An Old Tent Transforms into Shopping Bags


I am always interested to learn how someone’s idea develops, even a small idea like a humble design for an everyday object  My idea for a shopping bag sewing pattern came from a combination of environmental concern, a less than perfect shopping bag, and the wearing out of an old tent.

One of the most pervasive and continuous concerns I have is for the sustainability of the planet. This concern is always in the back of my mind and I have many habits that are informed by it. We recycle whatever we can, we compost, we chose careers that did not involve much commuting, we use our stuff until it is past worn out, etc., etc.

Of course we use reusable shopping bags. Many reusable bags are made from a material that doesn’t launder well and wears out rather quickly. The best shopping bag I had is made of a nylon print and rolls up to fit in its own small bag so it is easily carried in a purse or backpack. I have used this bag for years. I like  that it is compact, and that it is made of a light weight nylon fabric that has proven to be very durable. but it would be more useful if it were larger and the small bag that contains it wasn’t so easy to lose.

My husband is a passionate elk hunter. For decades he has taken a hunting trip every October. A couple of years ago he replaced his tent because it was worn out beyond repair. I kept the old one with the vague intention of using the fabric for something in the future. It sat in my studio, waiting.

One day in the course of using my slightly too small shopping bag, I looked more closely at its construction and thought that I could design a better bag based on this one. I considered what material to use. In most of my sewing I use natural fibers, which didn’t seem the best choice for this project. Then I thought of the old tent and I pulled it out to examine it. It was lighter weight than I had expected and I liked the colors. The fabric of the tent floor was dark green and slightly heavier heavier than the rest of the tent. Most of the tent was a very light shade of green. The windows of the tent were made of a mesh fabric. All of it was light weight and durable. Here was my material to make shopping bags.

I designed the shopping bag using a combination of features from my own bag and from a plastic Target shopping bag. I experimented with the size and design until I was satisfied. Instead of using a small bag to hold the shopping bag, I sewed a cord into the inside bottom of the bag. The bag is turned inside out, neatly folded and rolled up, and tied with the cord to make a small compact roll (which, ironically, resembles a miniature rolled up tent).

The mesh window fabric from the tent gave me the idea to make drawstring bags that can be used for produce. Then I thought that the bags could be a set, and the shopping bags can be quickly stuffed into a produce bag and easily pulled out at the store when it’s time to pack the groceries. Rolling up and tying the bag is optional. You can keep the bags stuffed into a drawstring bag, ready and waiting for a trip to the grocery store.

While I was working on my bag idea, I found some cotton fabric that perfectly complimented the dark green fabric from the tent, so I used the cotton for the facing of the bag and placed the facing on the outside. This made a prettier bag and got me thinking about other fabrics that could be used for this project. I experimented with ripstop nylon and found it works well for the body of the bag. I made many bags from ripstop nylon for the body and cotton for the facing, One of my favorite combinations is black ripstop nylon and a cotton black and white print of a map of Paris. My sewing machine has a decorative stitch that is a row of cars, so I used this stitch for the topstitching on the side seams of the bag, so there is a line of cars on the sides of the bag driving into the map of Paris. Even with a simple and utilitarian piece like this, it is fun to add these creative touches. With so many delightful cotton fabrics available, the options are endless. Like many quilters, I have a larger than I need stash of quilting fabric and now I have a new way to use it.

Then I thought of using ripstop nylon to make  smaller drawstring bags for bulk food, like nuts and grains. I sewed lines on the small bags at increments of whole cups, to estimate the volume of whatever is put in the bag. It holds 4 cups and has a flap in the top to prevent spillage.  I made one more size option for the drawstring bags. It is smaller than the produce bag, and larger than the 4 cup bag. I made this bag out of quilting cotton and I use it to store the other bags. I use another one of the medium size bag to hold my lunch that I carry in my backpack.

The set of bags, all contained in one drawstring bag, is a permanent solution to the problem of scattered poor quality shopping bags. The bags are neatly stored and easily at hand as you run out the door. My set now hangs on a hook in the front hallway ready for use and easily put away when groceries are unloaded.

These bags turned out to be quite a satisfying project. One of my daughters told me that the shopping bags are the best thing I have designed. I like the size and that they are compact and very durable. I like that I can use quilting fabric to add visual interest and personality. I like giving them as gifts. I hope you will like them, too.

Purchase the downloadable instructions and pattern here.

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