Monday, August 1, 2016

Sew Your Own Reusable Produce Bags

Our July Monday DIY posts have been all about trying to curb waste through swapping reuseable bags into our routine in lieu of plastic, and although it's the 1st of August here, we still have one final how-to: a reusable produce bag.  BYO bags are not (yet) common where I live, and offering up a reuseable shopping bag at the checkout is usually met with surprise and I have yet to see another reusable produce bag.  Forgoing produce bags may work nicely for markets, but not so well at a grocery store. My big items (pumpkin, squash, celery...) or onsies/twosies don't get bagged, but these reusable bags are a great compromise for multi-buys as well as corralling smaller items like beans, brussels sprout, etc.  I wanted something that was convenient, washable, durable, see-through (identify without unbagging), and lightweight (minimal added cost for pay-by-weight items). Our local shops operate via name not scan for bulk produce, so the stickers are only needed to verify varieties (e.g. which of the dozen different apple options). 

The fabric that I chose is washable, surprisingly stretch and strong, very lightweight, and sufficiently transparent to readily identify the contents as well as read stickers if needed. It's that super strong sheer mesh fabric that is used for dress/dance/sports outfits. The downside is that it is tricky to sew, especially using basic equipment/techniques.   If you don't need to see through your bags (e.g. market shopping), you can make a custom-sized standard drawstring bag in a solid or solid-mesh (think laundry bag) fabric. Easy peasy!  Fraying was not a factor but the durability of seams and the drawstring sleeve (especially with heavier fruits and veggies) were concerns, so I did some mini test-bag trials and my final DIY produce bag design was a basic drawstring bag (bottom fold) with the following custom adjustments:  
  • French seam sides with overlocked edge (standard for basics, wide for large/heavy).
  • Double-layered fabric drawstring sleeve with notched openings.
  • Single string through the double opening sleeve for quick open/close.

To make your own drawstring treat bag, you will need fabric, cord, coordinating thread, scissors (a cutter is also handy but not required), pen/marker, and basic sewing equipment.  Tip: If you are having trouble with your fabric catching, a small piece of scrap tissue paper can help with the start of your feed.  Since this is a stretchy fabric, a zig-zag stitch was used throughout unless otherwise specified (e.g. overlocking). 
  • Cut fabric(s) to size: double desired height plus 4x allowance for drawstring, desired width plus double+ seam allowances for french seams.
  • Use a washable pen/marker to mark all seams and folds.
  • Fold the sleeve allowance into half and sew the bottom raw edge to double layer the fabric. Repeat on other side. To help with finishing tricky stretch seams, I  prefer to sew the drawstring sleeve after sewing the sides.  
  • Fold the fabric into half right-side-out (the first step of making french seams), aligning the bottom edges of the top sleeve layer. Sew the sides from this point to the bottom along the first seam allowance to close both sides. 
  • Trim the side edges if/as needed close to the seam line but leave enough for strength. Inverse the bag right-side-in and sew a second seam along the sides, taking care to capture the first seam and edge material inside.  Tip: Make wider seam allowances if you plan to use these bags for heavier loads - the small additional weight is negligible and it will give you a little added strength in your mesh seams.
  • Fold a small double seam at the outer edges of your drawstring layer to notch in the corners. Too much fabric at your edges due to seam allowances? Trim just a little if/as needed and then fold.
  • Sew twice (inner edge, outer edge) from the side seam past the top to secure. Do this for all four corners.
  • Fold, pin to secure, and sew your drawstring sleeves, taking care to cover the initial raw edge of the layering seam under this folded sleeve seam.
  • Sew to reinforce the side seam joint just below the drawstring opening.
  • Overlock the outer edges of your side seams up to the intersection with your notches/sleeves but not (of course) above which would close the openings. This extra step really helps tidy up those ugly loose semi-see-through mesh french seams AND helps make things even stronger.
  • Inverse the bag to right-side-out. Thread through your drawstring and enjoy! I use a single drawstring through the double sleeve so that I can tighten and loop instead of typing for quick open/close. If you are using the bags for small items, you may prefer to tie or to use a cord lock.


  1. Hello! Visiting from the DIY bag post at Green in Real Life and have a maybe silly question but what on earth are those fruits and vegetables in your posts? Not the apples and pears and oranges :-) but the red ovals with the brown stems and wrinkled little ones? I've never seen anything like them and would love to know what they are and if they're common where you live. Thank you! Love your blogs.

    1. Hi Marguerite! Not silly at all - I hadn't seen/tried either until we moved to New Zealand.

      The red ovals are tamarillos. They're native to South America, but New Zealand grows them for local and export markets and they are readily available here when in season. You can grow them in the garden as well if you have the right weather/ conditions (and space!). Pity as they are VERY tasty - a kind a tangy/tart cross between a tomato and passionfruit.

      The wrinkled things are yams, but not like traditional yams/sweet potato/kumara. Like the tamarillo, these are a South American native but readily grown here and widely available in season. They're around the size of your thumb and come in pinkish orange (like my picture) but also shades of orange into golden yellow.

      Thanks for your comment and question (and the lovely compliment).

    2. Thank you. That tamarillo does sound tasty! I like discovering things that are different. I wonder if I can find some here! :-)


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