Monday, December 19, 2011

Its Raining Homemade Flannel Reusable Gift Bags


In early December a very talented friend and busy mom of four was excited about the flannel gift bags she was sewing in lieu of using wrapping paper at Christmas. At first I thought, nah.  I'd seen such drawstring bags before and didn't think they were very pretty.  Plus, what kids don't LOVE to rip open the paper on Christmas morning?  Isn't it exciting???

Well, I rethought the whole gift bag idea.  The more I thought about it, the more I warmed up to it!  After all, there is some very lovely flannel to be had these days.  So, aside from the obvious benefit to the environment, here are my top four reasons to begin the switch to fabric gift bags:

1. Kids may love to rip open paper in a frenzy.  But I hate wrapping gifts in a frenzy the night before Christmas, and I hate gathering the paper up into huge garbage bags the next morning. What a mess and what a waste.  The kids will have to get over it.  Already, my littles are playing with the bags, oohing and aahhing over the fabrics and colors, so I don't think this will be a hard sell. 

2.You can pick your fabrics, colors and themes and have lots of fun with it. I am always inspired by children's stores, especially Gymboree, and I noticed this winter their display theme was cotton candy pinks, reds, bright greens and whites - a combination that was striking. I had that in mind when I picked my fabrics. The colors make me happy! You don't have to stick with Christmas fabrics either. I bought princesses, monkeys, polka-dots and hearts.  Maybe I'll add a few new ones each year.  And I think we'll leave a few special bags out on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill.  Fun!!

3. The bags are multi-functional. They need not be used only at Christmas, especially if you have some cheery non-Christmas fabric. They can be a bookbag in a pinch. Or a little bag to throw shoes in. Or coloring books for the road trip.   Multi-functional!!!

4. In using the SAME bags year after year, many years down the road my kids will look fondly on the well-worn bags and just ... remember

oh, here's the princess bag, remember that Belle costume Santa brought the year I was six? oh ya and this is the reindeer bag Mom always used to put my Lego in!  hey, look at this striped one with the rip, that was the year I kept tugging on the drawstring!  this bag was my favorite ... you get the idea.   This reason won me over.

I have made about thirty bags, of all different sizes based on the gifts I have purchased or typically purchase.  The largest is the size of a king-size pillowcase, and the smallest is just perfect for a diamond ring LOL!!  And in case you are inspired to do the same, I have created a little tutorial so you can get busy as well.  Might be too late for this year, but when all that fabric comes on sale in January, away you go!

Reusable Gift Bag Tutorial

Purchase your fabric. I bought 1 meter cuts, thinking I'd make one larger and one smaller bag, but you decide what sizes you will use most.  I prefer flannel because its more substantial than cotton and less see-through.

Step 1: Cutting

Fold your fabric in half so the selvages meet.  The fold will become one long side of your rectangular bag.

Cut across the fabric, from fold to selvages, this will be the top, draw-string edge.  Measure down from this cut edge the length you want your bag to be, and cut.  This is the bottom edge of your bag.  This process goes very quickly with a rotary cutter, ruler and large cutting mat.  Buy them when they are half-price at Fabricland, and buy the largest mat you can afford.  If you don't have these, you can use a yardstick to mark a line across, then cut with a good pair of scissors.

Your cut bag should look something like this, with the fold on the left.  It looks like a nice little sleeping bag:

Step 2: Making the Casing

The casing will encase the drawstring.  We are going to fold the top edge down about 1 inch and sew it, to create a little tube for that drawstring to go through.  But first, you need to "finish" the raw top edge to avoid fraying.  There are a few ways - you can serge or zigzag the top edge.  You can fold the edge over 1/4 inch, press, then fold over 1 inch and sew down.  Or, you can do what I did - pink it.  It was just what I felt like doing at the time, and a pinked edge will resist fraying.  So finish that top edge, and fold it over 1 inch.  Press well.

While you are at it, you need to finish the side edges of the casing - the drawstrings will come out of these edges so they need to be fray-proof.  Again, I pinked!

Now sew the top edge in place, along the pinking.  I used a narrow zig-zag because its a little bit stronger than a straight stitch.  And looks a bit prettier :)  Give it a good press.  By the way, use a neutral thread, like a cream or a gray.  This will work for all fabrics and you don't want to be changing thread for every bag.

Step 3:  Sewing the side and bottom edges.
Fold it back into the sleeping bag, right sides together. 

But we don't want to sew our casing shut!  Begin sewing just below the casing opening, shown here.  Use whatever seam allowance you are comfortable with.  Garments are usually 5/8", but for crafts we generally use a little less.  I go about 3/8" from the edge.

Make sure to backstitch several stitches to secure this spot.  It will receive a lot of wear and tear!

When you get almost to the turning point on the bottom, keep the needle down but lift the presser foot up and pivot 45 degrees, take 2 stitches back and forth, pivot again and now you should be sewing parallel with the bottom edge.  I do this corner angle because it makes a much nicer corner when you turn it right side out.  Also, I usually do lots of backstitching at the corner to make sure it stays strong :)

At this point, its nice to finish the raw edges.  It will strengthen the seam by providing another row of stitching, and minimizes little threads fraying and escaping.  I have used my serger, but you can also just zigzag close to the stitching. 

Now clip the corner so it turns right-side-out easier.  (Only clip this corner, not the corner on the folded edge)

Step 4: Turn Right Side Out

Give it a good press.  It should look something like this:

Step 5: Drawstring

You can use actual drawstring, ribbon, yarn, whatever.  Use something strong and preferably, on sale.  Cut a piece of drawstring the perimeter of the bag, plus about 12 inches (6 inches to hang out on each end). 

Use a large safety pin and attach to the end of the drawstring.  Snake it through!


If you are making lots, create an assembly line.  Have lots of fun!  I sure did!

God bless your last week before Christmas!


  1. So beautiful M! I have to tell you, you have much lovelier bags than ours. I will send you the photo of our bags, not as neat as yours but the same idea. Hugs to everyone in your house today! Merry Christmas.
    PS. I also wanted to throw out there that we color co-ordinated our bags. What I mean is I made 4 bags in each design, that way each kid got one color at the same time (they were each handed a "red" bag) that they opened at the same time. Also, out of felt, I zig-zagged their initials on felt cut outs that we can also use year after year! You are more than welcome to post my pictures!

  2. Lovely, but you lost me at selvage...

  3. Weimer mommy, you were my inspiration! I love the color-coordination idea!! The tags are an awesome idea and I'm going to do that next! I'll be posting your pictures shortly, thank you!

    Dana, LOL! I actually debated putting in a link to define selvage! Guess I'll have to do that!


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