Introduction: Sew Your Own Gift Sack
We all know how useful stuff sacks are, whether for storing things at home or for hauling gear out in the great outdoors. Stuff sacks also make a great gift, especially when there is a surprise gift or two inside! This tutorial will show how to design and create a stuff sack for gift giving during the holidays, using festive fabric and embellishments reflective of the occasion or season.
This is not an expensive project to make as you don't need much fabric to create this stuff sack. I used leftover fabric for the black and red pieces and purchased half a yard of the green fabric. For the bead, I even used a scrap piece of board that I had laying around from another project.
We will start with creating a reusable pattern and then step through all of the details needed to sew the stuff sack together.
This same pattern can be used to create everyday stuff sacks using heavy duty or lightweight rip-stop fabric.
Step 1: Creating a Pattern
The first thing is to decide on the dimensions of the stuff sack. The stuff sack is essentially a cloth tube with a bottom and top. I will provide dimensions and directions that you may follow or you may make your own adjustments for your own particular dimensions. This stuff sack has a finished diameter of 7.5 inches (190 mm) and a finished height of 12 inches (305 mm).
Step 1: Using a compass, draw two concentric circles on a piece of chipboard (chipboard is the thin "cardboard" used in cereal boxes, for example). The first circle has a diameter of 7.5 inches (190 mm). Now draw the second circle 7.75 inches (196 mm) to account for a seam allowance of .25 inches (6 mm) as seen in Photo 1. Use scissors to cut out the larger circle only.
Step 2: Using a ruler, draw the pocket and pocket flap on the chipboard. The pocket is 4 inches (102 mm) wide and 6 inches (152 mm) tall. Add .25 inches (6 mm) on all sides for seam allowances.
The pocket flap is 4 inches (102 mm) wide and 1.75 inches (45 mm) tall at the midpoint . Freehand the tapered part of the top edge of the pocket flap. Now add .25 inch (6 mm) seam allowance along all sides as seen in Photo 1. Use scissors to cut out the pattern pieces.
Step 2: Preshrinking the Fabric
It is always a good idea to preshrink fabric as a first step for any project, otherwise the fabric will likely shrink when laundered resulting in the item being smaller than planned or actually contorted as the different fabric pieces shrink non uniformly. All of the fabric for this project is 100% cotton.
Step 1: Fill a pan with enough water to submerge your fabric, one piece at a time. Bring it to a boil and turn off the heat. Submerge one piece of fabric for about 5 minutes and then hang to dry. Do not attempt to wring water from the fabric as it will create a very wrinkled texture...just hang it outside or over the bathtub if inside. Repeat this procedure for each piece of fabric. Let the fabric dry before cutting out the pieces.
Step 3: Cutting the Fabric
Lay the circle pattern on the black fabric and trace using tailor's chalk or a colored pencil. This will be the bottom of the sack.
Use the circle pattern to draw another circle on the black fabric. This time draw a short little handle 3 inches (76 mm) wide and only 1 inch (25 mm) long as seen on the right in Photo 1. This will be the top piece.
Place the pocket and pocket flap patterns on the red fabric and trace.
Use scissors to cut out the pieces.
Now we need to calculate the size of the main body of the stuff sack. The finished height is 12 inches (305 mm) so we will add a seam allowance of .25 inches to the top and bottom, for a total height of 12.5 inches (318 mm).
The length of the stuff sack body is equal to the circumference of the sack bottom. The circumference of a circle is equal to the radius of the circle times 3.14.
We need to remember that we are calculating the circumference of the finished bottom (the smaller circle) not the larger circle with the seam allowance.
In this project the radius of the finished bottom is 3.5 inches (89 mm). So the circumference of the finished bottom is 3.5 * 3.14 which equals 21.9 inches (556 mm). We will round up to 22 inches (559 mm). Now we know that the length of the sack body is 22 inches. Because the sack body is a rectangle, we will add a seam allowance of .25 inches (6 mm) for both sides for a total length of 22.5 inches (572 mm).
Since the stuff sack body is a rectangle, there is no need to make a pattern for the body. Simply cut out a rectangle from the green-patterned fabric 22.5 inches (572 mm) wide by 12.5 inches (318 mm) tall
The last thing to cut is a long narrow strip from the red fabric. The strip is 1 inch (25 mm) wide and 24 inches (610 mm) long. This strip will be used to make piping for the bottom seam. Piping is an embellishment that gives the project a clean professional look. Cut a corresponding length of piping yarn 24 inches (610 mm) long as seen in Photo 2.
Step 4: Sewing the Piping Together
Take the top end of the red fabric strip and fold it over about an inch (25 mm), as seen in Photo 1. Lay the piping yarn in the center of the strip of red fabric (Photo 1). Fold the fabric over the yarn and sew a straight seam, starting below the top end fold (Photo 2). The top end needs to be open so that it can be adjusted for length at a later stage and to accept the bottom end of the piping when it is sewn into the sack bottom. Sew the strip together as close as possible to the yarn, as seen in Photo 2. Your finished piece should look like the one in Photo 3.
Step 5: Stitching the Fabric Edges
Step 1: Use an overlock (serger) machine or the zigzag stitch on the sewing machine to lay down a stitch on the edges of the fabric. This helps prevent excessive fraying of the fabric. Do this for all edges on the pocket, pocket flap as well as on the top and bottom pieces as seen in Photos 1-3.
Step 2: Take the larger green rectangle piece and lay the pattern side of the fabric face down on the table and ensure that the rectangle is in a "landscape" orientation. Take one of the upper corners and fold it over .25 inches (6 mm) and crease. Make the fold only 2 inches (50 mm) long. Taper the fold so that it ends at the 2 inch (50 mm) mark as seen in Photo 4. Now sew the folded edge with a straight stitch. Once you reach the 2 inch (50 mm) mark sew the remaining edge with a zigzag stitch or with an overlock stitch as seen in Photo 5. Repeat this step for the other upper corner and side edge.
