’re so generous with your ideas – I have several sewing friends I’ll pass this along to. You’re saving the planet one bag at a time.

  • 35
    Chica 02/04/2013 at 2:47 pm

    Glad we could help you out, Nancie, and thanks for the lovely comments. We love to share!

  • 36
    Vicky 03/29/2014 at 8:50 am

    I’ve made a lot of these over the years and the only things I do differently is cut on the fold so the bottom of the bag doesn’t get seamed (attach the strip to the bottom when its finished with a close machine stitch)and I do French seams on the sides for durability.
    I think this gives the bag a lot more strength – I’ve carried some really heavy groceries in mine with no splits and have had them (and used them) for years and years.
    Great instructions, Chica.

  • 37
    Chica 03/29/2014 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks, Vicky, and thanks for sharing your tip!

  • 38
    Katelyn 04/24/2014 at 11:17 am

    I was just wondering if for the two 28″-22″ could be two different pieces put together?

  • 39
    Chica 04/26/2014 at 8:09 am

    Katelyn, you can certainly use as many colors of fabric as you like. Just sew the pieces together and then cut the finished piece to the required size.

  • 40
    Connie 05/11/2014 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for this pattern. I have taken the fabric off old umbrellas to use for bags like this. It’s a little bit of work, but absolutely perfect!

  • 41
    Chica 05/14/2014 at 7:22 am

    Great upcycling idea, Connie!

  • 42
    sarah 09/28/2014 at 7:49 am

    I’d like to suggest opening up a plastic grocery bag to make a pattern. This would include a pleat, and when you get it all sewn, it would be the perfect size. Thanks for great instructions, by the way. I agree that there should be some magic to do the handles, but we can’t have everything.

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