Introduction: Grocery Tote Bag Made Out of 40lb Birdseed Sack

This tote bag is made with the pretty sack our birdseed came in.  The finished bag is about 15" tall, 14" wide and 9 inches deep. 
It's made with
one plastic birdseed bag
thread and sewing machine
quilt batting (poly, cotton, wool, doesn't matter) about 6 x 40 inches
rotary cutter, ruler and mat, but you can use scissors if you don't have that.

I wash the bags first with dishsoap.  Let them dry.  Undo the stitching across the bottom.
I have two options for finishing the bottom seam.

Step 1: More Preparation for the Sack...

A.   Fold down the edge of the bag (to the inside) so that the design on the bag is at the edge.  Crease this fold.  This particular bag has side creases folded in (like a paper grocery bag), so fold those in.  Don't worry about the actual edge of the plastic yet, we'll tackle that later.  Lay it flat on your cutting surface. 
I don't advise using any types of pins, so when you need to have something held tight, use binder clips or large paperclips.

B. and C.   I want 20" of bag from that top fold down to my bottom seam.  On my cutting board I aligned the top edge of the bag with the 30" mark, and I aligned my ruler to cut at the 10" mark.

D. and E.   The next step I did is to make deeper sides.  Currently my birdseed sack would have a really wide front and back, but the sides would be narrow. 
I start out by making my front right edge close to the design on the sack by making a new fold like along the design.

F.  I repeat for the front left side.

G. and H.  and I.   Then I turn the sack over...and hopefully I can describe this so you can understand.  I want the back to be the same width as the front.
With my new crease for the front of the bag and the original side center crease I make the bag lie flat so I'm creating a new side crease for the back that matches the front...and I repeat it on the other side.
Crease the sides well so that when the come 'undone' you can see where they're suppose to be.

Step 2: Preparing Your Sewing Machine for Sewing Plastic Bags...

I would really like to advise you to use "button" or "craft" thread which is thicker than normal sewing thread, stupid expensive swiss-made sewing machine couldn't handle it.  And I'm even really good at adjusting my thread tension, both top and bobbin, but I couldn't make it work.
I think if you have an old dependable no-thrills sewing machine that you'll probably be able to use a thicker thread.   I ended up using all-purpose thread on my bags.

I used a size 14 needle (medium to heavy fabric needle).  A size 16 would work too, but I wouldn't go as small as a 12 because sometimes you'll be going through a lot of layers of plastic and it'll just break your needle.  If you can use the "button" or craft thread you should use a size 16 or 18 needle so the eye of the needle can accomodate that thread.

SEW WITH A REALLY LONG STITCH!  My stitch in these examples is about 1/4" long.  You do not want to perforate the plastic too much.  If your bag has that manufacturers stitching that I showed in the 1st step, that's a good example of the stitch length you should use.
If you want to practice on some of the plastic first, skip ahead to the cutting handles step because you'll have a little scrap left over from that.

If you have thread problems...well, I can't advise for all machines, but if you look at my pictures, you'll see wiggly looking seams that show I still had tension problems, but as long as it held the seam I left it.  You don't want actual loops on the bottom so if you see that try loosening your upper tension.

Step 3: Bottom Seam - Style 1

You can choose from two different types of seams for the bottom of the bag.  This one is really easy, if you skip ahead to step 4 you'll see the other choice for the seam of the bottom of the bag.

This bottom seam is a very simple one, but the bag won't open to sit like a grocery sack automatically, you'll have physically put your hands in the sack to open to make it stand on it's own.
I used binder clips to hold the bags edges.
I sewed 5/8" seam from the cut edge of the bag.
Fold that seam in half and sew down it to hold it.  I just manipulated it by hand as I went.

For the next fold I used binder clips to hold it...fold that entire last fold over once again and stitch down.
I tied the threads from this seam into a knot and trimmed.

Step 4: Bottom Seam - Style 2

If you want the type of bag that sits like an open paper grocery sack this is the bottom seam to sew, but it's not as simple as the other bottom seam.

Turn entire bag inside out.
Lay flat, without folding in any side folds/ a flattened papertowel tube.
Stitch the bottom edge 5/8".
Stitch bottom again, inbetween the cut edge and the 5/8" stitiching you just did.
I'm not very good at describing this so please look at the 4th and 5th pictures. 
The bag is still inside-out, but I put the centers of the sides together and now the centers of the front and back are out at the edges of the pictures. 
It's like taking the imaginary flattened papertowel tube and opening it back up and re-flattening it 90 degrees from where it was previously flattened.   If you tell me a better way to describe this I'll change it!
Now you're going to draw 2 sewing lines.  Using your ruler as in the 6th picture, you'll make an approximate 9" line.
Make the same line on the other side of the bottom of the bag.
Sew on these lines.  Then make another line of stitching about 1/2" away from that stitching, on the triangle side of the line.
Now turn the bag right side out!

