Adopting the idea of reusable bags can prevent a lot of single use plastic bags from ending up in the trash. These small cloth bags are great for purchasing items like bulk spices and tea.
Reusable bags as another option
My health food store has a spice section where I can buy spices in bulk. The store provides customers with small plastic bags to fill, and that’s certainly less plastic than I’d be throwing away if I purchased the spices in a plastic bottle, but it’s still waste.
I finally had some time yesterday to sew some small cloth bags that I can use for buying things like tea and spices in bulk. Note that in my humid climate, I don’t store spices in these little cloth bags. I store my tea and spice collection in air tight glass jars and use these DIY moisture absorbers to keep things as fresh as possible. These bags could work as storage in drier climates, I suppose.
This project took me about an hour and netted three mini bags. You don’t need to have mad sewing skills for this project. As long as you can sew a straight line, you’re in business.
Note: These would be great for little gifts, too!
Take a Peek Inside My Book!
Get a free excerpt from my book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living! You’ll also get my free weekly newsletter, complete with recipes, gardening tips, and a little peek at what’s going on around here — both the zany and the mundane.
- Thinking About the Environmental Issues of Single Use Plastic
- Green Living: 66 Small Changes to Make a Big Difference
- Reusable Snack Bags: An Eco-Friendly Food Wrap with Less Waste
How to make small cloth bags
Start by cutting a 6″ strip of fabric from the end of a 44″ wide piece of cloth. This length (6″ x 44″) will ultimately make three bags.
I opted to use a French seam, so there will be fewer loose ends or threads to contend with when I use the bags.
To start, fold the fabric in half, wrong sides facing. (I know. This goes against everything you’ve ever been taught about sewing!) Sew a straight stitch along both long edges. I used a 1/8″ seam allowance for these small cloth bags.
Turn inside out and press seams.
Now use a 3/8″ seam allowance to again sew down the length of the fabric. This seam is essentially securing the loose ends inside of the seam.
Measure your sewn piece of fabric, cutting it into three even lengths. Mine were each about seven inches long. One of these pieces – the one with the fold – will already have three finished sides. The other two will need to have bottoms sewn in to form the small cloth bags.
Using the same French seam method, sew one of the open ends closed, starting with wrong sides facing, then turning the bag to sew another seam with right sides facing. Repeat with third cloth bag.
Turn all three reusable bags inside out and hem the opening by folding the fabric over twice (about a quarter inch each time) toward the inside of the bag. Sew around the edge.
Have you had any luck eliminating the plastic bags from your bulk shopping? Do you bring your own cloth bags? Or does your store weigh your containers for a tare weight so you can fill them directly?
If you do have to use plastic bags for something you buy you can make a doormat with them. if you or someone you know can stitch them together.
That’s a good idea!
How do they stay closed? Without a drawstring or zipper your stuff will spill out.
Plus, without a write-able tag or label, there’s no place to put tare weight.
My natural food store offers wide white twist ties to write on.
You could certainly add a drawstring, but my natural food store asks us to use twist ties where we write the item number.
Great idea! Thank-you
What a great idea! I need to make some of these for when I do bulk shopping. I think making a few of various sizes would be great as well for those things I buy a lot of in bulk.
I love my little mini bags for spices and herbs. They look so amazing in my kitchen and the smell of the herbs is just so amazing. Or at least always when I open the drawer where I keep them inside. I just can absolutely recommend everyone to sew these if you have the possibility to use them.
It’s worth it. 🙂
Thank you for this great article.
Hi, Kris, was reading about getting rid of plastic and can remember when all meat came in butcher paper and my mother freezing in it which made me remember that we used to shell our peas and fresh beans,put them in pillow cases and tie them up to freeze them. We also froze or corn without shucking it and placed it in a brown paper grocery bag rolled the top down and used large rubber bands or tape to keep them closed. All of these veggies always tasted fresh when we used them…
Definitely remember butcher paper (we still use it!), and I’ve used brown paper bags, but never a pillowcase! Thanks for that addition.
My grandmother used to make spice bags and then add spices such as cinnamon sticks, allspice and cloves, close them with a ribbon and attach 3 bags to a piece of crochet to hang in the kitchen. They smelled really good for a long time. I’m trying to get some ideas. Yes, she gave them out as gifts for Christmas. 🙂
I remember those!
I love this idea. And I love your print fabric. Do you also store your spices and tea in these or move them to glass jars at home?
Once food preservation is done, I’m going to try this. It seems I can’t do any crafts from May to October due to the plethora of gardening and harvesting responsibilities. But I pinned it so I can come back later.
I don’t store in these, though I suppose people in a drier climate could. It’s so humid here that the spices mold, sometimes even in the jars.
I made some many years back, but used tissue weight linen, they have worn well, weigh little, and have a close weave. Whole grain flours ‘dust’ out a little, a double layer bag should eliminate that problem for use with white/fine flours yet still be light weight. (Note: weigh the bag prior to filling & mark the weight on the hem. It can then be deducted from the total so you don’t ‘pay’ for it repeatedly!)
I had to laugh when you said your kids are horrified by your pink bags. Mine are pink too!!
I cut up old net curtains that I bought at the thrift store. I went looking for them and that day they happened to have pink. I think my boys are slightly horrified too.
This is a great idea, i generally just pile all my single veggies in my trolley and give them to the check out person in loose piles which they probably dont like but it saves me on wasted bags so c’est la vie! My thought is tho, if i went to bin inns to buy stuff without using plastic and took my own cloth bags, then surely the bags are more likely to weigh more than plastic in which case the shop would be making an extra few cents out of me from the weight of the bag, in which case isnt that a good thing for them and a price we pay for being a pain in the bum? 😉 I cant see how they’d have any room to complain at all!
