One thing I’ve never loved about the holidays is gift wrap. I don’t like to buy wrapping paper knowing that it will just be tossed into the recycling bin. I don’t like tape. I don’t like boxes and tissue and the time it takes to wrap presents. When my kids were little, I didn’t like how hard it was for them to wrap presents by themselves. So when my friend Emily told me about the reusable gift bags that her family uses at Christmas, it rocked my holiday world. Emily taught me how to make gift bags (even offered to make them for me), and now I’m going to teach you. Because holidays are better with less stress, less mess, and less waste.
Wait, what? You don’t sew? This would be a great project for a friend, neighbor, or family member who has basic (like, the most basic) sewing skills and is looking to earn a little cash for the holidays. Or you could gather enough fabric and ribbon for two families and let a friend make bags for both her (his?) family and yours.
Before we get started, let’s talk about where to find fabric for your gift bags. You can go to a fabric store and buy new fabric for these bags, maybe even get it at 50% off or better if you shop at the right time. I’ve done that. But I’ve also headed to my local thrift stores and bought old flat sheets and used those to make bags. I’ve used curtains, I’ve used duvets from the bargain bin at Ikea, I’ve used scraps from other projects, and I’ve used tablecloths (new after-Christmas clearance ones and old ones that I don’t use on my table anymore). I’ve even used my husband’s old too-big jeans. So before you buy brand-new fabric, think outside the box a little — you’ll save money and your bags will have a smaller impact on the environment.
Here’s how to make your own reusable gift bags:
1. Think about what sizes you’d typically use to wrap presents. I find that my medium sized bags get used up the fastest (they’re approximately 10-12″ by 16-22″ — great for clothes and games), but we also use a lot of small bags and a few very large ones. When I am on a bag-making spree, I lay out my fabric and spend some time figuring out how to get the most out of it, keeping in mind that I want more medium bags than anything. My friend Emily makes some of hers sized to fit specific items, like DVDs or shoe boxes or wine bottles. I don’t think that far ahead, but you might want to.
2. If you’re making a medium-sized bag, you’re going to want your fabric to be cut approximately 20-24″ by 20-26″, and then you’ll fold it in half to sew it together. I recommend putting the fold on the side instead of the bottom because it makes it easier to thread the ribbon through the finished bag. The fabric in the photo below is folded in half already, making it 12″ x 22″.
3. After folding your fabric in half, mark where you’re going to stop sewing in order to leave space for your ribbon to thread through. In the example below, I’ve left a 1″ space for my ribbon and 4 inches of fabric above the ribbon. Obviously you’ll need to adjust the ribbon opening (and the amount of fabric above the opening…you’ll see why in a minute) depending on the size of your ribbon. I put in two pins to mark where I need to stop sewing for my ribbon. Sew from the bottom corner by the fold up to the top of the bag, skipping the ribbon opening.
4. Press out your seams, clip the corners, and then fold down the top of your bag to make a hem. In this example, I folded down 2.5″, just far enough to get past the bottom of the ribbon opening.
5. Sew a seam around the bottom of the hem and then around the top of the ribbon channel (just above the ribbon opening so that you have a channel that fits your ribbon). Turn right-side-out and press. Run your ribbon through the ribbon channel.
6. That’s it! You can adjust your measurements and your ribbon placement to have a big ruffle at the top of your bag or a small one like mine, or no ruffle at all, depending on how much fabric you’re willing to use and how fussy you want to get. When you tie the bow, just go straight to doing your loops. Don’t tie a knot first and then a bow or it gets a little hard to undo.
When I go on a bag-making spree, I usually make a lot at once and I always do the work in batches so that I’m using my time as efficiently as possible. First I do all the cutting, then I fold the fabric and mark the ribbon channels, then I sew all the seams, then fold and press all the hems…you get the picture. I usually do some Netflix-binge-watching at the same time!
Besides how easy these bags make it for me to wrap presents, I love that my kids (and husband) can also wrap presents easily. They store easily in bins during the rest of the year, too.
Are reusable fabric bags something you would consider using for your holiday presents? Or maybe your family already has a set that you use? What do you do to green your holiday season?