Sew Simple Cloth Gift Bags

Holiday Cloth Gift Bags

We switched over to cloth gift bags several years ago.  I was inspired by my friend Katy, who grew up with cloth gift bags thanks to her crafty mom.

We mostly use our bags within our household so that we can keep reusing them.  I do give some gifts away in cloth bags and I hope those bags continue to be reused.  Many of my friends sew; I really hope this catches on!

How to Sew Simple Cloth Gift Bags

Materials for Making Cloth Gift Bags

Materials for making a cloth gift bag

Woven cotton is the best because it is abundant, inexpensive, and durable.  You probably have some in your stash.  You could also repurpose old button down shirts with a stain or a tear.  Of course, you could contribute to the economy and buy some fabric.  AVOID knit fabrics!  They’re stretchy and will sag once you put something inside the bag.  No one wants saggy bags, my friends!

Thread of any color you like.  You can go neutral with black and white, or go wild with all those spools of bright red or purple that got used once for a project, then tossed into the stash for a nebulous future.  AVOID anything that isn’t mercerized cotton or polyester thread unless you are experienced with them.  You can thank me later.

Ribbon.  I like grosgrain ribbon best for cloth gift bags.  It’s very sturdy and comes in a lot of colors and patterns.  I also use the inexpensive satin ribbon that comes in a lot of colors.  It frays more quickly at the end, but cutting the tips at an angle seems to help slow down that process.  AVOID paper ribbon (aka curling ribbon) or wired ribbon.  They just don’t last!

Tools for Making Cloth Gift Bags

Tools for making a cloth gift bag

  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors. If you don’t have a pair for fabric use only, now’s the time to start.  Seriously.  Paper makes scissors dull very quickly.  You can mark the handle with a handy reminder, like “Fabric Only” or “Don’t Even Think of It!”
  • Flexible measuring tape
  • Seam ripper. Just in case!

How to Sew Simple Cloth Gift Bags

Measure and cut two squares of fabric that are the same size.  I like my bags a little longer than they are wide because they need some room to gather at the top.  I think 12” x 18” is a good starting place, but you can make whatever size you need or have fabric for.

Cut out fabric for cloth gift bag

Put right sides together so your proto-bag is inside out.

Decide which end will be the opening — don’t sew that side!  Sew down one long side, across the bottom, and up the other long side.  Seam allowance doesn’t matter.

Sew up your cloth gift bag

Trim the corners.

Trim corners from inside of cloth gift bag

Fold the opening down about three-quarters of an inch.  Or whatever works for you.  If you’re a little fussy, you can pink the edges.  If you’re insufferable, you can do a fold over hem.  You can always iron down the hem (or pin it) if that makes it easier for you.

Sew the hem down with whatever stitch and thread color makes your day. This is your chance to play with those decorative stitches on our sewing machine!  Whee!

Hem your cloth gift bag

Turn bag right side out.

Cut a piece of coordinating ribbon that’s about 30” long.  Cut the ends at an angle, which looks tidy and prevents fraying.

Cut ribbon for gift bag

Find the halfway point in your ribbon length.   About two inches from the top of the bag, attach the middle of the ribbon to the bag at one of the side seams.  I sew over that spot with three or four passes since it gets tugged on a lot.

Attach ribbon to gift bag

Fill that bag with a lovely gift and tie it shut.  A nice piece of card stock  punched with a hold puncher makes a simple and lovely gift tag.  I thread it onto the ribbon while I’m tying the bag shut.

Make your own gift tags

For our gift tags, we’ve been gluing together old business cards, which are then really thick and weighty tags.  We’ve also artistically cut up old greeting cards to make tags.  Tags can be reused, depending on what you write on them.

Homemade cloth gift bag

Benefits of Cloth Gift Bags

  • They are so attractive and luxurious!
  • Cloth bags save money. After a one-time investment of effort and a little money, you will have all the gift bags you ever need for your household.
  • Cloth bags save time. It’s a lot faster to plop a gift into a bag and tie it shut!
  • Cloth bags reduce your carbon footprint.  Using less paper is better for the environment and produces less waste for your municipality to handle.  Could it reduce your taxes?  I don’t know, but maybe.
  • Cloth bags are quieter.  This one came as a surprise, but the first year we did cloth for Christmas was so peaceful and relaxing for me.  Loud noises overwhelm me — little did I realize how much I disliked all the ripping paper until it was gone, gone, gone.  For the record, our kids have yet to show any sign of mental anguish because they don’t get to rip everything open.  I think the moral superiority of cloth bags spared us that defect.

Who’s in?!

Do you use cloth gift bags already?  What do you like best about them?

