Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reusable grocery bag practice sew along

For those of you hoping to learn to sew from the upcoming Coffee Date Dress sew along, this is for a little practice! By this point, you should have figured out how to thread your machine and sew a straight stitch on some scrap fabric.

My finished Charlie Bag
These groceries came from my kitchen for the picture, which
is why the milk and soda are only half full. I don't actually
drink soda, it was leftover from a meeting.
This pattern is simple, practical, and good experience following a Burda Style pattern. Also, since it's not something you're going to wear, it will be more forgiving of mistakes (unless your groceries are really high maintenance). I'll walk through the steps of the free instructions from Burda Style (click here). The name of the bag is the "Charlie Bag." For a beginner, this whole thing should take 2-3 days. For the real sew along, I will break down the instructions. This way, though, you guys can set your own pace and figure out how long things take. I used a contrasting thread so you can see what I'm doing.

The instructions tell you to first assemble the pattern (Pattern Step 1). Really, they just show a picture. Print the pattern. Measure the 4"x4" square. If it's not 4"x4," you need to fix your printer settings and reprint! **Ok, ok, this is just a bag. And to be honest, my square didn't print properly, but it was still a square, so I just went with it. If this were an article of clothing, it would be absolutely critical to reprint! But since it's a bag, you can conserve paper and just go with what printed.** So tape the pattern together using the guides on the pattern (ex. the 2a arrow lines up with the other 2a arrow, etc.)
Measure the square
Cut out pattern pieces (I usually cut one side and tape it
onto the margin of the other side of a line)
Finally, tape the pattern together. It should look like this

Next, fold your fabric along the grain line, perpendicular to the crossgrain (Pattern Step 2). The grain line is the direction of the threads in the fabric (here's a little 3 page article from Threads on a grain line, if you're interested). You want to match the selvedges (the edges of the fabric that are usually white or have writing on them, not the part that was cut to give you your fabric piece). The right side of the fabric should be facing in (it should be inside out). Lay your pattern on the fabric. Piece #2 (the main bag) should sit on the fold of the fabric that you made. There is text on the pattern to tell you where to line it up. You'll need to cut Piece #2 on the fold, then pick up the pattern piece and cut out a second. You have to orient the grainline properly... don't fold the fabric in the wrong direction! You only need one of Piece #1. Line it up along the grainline (line up the arrow labeled grainline, the other arrow is for the crossgrain). Pin the pattern paper to your fabric. Cut out the pattern. If there is a dash on the pattern, cut a little "notch." If there are two dashes together, cut a little trapezoid (see my picture).
Lay the big pattern piece on the fold of the fabric
These are notches that I cut at the lines
These are the little trapezoids that I cut at the double lines
Pattern Step 3 isn't actually an instruction, just a picture. Make sure your pieces match the picture :)

Next, you're supposed to overlock the edges and trim the seam allowance from the curved edges (Pattern Step 4). It's a little misleading, though, because you need to TRIM THE SEAM ALLOWANCE FROM THE CURVED EDGES BEFORE overlocking anything. Now you're probably wondering what overlock means. It's just a way to finish raw edges so they don't fray. My sewing machine has an overlock stitch (it's #12 on mine) and a special presser foot for overlocking. If your machine doesn't have this feature, you could use a regular zig zag stitch with a regular presser foot. All this overlocking seems a little unnecessary to me, since all the straight edges will be on the inside of the bag. I went ahead and followed the instructions, but it uses a ton of thread and takes a while, so if you want to skip it, just overlock the pocket piece (Piece #1) and the curved edges (these will be exposed). After overlocking, don't trim anything.
Trim the curved edges before finishing the edges with
an overlock stitch
The overlock stitch choice on my machine--
you can see what the picture looks like
My special overlock foot
An overlocked edge
Overlocked all the way around (like I said,
this isn't critical, so you could just overlock
the curved edges if you want to conserve
time and thread

In Pattern Step 5, you make the pocket. Fold the pocket on the notches you made, according to the picture on the pattern. Sew the sides (see picture). To sew the sides, you'll just use a regular straight stitch that you've been practicing. Stitch forward ~5 stitches, then stitch in reverse back to the start, and stitch forward again to secure your thread at the beginning. Do this again at the end of line you're making to lock in the thread at the end. You'll do this same thing any time you sew a straight line. You can set the pocket aside now.
Folded up pocket--you can't really see the notches here
because they got caught in the overlocking, but I followed
the instructions to fold it. Note that the pins go perpendicular
to the seam I'm about to make so I can sew over them.

