These days a lot of shops charge for carrier bags, and we're all trying to avoid single-use plastic anyway. So it’s useful to have a shopping tote that tucks into a small pouch to carry in a pocket or handbag in case you need it. Make it from glitzy metallic nylon and it’ll look fabulous as well as being very strong, lightweight and taking up virtually no space at all.
This type of nylon is almost see-through when you hold it up to the light. It can often be found for sale cheaply on market stalls. It frays very readily so don’t cut it out before you are ready to sew and avoid handling it any more than necessary. The weft is flat strips of nylon which will catch on a needle that is anything less than super-sharp, which means you’ll need a new needle in your sewing machine. Pins need to be sharp too.
The finished bag has a base that measures about 27cm x 10cm (10¾" x 4") and it's 35cm (13¾") tall, plenty big enough to carry a few unexpected purchases home. In its carry pouch it will only weigh about 20g (under 1oz), so little that you won't even notice you've got it in your pocket.
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Step 1: What You'll Need
Metallic nylon fabric - 1m (1¼ yd) of 114cm (45″) fabric is enough to make two bags*
Matching polyester thread
A sewing machine fitted with a new, fine needle
Scissors, pins, tape measure, etc
*You could squeeze a bag out of half a metre if you shorten the handles - see the cutting layout in the next step.
Step 2: Cutting Out
For each bag, cut a 46cm x 80 cm (18" x 12½") rectangle for the bag itself and a 17cm x 54 cm (6½" x 21") strip for the handles. The diagram gives the cutting layout for 2 bags.
If your fabric is a different width, then you might want to vary the bag dimensions to make best use of it.
Cut the long strip in half lengthwise to give two 8.5cm x 54 cm (3¼" x 21") strips, one for each handle.
Step 3: The Bag Seams
The bag is made with French seams for added strength and to prevent fraying. Start by folding the rectangle so that the two short edges are together, right sides out, and sew these two short edges in a narrow seam (about 6mm / ¼" ) – this is the bag’s side seam.
Press the seam to one side (use a cool iron, nylon is heat-sensitive), turn the bag wrong sides out, press again, trim any fray-ey bits off the seam allowances and then sew the seam a second time, right sides together, stitching just over 6mm (¼") in from the edge to encase the raw edges. Press the seam to one side and press the fold at the opposite side of the bag too, to crease it lightly.
Sew the bottom seam, again as a French seam (ie wrong sides together first, then right sides together). Press to one side.
Turn under 4cm (approx 1½″) to the inside at the top of the bag and press. Then turn the raw edge under by 6mm (¼”) to make a hem and pin or tack it in place. Press.
Step 4: The Bottom of the Bag
The next step is to “bag out” the bottom, making the bag more 3 dimensional.
Turn it inside out and arrange each corner to make a triangle with the side seam/foldline directly on top of the bottom seam. Then sew across to form the base of the triangle in a 10cm (4") seam. Refer to the photo, but if you are struggling to understand have a look at step 4 of my Blind Tasting Bottle Bags Instructable.
I think it's best to avoid creating unnecessary raw edges, but if you want to get rid of the excess fabric by trimming off the tips of the two triangles then sew a second line of stitching close to the first one before you do that, and oversew the cut edges to prevent them fraying.
Press the two little triangles - or what's left of them - away from the bag's sides.
Step 5: The Handles
Sew the long edges of the 2 handle strips, right sides together, in a narrow seam. Turn them right sides out and press with a cool iron. Tuck in the raw edges at each end and pin them in place. Topstitch all 4 sides close to the edge. Press.
There's a handle on each side of the bag. Each end of a handle should be positioned about ⅓ of the way along its half of the opening edge. Place the handle end on the inside and level with the bottom of the hem. Pin both handles in place and hold the bag so that it hangs down and you can check whether the handles are the right length. Depending on your height, you might want to shorten them to keep the bottom of the bag well clear of the ground.
The handle is attached by sewing through it and the bag, stitching close to both the three edges of the handle and the top of the hem. It's easiest to do this from the inside of the bag, ie with the handle uppermost.
Starting at a top corner, sew straight down to the bottom corner, diagonally up to the opposite top corner, along the top of the hem, diagonally down to the opposite bottom corner and then vertically up to the remaining top corner (see diagram). The final side of the rectangle, the lower edge of the hem, will be sewn in the next step.
Repeat with the other end of that handle, and then the other side of the bag with the other handle.
Now sew right round the top of the bag close to the turned-under edge, making sure to catch in the handle ends.
Step 6: Making the Pouch
Finally, make a little pouch from leftover fabric in which to store your tote bag.
Fold the bag up as small as it will go by first laying the handles on the bag itself and then folding in each side to end up with a rectangle that is only about 1/3 the width of the bag. Then fold it in half lengthwise and roll it up from the bottom. Hold it in place with rubber bands and measure the size of the resulting package.
Make a pouch to suit, remembering to allow for seams and the hem around the top opening when you cut out. The pouch needs to be a tight fit or the slippery bag will fall out of it. To give you an idea, the pouch in the picture measures 6cm wide (12 cm circumference) by 10.5cm high (about 2½" wide by 4" high). It fits easly in the palm of a hand or any pocket.
If you cut the top edge of the pouch along the selvedge of the fabric, you will only need to turn the top edge over once like the one in the photo, instead of turning a double hem.
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