My only worry is putting powdery things like flours and spices in there and loosing any of it.. Maybe i havent thought it through very hard or am being a bit stingy… Either way, a great idea and i am dead keen to try it. I also love the velcro sandwich bag idea i’ve seen around the place. Definately gonna have to source a sewing machine before i get anymore hippy styles 🙂 Having all these ideas around and not being able to act on them is killing me lol
I did try flour in one of my really light bags – not such a good plan. I need to make some good sized ones out of cotton and I think they’ll be fine. That’s what flour used to come in; remember people talking about making clothes from flour sack cloth? That was back before we’d become such a disposable collection of people!
What about a waxed or oiled cloth? Not sure if there would be any transfer but for finer particles it might do the trick.
If I’m not mistaken they do make a very tight weave in the muslin so you could have the recycle bags & little loss.
I was just thinking that when I saw some muslin sacks for sale to fill with the bulk grains for 6 dollars at my local co-op! People used to make stuff out of the flour sack cloth and now we are making flour sacks! I decide to make my own bags and not pay 6 bucks so thanks for the turorial!
Love them. We have a jar exchange at the Co-op and you can always bring your own jars from home to put stuff in so I just re-use spice jars. I feel lucky to live in Ashland and to be able to shop a LITTLE more sustainably. (On that subject, can you please post about how to buy bread with no plastic? Here’s the problem: the local bakery which will just hand me loaves gets their flour not-organic and from FAR away. I do bake bread myself but in the summer I am less motivated to turn on the oven. Also, it falls apart and the kids don’t like that. Maybe the solution is to STOP eating bread?!)
Oh, the bread bags KILL me. I’ve been thinking about this very issue.
Check your library for a book called ‘Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.’ It has recipes for loaves, bread boules, baguettes, etc. All without kneading! The dough can be made in large batches and kept in the fridge for a week or more to bake as needed. It does need to be taken out of the fridge and sit for awhile before baking, but that’s pretty much it for your ‘active’ time if the dough is already made.
So glad you suggested the book I have arthritis in both hands and can’t make a fist. Can’t wait to get the book.
I save bread bags, then when I bake banana bread or rolls, I put them in the bread bags to give away. Have also given produce from our yard away in them. At least they get used twice….
Sigh! I gave away my sewing machine because it was just taking up space. Maybe you’d like to sell these?
I’ve never had any grocery store give me any grief about using my own bags.
I like the tip about washing the bags out with vinegar and spraying with vinegar to disinfect. Some spices have such a strong smell, that you’d have to keep using the same bag for the same spice, I would think.
I haven’t had any trouble with grocery stores complaining, either. And the health food store thinks it’s cool. 😉
I had the same question as Sophie. I’ve noticed even with my reusable grocery bags some stores are good about it and others act perturbed.
I think all of our stores here offer a discount for bringing bags. The stores seem to encourage it, but individual checkers can be sourpusses about it. I just try to avoid those aisles. 😉
The biggest complaint cashiers/baggers have with most reusable bags is because they don’t stand alone or fit on the racks that the plastic bags are on. I understand their frustration as it makes their job a bit more difficult, but I think it’s more important to use my reusable bags.
What a clever idea, Kris. And cute, too. Makes so much sense, since using plastic bags is such a waste.
I should whip up some of these. I doubt the folks at our Bin Inn bulk store would mind at all.
Super easy, Melanie. Plus, I like to think that when people see me using cute little bags, it makes them think.
Oh that’s a great idea. Our co-op lets us take our spice bottles in, so we just weigh the bottle and then weigh again after we fill it.
My store won’t weigh our bottles – so the reusable bag is the next best option.
Luv, luv, love this idea! Especially for the produce bags! Always hate throwing them away, not having the slightest clue to how I can ‘recycle’. This cloth reusuable idea, is perfect! I plan to make ‘extra’ bags, enough for a full load of itself to throw in washer, when ready. And to use white vinegar in laundry for disinfectant and softener. Along with a handy spray bottle to spray more white vinegar before/after trips to the produce section. Thank you for helping me and others take a step closer in perserving and protecting our environment!
Yes, I’m already wishing I’d made more! Glad you’ve joined us, Jen.
Do you ever get any grief for doing this at the store?
The supermarket here didn’t mind when I started using fabric produce bags, but the bulk store seems to think I’ll be trying it on as they won’t be able to see the contents easily. Despite the fact that they already have to check with me which bag is plaour flour, SR flour etc etc….
LOL that was meant to say “plain flour” 🙂
The bulk food from bins has numbers that the store requires customers to write on the twist ties. With that method, it’s not crucial for them to see what’s in the bag. I do have see through produce bags, though.
So brilliant. Although, yes, it’s weird to sew on the *right* side of the fabric initially, I see why it’s necessary!
Love this idea. It never made any sense to me to buy the spices in bulk and then put them into plastic bags!
Love this idea, and they turned out so doggone cute.
Thanks! I used them today to get spices and it made me happy. 😉
Great idea (and so pretty too!). Do you use the pink fruit bags at the supermarket? They sounds like a great idea too.
The pink bags are bigger – the size of plastic produce bags. I use them in the supermarket for fresh produce as well as for bulk items like beans and oats. They don’t work for flour because they’re a little too open weave – the flour leaks out. Maybe I’ll post about these soon, too!
but how do you keep them clean? Can you make them with some sort of liner?
You could, certainly. I just wash them after each use.
My family has been using cloth bags for Christmas presents for years, but to be honest I never thought about using little ones for all kinds of other things, like items from the bulk store! Great idea, as always, Kris!
Lisa, I made cloth bags last year for Christmas. I think my extended family thought I was crazy. 😉
Those great. Good wok. I must make some too. Thanks for the tut.