By Chris Dalziel, contributing writer
Get rid of plastic bread bags
My family doesn’t go through bread very fast. I bake 2 loaves of challah each week, and inevitably more than half the second loaf is wasted due to moldy bread. Up until now we stored our bread in plastic bags. So not only is the bread wasted, but the plastic bread bags are sent to the landfill, too. Once there is mold in the bag you can’t clean it out.
There’s too much plastic waste in the world already and I didn’t want to be responsible for creating more. I’ve been on a zero-waste mission this year, so I was serious about solving this problem.
I had a wooden bread box, but that wasn’t a good solution. The bread box takes up too much room on the kitchen counter.
After searching for a few years I think I’ve finally found the solution to my moldy bread problem. And I found it at the thrift store for under a dollar.
My local thrift stores often have 100% linen napkins for sale. Linen is the perfect fabric for storing bread. The French have known this for centuries. After all, that’s what they used to store bread in before plastic bags came along.
Check out this post to know if your treasure is linen or cotton.
Benefits of linen bread bags:
Linen is the ideal fabric for storing bread. Linen is:
- Keeps the bread in the dark
- Bread bag can be hung on a hook off the counter
- Keeps bread from drying out
- Linen naturally attracts moisture
- You can hang your bread with the drawstring so you won’t lose it under armloads of produce.
Common sizes of linen bread bags
Here are the finished sizes of common linen bread bags:
Baguettes and Challah – 17″ x 11″ (Use a 22″ x 22″ napkin for this size)
Boules – 12″ x 12″
Sandwich loaves – 15″ x 12″
Make a linen bread bag from upcycled linen dinner napkins
Skill level: Beginner
Time: 15 minutes
- Sewing machine with straight stitch
- Scissors or a way to cut the thread
- Thread to match your napkin fabric
- 1 – 100% linen dinner napkin — square with a plain edge. Choose a heavier linen fabric over a fine linen fabric. I used a 22″ x 22″ napkin.
- 27″ length of ½” ribbon, braided seine twine, heavy jute string, or fancy kumihimo braid
I found two beautiful, never used, double damask linen dinner napkins at the thrift store for $1.50 (for both!). These were 24″ x 24″ before washing and ironing. They shrunk down to 22″ x 22″, the perfect size for a long artisan loaf of bread. The finished bread bag will be 21 inches long and 11 inches wide – ample for baguettes, challah, and other long artisan loaves.
If the finished bread bag seems too roomy for smaller loaves, simply secure it closer to the loaf.
Prepare the fabric
Wash and iron the dinner napkin before you begin. This cleans and preshrinks the fabric and makes it easier to work with.
Decide on which is the right side of your napkin. With some woven designs like double damask it may be hard to determine which side is the right side. Check which way the hem is folded. That may give you a hint.
Make the string casing
With the wrong side of the napkin facing you, fold over the top edge of the napkin toward you, three-quarters of an inch. Pin in place and press. Stitch close to the edge of the napkin, away from the fold, to make a ¾” casing for the string. Leave the ends open.
Stitch the bottom and side seams
Fold the napkin right sides together, with the stitched casing at the top. Pin the bottom edge and the open side edge together. Begin at the bottom corner, at the fold line. Stitch along the bottom edge allowing ¼ inch seam. Turn the work and continue stitching up the open side, stopping just before the casing.
Turn right side out
Open the napkin-bag right side out and steam press the seams
Trim any lose threads. Use a pin to pull out the corner edge to make crisp corners. Press the corners.
Topstitch the edges
Topstitch on the right side, ¼” from the finished edge. Begin on the folded edge, just after the casing. Top stitch around the bag, across the bottom and on the stitched side, stopping just before the casing starts. Leave the casing free of stitching.
Place the draw string
Cut a ribbon or thick piece of seine twine, or a fancy braid, 27″ long. Using a large safety pin, pull the twine, braid, or ribbon through the casing at the top of the linen bag. Stop before you’ve pulled it all the way out. You’ll have two ends with the middle part inside the casing. Take the two ends of the twine and tie them with an overhand knot. Viola! Your bread bag is complete.
Embellish it if you like:
This is a quick tutorial, but you can exercise your creativity on the finished bread bag with embroidery, stenciling, or fabric paint. Avoid beading. Beads can make the linen more difficult to iron.
Your bread bags are ready for your homemade bread!
How can I tell if the napkin is linen?
See my post on distinguishing vintage linen fabrics from cotton or synthetic fabrics.
Can I use a linen tea towel instead of a napkin to make bread bags
Yes. Linen tea towels are usually of a coarser and looser weave than linen dinner napkins, and so the seams may ravel if you need to cut them to make the bag fit. Try to avoid cutting the fabric. The average pure linen tea towel is 17″ wide by 27″ long – long enough for a classic French Baguette, without cutting. Using this method, the finished baguette bag will be 8″ wide and 25″ long.
How long will my linen bags keep homemade bread fresh?
About two days for that fresh baked texture, depending on the humidity and temperature of your house. Another three to four days, as it begins to get progressively drier on the ends. If you need to keep your fresh bread longer than five days, I suggest freezing it. Once you bring it out of the freezer, unwrap it to keep it from getting soggy and place it in the linen bag to thaw.
You’ll still need to use plastic, foil, or wax paper to wrap the bread before you put it in the freezer.
I get my bread from the bakery in paper sacks. Can I put the paper sack in the linen bread bags?
Yes, that’s a good way to keep the linen bread bag cleaner and to keep your bread fresher just a little longer. The paper lets the bread breathe, while slowing the moisture loss.
How do I take care of the linen bread bag after use?
Wash it with your whites. Hang to dry or put in the dryer. Take it out while it’s still a bit damp and iron it with a steam iron. The linen will shine after ironing. If the linen gets too dry to iron easily, use this lavender linen spray to make ironing linen easier.
The essential oil scent is brief and won’t affect the flavor of your bread.
About Chris Dalziel
Chris is a teacher, author, gardener, and community herbalist with 30+ years of growing herbs and formulating herbal remedies, skin care products, soaps, and candles. She teaches workshops and writes extensively about gardening, crafts, and medicinal herbs on her blog at JoybileeFarm.com. Chris is the author of The Beginner’s Book of Essential Oils, Learning to Use Your First 10 Essential Oils with Confidence and Homegrown Healing, From Seed to Apothecary. Chris’ latest project focuses on beeswax crafts.
Chris lives with her husband Robin in the mountains of British Columbia on a 140 acre ranch, with sheep, dairy goats, llamas, and a few retired chickens. They have 3 adult children and 3 granddaughters. All photos courtesy of Chris unless otherwise noted.