In the last year, here in Spain, a ban has been implemented on giving out free plastic shopping bags at supermarkets. Despite being a person who composts, and recycles, and tries to minimize waste, I have mixed feelings about the ban. Sadly, here it is also very unusual to see any alternative bag types being offered at the stores. I would love to have paper bags offered to me, especially since I love using/recycling the brown paper for so many things. It would be great to have free brown bags for things like wrapping presents and a weed control/compost layer in the garden, amongst other things.
As it was, I was always trying to get by using as few bags as possible. I already had some cloth bags that I would use for heavier items at the store, and the plastic bags that I did take home were always used as trash bags or for holding recycling plastics and metals, which are recycled together here. I don’t think I use fewer bags now that I have to pay for them. If anything, I probably end up with more of them, because I tend to hoard them feeling that they are a scarce commodity. At first, I even ended up buying more bags when I went to the places where they were cheaper, stocking up on them for use as garbage bags. I also occasionally buy trash bags, something I never did before. Trash bags, of course, are larger and thicker, so they end up using more plastic than the thinner, smaller grocery bags I used to use.
Some of the pros and cons given are more credible than others. For example, one of the big pros given for banning plastic bags is that the stores are saving a lot of money, so they will pass those savings to you, saving you an estimated $20-$30 yearly. In theory that would be great, but, unfortunately, I don’t see any stores around here running to lower their prices now that they are charging us for plastic bags. More likely, we are losing at least that amount now because we now pay for either grocery bags or garbage bags.
An interesting con, and one that I would have never thought about, is that there are a lot more (an estimated 34% more) visits to emergency rooms for E. Coli based food poisoning, with a %50 rise in deaths from E. Coli. It seems that 97% of people that use reusable bags for shopping, don’t wash their bags regularly or ever. These bags become contaminated, and reused with new, fresh foods.
That makes a lot of sense, especially when you take a look at some of the reusable bags being offered, made of materials like raffia, which aren’t very easy to clean. I have to admit to being one of the 97% who hasn’t washed several of the bags I own and use. I have only washed a few of my cotton canvas type bags, that hold up better to washing, but since they are thicker and more resistant, they are also less compact and not very practical for bringing everywhere in case I might happen to go shopping that particular day.
|The basic T-shirt bag holds a lot of weight in groceries! Here it was holding a couple of 1.5 liter bottles of milk, amongst other things|
So, the ideal would be to have a thin, but strong, bag that will hold up to multiple washings. You should also be able to either label or color code these bags so that you can separate your meats from your fruits and vegetables and other items. That helps prevent contamination between washings. In our search to reuse rather than waste, what better material to use than a repurposed t-shirt?
There are already tons of tutorials over the internet on how to convert a t-shirt into a shopping bag. I have seen, and tried, many of them. Some I have liked more in theory than in practice, and others I have liked with some personal tweaking. So, I have combined the things I liked from many of the ideas, to make my own bag+carrying sac combo. Here is what I have found, and my take on them.
So, let’s get started making recycled t-shirt bags!!
1. Basic sewn t-shirt bag:
Here is Martha Stewart’s version, but there are many tutorials on how to make this basic t-shirt bag. It is probably the most common on the internet. It is also probably the best way to make a printed t-shirt into a bag, because the printed motive stays on the “front” of the bag. When you hold the bag by the handles, though, the front of the shirt, really becomes the side of the bag. So, I like to tweak the idea a little bit for non-printed shirts that I plan on painting.
A tank top can be converted, in this manner, even easier, because the sleeves are already gone. They usually have a deeper scooped neckline, too, so you can usually get away without cutting anything at all, leaving the edges more finished. The only problem with that, is that the front usually scoops lower, so your bag won’t be 100% symmetrical in all directions.
