Introduction: A TOTE-ally Easy Way to Help the Earth

I've got one, my friends have them, and I'm willing to bet you've got one, too.
Oh, sure, we try to hide them. We stash them under our kitchen sink or in the back of a drawer.

I'm speaking, of course, of the evil wad of plastic grocery bags (more than 500 billion of them are used every year worldwide). These ubiquitous little devils seem to multiply like crazy, and we know they're no good for the environment. To learn more about the environmental effects of disposable grocery bags, please read Step 7:Get informed.

The best solution is to carry your own re-usable sacks. You've probably thought about it before or seen them in your local grocery store. You were probably turned off by their cost and dreadful appearance, usually featuring a big corporate logo.

With this instructable I'm going to show how you can make your own durable, stylish tote bags for very cheap, even if you have little to no experience with sewing. I use a very simple design to create a fully lined bag which will be amazingly strong (no more chasing your canned good around the parking lot!) The next time that greasy little bagboy asks you if you want paper or plastic you can tell him to stop pushing those evil things on you... or you could just ask him politely to use your totes instead.

This instructable is written assuming that you have little to no experience with sewing.

The sample items made in this tutorial are also available to be purchased at my etsy page

Step 1: Everything You'll Need to Get Started!

I put a lot of thought into the design of the tote for this instructable. I decided it had to meet three requirements:
1. The supplies need to be cheap
2. The bag has to be strong enough to hold groceries
3. the design has to be easy enough for anyone to follow

Here are your required materials:

-- 1/2 yard of fabric
If you've never bought fabric before, just go to a local sewing or craft store and start wandering around. When you find the one you like, just grab the big thing of fabric (the 'bolt') and take it up to the cutting counter. They'll cut it to any length you need. For this project I'll suggest that you stay away from anything that stretches. it probably isn't worth the trouble. Prices are generally printed on one end of the cardboard center and refer to the cost per yard. Depending on what fabric you choose, you shouldn't have to pay more than a couple of dollars for your fabric. (If you're using the same fabric for the straps as the main bag you will need to add 8-12 inches to the length you buy.)
Note: A standard pillowcase is usually the right size to use in place of the fabric, this can make the project even cheaper!!

For the straps of your bag you can choose to sew them from the same material as your main bag, from a contrasting fabric, or use 'webbing' or 'strapping' (that's the stuff they use on most backpacks) If you want to sew your own you'll only need 8-12 inches of fabric (a little more for thicker straps)

--Sewing machine or needle and thread
You just need to be able to sew a reasonably straight line.

-- Straight pins
although not entirely necessary, they will make things much easier

makes bumpy things smooth, or make creased folds

any stuff you want to sew/glue/iron on to make your bag unique (Step 6 has a few ideas for decorating your bag)

Step 2: Prepare Your Straps

If you're attaching purchased straps or using ribbon you can skip this step, otherwise:

img 1 Cut the fabric that you picked for the straps in half lengthwise so that you have two 4-5 inch wide strips.

img 2 Next, with the outside facing down, fold the long edges of the outside edges in so that they meet in the center. Iron this flat.

Fold the strap in half lengthwise. You should now have a strap with four layers of fabric 1-3 inches wide (depending on what you started with)

img 3 Finally, stitch along length of the straps on the edge of the fabric with the folded in sides, holding together the open side.

img 4 This is a quick illustration of cutting and attaching straps made from the same fabric as your main bag. (The darker areas show the fabric being used for straps)

Step 3: Attach the Straps to the Bag Fabric

img 1 Unfold you fabric and lay it out flat. It should be 18" on the short side. The long side's length will vary depending on the fabric.

img 2 Fold the short lengths of the fabric in towards the middle. They should overlap just a little.

img 3 Fold the whole thing in half with the open edges inside. This is about what the final size of your tote will be.

img 4 Lay your straps down on the fabric how you want them and begin to pin. Make sure to pin only to the top layer of the folded fabric, and that you place a pin near the top of the bag where you will stop stitching.

img 5 Once you've finished pinning the first side, flip the bag over and pin up the other side the same way

Step 4: Stitch the Straps in Place

img 1 As long as you were able to pin only to the top layer of fabric you should be able to unfold the fabric completely and your straps will be pinned to the middle of the fabric

img 2 Stitch along the straps, securely attaching them to the main bag fabric. Make sure to stitch across the strap where the pins stop.

Step 5: Sew the Body of the Bag

img 1 Fold the straps in towards the center and fold the main piece of fabric in half so that the straps are on the inside (it will be inside out when you sew it) You can pin the edges together if you like.

img 2 Sew along the open sides of the bag except for a 4-6 inch section on the short side. When you finish your sewing reach into the unsewn section and turn it inside-out (now the right side with the straps should be on the outside)

img 3 fold the loose edges of the hole to the inside and stitch across the fabric as close to the edge of the fabric as you can.

img 4 Now you have big rectangle of fabric with straps sewn on one half. The half with no straps is the lining, so pull apart on the straps and push the lining down into the other half.

Now sew or tie the ends of the straps together and you have your basic tote bag!

The next step will cover a few easy techniques for adding more flair to your brand new bag.

Step 6: Extras! Add Flair to Your Bag!

There are an infinite number of ways that you can add to or change this design to personalize your tote bag and make it really special. I'll share a few ideas here.

img 1 to add a pocket to the front of your bag, just sew a rectangle the size you want for your pocket and pin it in place while you're pinning on your straps in step 3. Sew the sides up with the straps and put an extra line of stitching along the bottom of the pocket.

img 2 Even very simple applique can add a lot of character to a bag. For this example I used stiff craft felt with a little sparkle to it (unfortunately the sparkle doesn't show up well in the photos). Use a simple zigzag stitch around the shape during step three, after the straps are attached.

img 3 If you want the lining to be a different color from the outside, just use two pieces of fabric sewn together. Actually, you can use as many pieces of fabric as you want, as long you end up with a piece that is 18" wide and four times as long as you want it to be tall.

img 4 box corners are an easy way to add stability to the bag, make a stronger and better looking bottom. To do this, just fold the bottom corners of the bag towards the straps, flattening out the side seam. stitch around the triangle shape that will form.

img 5 Ribbon, Lace, Buttons, Beads, or patches can be sewn, glued or ironed onto your bag to add the little details that make your bag stand out. Fabric paints or markers are an easy way of adding flair as well. Your only limit is your imagination!

Step 7: Get Informed

I feel very strongly about the need to reduce the numbers of disposable bags we all use. There are serious effects throughout the lifecycle of these bags. From production, to transportation, to disposal, It is staggering to try and wrap your mind around the statistics involved. I hope that you'll read what I've written here, maybe check out a few of the links I've included at the bottom and seriously consider carrying your own bag. Just think of the difference you could make, even if you reduce just some of the bags you carry home.

- Plastic or paper bags are not really free. The cost of these bags is figured in when the store sets the prices on their product. Reducing the number of bags a store has to buy will reduce their cost, which they can pass on to you.

-According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags.

- Most plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is made from crude oil and natural gas, nonrenewable resources.

-There are no wide-spread recycling programs for plastic bags, it would cost too much for too little result.

- 47% of wind borne litter escaping from landfills is plastic and much of this is plastic bags.

What about the paper bags?

-Paper comes from trees (obvious, I know)

-Most paper bags are made from virgin materials (not recycled) or with a very small recycled content because recycled paper is generally not as strong.

-Paper bags weigh more than plastic and therefore require more resources to transport

- It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.
Energy required to produce bags (in British thermal units): Plastic bags: 594 BTU; Paper bags: 2511 BTU.

Here are a few links to learn some more: