Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Project - Gusseted Grocery Bag w/stuff sack

The Sew, Mama, Sew blog is featuring 30 days of handmade gift ideas during November. Guess what showed up on Day 5? You guessed it; handmade tote bags.

One of the featured projects is a gusseted grocery bag tutorial from U-Handbag, complete with downloadable PDF for those inclined. This pattern includes instructions for a stuff sack with clip so you don't lose (or forget to take) the bag. This link shows how much stuff she fit in the bag - impressive!

That's another point that is rarely mentioned with reusable bags - less bags to carry. As long as the bag is not too heavy to lift, a lot more can be put in it than in a plastic bag because the plastic bags rip so easily.

I've added U-Handbag's Gusseted Grocery Bag to the sewing links sidebar.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Project Deleted - Muslin Tote Bag

Not sure what happened to this project, but the link was dead, so I removed it from the sewing list.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Project Feature: I'mm meeeeellllltttting...

No, this is not a post about icebergs. heh.

I received a comment linking to the following YouTube video, which I thought was pretty great. The pattern is for a messenger bag, but the video also shows how to fuse plastic grocery bags together to make plastic "fabric", which you could then use to sew a grocery bag.

I haven't tried it yet, but it seems you could also use this fusing technique to patch your old plastic grocery bags that you are reusing until they can be reused no more. Or nest two grocery bags together and fuse them for double strength. Seems like cashiers are always trying to double bags on me anyhow.

A lot of the video's comments asked why he bought a bag in order to get the buckles. Good point, but if you're like me, you have 87,000 bazillion old backpacks and bags with holes, etc., that really aren't usable but you hate to throw away. If not, go on Freecycle and ask for old backpacks with holes. Get the buckles off those and craft away.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fun With Video

Tesco is a supermarket chain in Great Britain that seems to get about as much love as Wal-Mart does on this side of the pond.

Here's a fun little video, mimicking Tesco's ads, that encourages people to shop locally.

I so admire the British way of getting a point across by using humor.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Produce Bags

For a long time now, I have been bugged by the plastic produce bags at my local grocery store. It's bad enough that MOST of the produce already comes in a plastic bag. Why did I need to grab a separate bag for each type of produce that didn't come in its own bag? If I put all my veggies in one bag, would the cashier get annoyed or think I was trying to sneak something past her? So each time, I still put separate produce in separate bags. 1 head of garlic, 1 bag. 2 lemons, 1 bag. (Yes, I am trying to eat more locally, but sometimes ya gotta have a lemon!)

The the store started using EVEN BIGGER produce bags! Oh, I guess that gallon-size baggie wasn't big enough for the 1 head of garlic; we need a 6-quart size!

So what if I used no bags? Well, some things would get squashed in the cart, grapes would go all over, etc.

Another blogger (who I would link to if I could remember who it was, sorry), puts a hand-held shopping basket in her cart to hold her veggies. An excellent idea, if you remember to grab one (which I haven't), and if you are organized enough to not set the basket on top of other items that could get squashed (which I'm not).

Then, two weeks ago at the farmer's market, I realized that not only was no one selling reusable bags, every single booth was giving out plastic bags to shoppers. Grrr. I had Nettie, but avoiding plastic bags meant that all my veggies mixed up therein. Not a tragedy, certainly, but annoying.

Finally, my brain kicked into gear - why couldn't I make my own produce bags? Made from lightweight cotton or muslin, they would not add (much) weight when buying items sold by the pound. A drawstring close would keep things inside.

So, after WAY too much thought... here are my produce bags:

The first one - "gallon" size. I traced a standard zip-top food storage bag, adding a little extra at the top for the drawstring casing. Before I started, I realized that using a drawstring would make them hold less than intended. (Next task - learn to sew in a zipper!)

Using 30" of 45-inch-wide fabric, I was able to make a set of 2 "gallon" and 3 "quart" size.

Field tested today at the local farmers' maket. Big bags held four smallish bell peppers and 6 lg tomatoes, respectively, with room to spare. Small bags held a pint of smaller tomatoes (not quite cherries) and a quart of green beans. I had one small size bag left over.

Nettie held everything quite well! (Yes that is a to-be-reused plastic shopping bag at the bottom, just in case.)

You could make these with reused lightweight cotton woven fabric such as dress shirts and sheets. Four yards of drawstring trim was not even close to enough, so I improvised by reusing clean old shoelaces. Other drawstring alternatives could be: cotton yarn, ribbon, bias tape, scrap fabric. Just make sure they are washable unless you enjoy rethreading your drawstrings every time you wash the bags (I don't).

Overall, I'm really happy with how the bags worked. Besides not adding to my plastic problem, the cloth allowed the veggies to "breathe" vs. steaming in their own juices when left in the car for a couple hours afterward. (Bad, I know, but I owed the kids a trip to the park.) I will try to get an actual pattern up here soon, but I'd like to make the zipper improvement first. In the meantime, find a basic drawstring bag pattern and give it a try!

Up next - Field Test #2 - the grocery store. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Reasons to Avoid Plastic Bags

In case you didn't have enough...

Here's a photo that Beth at Fake Plastic Fish snapped from Spirit Air's in-flight magazine:

You can click to read the text. The most shocking thing to me was the headline: "We use 2 million barrels of oil every day to make plastic." I don't know about you, but that sure sounds like a lot to me.

The article also claims that "72% of Americans don't know that plastic comes from oil." Maybe we can get the people from These Come From Trees to make some "These Come From Oil" stickers.

Reusablebags.com lists "Facts and figures regarding the true cost of plastic bags" in terms of both consumption and environmental impact. Be sure to check the "Other Facts" sidebar - tons more info there, including why paper bags and recycling aren't the answer.

Bean Sprouts recently wrote Ten Things You Didn't Know About Plastic. Did you know that "About 100,000 tonnes of plastic bags are thrown away in Britain annually. That's the same weight as 70,000 cars"? I didn't. And that's just Britain! How many cars' worth of plastic bags do we toss out in the US?

If you want to figure that out, you can start by visiting Worldwatch Institute. "Each year, Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags. (Only 0.6 percent of plastic bags are recycled.)" Lots of plastic bag info at that link. In the interest of hope, I liked this point: "If every shopper took just one less bag each month, this could eliminate the waste of hundreds of millions of bags each year."

Back in March, No Impact Man wrote about the effect plastic bags have on wildlife in Plastic Bags Are the Devil.

And there's always this photo:

That's enough reason for me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New pattern: Nettie Bag

The post just prior to this one contains the pattern for the Nettie Bag, designed by me. This is the first knitting pattern I have released on the 'net, so please let me know of any glaring errors or anything that is not clear.

The first photo is the first Nettie I made. It is shorter than the pattern by two pattern rows. The strap is WAY too long - I forgot how cotton can stretch! This bag looks better than the second because it was blocked before sewing.

The second photo is the one I have been complaining about on my other blog. Somehow, 6 inches of garter stitch was just too much to bear (insert eyeroll here). Anyway, this one looks a bit wonky in the photo for a couple reasons: it was never blocked, and I wasn't trying a hard to get a good photo, just any photo. But this one has been field tested at my local farmer's market, and received a compliment from the local raw honey producer. Trust me, it looks better when it is full of ripe tomatoes. And it will hold a lot of them.