2. Twisted Tank Top Tote:
Once again, there are numerous tutorials all over the internet on how to make a tank top tote. The link above goes to one of my favorites. Instead of just sewing the bottom shut while the tank is open as in the first example, you turn the tank on its side, and line up the straps at the top. When you sew across the bottom, you have a much more “credible” tote. (What I mean by that is that it no longer looks like a tank top sewn across the bottom, and is actually much more attractive as a bag.)
The big thing to keep in mind here, if you want to keep the finished edges from the top of your tank top, is that you should have a tank top that is as close to symmetrical between the front and the back as possible. (like I previously mentioned in #1.) Here’s a bag that I have made with this technique from a tank dress that I never wear. You can see that mine isn’t perfectly symmetrical, so it isn’t as pretty as it could be, but it has served it’s purpose well at the grocery stores. I was also able to use the bottom fabric to make a couple of larger drawstring pouches... More about that to come…
3. No sew, fringed t-shirt bag:
For those who don’t have a sewing machine, or who need to improvise a bag when a sewing machine isn’t around, you can make this bag. I haven’t tried it myself, because I prefer the non-fringed bags, but it looks like a great a great activity for kids!
4. No sew, drawstring bottom, t-shirt bag:
This bag makes use of the bottom hem of the t-shirt to convert the bottom into a drawstring closure. Once again, I haven’t made this one personally, but I like it because I have also been making use of that hem for the same thing in a different way…
5. Produce bag:
These can be made in a number of sizes. The idea is to put a lot of slits into the bag to give it a bit of style. Overall I like the idea for storing sandy or dirty things, like when you are going to the beach or when you are storing kids shoes or toys. I don’t really love it for produce because you would have to either make the slits very small, or buy large produce, to keep everything from falling out. In plastic produce bags, the holes are there to allow produce to breathe, but if you make a regular t-shirt bag, the cotton fabric already allows some air through.
I made mine in a different way than what I have seen online because I didn’t feel like drawing a lot of lines, or measuring and trying to cut with a rotary cutter. Instead, I used the idea of accordion folding. If you accordion fold something, and cut the sides in an alternate pattern, you get the result that you are really looking for in the produce bag.
When you try to accordion fold the entire bag, though, it gets a bit too thick to be able to cut all of the slits at once. Plus, if you do it that way, it is very likely that you will accidentally cut over your seam. Despite the fact that in the original tutorial, the girl actually purposely did that to make sure the slits were all over the entire bag, I felt safer keeping my seam intact. So, I partially accordion folded, and made my slits. Then, I pulled back the end side and folded down the next section, making slits right where the other cut slits from other folded sections already were. I kept doing that until I had finished making slits throughout the whole bag. I know that might not make a lot of sense, but I think you will see what I mean if you actually try to do it yourself. I tried to get pictures, but they don’t really show up that well on the black fabric.
Overall, I liked my technique, but think that next time I would make smaller slits so as to make smaller holes. I think the bag would be a lot more practical that way. Now the holes are too big for putting smaller items in the bag without worrying about them falling out. T-shirt material is, after all, quite stretchy.
6. My drawstring baby shirt backpack:
I made this cute little backpack out of a boys long-sleeved shirt that was being thrown out by another mother nearby. I was offered a lot of her clothes when her son had grown out of them. Somehow, I didn’t imagine my son wearing this as a shirt, but I envisioned it being a much cuter little backpack.
To make it, I first cut off the sleeves and the collar, cutting it straight across as high up as I could to maintain as much fabric as possible. I hemmed down the fabric, sewing it just over a centimeter down from the fold, to create a small tube for the straps to go through later on. I only had the sleeves’ fabric to use for the straps, so I had to piece together several strips that I cut from the sleeves in order to make them long enough.
I cut the strips just over an inch, and sewed them together to form two long strips of fabric from each sleeve. Then I sewed them together, right sides facing each other, and sewed the bottom shut. (In some cases you can see I just folded over a strip of fabric twice that size. It depended on how I could obtain the most amount of fabric from each sleeve.) I made one long tube from each sleeve, and used a skewer to help me turn the tubes back right side out.
