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Remember when I said that we would use our practice pieces from the boxed corners lesson earlier this week for something useful for Christmas? I guess it wasn’t particularly difficult to figure out what I was getting at: DIY gift bags!
I have come to really hate disposable gift wrapping, so I am trying to bring a bit of eco-friendliness to my friends’ and family’s gift giving. Last December I wrote a series of tutorials on ecological gift-wrapping, describing ways to create re-usable packaging and/or upcycling materials for wrapping up goodies. So this tutorial goes right along with that series, as well as the Learn to Machine Sew series, being the practical tutorial for the boxed corners lesson.
Anyway, these gift bags are really fast to sew up and can be personalized in tons of ways. These sacks are tied up with a ribbon, but don’t feature a drawstring casing, so their construction is quite simple. And if you use a non-fraying fabric, you have even more decorative and/or time-saving options! So, let’s get to work!
You can make these bags whatever size you want, but for the sake of this tutorial, let’s just cut rectangles roughly 25 x 30 cm (10 x 12″). Make sure that the directional print and/or nap, if your fabric has one, run downwards in both pieces. Here I am using leftovers from the non-fraying fabric I used for my son’s Peter Pan costume a few years ago. The fabric has a nap, which I made sure went from top to bottom in all pieces.
If you want to decorate the fabric with ribbons, ric rac, or whatever other haberdashery, cut pieces the right length to go across the fabric width.
You can use either one of the two methods described in the boxed corners lesson, so I am showing the construction of two gift bags to show both methods. If using the first method described, cut 3 cm squares out from the bottom corners of both pieces, as you can see on the pieces to the left in the photo above.
If decorating the fabric, pin your ribbon across both pieces, making sure that they are positioned at the same distance from the bottom.
Then sew the decorations into place.
I’m not going to get into details on how to box corners, so if you need help with it, go check out the lesson. Pin the two pieces together, right sides facing, and sew around the two sides and the bottom with a 1 cm (3/8″) seam allowance. If using the first method, don’t sew around the edges of the cut-out squares.
Box the corners according to your preferred method (covered in the aforementioned lesson). In the photo above, the first method is on the left (with the seam allowances opened up) and the second method is on the right (with the seam allowances folded over to opposite sides).
As you can see, I didn’t finish off the edges of the fabric with a zig-zag or overlock stitch because this fabric does not fray. If using a fraying fabric and someone someday might wash one of these bags, I suggest finishing off the edges. (Edit: here is the lesson on the zig zag stitch, in case your fabric does fray.)
If you are using your practice pieces from the boxed corners lesson, start paying attention now!
Let’s finish off the tops of the bags. If your fabric does not fray, you can just trim off the top in a nice straight line, or jazz it up with a wavy or zig-zag edge. I cut wide zig zags, but notice that I left the seams intact so that they stitching wouldn’t come out. I suggest cutting the seam allowances, too, otherwise they will stick out when turning the bag right side out.
(By the way, my daughter calls this bag with the zig-zag top the “Peter Pan bag” because it’s the same fabric as the costume and has the same zig zag edges, too! Ha!)
Another option is to hem the top of the bag. If you need help with that, take a look at my hemming lesson. Again, this fabric doesn’t fray, so I just folded the fabric over once and sewed it into place.
Here’s a little extra tip in addition to the hemming lesson. When you hem pieces that have already been sewn together, as in the case of a bag or pants leg, you have to fold down the fabric at the seams just as you do with a single piece of fabric.
Then sew down the folded hem as instructed in the hemming lesson. This is when it’s handy to have a free arm on your sewing machine. (What’s that? Read up on sewing machine anatomy.) You just slip the fabric tube, turned inside out, around the free arm and while you sew, the fabric passes below the free arm, making it a whole lot easier to maneuver.
If your machine doesn’t have a free arm, don’t fear! You can still sew this type of hem, but you need to maneuver it around and be more careful not to sew over fabric you don’t want sewn. To avoid doing this, I generally leave the fabric tube right side out, but position the wrong side under the presser foot, as you can see in the above photo. This way the fabric, as it passes beyond the presser foot, moves on top of the other fabric as opposed to going underneath, where it can accidentally get caught under the presser foot again.
Now that you’ve finished off the tops of your bags in one way or another, let’s add the ribbon closure. Cut one piece of ribbon about 60 cm (24″) long for this size bag. I suggest you slightly melt the ribbon ends over a flame if the ribbon is synthetic to avoid its fraying. If you want, you can incorporate a drawstring casing into the construction of this bag, but I’m going to show you two super simple closures for these bags.
The first way is only good if you are using a non-fraying fabric. Fold down the top about 6 cm (2.5″) and make four little snips about half the width of your ribbon straight down.
Unfold the top again and insert the ribbon so that the ends meet in the center front. Ta da! Done!
This second method works great even if your fabric frays. Pin the center of the ribbon in the center back of the bag and sew it into place.
My trick to avoid sewing the front of the bag by accident is to turn the bag wrong side out so that you can slip just the back side with the pinned ribbon under the presser foot, as you can see above.
Now the fun part- stuff your gift bags with goodies and tie them up! You can stick flowers or other objects in the ribbon as you tie it or even leave part of the gift sticking out the top of the bag, squeezed in place with the tied ribbon! Add a DIY name tag, and you’re ready to go! Doesn’t a gift look so much prettier when wrapped up with something special like this? Anyone would be happy to receive a special package like these!
If you’re asking yourself why we bothered boxing the corners, look at how the bags are standing up on their own. The boxed corners create a flat bottom, which is perfect for bags. Also, boxing the corners avoids the pointy corner look that you can see in these fabric gift bags. Let’s just say that boxed corners make a nicer-looking and more convenient bag!
Are you interested in other alternatives to disposable paper or foil wrapping paper? Then take a look at my other tutorials in the Ecological Gift Wrapping Guide!