Project Profile: Nettie Bag

Nettie Bag by Heather Toll

Easy, Beginner +

Skills needed:
Casting on (any cast-on style is fine)
Garter stitch (all knit stitches)
Yarn over (yo)
Knit two together (k2tog)
Binding off (again, any style)

Finished size:
Approx 15" x 15" unstretched (38 cm x 38 cm)

Color A - Lily Sugar 'n Cream, 2.5 oz. ball, solid color
Color B - Lily Sugar 'n Cream, 2 oz. ball, varigated color (ideally, your colors will coordinate!)
Size 8 US (5 mm) straight needles, at least 14" long
Size 15 US (10 mm) straight needles, at least 14" long
(You could also use circular needles, knitting back and forth.)
The usual suspects - scissors, measuring tape, yarn needle

18 stitches = 4 inches (10 cm) in garter stitch on size 8 (5 mm) needles.

Since this is not a garment, gauge is not as critical as it would be for, say, a sweater. As long as you are pretty close, you will still get a bag in approximately the size given above. For this project, the biggest risk you run by not getting gauge is running out of yarn before you finish, so if you tend to knit loosely, I recommend picking up a second ball of your color A yarn.

Pattern Notes:
This bag is knit in one long piece except for the strap, changing needles sizes and yarns as needed within the length.

The strap is pretty dull, but quite portable. You might want to knit it first or separately, taking it with you and knitting a couple rows when you have a minute to spare.

The Bag:

Side 1:
Using color A and the smaller needles, CO 60.

Continue in garter stitch (gs) until piece measures 2 inches long, or about 14 rows not counting the cast on.

K2tog across, 30 st

Change to color B and larger needles, knit 1 row.

Start net pattern stitch:

1. K1, *yo, k2tog* repeat to last st, k1
2. K all
3. K2 *yo, k2tog* rpt to end row
4. K all

Work pattern for 7 repeats

Change back to color A and smaller needles, k1, yo across row = 60 st

Continue in garter stitch for 4 inches, about 28 rows

K2tog across, 30 st

Side 2:
Change to color B and larger needles, knit 1 row (NOTE: Make sure that when you add back in color B, you do it on the same edge as before.)

Start net pattern stitch:

1. K1, *yo, k2tog* repeat to last st, k1
2. K all
3. K2 *yo, k2tog* rpt to end row
4. K all

Work pattern for 7 repeats

Change back to color A and smaller needles, k1, yo across row = 60 st

Continue in garter stitch for 2 inches, about 14 rows

Bind off, leaving a long tail for sewing up the sides.

Sew in ends.

Block if desired.

When dry, sew up sides of bag using mattress stitch.

The Strap:

At top side seam, pick up 9 stitches.

Knit in garter stitch until strap reaches desired length. Remember, cotton stretches!

Bind off strap and sew BO end to other seam edge, OR graft using Kitchener stitch.

Done! Hit the beach! (Or grocery store! Or farmer's market!)

Strap Variations:

1. Knit a longer strap so you can hang the bag diagonally across your body, messenger style.

2. Knit two short straps on each side so it will hang from the grocery store bagging center.

3. Knit two long narrow straps, picking up the stitches on either side of the side seam as for the regular strap, to make the bag easier to get into when it is on your shoulder.

4. Re-use old belts or flexible webbing as straps instead of knitting them.

Nettie with Strap Variation #2:

© 2007 by Heather Toll. Pattern may be freely distributed with copyright information. Bags made using this pattern must not be for resale.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Winds of Inspiration

Here's a fun two-minute video about wind power. Click here if you can't view it below.

Last month, mom-in-law treated the kids and me to a mini-vacation. While there, we saw our first live wind turbines in Mackinaw City, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. People, they are beautiful. Tall and slim with the blades gracefully rotating. I would definitely have one in my backyard (especially since my backyard is not a major bird/butterfly migration route).

Anyway, Mackinaw City had one or two turbines on the outskirts of town. We also saw the turbines at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. If I have interpreted this article correctly, what we were seeing was one of the largest wind farms in Canada, which will eventually power 40,000 Canadian homes.

If you live in Michigan and purchase electricity from DTE, they are now offering a new program called Green Currents, which allows both residential and business customers to purchase energy from renewable resources such as wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, and geothermal. In fact, this new program will help create a 6,500 acre wind farm in Michigan.

