Thursday, November 18, 2010

Roll-up Shopping Bag Sewing Tutorial

I made this roll-up shopping bag earlier in the fall and had been meaning to make a tutorial for it, so the Sew Mama Sew Green Grocery Bag Challenge was a good excuse to finally get around to it.   This bag is inspired by one my very talented friend Mandy made a year or two ago... I love the roll-up shopping bags that you take with you in your purse, so the idea of making my own was very exciting!

The bag is made with a single layer of quilting weight cotton (unlined).  This helps to keep it lightweight and small enough to roll up easily.  I have gotten a ton of use out of the first one I made (on the right in the photos) so I am excited to have another one!  You can't see it in the top photo but you can sort of see in the photo below, the bag is constructed similarly to the plastic bags you get at the grocery store, with side gussets.  This little bag can hold quite a good bit of stuff!  Since it is only a single layer of fabric, I wouldn't advise using it to carry 2 gallons of milk home, but it has proven to be more sturdy than I expected and can carry quite a bit of weight.   You can use the ties at the top of the bag to tie it closed when it is full to keep it secure.

So here is the tutorial - enjoy!  Oh, and I will be posting more fun sewing tutorials over the next month or so, so be sure to come back and check them out - you can subscribe to or follow my blog using the links in the sidebar if you like.  And if you make a bag with this tutorial I would love to see how it turned out - you can share a photo in the Needle and Spatula Flickr group.

TERMS OF USE:  For personal, non-commercial use only.  If you are interested in making these bags for small-scale commercial sales (eg craft fairs, etsy), please contact me and we can discuss a licensing agreement.

DONATE TO SUPPORT THIS TUTORIAL - this tutorial is provided free of charge, if you would like to show your appreciation and support the free patterns I provide here, you can donate here (or it helps if you click through to any of the amazon links on this site, whether you purchase that particular product or not!).  Thanks for your support!

What you will need:
  • 32"x13" piece of main fabric color (for bottom part of bag body)
  • Two 30"x3" pieces of main fabric color (for straps)
  • 32"x5" piece of contrasting fabric color (for top part of bag body)
  • Two 3/4"x30" pieces of lightweight fusible interfacing
  • Two 10" long pieces of coordinating narrow ribbon or bias tape
  • Thread in a color that looks nice with your fabrics
If you use two colors as above, a half yard of the main color and a quarter yard (regular cut, not fat quarter) of the second color, will be sufficient.  If you prefer to have just a single colored body, you will just need one 32"x17.5" panel for the body, and you will probably need 3/4 of a yard for the whole bag.  You could also have a larger top panel, or have three stripes, etc, if you prefer a different design...

The bag construction uses french seams to keep things neat inside the bag (since it is unlined) and to add strength.  If you have never done french seams before, don't worry, they aren't hard... it can be a bit counter-intuitive at first, but follow the directions and you will be fine!

First, take the fabric for the bottom of the bag and the top of the bag and pin them together along the long edge, wrong sides facing.  If your fabric has a directional pattern, make sure that it is facing up (the top of lower fabric is the pinned edge, and the top of the upper fabric is the unpinned edge).

Sew along the pinned edge with a 3/16" seam.  Snip any frayed edges along the seam and then fold the fabric along the seam so that the right sides face, and iron it flat.  Pin this edge and sew with a 1/4"-5/16" seam (enclosing the first seam within this second seam).

Iron the seam to one side (I ironed mine down), and then top stitch along the edge - this is easier to do from the wrong side where the seam is showing.

Now, fold the bag body wrong sides together - you are taking the long rectangle and folding it in the middle to make the bag shape.  Pin the side of the bag together, taking care to line up the seam you just sewed.  Sew a 3/16" seam along just that one edge, then trim any loose threads or unevenness.  After you sew the seam you will basically have a tube which is open on both the top and the bottom.

Turn this tube inside out so that the right sides face, and iron the side seam you just sewed flat.  Pin and sew a 1/4"-5/16" seam, again enclosing the first seam inside the second seam.

Now, put aside the bag body.  Before the next step you need to make the the handles and ties.  You could also make these first if you prefer.

Iron each long handle strip in half lengthwise (wrong sides facing) to create a crease down the length of the strip.  Open the strip and put interfacing on one side of the crease, then iron to fuse it to the fabric (see top strip in photo below).  Then, iron the fabric edge below the interfacing up and over the interfacing strip (see bottom strip in photo below).

As shown in photo below, fold up on the original crease and iron in place (top strip shown), then fold one more time and iron again.  You will basically have a roll of fabric ironed in place.

Open up the roll (as shown in the bottom strip below) and then tuck the last edge inside the fold (as shown in the top strip below).

Top stitch along both edges of the strips.

To make the ties, either use narrow ribbon, or sew a piece of bias tape shut to make a tie.  Fold the ends under as shown below and sew them in place to make a neat end.

Back to the bag... with the bag still inside out, fold the top edge down 3/4" all the way around and iron in place.

