How to sew the perfect bulk aisle produce bag

Shopping in the bulk aisle is a great way to reduce waste. Of course there is still the big bag the bulk food came in before being put in the bulk bin, but it sill uses less packaging and we could imagine that with the push for circular economy, they could actually be delivered in reusable containers as well. The most accessible option to buy bulk is to reuse the paper bags from the shop until they need to go to the compost, but fabric produce bags are much more convenient, both to fill at the shop and to transfer in glass containers at home.

How to sew the perfect bulk aisle produce bag

Produce bags can be bought, but they are easy to make with basic sewing skills. It took a  few trial and error to make a produce bag that is convenient for bulk groceries. I originally made a few by cutting in 4 an old pillow case, sewing on 2 of the open sides and putting a casing for a string on the fourth side or using the pillow case slap to close. Those bags work well for fruit and vegetable, but are not completely convenient for cereals and other small stuff:

  • They don’t close very well so things like rice spread in the bag.
  • Some grains stay stuck in the seams and I end up spilling them everywhere while transferring in the glass jar.
  • Fabric of the seam was frying despite the (bad) zigzag stitch and fibres would end up mixed in the food from time to time.

Since my sewing skills have improved a bit, I came up with a few tricks to solve those problems. It is a bit more difficult to make, but even if they didn’t come out as neat as I would have liked, they are much more convenient to use.

Tutorial: Drawstring bag for the bulk aisle

1 – Cutting the fabric

I made two sizes of bags based on the ones of the paper bags from my organic shop: 15 x 25 cm, and 20 x 35 cm, but you can use the size you want. The small one is nice for stuff like rice and the big one for stuff like pasta.

In a light and ironed fabric, cut a rectangle of:

(width + 4 cm) x (2*length + 6 cm)

In my case, 19 x 56 cm for the small bag and 24 x 76 cm for the big bag.

2 – Double-turn hemming the long sides

Perfect drawstring bags for the bulk aisle

Fold 2 cm on the long sides of the rectangle (up on the photo). Press and then fold the seam in two towards the inside of the seam (down on the photo). Press. You now have a 1 cm seam and all the loose ends inside.

If your fabric has a right side, it should be up while doing this. All the seams will be on the outside to avoid the food to stay stuck.

Sew as close as possible from the edge.

3 – The casing

Fold 1 cm on the small sides of the rectangle. Press and fold another 2 cm. Again the right side is up. Pin, press and sew along the edge of the casing.

4 – Side seams

Perfect drawstring bag for the bulk aisle

Fold the rectangle in two, right side inside. Press from the top for the two casings to align as well as possible. Starting just above the casing stitch (the casing stitch needs to be covered, but not much of the casing opening obstructed), sew as close as possible from the previous seam on both sides. It is important to start from the casing side and not the bottom of the bag as this will hide small dimension mistakes.

5 – Strings

For the stings, I use some yarn I had, because it is very light, but you can use any sting you have lying around. Eyeball the length for it to be just a bit longer on each side when folded in two. Using a safety pin, put 2 pieces of string through both sides of the casing. Tie the end of each string on a different side. This will enable to tie the two pieces together to close the bag well and prevent grains to escape during transport.

Have fun making your own bulk aisle produce bags. If you have any doubts on the instructions, feel free to ask in the comments.

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‘Invisible’ jeans patching

As part of my attempt to dematerialise gifts and to slow down our crazy accumulation of stuff, I offered a ‘fixing one piece of cloth’ voucher to P. for his birthday. I love the idea of visible mending, of imprinting its history on a loved piece of cloth to make it even more special. But sometimes it is not a good option. For some reason, P. didn’t want to draw attention on his crotch.

The hole was already quite big by the time I got to take care of it, so I needed a patch. Since there was a bit of extra length at the bottom of the legs, I thought I could use that. So we started by hemming the jeans. Yes, we. I took the occasion to teach a bit of sewing to P. and we did one leg each. Who says sewing is a woman only thing?

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I used a seam ripper to make sure I would have as much fabric as possible out of the legs’ cut. After a bit of ironing, I cut a patch in the smaller piece, pined it in place, stitched all around the patch and around the hole to keep it in place. I started by doing a simple hemming stitch, but because the patch is in a high-stress zone, I had to do it again with a catch stitch to prevent the patch to fray.

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Et voilà ! It is not perfect, but when P. is wearing it, you don’t see a thing. And there is still quite a bit of fabric left for future patches.