Here's more information on the program, from DTE's press release:

"For as little as $2.50 extra a month, residential customers can purchase a block of renewable energy that's equal to 15-20 percent of a typical home's monthly electric usage. Customers also can choose to match 100 percent of their home's electricity consumption with renewable resources by paying an extra $10 to $15 per month for a typical household.

"Business customers can purchase a 1,000 kilowatt hour block of green energy for an extra $20 a month - or match all of their electricity usage with renewable energy for an additional cost of two cents per kilowatt hour."

DTE's web site also has tips on going green. Guess what number 3 is? "Take your own cloth bag to the grocery store and spare the waste of using store-provided paper or plastic ones."

If you came to this site looking for green energy information, thanks! Please take a look at some of our pattern links to the right to make your own reusable grocery bag. (And remember to reuse the ones you already have!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Added Pattern: SewUseful San Fransisco Shopper

The SewUseful San Fransisco Shopper is based on standard grocery-store plastic bags and reuses pillowcases as the source fabric. The pattern was inspired by San Francisco's ban on plastic bags.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

New Pattern: Monterey Cotton Crocheted Bag

Just added a new link to the "Patterns to Crochet" sidebar section. The link has color pictures and detailed instructions. This looks more like a beach bag or general tote vs a standard grocery bag, but you might find it useful anyway.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Australian artist Helle Jorgensen crochets plastic bags into amazing sea creatures. Just in case you were looking for another project for your old plastic bags.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Our First Macrame Pattern!

If you thought I was kidding with the macrame reference in the header, well, I was. A little. But a search for macrame bag patterns found this page, which gives some very good general guidelines for sizing, method, etc. So if you're into macrame, check it out!

So now we have a macrame section in the sidebar.

If you have an online or downloadable pattern for a reusable shopping bag in any craft method, please send it to makeabag at yahoo dot com (that's an email address, folks) and we'll add it to the site. Thanks!

Event - Somerville, MA 8/18/07

Magpie and the Somerville Arts Council is hosting REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE...RECRAFT! this coming Saturday in Somerville, MA. Besides 25 vendors selling eco-friendly goods, local
environmental non-profits, free activities and live music, they will have a table to decorate your own reusable canvas tote. Click the link for details.

Muslin Tote Swap

If you like to sew, here's a swap for you to follow along: A Muslin Tote Swap. Sign-ups are closed, but take a look and get some inspiration!

I'll link this in the sidebar's sewing section.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I'll be out of town for a few days. Yes, I am bringing my knitted bag project with me. Hopefully, when I get back, my USB port will cooperate and I can show you some photos!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Project Feature: Easiest DIY Reusable Bag EVER!

Beth at Fake Plastic Fish came up with this excellent project, an easy and quite viable alternative to new reusable bags. She writes:

"Plastic bags are easy to fold up and keep in your purse or backpack. They're just not as cute as hip nylon bags and they don't scream "Environmentalist" when you carry your groceries down the street. So you want people to know you reuse your bags? Turn them inside out and write "Reusable Bag" on the outside. You could even make a tally of the number of times the bag has been used just to prove it."

Beth was being a bit tongue-in-cheek to make a point. But I think it's a good point and worth sharing here. The last thing I want is a bunch of people rushing out to buy acrylic yarn and bringing it home in plastic bags in order to knit/crochet reusable bags.

So, if you already have a collection of plastic bags lurking under your cabinet, try this out.

Turn your bag inside out.*

If desired, add a design.


After some experimentation, Beth and I decided that ball-point pens work best for adding designs to the bags. A certain popular brand of permanent marker works great, but is a bit fume-y. Bold-tip washable markers designed for kids are a bit light, but also work, if you let them dry thoroughly before using.

I totally love the tally marks.

The best part: Once your "Easiest DIY Reusable Bag EVER!" gets a hole in the bottom or the handles rip, you can cut it down into plastic "yarn" and make it into another bag like this one.

