Beginner’s Tutorial – How To Sew A Shopping Bag

I thought I’d use my recent foray into sewing TEN shopping bags as an opportunity to supply a tutorial on these makes.

A project like this is ideal for a beginner Sewist. You don’t need to fit anything to your own body – bonus! Plus, from cutting out to final stitch this shouldn’t take much more than an hour.

You’ll also learn how to do a French seam – one of the simplest but most highly rated sewing techniques you can learn. I use it whenever possible and it’s often used in couture sewing. It’s a truly egalitarian technique, open to novices and experts alike. And it’s soooo neat.

The materials

You will need:

  • Stiff cotton. I believe the fabric I used was curtain material, bought for £2.50 a metre from Saeed Fabrics, Walthamstow.
  • Matching thread.
  • A cute little label if you’d like one for your make. You can buy labels very reasonably here.

The steps

1. Cut yourself four pieces of fabric:

2 x shoulder straps 90x4cm

2 x bag sections 50x39cm

If you don’t want to follow these measurements exactly, you can use an existing bag as a template. I did!

2. Sew along three sides of the bag with a narrow seam, fabric wrong sides together. You should leave one of the narrow edges of the oblong open.

3. Trim the excess from the seam, turn bag inside out and press, ensuring that the corners are well trimmed. Then poke the end of a butter knife (or a point turner) into your corners to make them as defined as possible. More details on this technique here.

4. Sew along the folded edge of the fabric. Turn inside out and press again. You’ve just made a french seam! For a much more detailed on how to make a french seam, go here. Because of the French seam, it’s unlikely that you’ll now manage a perfect corner on this pressing of the bag but, hey, you can’t have everything.

French seam

5. Turn over the open edge of your oblong to the inside twice for a nice, deep hem. If you want to attach your label, do so before finishing the hem so that the stitching on your label doesn’t show on the exterior of your final make. Once this is added, sew your hem:

6. Now for your handles. Press over a fine seam on each long side of your strips of fabric:

7. Fold your strip of fabric over with long sides meeting and press. Please ignore the dreadful state of my table top ironing board cover!

Then sew closed:

8. Press the strap again, then put aside. Measure the top of your bag for even spacing of the straps when they’re sewn on. Note, my tape measure is running along the exterior of the bag, but I’m going to sew the straps in place on the interior of the bag.

9. Twice fold over the end of a strap.

10. Position on the interior of the bag hem and sew into place.

Interior shot

Exterior shot

Repeat this step three more times, et voila! You have yourself a shopping bag. Repeat again and again, and your friends will have shopping bags, too!

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38 Responses to Beginner’s Tutorial – How To Sew A Shopping Bag

  1. Dibs says:

    I am a proud owner of one of these bags. Thay were so well made. Thanks once more Karen. And thanks for the tutorial.

  2. ooobop says:

    Fabulous! Thank you for posting this Karen. I was only just examining my Egmont bag the other day and planning my own! Didn’t think to incorporate French seams though! They are lovely.

  3. Cool post Karen!
    Love the pretty nail polish too 🙂

  4. Portia says:

    Karen what brand/shade is that polish?! I noticed it on Saturday (along with the immaculate constructionof my new shopping bag, thankyou!) at the meet up. My fave shade has been discontinued, eep! Almost finished the bottle and NEEEEED coral polish for the summer!

  5. Scruffy badger says:

    And I love mine Karen! It is beautifully made and is perfect for popping in my handbag for when the needs arises. Although it won’t be carrying fabric for a while now!! Thank you so much for all of your wonderful organising and hosting. It was a fab day out and always lovely to spend time with like minded fabric fanatics.

  6. Laura says:

    My bag is stuffed in my rucksack, full of the quilt that I’m working on (yes, I’ve reached the ‘carry quilting around with me’ obsessive stage). Thanks for the tute – I want to make something similar and it’s much easier when someone tells you how!

  7. Pia says:

    Well this does come in handy when you’re out shopping fabrics 😀

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Wow, you’re a virtual sweatshop factory!

  9. Jane says:

    I love the fact that you brought bags made using couture techniques to the Goldhawk Road! Fab tutorial, thanks for so generously sharing it. x

  10. Stacy says:

    I love these bags, so cute and user friendly, but I would really love to know where you got your labels from. I have been looking for something like this. Would you be so kind as to share you source?

    • LOL – Stacy, the lovely Karen has given a link to the labels at the bottom of her “You will need:” list (above – the company is called I bought some labels from them a few weeks ago following Karen’s recommendation of that shop and they are fab :)!

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  12. Melizza says:

    So glad I was an eager beaver and got there on time to snag one. Thanks again! You can’t ever have too many shopping bags.

  13. Molly says:

    Yay for the French Seams! I love them, I probably over use them greatly but they look so good! And they’re far more Mango/actor proof than serged seams. Vive le couture française!

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  15. Felicity from Down Under says:

    I’ve been an admirer of your blog for some while, but felt prompted to delurk to say a very heartfelt thanks for this detailed tutorial, which I confess I used as a basis rather than a bible when it came to making some shopping bags to “wrap” birthday presents for a few of my nieces and nephews recently.
    As is my wont, I was very short of time, so ended up doing all sorts of strange mixes by the end of my sewing session; and instead of making those lovely self-fabric straps (they were definitely going to take more time than I had available), I used some curtaining header tape that I happened to have lying around. It makes straps that are very sturdy if a little less elegant than your lovely numbers.
    Cheers, and please keep the lovely sewing happening.

  16. I just wanted to say thank you sooo much! This was my first sewing project ever! And it holds my laptop without falling apart!!! I messed up on my measurements and the bag was huge but it’s great!!! THANK YOU~

  17. joyful says:

    I love the bag Karen – thank you for the clear and straightforward instructions and pictures – brilliant!!
    Could you maybe do a bag tutorial for ones with a base – you know, a flat bottom??

    Also can you tell me what is the difference between batting and wadding?

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  19. Karen says:

    I just got a computerized sewing machine and I am a beginner. I plan on getting material tomorrow and making this bag.

  20. just made up this pattern but lined it too add that little bit extra, really simple to follow many thanks.

  21. Thank you for the instructions. I would have never thought to use curtain material! By the way, your nail look beautiful!

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  24. lckelawson says:

    I absolutely love the bags! I’m new to sewing so I will definitely be trying this out! Have a fantastic day!
    As always**©hrissy

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  26. Ann says:

    Going to start with the lavender bags then move on to these. What a great way for a novice sewer like myself to get to know my new sewing machine.

  27. Wanda says:

    Just want to say thanks as I had been asked to teach 9 teens some simple sewing and was not sure what to have them make. We only have 1 1/2 hours to work on them so fingers crossed, we can do it. Thanks again

  28. chicken lady says:

    Oh Karen i’m so tempted , I have a brand new machine staring at me from the corner of the lounge that my dad bought me , I didn’t sew at school (ours was an either or set up and I got drafted into cookery !) but this looks almost do-able , I’m almost tempted to get it out of the box !

  29. Hat says:

    Hi there, this looks really great and I’d love to try it, but am slightly confused by the French seams. Would you mind giving a little more detail on this? When you say, after turning the bag inside out, sew along the fold, which fold do you mean? I’m unclear about the pressing too. Many thanks.

  30. Doreen marvin says:

    Where did you buy the label

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