Shop Greener with these Small Cloth Bags for Bulk Spices

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.

Originally published June 2011; this post has been updated.

three small cloth bags (yellow fabric with red cherries) filled with dry bulk items.

Making Small Reusable Bags

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.

These small bags make buying things like tea and spices in bulk more environmentally friendly. 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 in a straight line, you’re in business.

Note: These would be great for little gifts, too!

three small cloth bags (yellow fabric with red cherries) filled with dry bulk items

Choosing Fabric

These instructions will work for virtually any type of fabric, so the possibilities are endless. Use remnants from your fabric box or keep your eyes open for possibilities at the local thrift store where sheets and tablecloths are often readily available. Upcycled clothing that is stained or torn can also be cut apart to make bags. 

Start by cutting an 6″ wide 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, much like I did for these drawstring bags

2 panel showing seams on homemade cloth bags.

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To start, fold the fabric in half, wrong sides facing, so that you have two layers that measure 6″ x 22″. (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.

sewing reusable bags from yellow cloth with red cherries

First seam.

Turn inside out and press seams.

Close up of French seam on cloth bag made from yellow fabric with red cherries

Pressed edges.

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.

Three reusable cloth bags, almost done

Cut into three pieces.

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.

close up of corner on homemade cloth bag

Because I sewed the sides of three reusable bags at once – a shortcut – the corners fold a little weird.

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.

three homemade cloth bags, stacked

Three bags, hemmed at the top.

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?


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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. Read more about Kris and how she got started with this site here. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

54 comments… add one
  • Donna Jan 4, 2022 @ 16:15

    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.

    • AttainableSustainable Jan 6, 2022 @ 8:39

      That’s a good idea!

  • Amy Nov 8, 2021 @ 11:09

    How do they stay closed? Without a drawstring or zipper your stuff will spill out.

    • Amy Nov 8, 2021 @ 11:12

      Plus, without a write-able tag or label, there’s no place to put tare weight.

      • Kris Bordessa Nov 10, 2021 @ 7:37

        My natural food store offers wide white twist ties to write on.

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 10, 2021 @ 7:38

      You could certainly add a drawstring, but my natural food store asks us to use twist ties where we write the item number.

  • Pam Jan 27, 2019 @ 5:53

    Great idea! Thank-you

  • Sarah Jan 4, 2019 @ 8:06

    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.

  • Dennis von EcoYou Sep 15, 2018 @ 2:48

    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.

  • Susie Gray Jul 12, 2018 @ 9:27

    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…

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 16, 2018 @ 9:42

      Definitely remember butcher paper (we still use it!), and I’ve used brown paper bags, but never a pillowcase! Thanks for that addition.

  • Teresa Jones Nov 22, 2014 @ 18:44

    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. 🙂

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 22, 2014 @ 19:16

      I remember those!

      • Dudley Dreams Jan 29, 2016 @ 6:59

        Me too.

  • Chris Oct 5, 2014 @ 4:08

    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.

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 5, 2014 @ 7:38

      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.

  • Jen Feb 4, 2014 @ 15:14

    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!)

  • Lynn Aug 2, 2012 @ 5:18

    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.

  • Helen Sep 7, 2011 @ 14:16

    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

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 7, 2011 @ 15:37

      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!

      • Mark Phillips Jan 14, 2014 @ 8:02

        What about a waxed or oiled cloth? Not sure if there would be any transfer but for finer particles it might do the trick.

      • Dudley Dreams Jan 29, 2016 @ 6:55

        If I’m not mistaken they do make a very tight weave in the muslin so you could have the recycle bags & little loss.

      • Stephanie Jan 30, 2016 @ 22:59

        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!

  • Jennifer Margulis Jul 14, 2011 @ 5:29

    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?!)

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 14, 2011 @ 21:18

      Oh, the bread bags KILL me. I’ve been thinking about this very issue.

    • Susan Apr 15, 2014 @ 6:13

      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.

      • Dudley Dreams Jan 29, 2016 @ 6:50

        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.

    • Flavia Westermann Sep 9, 2018 @ 0:36

      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….

  • Vera Marie Badertscher Jul 7, 2011 @ 6:55

    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.

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 14, 2011 @ 21:19

      I haven’t had any trouble with grocery stores complaining, either. And the health food store thinks it’s cool. 😉

  • MyKidsEatSquid Jul 6, 2011 @ 15:44

    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.

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 14, 2011 @ 21:20

      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. 😉

    • Susan Apr 15, 2014 @ 6:04

      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.

  • Sheryl Jul 6, 2011 @ 14:58

    What a clever idea, Kris. And cute, too. Makes so much sense, since using plastic bags is such a waste.

  • Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi Jul 6, 2011 @ 12:31

    I should whip up some of these. I doubt the folks at our Bin Inn bulk store would mind at all.

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 14, 2011 @ 21:21

      Super easy, Melanie. Plus, I like to think that when people see me using cute little bags, it makes them think.

  • Jane Boursaw Jul 1, 2011 @ 14:31

    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.

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 4, 2011 @ 14:15

      My store won’t weigh our bottles – so the reusable bag is the next best option.

  • jenjenn Jul 1, 2011 @ 6:17

    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!

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 14, 2011 @ 21:22

      Yes, I’m already wishing I’d made more! Glad you’ve joined us, Jen.

  • Sophie Jun 30, 2011 @ 12:37

    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….

    • Sophie Jun 30, 2011 @ 12:38

      LOL that was meant to say “plain flour” 🙂

    • Kris Bordessa Jun 30, 2011 @ 18:53

      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.

  • Casey@Good. Food. Stories. Jun 30, 2011 @ 4:36

    So brilliant. Although, yes, it’s weird to sew on the *right* side of the fabric initially, I see why it’s necessary!

  • Living Large Jun 30, 2011 @ 4:34

    Love this idea. It never made any sense to me to buy the spices in bulk and then put them into plastic bags!

  • Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart Jun 29, 2011 @ 15:01

    Love this idea, and they turned out so doggone cute.

  • Liz Jun 29, 2011 @ 13:42

    Great idea (and so pretty too!). Do you use the pink fruit bags at the supermarket? They sounds like a great idea too.

    • Kris @ Attainable Sustainable Jun 29, 2011 @ 15:05

      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!

      • alli Nov 3, 2013 @ 17:27

        but how do you keep them clean? Can you make them with some sort of liner?

        • Kris Bordessa Nov 11, 2013 @ 9:12

          You could, certainly. I just wash them after each use.

  • Lisa Carter Jun 29, 2011 @ 12:29

    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!

  • Madeleine Booth-Smits Jun 29, 2011 @ 10:18

    Those great. Good wok. I must make some too. Thanks for the tut.

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