tutorial: keepsake fabric gift bag

I came up with this pattern back in February when I made the gift bags for the VIP ticket holders for the Vagina Monologues.

Yeah, I could have bought paper bags from the party store or Hallmark or whatever, but I really wanted to make them myself, and I wanted them to be fabric bags that our VIPs could keep and reuse. I chose black and red because those were our V-Day colors, and I made the pattern so that all the seams were enclosed (aka “French seams”), so that there were no raw edges inside or out, an no need for a lining.

materials needed
All you need for this project is paper, a ruler and a pencil to draft your pattern, and lightweight fabric and ribbon of your choice. I used Kona cotton (quilting cotton with a slightly heavy hand) and 1.5″ wide double faced satin ribbon. You could use any lightweight fabric, and any type/width of ribbon or cording (or even strips of fabric). Add your sewing machine, a few pins, and your iron and you’re good to go!

What? I have to draft my own pattern!?!?

to draft your pattern
Yes, you are going to draft your own pattern! Don’t be scared! My gift bag is fairly large: 8″ tall, 5″ deep, and 8″ wide. But the beauty of this extremely simple pattern is that you can make it in any size, and you only have to spend approximately 2 minutes drafting the pattern! Take a look at the image above (not drawn to scale). You only need to know 4 measurements to draft this pattern:

*A is the width of your finished bag + 1″

*B is how deep you want it to be, divided by 2. My bag is 5″ deep, so on my pattern B = 2.5″

*C is how tall you want it to be, plus double the width of your drawstring, plus one half inch. My bag uses a 1.5″ wide satin ribbon for the drawstring, and is 8″ tall, so on my pattern C = 11.5″.

*D is the other half of the gusseted bottom. If this bag had a bottom seam, D would be the same length as B. However, since we are cutting on the fold, we have to subtract the seam allowance from D. This pattern uses a 3/8″ seam allowance, so D = B – 3/8″.

time to start sewing!
1. Once you have your pattern, the first step is to cut your fabric on the fold. Line up the bottom edge of your pattern (width “A”) with the fold of the fabric. I chose a light, cream colored cotton, and planned to pair it with fuchsia ribbon for the drawstring.

2. Now you have a single piece of fabric with two raw edges on top, two raw edges on each side, and a single bottom fold. Next, use a hot steamy iron to press down a 1/8″ hem on both top edges, and on both edges on only one side. We are only hemming one side because this bag has only one opening for the drawstring.

3. Now that the top and one side is pressed down, time to sew! With the wrong sides of the fabric together (the right side facing you), match the raw edges of the side you did not press down, and sew together with a 1/8″ seam allowance. We are sewing on the right side of the fabric, very close to the edge, because these are going to be enclosed seams: raw edges will be hidden completely!

4. On the other side (the sides you pressed down a narrow hem), match the raw edges and sew together using a 1/8″ seam allowance, leaving 3.5″ from the top open (this will form the channel for the drawstring, and this distance is twice the width of your drawstring plus one half inch).

5. Now to enclose these seams. Turn the bag inside out, so that now the wrong side of the fabric is facing you. You might want to use your fingers to press the seams you just sewed a bit flat – no need to use your iron though. Sew both side edges again, using a 2/8″ seam allowance.

This picture above shows the wrong side of the fabric, after completing step 5. Doesn’t that look nicer than raw edges? Using enclosed seams eliminates the need for a lining, and keeps the inside of the bag looking neat and pretty.

6. Now to finish off the corners. Turn the bag right side out so that the right side of the fabric is facing you. Line up the bottom fold of the bag (width “A”) with the side seam, and flatten the squared off corners into a straight line. Sew the raw edges together with a 1/8″ seam allowance. Repeat with the other corner.

7. To complete the corners, turn the bag inside out so that the wrong side of the fabric is facing you. Again, you may want to use your fingers to press the seams flat a bit. Sew both corners again using a 2/8″ seam allowance. When you’re finished, the corners of your bag will look like this from the inside:

8. Now to create the channel for the drawstring! With the wrong side of the fabric facing you, fold down the top edge toward you 1.5″, and pin in place all the way around the bag. This is the distance is the width of your drawstring ribbon. Sew the pressed edge onto the bag, leaving the channel open for your ribbon. Backstitch at the beginning and end of this seam, and then tie the loose thread ends together to ensure there’s no unraveling.

9. Next, turn your bag right side out and thread your ribbon through the channel! I forgot to take a picture of this step, oops! 🙂 I like to pin a large safety pin to the end of the ribbon to help guide it through the channel.

10. Once your ribbon is threaded, viola you are done! Fill your bag up with goodies and tie up the ribbon nice & pretty! Here I stuffed the bag with tissue paper, just so you can see how big it really is. I finished off the ribbon with a forked edge, but you can cut it straight or at an angle, whatever you think looks best.

Have fun making your custom keepsake gift bags!

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5 thoughts on “tutorial: keepsake fabric gift bag

  1. I am glad to see someone jumping on the band wagon. I have been making fabric gift bags for over 25 years. I have completely given up on wrapping anything in paper. I have been a seamstress all my life and a living historian- Civil War era for almost 18 years. Everyone knows that if they get a gift from me it will come in a fabric bag of some kind. Now that I have an embroidery capable sewing machine they are often decorated with an embroidery design.
    My daughter sent me a copy of your site and said “Look Mom, someone stole your idea!” LOL

  2. Linda Sue, I am right there with you, a pretty fabric bag is so much nicer than just paper! It’s like two gifts in one. 🙂 I bet your gift bags with embroidery are gorgeous, what a great idea. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting!

  3. Hi – Just came across your blog and love it. I realize this post is 5 yrs old but any chance of re-including the picture to go with the tutorial? Thx! Karen

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