Step 5: Top Edge of the Bag

This step is only trimming the edge and folding it down.
I cut the top edge of the bag off using my rotary cutter and ruler.
The amount of 'hem' between the fold of the top of your bag and the actual cut edge doesn't really matter, as long as it's atleast 3 inches.
The person who gave me this bag didn't spend the time to undo the original seam, and they just cut the top of the bag off, leaving a ragged edge.

Fold the cut edge to the crease for the top of the bag, all around the top of the bag.

Fold the new fold, again down to the crease for the top of the bag, all around the bag.

Fold again, and it should the finished height of the bag.

Step 6: Cutting the Handles...

Earlier I had you set aside the piece you cut from the bottom.  We'll make the handles out of that.
I'm having problems with setting up the pictures in the correct order - when I click on a picture to open it, it changes the order and I don't know why - so I alphabetized them.

A.  For my handles I want to remove that part of the bag that has the stitching the manufacturer did on the bottom of the bag.  I want to cut off as little as possible so that I have plenty of plastic for the handles.
There isn't an exact width needed, you can see that I have 5 inches to use for the handles.

B. This shows the 5 inches cut away.  That white plastic on the right can be disposed of.

C.  What ever the width of your strip turned out to be, cut it exactly in half.

D.  You now have two circular strips.

E.  Cut them both in half at the crease at the center of the sides.

F.   You now have 4 strips that look like this.  I use the two on the left for the top of the handles and the two on the right for the underside of the handles.

G.  This is my quilt batting...why use batting?  Because a friend of mine who also made her own tote bags, one with batting and one without, discovered that the handles without batting deteriorated more quickly.
You can use any type of batting, cotton, polyester, wool.  And if you're specific, it's "low loft".   The batting in the picture is about 45" wide and is folded in half once and then once again, so that it's just over a foot across.  And you cut the batting the same width as the handle strips.

H.  This picture shows I cut a 2 1/2" strip to match the width of my handle strips.  Repeat so that you have two cut strips of batting.

I.   This pictures shows my two strips, approximately 20-ish inches long because I left the batting folded once.

Step 7: Sewing the Handles...

First I'll tell you that I tried sewing down both sides of the handle and then tried to turn it right side out like you would if you were sewing a tube out of fabric...but it was a BIG took me forever to turn it, so I don't recommend it.

A.  Layer the pieces of handle and batting as such:
Bottom layer is your piece with the pretty stuff printed on this right side up.
Middle layer is one of the two pieces you cut that was just this wrong side up.
Top layer is the batting.
Use binder clips to hold this together.
Repeat for other handle.

B. Sew about 1/4" seam allowance on one side only.
Repeat on the other handle.

C.  Open up your seam as in the example on the left side of the picture.
Take the cut edge of the plastic and fold it over the batting so that from the first seam to the fold is about one inch or so. (that is your handle width)
Clamp with binder clips.
Repeat with the other handle.

D.  Sew down over the fold as in the example on the left.
Repeat with the other handle.

E.  Now fold over the other side of the handle, enclosing the batting.  Fold this cut edge to the inside and line it up with the fold that you sewed in step D.
Sew down through both folds just less than 1/4 inch.
Repeat with the other handle.

F.  I found the center of the 'design' on the handles and folded the handle in half and placed it on the ruler so I could cut both handles the same length.  You can see here it is about 9", and since under the ruler it's folded over it is actually almost 18" long.

Step 8: Attaching the Handles to the Bag...

I marked where I want the handles to go, about 5 or 6 inches apart
, and I marked this on both the front and back of the bag.  Then clamp the handles on the inside of the bag with a binder clip matching the end of the handle with the fold on the bag.

B.  Sew a line across each of the handles to hold them in place.

C.  Fold the top of the bag back to the inside - YES, THE HANDLES WILL BE IN THE BAG AT THE MOMENT.

D.  Sew down the hem of the bag, around the entire bag.

E.  Fold your handles back up so they stick out of the bag, and you can see in the picture I used big paperclips to hold them in place.

F.  I didn't take a great picture of this point on this bag, so I'm using a picture from the first bag (the guinea pig bag) to show that I am starting to sew the pattern in picture G from the top of the bag.  (Used bulky binder clip where paperclips turned out smarter.)

G.  The pattern I used to sewed the handle down = a box around and then an X through.  Again this picture is from the first bag I made, so it doesn't have the line of sewing around the entire bag from picture D that you should see on your bag at this point.

Step 9: Complete!