I closed up the backpack, and gave it better shape, by flipping it inside out and sewing up the holes left from where I had cut the sleeves off. I sewed a straight line just up to the hem at the top, but not across the hem!! I then threaded one of my straps through the front, top hem, and the other strap through the hem in back. I knotted one on the left side, and the other on the right, to prevent the straps from coming out of the hem later on when closing the backpack.
By then, the worst part was over. The only thing left was to pull the long ends of the straps through the inside of the shirt, making sure it was still inside-out, and pull them through the bottom before sewing across the bottom hem (look for my red thread to see where I sewed). Hopefully, you can see exactly what I mean from the pictures.
Flip it right side out, and you end up with a cute, drawstring backpack in which the straps also serve as the drawstring which opens and closes the bag.
Finally, last, but not least!!!
7. My favorite t-shirt grocery bag with matching drawstring pouch for easy carrying:
Above, I have hinted at how I make the bag already. For blank, non printed t-shirts, especially those without side seams, I prefer to flip the shirt (like I did with the tank top tote) before sewing across the bottom. The result is a bag that points from front to back when worn on the shoulder, not one that points outward (and into your side). If there are no side seams, there is a blank space for decorating the once-side-of-the-bag, which is now the front.
So, explaining from the beginning, you cut the neck and sleeves off your t-shirt. Then flip the shirt inside out, and fold the shirt so that the sleeve holes are together in the center. (If your shirt had side seams, they will now be touching in the center of the shirt. Mine was seamless, which is nicer for decorating later!) I then used my serger to sew the bottom shut. To keep the bag as large as possible, I only serged off the hem, which I later cut open to use the fabric as string for my drawstring pouches
(More about that in a second)…
Turn the bag right-side out and, voila, you are done with the bag!!!
To make things convenient for carrying around, I figured that I needed some sort of pouch to hold the bag folded up in my purse.
Since, when making the bag, I had to cut the sleeves off, I decided to use the sleeves for making the pouch. The nice thing about using the sleeves is that it has a hemmed bottom which can be used for making a quick and easy drawstring closure. Here, I’ll show you pictures of how I made the pouches for my yellow bag.
Basically, I try to follow the shape of the sleeve in order to make the pouch as big as I possibly can with the fabric that I have available in the sleeve. In the picture on the left, you can see a faint white line demonstrating what I plan on cutting for the pouch. To make sure it is symmetrical, I usually fold the pouch in half, and cut it out like that. I then flip it inside out and use my serger to sew all of the way around the entire pouch, leaving the top open, of course. After flipping it right side out again, I cut 4 small slits through the outer layer (only!!) of the hem fabric, one on each side of the seam. I then feed through strips of fabric, cut from the bottom of the t-shirt when making the bag, through the hem enclosure. If you stretch out the strips you cut from the bottom of your shirt, the fabric will nicely curl up into a cord/string.
You can either make a single cord drawstring closure, or a double string version.
I prefer the double string version if I have enough fabric to make it. In my peach colored shirt, where I had only cut off the hem, I had enough fabric to make one of the pouches into a double string pouch, but could only add one string to the other pouch. In any case, you start with one string, which you thread through the hem across the front, pulling it out of the hole on the other side. Afterwards, you pass over the seam, and thread the string back into the hole on the other side, finishing it up by pulling the string out the other hole on the other side of the back of the pouch.
To make a double string pouch, you repeat the threading through with another string, but this time starting and finishing on the opposite side.
I have explained it a bit better here.
To finish off the strings, I tie a knot on both sides, leaving enough space to easily open the pouch, and then I cut off the excess fabric.
At this very moment, I’m using both pouches in my purse. One holds one of my t-shirt shopping bags, of course, and the other has stretched to fit a change of diapers and a small pack of wipes very conveniently. (Yes, it does stretch to fit all of that!!!)
I hope you like them as much as I do.
Now you are free to decorate them as you like!!
This post is also available in Español.