Introduction: How to Make a Drawstring Fabric Bag

For the last couple of years, I've made fabric bags to wrap all our presents in. Usually, it was just a flat bag with a drawstring casing at the top. But I wasn't really happy with them. I like the ones with a ruffle above above the drawstring, but the instructions felt too involved.  While making one of the flat bags the other day, I came up with a design that I really like. I hope you like it too.

Step 1: Determine How Big a Piece of Fabric You'll Need

Start out with the box that you want to wrap.

First, measure the box, both around the sides (S), and around from top to bottom (T). Write those measurements down. The measurements don't have to be really precise. You can round up to the next inch, and it won't affect much. You're going to need some ease anyway.

Now for the math. The fabric will wrap around the bottom, and you'll be making two side seams.

First the width. Now since you need two side seams (to have ribbons to pull to both sides, you'll take the S measurement and cut it in half (S/2), then add seams plus a little ease, so that you can get the box into the bag. I tend to be generous, so (S/2) + 2" for the width.

Next the length. Start with the T measurement. You'll also need about two times the size of what ever ribbon you'll be using as ties. I used 1/4" ribbon I had sitting around, but I don't like to go less than 1" on the drawstring, for looks and usability, so I added 2" on both edges (+2" x 2). Plus twice a nice ruffle on the top. The bigger the box, the bigger the ruffle needs to be to look good. I thought a 4" ruffle would look good (+4" x 2) And, you'll need that ease as well, plus some to finish the edge...about 2" again. So T + (2 x ribbon width)+(2 x ruffle height)+2"(ease+top edge finish).

As you can barely make out in the picture above, my box was 31" around (S) by 23" top to bottom (T). So my formula was (31" / 2) + 2" = 17.5" for the width, and 23" + (2 x 1") + (2 x 4") + 2" = 23.5" for the length. So I needed a piece of fabric that was 17.5" x 23.5".

To check, you can lay out the fabric, and fold the fabric around it, to make sure you haven't missed any thing. I found a piece that was a bit bigger in both directions, and just used that.

Step 2: Cut the Fabric.

Use scissors, a rotary cutter, a sharp rock, you know, what ever you have handy.

Step 3: Sew the Basic Bag.

Here, you're going to use what ever sewing method works for you, to sew the basic bag shape. If you measured like I did, you will need to sew two side seams and the bottom seam. I have a serger, so I used that. But you can just as easily use your regular sewing machine, and either go back and either pink or zig-zag the edges.

Step 4: Finish Top Edge.

I used my serger to do a narrow rolled hem. You can do the same on either a serger, or your regular sewing machine, or fold down a narrow 1/4" hem (fold twice, pressing, for best results) and sew it down. Your choice.

Step 5: Pin the Casing.

Remember how tall you wanted the ruffle, and how I said you were going to use twice the width of your ribbon? Add those together, and fold over that much of a cuff, wrong sides together. Since my ruffle is 4" and I said 1" minimum for ribbon, I measured down 6" (i.e. 4" + 2x1").

Mark it if you want to, or just pin as you go. I placed my pins near the folded edge. Make sure you only pin through two layers of fabric, not four! I just lifted the fabric to either side of my ruler, and pinned it. Like I said, I kind of wing it. If you're making a wide bag, slide the ruler down, and repeat as necessary.

Flip it over, and do the same thing to the other side.

Then flatten the sides, so you can pin the side seam. Now the only tricky part here is the side seam. You want to try and make sure that the seam doesn't twist...and mine ALWAYS want to. So open up the cuff till you can see the seam and make sure it's not twisted before pinning it.

Step 6: Sew First Casing Seam.

Now that you have it pinned, you can sew the first seam of the casing. Remember how we added twice the width of your ribbon? Make your seam about 1/8"-1/4" wider than that, so that your ribbon will fit, even after you finish the casing. My ribbon was only 1/4", so 1" works fine for my bag.

You want to reinforce stitch across the side seam, so when you sew past it, reverse back across it, and then continue sewing. Or if you forget (like I kept doing), just go back and sew over it again. Trim all your threads when you get done.

So now you have a bag with a nice finished top edge, and a flange in the middle.

Step 7: Sew Down the Casing.

Fold that flange up. Pin it if you like, or just hold it down while you top stitch near the edge. (Wish I'd chosen less busy fabric for this.)

Step 8: Measure and Mark to Square Up the Bottom.

You can skip this step if you're in a hurry, or just don't care. The bag will still work fine, and serve you for many years to come! But squaring the bottom only requires two short seams, and makes it look much better, and stand up a bit better.

First you want to start with the corner between your bottom seam and side seam. Turn the bag inside out, and flatten the corner so that the bottom and side seams are touching. Do the same for the other side, and lay it out so that the bottom seam is up.

I know there are better explanations of how to fold it, but you can see how the corner is folded so that bottom seam is running across the middle of the folded corner. It will look kind of like dog ears.

After you have the bag folded and laid out (the top of the bag gets folded out to the side out of the way), and you've gotten your box on there, move the box out toward the corner until both box corners almost, but don't quite touch the folded edge of the fabric. Draw a line along the box, across the corner dog ear. That's your stitching line. If you stitch there, the box bottom will fit nicely into the bottom of the bag with a little ease. Pin if you like.

Move the box and repeat on the other corner of the bag. Now if you move the box into the center, you can make sure that your bag won't try to squeeze your box.

Step 9: Sew to Square Off the Bottom.

Sew along both of your marked seam lines. Cut off the dog ears. Now go back and pink or zig-zag the finished seams. I used my serger.

Step 10: Drink a Glass of Wine (or Your Favorite Adult Beverage).

The hard part is over, and you're almost done. You deserve it!

Step 11: Cut the Stitching at the Seam in the Casing.

Remember where you reinforced the stitching across the side seams when you sewed the casing? Good, because it will keep your side seam from unraveling after this step.

From the front, using a seam ripper, or a pair of small embroidery scissors, clip the seam in the casing, so that you'll be able to slide your ribbon through it.

Do the same for the other side seam of the bag.

Step 12: Cut Your Ribbon to Length.

If you're like me, even though you measured everything, the idea of measuring the ribbon is just soul deadening. So lay your bag down flat. Unroll your ribbon and lay it doubled across the bag where the casing it. Add enough to both ends to make it pretty and so that the ribbon doesn't get lost in the casing.

Ok, Ok, Measure the width of bag, and multiple x two. Add length of ribbon tail x two. Six inches is always a good minimum. (width x 2) + (6" x 2). Happy?

Cut two this length.

Step 13: Thread Ribbon Through the Casing.

I have this really cool, long, red plastic bodkin that threads through the casing, and then you thread your ribbon through a big eye on the end, and pull the ribbon through. I LOVE it! You can always use a safety pin on the end of the ribbon to thread the ribbon.

Thread one of the ribbons so the ends hang out one side. Thread the other ribbon so the ends hang out the other side.

Tie the ends of the ribbon into knots so they won't easily pull back through the casing. Or you could tie little beads or jingle balls on the ends if you like.

Step 14: Wrap Your Box!

You're done!!!! Drop the box into the bag, pull the ribbon tight, and tie a bow. Isn't that gorgeous!

Now go finish that wine.

One of the other great things about this bag, is you can make them to fit odd sized presents...especially if you're in a hurry and you don't have a box to fit it! You work the same method, just measuring around the largest part of the odd size present, and then again around the tallest part.