Imagine yourself in the grocery store picking out the perfect collection of organic apples. You look around, only to discover that you have no option other than to put your fruit into a plastic bag. Not only are they thin and easily torn, they expose your food to the dangers of plastic and have a negative impact on the environment.
There are many non-plastic options for produce bags but did you know they are incredibly easy to make yourself? In fact, I spent more time setting up my sewing supplies than I did actually sewing! (Only very basic sewing skills are required for this super easy DIY project.)
Depending on the supplies you use, these reusable produce bags can be made for next to nothing. You can repurpose a worn or out-dated t-shirt and a spare shoelace as a drawstring for a virtually free bag.
No matter what supplies you use, this easy tutorial will show you how to make you own produce bags to take along on your next shopping trip.
Homemade Produce Bag Supplies
Fabric: This is a matter of preference. I have used both organic cotton muslin and a lightweight polyester mesh with a light stretch. As I mentioned above, an old t-shirt or any other lightweight fabric you have on hand will work well. Remember that your bag will be weighed along with your produce so you don’t want to add more weight than is necessary.
I did make sure that the fabric was washable before I chose one. Some mesh fabrics require special care when washing but I want to be able to toss it in with my regular laundry if/when it becomes soiled.
The organic cotton muslin was the easiest to work with and cinched very well with the drawstring, so this is what I would recommend for a beginner. Plus you have the added benefit of using organic fabric.
Bag Closure Options: There are several ways you could finish the top of your produce bags:
The absolute easiest way would be to just finish the edge with a simple hem. This technique would leave the top of your bag open similar to the plastic bags provided at the store. The drawback would be that your produce would have the possibility of falling out of the bag. However, you could use a silicone bag clip to fasten it, keeping everything safely inside.
Another simple solution is to use elastic. I would not recommend this if you buy a lot of bulk nuts or other small items but it works great for larger things like apples, tomatoes, and avocados. Just measure a piece of 1/4″ wide elastic (measure with the elastic fully stretched) the same length as the circumference of your bag plus 1/2″ for overlap. Then insert it into a casing the same way you would for an elastic waistband.
The closure type I most prefer is a drawstring. I purchased a 1/8″ cable cord and also later realized that a large round shoelace would work well. The cotton muslin stayed closed quite well but the mesh slipped a bit on the drawstring so I put a cord lock on that bag for added security.
- Sewing machine
- fabric scissors or rotary cutter and quilting mat
- measuring tape or quilting ruler if you are using a rotary cutter
- safety pin for inserting drawstring
- iron for pressing hems and seams (not necessary but helpful)
- sewing pins (not necessary but helpful)
DIY Produce Bag Directions
This tutorial will show you how to make a drawstring produce bag that is roughly 12″ wide by 14″ long using a lightweight organic cotton muslin. Use 1/2″ seam allowances unless otherwise stated.
1. Lay your fabric out so that it is 2 layers thick.
2. Cut a 13″ by 16″ rectangle (this will give you 2 pieces).
3. With the 2 pieces together, measure down 2.5″ on one of the long ends. Mark this spot with a straight pin. You will leave these 2.5″ open to leave room to make the drawstring casing.
4. Starting at the straight pin you placed in step 2, sew a seam around the rectangle on 3 sides, leaving the last side (top of bag) and the 2.5″ on the side open.
5. Along the top edge, fold over 1/2″ to the wrong side and press with your iron.
6. On the side with the open section, press open the seam allowance including the 2.5″ opening.
7. Starting at the top edge, stitch down to the bottom of the 2.5″ opening. Stop, pivot, and sew across the side seam about 1″. Stop, pivot, and sew back up the other side, ending at the top edge.
8. To make the casing for the drawstring, fold over 1″ around the top edge to the wrong side and press.
9. Stitch all the way around just inside the bottom of the 1″ fold forming a casing for your drawstring.
10. Cut the 1/8″ cable cord long enough to go all the way around the bag through the casing and have enough to tie a knot. I cut mine about 34″.
11. Wrap a piece of tape around each end.
12. Put the safety pin through one taped end of your cord and use it to feed the cord through the casing.
13. Put both ends together and tie an overhand knot.
I also made a smaller size that would be handy for buying things like kiwi, ginger root, or 3-4 average sized apples. The finished size of the smaller bag was 8″x 10″ so I cut the initial pieces 9″x 12″.
You can really make any size you would like. Just take the finished dimensions you want and add 2″ to the long side of the bag (so you have plenty of room to make the casing for the drawstring) and 1″ to the width.
Making the switch to cloth produce bags is an easy way to reduce plastic use in your daily life. Here are some other tips.
Ever made your own grocery bags? What other changes have you made to avoid plastic?