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5 steps towards a sustainable Christmas

Christmas is a magical time of the year that helps warm our hearts to get us through winter, but we have turned it in a bit of a mass consumption ritual which is far from environmentally friendly. Before moving on to 2017, I wanted to share the five little steps I’ve taken this year to make gift giving a bit more sustainable.

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1. Sending a Christmas list

Christmas lists don’t have to be reserved for children. Since loved ones are going to spend time and money to get me a gift, I prefer it to be something I need/want, and thus will use and enjoy, than another piece of ‘stuff’ that will pile up in my cupboards without daring to get rid of it. Surprises are so overrated.

After looking around for a gift list application, I finally used google doc, as all the lists I found required to link items to commercial websites or people to sign up. I just wrote a word document, added pictures and in the sharing settings I choose anyone with the link can edit. I then sent the link to my parents for diffusion. People with the link could then look at the file and put their name next to the thing they picked.

It was not perfect as I made the list too long (5 pages), too complicated (I tried to include all the zero waste gift options I could think of) and too late (the time to figure out the best option to do this, people had already started shopping), but it helped me get things that I was planning to get anyway like a good cooking knife or a Spanish grammar book. Plus now I know how to do it better next year. Do, learn, improve.

2. Giving hand made gifts

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Since I piked up sewing this year, I decided to sew a little something to everybody. I had made a few fabric baskets for myself and found it convenient to tidy small items together. I made two types of baskets (this one and something in the line of this one adding lining inside to hide the seams), all this from material I already had: some trousers’ bottoms that got cut before hemming, and fabric left overs that came with my grandma’s sewing machine.

3. Giving edible gifts

I bought Spanish Christmas sweets to fill the baskets. I like the idea of giving food that people would not normally buy, as they will eat it thinking about you and not be cluttered with it for long. And in case the recipient doesn’t like this particular food, it should not be too difficult to find someone who will.

4. Finding something people need/want

My grandma wanted some business cards with her new address as she finds troublesome dictating it over and over, so I offered to take care of it. As a good zero waster, I found a company that offered them on recycled paper made in a factory powered by renewable energy and where the minimum order was 50. With most companies you have to get at least 100.

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Looking around, I couldn’t find a gift that resonated with me for my mum. Instead of buying something because I had too, I asked her if she needed anything and she asked me for underwear travel bags. We looked together in my fabric stash and selected some pyjama underwear whose elastic band had dried out. We spent a morning making three little bags out of them. I love the irony that they are underwear bags made out of underwear and my mum being there and contributing made them more special. Christmas is not so much about the stuff than the memories.

5. Using furoshiki gift wrapping

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In my family, we have always been reusing gift wrapping over and over, but would still get some in the bin every year. Last year my mum started the furoshiki tradition by wrapping her presents in tea towels that were part of the gift. Still digging in the pile of fabric from my grandma, I used pinking shears to make fabric squares to wrap all my presents. It is much faster than with paper: two knots and voila! And they will be reused every Christmas for decades.

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Photo credit: SN, JN and MD. 

Mending socks : darning vs patching

With St Nicolas around the corner, I thought a post on socks was quite appropriate. Am I the only one whose socks always fail in the same place? It seems a waste to get rid of socks because they have a small hole in the back of the heel when the rest of the sock is still in perfect condition. So I looked into my options to extend my socks life a bit.

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Darning

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The most documented sock mending option seems to be darning, which consists in weaving thread over the hole. So I tried this on my thin store bought socks, but I was not super convinced. Because I used thin thread to match the thickness of the sock, it was difficult to follow the mesh. It still did the job ok, but the result somehow doesn’t feel super comfy and I tend to keep this pair for when all the others are dirty. However I used darning to fix a hole in my glove and it worked very well.

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If I had bothered buying matching embroidery thread, the mending would be invisible.

Patching

For a while I had the idea that I could use several old socks to make a new one, but I thought the seams would be a problem. Looking if someone had done something around this idea, I found this tutorial from Stale Bread into French Toast that suggests patching store bought socks.

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Traditionally a darning egg is used to put in the sock to help fix it, but I found that the toy box of a big kinder surprise works well. I am sure you have something ready to do the job at home too.

After struggling a bit to understand how to make a catch stitch, I fixed a first pair and then liked it so much that I fixed another two the same way. The patch actually gives a bit of padding in the place I normally get friction from the shoes and I also kind of like the way it  looks. I used an old sock that had been turned to rag a while ago for the patches. After patching 6 socks, I still have about half of the old sock left to save other socks. The only inconvenient is that both socks need to be patched otherwise it feels wired.