Magic Blankets

Photo detail of machine quilting

Around here, magic blankets are not something you can buy in a store.  You’ve got to know the right people.

Photo detail of machine quilting

Back when our first baby was born, we took swaddling seriously (shout out to Harvey Karp, he’s spot on), but the things sold in stores as receiving blankets at that time were little better than oversized burp rags.  No exaggeration!  So off I went to the local big box craft store and bought 5 one-yard lengths of flannel in fun prints.  A couple straight hems and BAM, we had a pile of swaddling blankets.

Our first child loved swaddling and we got a lot of use out of the big blankets.  When he got to be about 2 years old, I sewed two blankets end to end, then another two end to end, then quilted those together with a made-up meandering stitch.  Without a walking foot.  That’s what we call a labor of love, friends.  I sewed the fifth blanket into a pillowcase that is still in use today (on the pillow that is propping me up while I write this, in fact!).

Photo of the pillowcase made from a flannel baby blanket

My son loved this blanket as only a child can unconditionally love the wonky things we make for them.  He declared it the magic blanket and, eight years later, it is still a cherished possession.  So much so that my younger child was eventually jealous.  I needed to make her magic blanket, and soon, lest she stage a Leverage-style attack to take permanent possession of her brother’s blankie.

Photo detail of machine quilting

Of course she also had 5 (no, 6!) one-yard lengths of flannel that she used as a baby — although she was not one who liked to be swaddled.  No, instead she wanted to be held constantly.  For three months.  Not that I am scarred or anything.


Photo of quilts from flannel baby blankets

For her blanket I got fancy.  I did a bunch of math (cooped up much?) and decided that 9″ squares would make the most efficient use of my fabric.  I cut the blankets up and sewed them back together in an eye-blistering pattern of colorful delight that is different on each side.  I ran out of patience at this time and quilted the whole thing together with straight lines, and machine bound it with commercial bias tape.

Thus was balance restored to our universe.

Photo of quilts from flannel baby blankets

I take deep satisfaction in upcycling, but this project took it to the next level because of how much my kids love having something I made just for them and having something that is a direct connection to their early years.

I toyed with the idea of writing this up as a sort of tutorial, but the real message is: just sew that shit together!  Your kids will love it, you will learn some things, and whatever you make will be NEW and get used, rather than gather dust in the basement or sadly slip away to a marginal existence in a thrift store.

Sleeve-Sweater Coupling Achieved!

At Knit Night last night I finally joined the sleeves (#2 and #4 for those who are counting) to my sweater body for the Spiral Yoke pullover.  Squeeeee!  I’d be knitting the yoke right now if I weren’t writing this.

The big question is: Will it be ready for Hanukkah/Solstice/Christmas?  Stay tuned for further developments.

My drawstring, lined bag sewing continues.  A few nights ago I cut up some old button-down shirts to use as fabric (saving the buttons, of course).  It’s an experiment.  Pros: cheap to free and I get bonus buttons! (I have a thing for buttons.)  Cons: Butchering a blouse is more work than a roaster for dinner.

I should use my rotary cutter.

Where did I put that thing?

On a completely unrelated note, I am still searching for the perfect productivity app for my phone.  I suspect that “perfect” does not exist.  I am currently enjoying Remember the Milk but am irritated by some of the limitations that are only available to pro members.  While I don’t mind paying for something useful, RTM’s terms are steeper than what other apps charge: $25 per year as opposed to a one-time fee of a few dollars that most apps that cost anything charge.


I may be sadly widget-less, but RTM is my favorite so far.

Back to knitting!



And then there were two

There is some kind of Murphy’s Law at play here.

After years of window shopping and sighing over rigid heddle looms of any size — anything bigger than an inkle loom — a week after I learn how to string my new TIA, my mom (whom I speak to by phone every day and is intimately acquainted with my every craft, triumph, and travail) says, “Oh, would you be interested in another loom?  I’ve had this one at my house for a few years.  I didn’t know you’d be interested in it or I would have told you about it sooner.”

Um, YES!  But why didn’t we make this connection before?!

Meet loom #2, a 20″ Beca, solid cherry, made probably in the late 1970s:

Beca has a nasty old warp on her.

So in the space of three weeks, I have two modest-sized rigid heddle looms and plans to warp one of these ladies for some houndstooth.

I’ve also been sewing:

Abstract fabric art

The sewing has been a compulsion that I cannot explain.  Costumes, drawstring project bags, fabric dolls, doll clothes.  I think it is my internal frustrated quilter crying out for time and space to work.

A few of my pretty bags

Or maybe I just like to sew now.  (I can hear some of my friends gasping with surprise.)