After years of practice, I may have finally done it: sewn the perfect shopping bag.
All right, that’s not even close to true – it’s too small, not fully reversible, lacking any pockets, and the closing mechanism is only an elastic – hardly complicated enough to meet my “perfect bag” criteria.
Nonetheless, it is a great simple bag – easy to make, flexible sizing, no complicated closures, straight cutting and straight sewing, fully finished seams, good and roomy but folds up easily, no origami needed.
1. Cutting: You’ll need 1 1/2 yards of fabric. Six fat quarters would work great, as would three 1/2 yards (that’s what I had). Start by cutting the fabric into 6 fat-quarter sized (18″ by 22″) pieces: don’t worry about the exact dimensions, as long as they are all the same size (this is true for all cutting instructions here – a few inches bigger or smaller won’t matter at all).
Take 4 of the six pieces and trim a few inches from the long side to end up with a rectangle about 22″ by 15″ (save this strip to be the binding in the final step). Cut out a rectangle from the top, which should be 6″ from top to bottom and 9″ left to right – this leaves 3″ on either side for handles. These will be the front/back panels.
Take the other two pieces and cut them in half longways; you’ll end up with 4 rectangles 22″ by 9″. Cut a rectangle from the top which is 3″ wide and 7″ long. These will be the side panels (this bag will fit over my shoulder, but for a bag that was really, comfortably a shoulder bag I would have cut these 8″ or 9″ deep instead of 7″).
2. Make the elastic band: Take 2 of the 3″ by 7″ rectangles you just cut and sew the short ends together. Press, then sew the long ends together to create a tube. Turn right side out, and thread with about 6″-7″ of elastic. Set aside.
3. Joining the panels: With right sides together, pair the front/back panels with each other and the side panels with each other and sew around the cut out rectangle. On one of the front/back panels, insert the elastic band. Clip into the corners, turn right sides out, and press well (unlike these pictures).
4. Join the handles: Sew the handles of the side panels to themselves:
Sew the handles of the front/back panels to the other front/back panel:
5. Sew up the bag: Working on one side at a time, match a side panel to the front/back panel and sew. You will be sewing one long seam per side, starting at the bottom of the bag, going up and over the handle, and back down to the bottom of the bag. First sew right sides together with a narrower seam allowance, press, then sew wrong sides together with a thicker seam allowance. This is sort of like a reverse French seam and will encase the seam allowance as well as give structure to the bag.
6. Finish the bottom: Because of the seams, the bag will want to fold in on itself like the picture below. Let it, and then enclose the whole bottom in a strip of binding.
That’s all there is to it. When filled the bag will square out (yes, “square out” is a verb) but empty it will flatten out for easy rolling up and storage. Last step: go shopping and try it out 🙂