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In conclusion, I would use darning for thick socks and maybe for areas below the sole, but patching otherwise. Now I am waiting to see how much longer my mended socks last.

Learn to love hand sewing

One of my resolutions to reduce my environmental impact is to develop my sewing skills (to extend the life of my clothes and make a few things I need to replace disposable options). Thanks to a special delivery, I am now the caretaker of my grandma’s sewing machine, but I am going to need some practice before I get any of my clothes close to the machine. Finding the right settings is much harder without a teacher that knows well the machine, the fabric, and the thread.

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First round of machine sewing practice: two drawstring bags I made out of an old pillowcase. Thanks to the zero waste chef for the idea!

In the mean time, I am learning how to enjoy hand sewing. The life of quite a lot of clothes can already be extended with a needle and some thread. I’ve been fixing holes and sewing buttons before, but one thing I really needed to get into was hemming trousers. Is it just me or are trousers always too long? Ok maybe I have short legs, but 100% of my trousers are too long when I buy then, so either I fold them, which doesn’t look to good, or I let them long and the bottom gets damaged. I used to not be bothered, but if I have to make a few clothes last for years, they might as well fit me properly.

How I hemmed my favourite jeans

There are already a million tutorials on how to hem a jean and I am not even sure this is close to the best way of doing it, but I wanted to show that it is easy to do even without any sewing skills (and I want to remember how I did it).

Material

A few pins, thread, a needle (and a touch of patience).

Preparation

Use the pins to mark the desired length. Make sure it doesn’t get too short when you sit down. Cut the excess, keeping about 2 cm below the mark. Turn the pants inside out and iron the hem in place.

Start

I’m always struggling to make the knot on the thread big enough (it looks so easy when my grandma works her magic). I think that is one of the things that has put me off from doing more sewing: by the time I have a satisfactory knot I am fed up already. But I found a trick! I do one stitch, then a second one in the same spot and pass the needle through the loop of the second stitch. Kind of in the same way you would do to finish the work. For security, I take the end of the thread in the first few stitches, but I am not sure it is necessary.

Then

Version 2

Take a only a few threads from the fabric so that the needle don’t go all the way to the outside and then take the needle through the hem. The easiest way to understand is probably to look at this video (in French :S). I did a knot every 2-3 cm not to have to redo all if part of the thread breaks.

Finish

Make a knot by getting the needle through the loop of the last stitch.

The whole thing took me about 40 min, but in front of a movie or better with a radio pod cast, I find it rather relaxing. And with experience it should take less time.

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I also tried this method with a lighter fabric. Since it was fraying a lot I folded the end of the fabric inside. It also took a bit longer since it was harder to take few enough threads to stay on the inner side of the fabric, but other wise it was pretty much the same. Both pants are much more conformable now.

Version 2

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If sewing is really not your thing, you can always bring your jeans to your local seamstress. I am not sure how much a hem cost, but a few years back I brought my favourite coat for some serious fixing and it was much cheaper than what I would have expected.

Intro to sewing

I have been interested in learning how to use a sewing machine for a long time. After a failed attempt with my Grandma when I was 16 (a carnival flamenco dress is definitely not a good beginner’s project), I decided to go for a proper sewing class at Sew over it. Not to be able to make myself loads of new clothes as I had in mind in high school, but to be able to re-fit, repair and re-use the clothes and other fabric-made items I already have.

Clothes have become so cheap. It is easy to just throw them away once they get damaged and I have definitely had my share of filling my closet with clothes I didn’t really need because getting new clothes is just so nice. But each new piece of clothing most certainly means use of pesticides, chemical and water resources, underpaid people working in questionable conditions and goods that travelled twice round to globe.  A pity when fixing or altering clothes is as satisfying as getting new ones.

After 3 hours working on a drawstring bag, I am definitely not an expert, but I am convinced sewing is not that hard. With a bit of practice I should be able to get to the level I need to stop wasting clothes. A drawstring bag is a perfect beginner project. Simple, forgiving and satisfying. It was also a nice coincidence since I want to make a few out of old bed sheets to help me with zero waste shopping (still need to find the right shop though). It is quite nice to have someone to ask questions to when it goes wrong, but if you want to try by yourself you can have a look at this tutorial.

Now I feel like re-fitting my entire wardrobe, but considering I just finished to knit the scarf I started for P. 3 years ago, it will probably take some time. To be continued…