My finished pocket seams

Next, you get to do the most complicated part of the whole pattern! Sew the tops together using flat felled seams (Pattern Step 6). There is a nice tutorial on Burda Style, and you can look at my pictures below to help you do this. This technique is something I've seen but never done before, so you can certainly show off your new skills with this bag. It turns out really nice. If you're intimidated, just sew a regular 5/8" seam, and you'll have a visible seam, but nobody will really care.
First sew a 3/8" seam with the wrong sides together, so it
shows on the outside.
Trim the seam to 1/8", press toward one side.

When I press a seam, I first iron over the stitching. Then I open up the seam and press it toward one side before pressing it over to iron over the other side. This helps the seam lie flat. Finally, I flip over the fabric and iron on the other side.
Fold the fabric so the right sides are facing, sew a new seam
that encases your original well pressed seam.
Press this seam just like you did the other one. There will
be no raw edges. Finally, sew the seam down on itself so it
doesn't stick out. Pretty clean on the "wrong" fabric side, huh?
Here's the seam from the "right" fabric side!

Ok, now it's time to put the bag together (Pattern Step 7)! Put the right sides together. Lay the pocket on one side between the notches, with the open side facing toward the middle. Pin the pocket down through both main pattern pieces. Pin the rest of the side. Sew a straight line. Do the same for the other side, minus the pocket.
Pin down the pocket between the notches. The open side
is facing toward you right now.
Stitch the seam, making sure you backtack (lock the fabric in
by going forward and backward) at the start and finish of your
seam. You can see the seam in the top right side of this picture.
Finally, fold the sides in at the bottom notches (Pattern Step 8). Why, you ask? Well, this will give the finished bag a little more shape and allow it to open up a little more at the bottom like a normal grocery bag (see picture). You'll fold it, pin and sew along the bottom, and then unfold it when you're done. The fold will be caught in the bottom fold but not the top.
Fold along the side seam at the notch on the bottom
Pin the bottom seam, encasing the folds you made
Sew the seam
The reason you did this folding was to make the bottom
look like this when finished

Now I'm adding in an extra step that will be good practice for the coffee date dress. Press the side and bottom seams open. This means to iron along the seam with the little 5/8" seam allowance pieces folded out against the main pattern piece (see picture). It gives your bag a more finished look, and it's very important to press everything while making any apparel in the future.
Press seams open
Press seams open (I'm taking a picture with my right hand,
so please pardon the awkwardness of ironing with my left).

Move on to Pattern Step 9 and Pattern Step 10: Turn bag right side out and admire your pretty handiwork, then you can fold your bag into its pouch for consolidated storage.
The bag folds into the little pouch!
Bag in its pouch
Bag hanging out with its friends (other reusable
grocery bags)

I can't wait for the real sew along to start on Sunday!! It will last three weeks. The entire first week will be sizing/layout/cutting/marking, and then there will be two weeks of slow paced sewing. If any questions come up while you're making this bag, please just comment to this post, and I'll answer them (even if you know me, share your question with the group this way).


  1. Note on the flat felled seam tutorial from Burda Style: The second picture in step 8 is the finished product. At the end of step 9, you should have a clean seam on the "right" side (nothing sticking out, no visible stitches, and a little pouch encasing the raw edges visible on the "wrong" side. In step 9, you iron down this pouch, then you move on to topstitching!

    The picture on the right in step 8 of the tutorial is misleading!

  2. I made one! I used canvas for mine, so it doesn't fit into the little pouch very well, but it is okay. I also have a bunch of threads sticking out through the overedged seams and so on the next one I think I am just going to do regular seams all the way around, just so that it is neater. But my flat-felled seams are perfect. ;)

  3. I posted a picture of the second one I made to the flickr group ( I brought it to lab and we had show and tell. They were all very impressed, haha.

  4. Wow, yours looks really cute! I need to make more in some other fabrics!