Introduction: Blind Tasting Bottle Bags

About: I'm a chartered mechanical engineer and life-long maker. I especially like making useful things from cheap materials, including waste, and fixing things that would otherwise be scrap. I'll have a go at anythin…
It’s fun to taste wine blind with friends.  Can you tell Romanian pinot noir from Burgundy when you haven’t had sight of the label or even the shape of the bottle?  Here’s how to make numbered bags to hide the bottle - much less hassle than wrapping them in paper or decanting the contents.  Make as many as you need, but 2 is a good number to start with.

The bags have a drawstring which can be tied in a bow at the back (or secured with an anorak-type cord toggle/grip) either to cover the whole bottle or, when it’s time to pour, to leave the top of the neck poking out while keeping any neck label hidden. 

Full credit to MD Haworth who published a similar Wine Bags I'ble some years ago.  My version is a little simpler, using only one piece of fabric for each bag.

What you will need (per bag)

  1. A 13” x 18” piece of dark coloured lightweight fabric – buy a fat quarter (18” x 22” approx.) for one bag or 3/8 yd of 36” wide fabric will just make two
  2. A scrap of plain or patterned fabric in a contrasting colour
  3. Matching thread
  4. Fabric glue, bonding powder or fusible webbing (such as Vilene Bondaweb)
  5. An 18” shoelace or a similar length of cord or narrow tape, in a colour to match 1 or 2 above
  6. A small piece of tracing paper (greaseproof paper) and a pencil
  7. Tailor’s chalk or a water soluble crayon that will show up on 1 above
  8. A sewing machine with a zigzag stitch (although you could do it by hand instead)
  9. The usual sewing kit: pins, needles, tape measure, small scissors, etc
  10. A pair of dressmaking scissors or a roller cutter, cutting mat and long straight edge
  11. A computer (or some other source of large numerals)
  12. An iron
  13. A cord toggle (optional)
  14. A small safety pin (may not be required)

The bag fabric (1. above) should be washable but it still needs to be black or another dark colour so that red wine stains don’t show.  The bottom of the bag is “bagged out” by sewing across the corners (see Step 4), which means that the fabric shouldn’t be too thick or the bottom will be bulky and unstable when a wine bottle is standing upright in the bag.  A fine, tightly woven cotton lawn is ideal.  Shrink it by washing it in hottish water before cutting out, and shrink the scrap fabric that will be used for the appliqued numbers too, to prevent any differential shrinkage afterwards that might make the numbers wrinkle. 

You could use the same fabric for the appliqued numbers on all the bags you make, but as I was only making two I chose a black and white fabric for bag no.1 and a predominantly red fabric for no.2.  That way I can easily remember that no.1 contains a white wine and no.2 a red one.

Step 1: Cutting Out

Cut a rectangle of bag fabric 13” x 18” on the straight grain of the fabric or with the grain running crosswise, it doesn’t matter which.  This gives a finished bag that is 15” high and 12” in circumference.  It will comfortably take an ordinary 75cl wine bottle, even a tall one such as an Alsace flute.  Sparkling wine bottles may just fit but add an extra inch to the width (ie 14” instead of 13”) if you want to be sure.

For the numbers, open a word processor on your computer and type the number you need in bold.  Choose a font that isn’t too fancy and increase the font size until the letter on the screen is about 3.5” tall.  Hold the tracing paper on the screen and trace off the outline of the number with a pencil.  If you are using fusible webbing, iron a piece of webbing that is larger than the number onto the back of a scrap of the contrasting fabric, then trace the number (the wrong way round) onto the paper on the back of the webbing, paying attention to the grain of the fabric.  Cut out the shape.  If you don’t have webbing, pin the tracing paper (with the number the right way round) onto the right side of the fabric and cut through both layers.

Step 2: Appliqueing the Number

Fold the bag fabric in half, right side out, to make a 6.5” x 18” rectangle with the fold on the left.  Position the cut-out number so that its base is about 5” from the lower edge of the bag fabric and horizontally it is just to the left of centre, to allow for the fact that the right side edges will be seamed.  Using the fusible webbing, bonding powder or fabric glue, fix it in position.  (Note that in the photos the numbers are higher up.  They will be easier to see if you put them 5” up from the edge, as I have said.)

Zigzag round the edges of the numeral, or else work blanket stitch by hand.  Finish off the thread ends neatly on the inside.

Step 3: Side and Lower Seams

The bag can be sewn with ordinary seams, taking a ½” seam allowance, or else with French seams so there are no raw edges on the inside.  Take a ¼” seam allowance each time if you use French seams, ie. ½” in total – further instructions for sewing French seams can be found in my pillowcase I’ble.  You will need to finish off the raw edges inside by oversewing them, or at least pinking them, if you are using ordinary seams.  Remember, right sides together for ordinary seams, wrong sides together for the first row of stitching when sewing French seams.  The photos show French seams.

Sew the long side seam first and check that the resulting tube will slip easily over a wine bottle before going any further.  Press the side seam open (or to one side if it is a French seam) then sew the lower edges together and press that seam too.  While you have the iron out, press the opposite side of the bag from the vertical seam to make a crisp fold close to the bottom seam – you will need to know where this side comes for the next stage.

Step 4: Bagging the Bottom

With the bag inside out and the lower seam uppermost, pull the two sides of it apart near one of the corners to get a triangular shape.  (Refer to the photo here, it’s hard to explain.)  Line up the lower seam with the side seam or ironed-in fold beneath and pin through both layers to keep them lined up.  Measure across with a ruler or tape measure that is perpendicular to the lower seam and find the point where the width of the triangle is 2.5”, ie 1.25” on either side of the lower seam.  Draw a line across at this point using tailor’s chalk or a washable crayon, then pin across this 2.5” long line or tack along it. 

Do the same with the other bottom corner of the bag and then sew these two seams.  Press, turn right side out and you should have a bag with a square-ish base that is about the same size as a wine bottle.

Step 5: The Draw Cord

To make the casing for the draw cord, fold 1” to the inside all the way around the top edge and iron the fold, then open it out again, turn under ¼” and press that too.  Work a small, vertical buttonhole by machine or hand in the middle of the back of the casing (ie the side that doesn’t have the number on it), just under the lower of the two ironed-in folds.  Check that two ends of your shoelace, cord or tape will fit comfortably through the buttonhole. 

Turn the casing to the inside along the two fold lines and sew it in place close to the lower fold.  Insert the draw cord – you’ll need to use a small safety pin to feed it through the casing if you’re not using shoelaces with hard ends.  Feed the two ends through an anorak toggle if you’re using one. 

Give it all a good press and you’re done.  Happy blind tasting!