Fold the edge over again (another 3/4") and iron in place.  Measure 3 3/4" in from each side of the bag and mark with a pin.  Turn over and place pins on the other side to match.  Place the ends of your handles just inside these marker pins, tucked under the folded over edge, and pin in place, making sure to keep them perpendicular (at right angles) with the folded edge and making sure that handle is not twisted (see the two photos below).  Pin the tie in place between the handles, and repeat for the other side.  Then pin the rest of the edge in place.

Top stitch the bottom of the folded over edge (closer to the handles etc) all the way around the bag, and remove pins.

Iron the handles and ties to face up and pin them in place on the edging, as shown below, again making sure to keep them at right angles with the edge.

Top stitch the top edge of the bag, securing handles and ties as you sew all around the bag.  I recommend sewing this seam on the right side of the bag as it will be easier to make it look nice that way.

Now, to make the bottom of the bag.  First, you need to fold the fabric to create the gussets.  Iron the bag flat so that you will have a clear crease on the side which doesn't have a seam to indicate where the side is.  Starting on the side with a seam, fold the fabric in towards the middle of the bag until the gusset is 2.5" deep.  Use a ruler to measure as shown below to ensure that you are not including the additional depth of the french seam.  Make sure that the top and bottom folds are even and that the sides are straight, then iron in place.  Repeat with the other side, making sure that the crease you ironed in place is correctly aligned at the back of the gusset.

Now, pin across the bottom edge of your bag, pinning the gussets into place.  Don't worry if your bottom edge is frayed or isn't totally even, we will clean it up in a sec.  Sew a 1/4" seam across the bottom (or more if needed to be sure you are catching all the layers), then trim off any frayed or uneven edges.

Turn the bag inside out.  You will have to turn the gussets to one side or another, but it doesn't matter which, just pick one.  Poke the corners all the way out, then pin in place and sew across the bottom with a 5/16" or greater seam.

Turn the bag rightside out, you are done!!

Here are quick instructions on how to fold the bag:

Lay the bag flat, lining up the edges and making sure the gussets are tucked in, then fold the handles down.

Fold the bag into thirds lengthwise, leaving the ties hanging out loose at the top.

Roll the bag up from the bottom, keeping it as tight as possible.

Wrap the ties around the bag and tie with a knot or a bow to secure!


  1. What a cute project! I really love the fabric choices, too.

  2. Nice idea there! did you use vintage sheets? I have a few that I have been planning to use for just that purpose. Thanks for the tie idea!

  3. Hi Susan, glad you like the bags. I didn't use vintage sheets but I'm sure that would be nice too.

  4. Great bag I put a link up on my Blog for the Green Grocery Bag Challenge!

  5. This is great Kate. Would you mind if I post this sometime on Green Bag Lady?

  6. Thanks Teresa! You are very welcome to post this on Green Bag Lady, thanks for asking!

  7. LOVE this...just found it on Pinterest!
    I pinned it in my crafts i must make board!

    XOXO Andrea

  8. Love this, so simple but a great result!
    thanks for sharing : )

  9. I don't know if you will read this comment so long after you posted this pattern, but I wanted to let you know that your tutorial is one of the more clearly written I've seen on the web. I am a beginner and I was able to make a bag very easily. I love it and am making more for gifts.

  10. Kate, I love this pattern! I had never done french seams before so was intimidated before I got started, but this was so easy to follow and my bag is adorable! Thanks :)

  11. Thanks for this great tutorial. We've made one of these bags to a brazilian friends who came to visited us and now our bag is flying to Brazil. We had a fun night sewing this beautiful grocery tote bag. You can see the result here.

  12. Great tutorial. Easy to follow. Bit worried about the gusset, but it turned out OK. Haven't done french seams since I was in school!

  13. What a great tutorial, it combines my loves for sewing, shopping, and being green! I like it so much, I ended up including it on my blog...

  14. I loved this turorial, and although I am new to sewing, I could do without great difficulty. Now, I will continue training to improve the finish. I quoted you on my blog, to present my bag, I hope you do not mind! Thank you. ;)

  15. Kate,
    I just finished a pair of these bags. Love them! Thank you so much for the great tutorial.

  16. I, too, just finished a pair of these bags. Your tutorial was perfect. These bags made me look like a proficient seamstress. I love tutorials like that. Thank you!

  17. Thank you so much for the wonderful tutorial. I made one of these bags as my very first project in over 15 years. It feels so good to be sewing again, and I'm really happy with how my bag turned out!

  18. Thank you so much for the wonderful tutorial. I just learned how to sew this month and your tutorial is very easy to follow. I already made a few totes as practice. I posted it on my blog and put a link to your site. Thank you!

  19. I've just discovered this web-site, so I'm entirely new all these wonderful ideas. Looking at the tutorial, it occurred mto me that one could increase the volume of the bag by adding either elongating the bottom strip to go up the sides or by cutting additional strips for the side. With or without the addition, this is a super idea! I love my reusable bags!!!!!


  20. I LOVE this tutorial! I am selling baked goods at the farmer's market this year and I was looking for market bags to sell as well. I am going to try this pattern right now, using recycled fabrics! Thank you for making it!


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