Step-by-step project: How to turn an old shirt into a shopping bag

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag
Shopping bag made from a shirt – (sorry, I haven’t ironed it!)

Level of difficulty: Fairly easy. Project can be finished within a morning, afternoon, or evening.

In the UK, plastic carrier bags are currently 5 pence per bag. That doesn’t bother me though, because for the last few years I have been making my own re-usable shopping bags from old shirts.

They are washable and really hard-wearing, and if you can get your hands on an XL or XXL-sized shirt, the bags carry a lot of shopping!

You will need:

  • Old shirt
  • Sewing machine (and threads – preferably the same shade as the shirt). My sewing machine is just a really simple one. It does straight lines and zigzags, and that’s it.
  • Scissors (preferably fabric scissors)*
  • Sewing needle and thread for temporary ‘tacking’
  • Pins

Other (optional) useful stuff:

  • Great big self-healing cutting mat
  • Rotary cutting wheel
  • Fabric marking pencil
  • Iron and ironing board

 

*I know hardly anything about sewing, but I do know that if you have fabric scissors, then you should never never never use them for anything except cutting fabric and threads!

Step-by-step instructions for converting a shirt into a bag

Step  0: (Optional) Iron the shirt first. (I really should have ironed mine first, because it looks really crinkly. Oh well, at least it’s clean.)

Step 1: Fasten the buttons on the shirt and lay it flat with the buttons facing you and the arms stretched out to the sides:

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - step 1
One old shirt

Step 2: Cut the arms off, following the lines of the sides of the shirt. (Keep the arms for using later):

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - cut off the arms
Cut off the arms

Step 3: Sew a line down the front of the shirt, to the left of the buttons (sew over an existing line of stitching if possible). Then sew another line down the front of the shirt, to the right of the buttons. This will keep the shirt permanently fastened and will also stop any small items of shopping escaping through the gaps between the buttons.

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - sew either side of the buttons
sew a line down both sides of the buttons

Step 4: Cut off the top of the shirt in a straight line, then mark a straight line across the shirt, about a couple of centimetres (just less than an inch) from the bottom. Pin and tack it if you like:

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - mark a line along the bottom
Cut across top and mark straight line along the bottom

Step 5: Sew across the marked line twice (for extra strength on the bottom of the bag), and then trim off the excess fabric:

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - step 5
Sew across the marked line

Step 6: The sides of the shirt’s two top corners of the bag (that were previously the armpits of the sleeves) still need to be sewn up. Just sew a straight line from the bottom of the armpit to the top of the shirt/bag:

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag
Armpits (top left and right) need to be sewn

 

How to turn an old shirt into a shopping bag
Close-up: sew a straight line up to the top of the bag/shirt.
turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - turn shirt 90 degrees
Turn shirt 90degrees

Step 7: Turn the shirt/bag round 90degrees so that the bottom of the bag (that was sewn across in Step 5) is now on the right. Take the top right corner and swing it down so it rests on top of the other fabric:

Step 8: Pull the sides of the material outwards.

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag
Pull the corner’s sides out, slightly.

Step 9: Fold the corner down. The fold should be approximately 6 inches (15 cms) wide. (This was the hardest bit to get my head round. Let me know if you need better instructions!):

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - fold corner down
Fold corner down

 

Step 10: Repeat steps 7-9 for the opposite corner of the bag, then mark sewing line across the fold:

 

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - mark line
Mark where the fold was

Step 11: Sew across the marked lines

Step 12:  Using the sleeve pieces from Step 2, cut 2x rectangles approximately 10cm (4ins) wide by 40cm (16ins) long.

Step 13: (Optional: fold the rectangle in half lengthways and press it with the iron to create a crease down the middle.) Fold the top edge of the rectangle down so that it touches the middle:

Fold top down towards middle

Step 14: Fold the bottom edge up to touch the middle:

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - fold bottom up
Fold bottom up to touch middle

Step 15: Fold the rectangle down the centre to make a long strip. (This will be the carrying handle):

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - fold into a long strip
Fold in half again.

Step 16: Sew the open side of the carrying handle (approximately 3mm from the edge of the fabric).

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - sew the open side
Sew the open side

Step 17: Sew the other side of the carrying handle as well (again approximately 3mm from the edge of the material).

Step 18: Repeat steps 16 and 17 for the second carrying handle:

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - sew the second handle
Sew both handles down both sides.

Step 19: Fold the top of the bag over by approximately 2.5cm (1 inch):

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - fold down the top
Fold down the top of the bag

Step 20: Pin the end of a carrying strap so it overlaps the folded edge of the front of the bag, about 7.5cm (3inches) in from the left seam of the bag. Pin the end of the other carrying strap so it overlaps the folded edge of the bag, about 7.5cm from the right seam of the bag.

Fold the straps over and pin their other ends to the back of the bag.

Then start sew a line all the way around the folded top of the bag (approx. 3mm from the edge):

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - sew across the top
Sew across the top edge, fixing the straps in place.

Step 21: Sew another line across the top of the bag, approximately 2.5cm (1 inch) down from the folded edge. Then to make the handles extra strong, sew an “X” shape across each end:

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - sew an X
Sew second line around the top edge, then an “X” over the handle ends.

That’s it! Finished bag:

turn an old shirt into a shopping bag - finished bag

I hope this was useful – please let me know if you need better instructions! You can tweet me @PolymerKay or use the comments section or contact us page.

 

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