Step 6: Sewing the Upper Edge for a Drawstring
With the pattern side face down on the table fold the top edge over 1 inch (25 mm) and then tuck the edge of the fabric under the fold by about .25 inches (6 mm). Sew a straight-stitch seam along the bottom of the folded edge as seen in Photo 1. This creates a tube for the drawstring and also hides the raw fabric edge inside the drawstring tube.
Step 7: Sewing on the Pocket and Pocket Flap
Take a minute to iron out the wrinkles in the pocket, pocket flap and the top and bottom circles to make sewing a little easier.
Step 1: Take the top edge of the pocket and fold the edge over by .25 inches (6 mm) and sew a straight-stitch seam on the fold. Do the same for all edges of the pocket flap.
Step 2: Place the large green rectangle, pattern side facing upward, on the table, in a landscape orientation. Position the pocket and pocket flap onto the green rectangle in the desired location. The pocket will be placed with the outerside facing upwards, the pocket top will be placed with the underside facing upwards, as it folds down over the pocket. Remove the pocket flap for now and top stitch the pocket to the green rectangle by folding the edges of the pocket underneath by about .25 inches (6 mm) and sewing on top of the fold as seen in Photo 1. This hides the raw edge of the fabric. Sew only the bottom and sides of the pocket, leaving the top open.
Step 3: Reposition the pocket flap back onto the green rectangle so that it is in line with the pocket, with the underside facing upward, and top stitch the bottom edge to the green rectangle. No need to fold the raw edge under since the pocket flap, itself folds over concealing the raw edges. See Photos 2 and 3.
Step 8: Sewing the Tube
Step 1: Reposition the green rectangle so that the pattern side is facing down on the table and ensure that the green rectangle is in a landscape orientation. Take the top circle with the handle and position it on the top edge of the green rectangle in the center as seen in Photo 1. Fold the round top over and top stitch it to the green rectangle as seen in Photo 2. Be careful not to sew any part of the drawstring tube shut.
Step 2: Fold the green rectangle in half with the pattern side on the inside of the fold and sew a straight-stitch seam .25 inches (6 mm) from the edge. Start the seam about 2 inches (50 mm) from the top edge to ensure that the drawstring tube is not sewn shut.
Step 9: Sewing the Bottom to the Tube to Create the Sack
The final sewing step is to sew the tube, piping and bottom circle together.
Study Photo 1 to see the arrangement of the pieces. The bottom of the green fabric tube is laid down first. The piping is laid down next. Note the orientation of the piping. The piping is facing the inside of the tube. Finally lay the bottom circle on top. Now that you have the bottom edges sandwiched together, begin sewing as close as possible to the piping starting about 1 inch (25 mm) below the open end of the piping. Sew slowly!! Sew a few stitches at a time then smooth the fabric out, align the edges and sew a few more stitches, stop to realign the edges and sew a few more stitches.
Once you have sewn most of the way around the tube you will be close to the starting point as seen in Photo 2. At this point clip the piping yarn in the open end so that it is barely visible (Photo 3). Clip the tail end of the piping so that the piping ends meet and do not overlap as seen in Photo 4. Now bring the tail end of the piping and lay it between the folds of the piping where the snipped piping used to be (Photo 5). Lay the black bottom circle back over the piping and continue sewing as before (over the piping ends) and you are done!
Invert the sack and smooth out the bottom to reveal the amazing sewing job. The extra efforts made to sew slowly and repeated realignment of the fabric edges is well rewarded with a beautiful looking sack!
Step 10: Attaching the Closures
Hand sew a piece of velcro (the pile side) to the underside of the pocket flap ( Photos 1 and 2). Use this as another opportunity to add an artistic touch by incorporating a design in the stitching. I used colored thread to embroider a "Guiding Star" design as seen in Photo 3. Hand sew the opposite velcro piece (the hook side) to the pocket at the appropriate location (Photo 4).
Tape a sturdy toothpick or slender twig to the end of the drawstring and thread through the drawstring tube (Photo 5). Determine the appropriate length that you want and cut the drawstring.
Step 11: Making a Closure Button for the Sack
We will start with our last and final pattern for this project.
Step 1: Draw a five-pointed star on a piece of chipboard and cut it out. Make it as big as you would like (Photo 1). Trace the pattern onto a piece of fine-grained wood (Photo 2). I just used a leftover piece of scrap wood from an earlier project. Take the wood and drill two holes side by side in the center as seen in Photo 3. Enlarge and connect the holes with a file so that the two ends of the drawstring can fit through the holes very snugly. You will want there to be some drag as the drawstring passes through the bead so the bead will serve as a closure to keep the stuff sack closed.
Step 2: As seen in Photos 3 and 4, use a coping saw or band saw to cut out the shape of the star. Then carve the wood into a fanciful bead (Photo 5). Sand it lightly, apply a light coat of shellac and when dry string it on to the drawstring as seen in Photo 6. Knot the ends of the drawstring and if your drawstring is nylon, burn the ends with a lit match to prevent fraying.
Step 12: Homemade Gifts
There were many steps to this project which may make it seem like it is overly complicated or difficult. It is actually a simple project that anyone with access to a sewing machine and a little background in sewing can do. I would even say that this is a great beginner's project if you have someone to coach you along.
You don't need a lot of fabric to make this. Just use leftover pieces of fabric that you have on hand like I did.
In terms of gift giving, creating something for another person means so much! We give of our time and talents when we create and that will always be remembered.