Step-by-step project: How to turn an old shirt into a shopping bag
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’
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:
Step 2: Cut the arms off, following the lines of the sides of the shirt. (Keep the arms for using later):
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.
Step 4: Cut off the top of the shirt in a straight line.
***: Turn the shirt inside out. 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:
Step 5: Sew across the marked line twice (for extra strength on the bottom of the bag), and then trim off the excess fabric:
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:
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.
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!):
Step 10: Repeat steps 7-9 for the opposite corner of the bag, then mark sewing line across the fold:
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:
Step 14: Fold the bottom edge up to touch the middle:
Step 15: Fold the rectangle down the centre to make a long strip. (This will be the carrying handle):
Step 16: Sew the open side of the carrying handle (approximately 3mm from the edge of the fabric).
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:
Step 19: Fold the top of the bag over by approximately 2.5cm (1 inch):
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):
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:
That’s it! Finished bag: