How To Make Simple Shopping Bags

We buy rice in bulk; the rice comes in charming cotton bags adorned with tigers or maps of Afghanistan.  I can’t bear to throw them away, so I have a nice stack of them.   Last September, I made a very cleverly engineered Betty Shopper from some of those bags, lined with an old tablecloth.

In fact, like many of my projects from that month or two, it’s rather over-engineered.  I don’t use it.  It’s heavy and hard to carry when full.  I carried it for a while on principle, but had to admit defeat.  It’s completely impractical.

I’ve been carrying my shopping in this dirty old thing.  It’s not actually dirty; it mildewed last December in the unrelenting rains although it wasn’t actually wet.  I can’t bleach out the mildew stains.  Yuck.  I decided to make a new shopping bag as simple as this one from my stock of rice bags.

Very simple.  Two hemmed rectangles of canvas with webbing handles.

Always looking to “Make Do,” I harvested the webbing handles from this bag, also mildewed in the damp weather we had.

I trimmed the seams from two bags, leaving the zippered edge at the top.  No need to hem.

I finished the ends of the webbing and stitched it on over the former carrying handles.  Later, I decided to trim the little handles from the bag.

Then I serged the three remaining sides, re-enforcing the top edge with a bar-tack.

I folded down the bottom corner to make a gusset.

I serged the corner.

Viola, a mildew-free shopping bag from rice bags, with a minimum outlay of effort.  I think this one will definitely see more use, especially as I threw out my old mildewed shopping bag.  The whole project took less than 20 minutes, and would work well with any medium-to-heavy fabric.

Do you ever let your sewing get too complicated, only to realize later that your creation is not practical?  How do you keep things simple?


  1. SO glad that you don't have something more serious happening inside. Yes, some of my grocery bags definitely work better than others….and some of my clothes do, too. Simple with good design and style, that's the good combination.

  2. Oh no, poor you! What a grotty way to spend a Saturday! Making a new bag is excellent antidote. I frequently overengineer things. It's like I know too much about what could go wrong and try to compensate for it. Funnily enough, it happened with shopping bags too. I make these bags out of craft cotton that pack into a mini bag, they are really cute. The first lot I did had gussets and top stitching and all kinds of faffle, even two types of handles! Now I make them pretty much like you've described, really simply. I can make more, faster, which is good because I sell them at the market and it means that I actually feel like my time is worth something :)

  3. A first run of any new idea can have some glitches. I love the print and look of the bag with the repurposed rice sacks. Why not give it another attempt? If you keep eating rice there will always be more fabric to experiment with.I hope you are feeling better. Gastroenteritis, yuck!

  4. Ick. I hope you're feeling better soon!Aw, sorry to hear about your bag not working out. I really liked the shape of it. But regular old tote bags really are the best. I like the one you came up with!I haven't had any experience with over-complicated or over-constructed sewing projects yet. My thesis, on the other hand, went a little convoluted at times. I just kept reminding myself:KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. :D

  5. Mildew and gastro-anything are no good. Hope you're feeling better soon!I like those fun rice bags. I saved a pile of them, but good-willed them when we moved (since I couldn't throw them away!).

  6. Well first of all – Sheesh, I'm glad you are not perforated and that what belongs in your stomach is staying where it should!Second, I totally understand about the mildew thing here in the rainforest that is Vancouver, BC. I get frustrated with trying to keep it at bay. I lose the battle constantly.Third, I think that over engineering is a MAJOR problem of mine. I think I sew less because of it. Just because I COULD tweak it doesn't mean I SHOULD, especially if it means I don't finish it because I have to do several muslins.

  7. Hope your stomach is all better. I sometimes over-engineer the simplest things. For example, I made my kids fancy lunch bags, but they prefer to use the empty, unaltered rice bags. I guess it's just part of sewing.

  8. Hope you feel better soon. I want to make some shopping bags.I see that I am starting to over-engineer things. I think I've just enough sewing skill now to be dangerous, if you know what I mean. I've got to remind myself to keep it simple.

  9. Sometimes I knit straps for totes out of scrap yarn. Start with a little rectangle, switch to idiot cord for length desired, end with a matching rectangle. Sew rectangles to bag. (You can either knit repeat for double straps, or just fasten one side of strap to each side of bag. Large diameter i-cord makes for easier carrying of heavy loads.) Softer than webbing, relaxing to knit, and you can use yucky yarn that isn't suitable for wearing. Feel better soon.

  10. Hey, I recognize that Intellectual Property bag! Within walking distance of our house. Sadly, they went out of business along with a ton of other bookstores the last two years. I swear, though, every business is giving free cloth grocery bags now–even my vet gave me a bunch last week. I'm overflowing with these and wonder how many recyclable grocery totes one needs :/.

  11. I figured they would have gone out of business. I think that retail space is cursed. I used to live right around the corner…

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