*Apologies to Target. Your bags are very reusable, thanks.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Finer Line

A big THANK YOU to Beth from Fake Plastic Fish for the plug and link! I had been fretting about how to get word out about this blog, and here she came to my rescue. (I didn't even have to ask!)

Beth just posted a great article about thinking before you purchase a new reusable bag. Here's a great quote from her post: "It's not so easy to see past the advertising to the reality that the best way to step lightly on the earth is to stick to the 3 R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, in that order. Nowhere in that list is Buy More Crap." Awesome.

Then she goes on to mention this little blog as a resource for options to buying a new bag. I can't thank her enough.

Minor Change
I have decided to make a minor change in how the blog is structured. I was going to have it be open, where anyone who was making a bag could post. But, even though we might all be concerned about polar bears, sea turtles and that big blue ball called Earth, everyone has their own opinion as to what is an acceptable balance between using resources and abusing them.

This theme seems to be popping up everywhere in green-focused blogs that I read. Sew Green linked to a recent post by potter Laura Zindel (hosted by One Black Bird) about whether ceramics are environmentally-friendly. I tend to think they are, if your alternative is plastic. (And note the quote from potter John Hull.) Laura's own opinion is that they are not, and describes her recent efforts to convince a green-minded gallery owner NOT to sell her pieces! (Laura's work is beautiful, by the way. If you're looking to replace some of your plastic with ceramics, go check it out.)

Personal conservation efforts run the gamut from angry chicken's efforts to replace her children's plastic ware with earth-friendlier (and healthier) alternatives, to Beth at Fake Plastic Fish weighing her plastic usage every week, to No Impact Man's exhaustive lifestyle overhaul.

Some of us refuse to use electricity. Some of us knit (sew, crochet) grocery bags. We all gotta start somewhere. The important thing is to do something. Even if you can't do it perfectly.

So back to the blog structure. In order to avoid public debates on whether someone is evil if they can't afford organically-grown cotton to knit their bags and use acrylic from Freecycle instead, I won't be opening the blog up to the general public. (Oh btw, please don't buy new acrylic yarn to knit/crochet bags. More on this later.)

But if you would like to contribute an article, pattern, photo, or other content, please contact me at makeabag at yahoo dot com. I'll review and see if it's right for the blog (mostly looking at tone and family-friendliness here). Of course, anyone submitting content will receive full credit. Even if you just want to share a photo of a bag you made, go ahead and send it.

And one more change: I'll be posting more essays, ideas, project features, and resources. I'm hoping to make this blog a clearinghouse for everything you need to Make A Bag.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

In the meantime...

While you're still working on your not-plastic grocery bags, ask your local store if they give credits for reused plastic bags or using cloth bags. The two major-chain grocery stores I shop at both give a .05 credit (US) for every bag you reuse. These are regular stores, not stores with a significant focus on organics or whole foods or anything special. So ask.

Even if your local store doesn't give credit for reused bags, reuse them anyway until you get your non-plastic stash up to speed.

BTW, IKEA has started charging shoppers for plastic bags.

Monday, July 30, 2007

One Small Step Toward a Healthier Planet

Americans use 12 million gallons of oil to make plastic bags every year.

California alone generates 19 million plastic bags a year.

Every plastic shopping bag that has ever been manufactured is still with us today (unless it was eaten, and choked on, by an endangered sea turtle).

And they are taking over the cabinet under my sink.

This blog is for anyone who is interested in making shopping bags as a substitute for using plastic bags. You can knit, crochet, sew, weave, macrame, whatever. Just make a bag. Or two. Or a dozen. (Preferably made from natural fibers.)

And most importantly, USE them.

Looking for content:

I'm looking for links to free bag patterns, organic or other earth-friendly suppliers (yarn, fabric, etc.), environmental sites/blogs, etc. If you have something you want me to review, email me at makeabag AT yahoo DOT com