Discussion (48 Comments)
Unfortunately polyester is made from plastic. Cotton is the next best option, but hard to see through. 🙂
that puts paid to recycling net curtains then 🙂
Can the store scanners read the PLU through these or fine mesh bags or does the clerk have to remove the item from the bag or manually enter the number in order to record it?
This has been bothering me for awhile, and I have thought of sewing some myself. Quick question, I can’t seem to find the answer anywhere. I am struggling with what type of milk container to buy. Some websites say that #2 plastic milk containers do not leach any chemicals, some say cartons used to leach dioxin, but now they don’t. Organic milk in a glass container costs over $10 a gallon here, which is crazy expensive!! Any thoughts on this?
Thank you for spreading the word about this! I purchased my own drawstring bags in 3 sizes from Amazon (organic cotton) for super cheap 3 years ago and have never looked back. For our family of 7 I use between 12-16 weekly in various sizes.
Whole Foods will deduct the tare weight of the bag from your purchase. I took all of my bags the first time to customer service and armed with a sharpie had them weigh each one and I wrote the tare on the outside of each bag ( i slipped a piece of cardboard inside so it wouldn’t bleed through). The cashiers have never had a problem with this, in fact I am well known for bringing my own bags.
I also wrote the size of each bag on the outside for my own benefit ( M,L,XL) so I am faster at the grocery store. I also have a line to write the item number on the outside ( I write the item number with washable marker so it disappears when I wash it between grocery trips). You can also bring empty glass jars and have them weighed at customer service before you fill them. I use inexpensive quart and 1/2 gallon canning jars and fill them up with bulk items like Lentils, Oats, Rice etc. I put a small piece of masking tape on the top of each jar and have them write the tare with my washable marker on the tape. So when it goes through the dishwasher it washes right off. I don’t recommend using your drawstring bags for powder products (flour etc) because in my experience powdery stuff gums up the drawstring. I use glass jars for that.
I usually take 10 bags in various sizes on vacation too. They are super light weight and take up very little room. I have used reusable bags for so long now it is painful when I have to use plastic.
Good Luck, I hope this inspires more people to switch!
My first reaction was thinking of the additional cost I was going to pay for heavier cloth bags. Makes no sense to pay the store for the additional weight so before doing this I am going to check with my store’s policy on this and if they will be willing to deduct the weight of the bag.
Great project. This is something I’ve been wanting to make for awhile but have not gotten to yet. You can also sew a small label that shows on the outside of the bag to indicate the tare weight of the bag so the checker can deduct that from the purchase.
Absolutely love this idea!! Great post! 🙂
This brought to mind a question about fabric bags and plastics… Would a fabric liner inside a plastic storage container protect the dry food stored inside the container from leaching? Fabric liners would be easy to make and would keep the plastic and food from touching each other. Has anyone tried this or heard of anyone else who has tried this?
I don’t think it’s been tested but a lot of the leaching of plastics takes place when it is in contact with water, acids or possibly oil. I don’t worry as much about plastics in contact with my dry goods. I’ve found that I have less pantry moth problems using a plastic bag inside of a tin can. so I do this often. However I do NOT use snack bags for this, or soft plastic produce bags. they seem to off gas most and most quickly. Try putting some nuts into a snack bag, and leaving it for six months on the windowsill, to simulate sitting in your purse (where I like to carry some nuts in case I get fast dropping blood sugar which can make me anxious and irritable. Those nuts will definitely taste like plastic. I’ve bought “dutch” cookies packed in plastic trays. that had that plastic taste. But nuts sold in a plastic packet last longer. so if you use plastic, try to find a sturdy plastic which out gasses less. for instance the plastic bags frozen fruit come in, the plastic bags that Spoon for spoon sugar substitutes comes in (I use stevia due to diabetes)
Great idea! I was wondering if you could tell me about how many you use on an average trip? We try to grow as much as we can but with a family of 7 it’s inevitable we must buy produce. We never buy cans and if at all possible buy fresh over frozen. I was just curious how many I should make. Thank you!
It depends on how much and what you typically buy at the store. Compare the size of a normal grocery bag with the one you make and work out how many you need from there.
I take my own grocery bags into the store, it never occurred to me to also include produce bags. Thank you Katie for opening my eyes once again. I LOVE your site and you are my go-to blog for everything healthy!!
I dont know why but this idea never crossed my mind.. Although I get most if not all my produce from our CSA box. As well as eggs, ACV and several other things. But once in a while I have to get produce at the store, I have been using my larger cloth shopping bags ! A little big .. And I am sure they add quite a bit of weight. I am going to set up the machine and sew some right now. I even have a stack of old t-shirts that were headed to garage for a yard sale.. Thanks !