Wednesday, August 24, 2011


A drawstring bag is a very handy thing and it is actually quite easy to sew one.  Once mastered, the same basic techniques can be used to create bags for all sorts of things:  sachets, gifts, jewelry, jewelry to give as gifts...kidding dear, treats, camping gear, groceries, the list is endless really.

To learn how to sew one, I decided to make a laundry bag, particularly since it is that time of year again...the time that many of our offspring leave the nest and head out into the world.  Do you have a child who will be heading off to college soon?  Said child will likely be doing their own laundry (it could happen) and will not, most likely, have their own conveniently placed laundering equipment (I'm referring to the machine here, not the mom...)  For some, this is the time during which a gigantic pile of laundry forms in the dorm in anticipation of the first visit home...often not until the holidays (I have boys don't ya know).  Given the idea that a laundry bag creates an individual, controlled laundry portion I thought that I might try my hand at sewing one. 

I flipped through the sewing books on our library shelves looking for a pattern that I could follow easily and had instructions for a drawstring sleeve (called a "casing") that would be open on both sides of the bag so I could pull the bag closed by drawing the string from both ends.  I really wanted to learn this technique because it has always seemed soooo mysterious.  Odd, the things that befuddle me...

There were  a number of possibilities in several of the books but in the end I decided on the project for the "Drawstring Travel Bags" in Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross.  After all, it was the weekend...and I was going to be sewing!  If a project is in a book about sewing that can be done over the weekend (I reasoned) it must be simple enough to follow.

Right away I like that the project provides instructions for different sizes, suggestions for different materials to use for the drawstrings, and an instruction for an optional treatment for the bottom corners.  I love options.  I also really like the very simple technique the author uses to create the openings in the seam for drawstrings to come through (which I will get to shortly...).

Of course, as with my knitting, I never seem to follow directions and patterns exactly and that is the case here as well.  I had about one yard of denim fabric left over from one of my first blog posts  "A Pattern is Like a Recipe" (almost a year ago, wow!) and I am not bothering with the exact measurements the pattern recommends for the "large bag".  The instructions/techniques are general enough, however, to guide me through the process for a bag of any size and there are only a few steps.  So here goes!

Step One - Sew the Outer Seams:

Start with two rectangles of fabric, right sides together, decide which short end will be the open end and sew a 3/8" seam starting at the top of one side, along the bottom and up the other side. 

Tip: Place masking tape on the plate of your sewing machine for a bigger visual line to follow than the itty-bitty one etched into the metal.

Pivot at the corner edge by stopping while the needle is inserted in the fabric, lift the foot and pivot the fabric for a clean right angle.  You can see in the picture below that my needle is in the fabric and lines up with the pencil seam guideline I made before I started to sew.  I am about to lift the foot and pivot the fabric. 

Step Two - Create the Casing:

Sewing the casing turned out to be very simple as well.  With the wrong sides still together, fold the top edge (the edge that will be the opening of your bag) down 1/4" to the wrong side and press.

My sister taught me to use a "seam gauge" (that's the ruler tool in the picture above) to measure my seam as I press it which saves the time of measuring and pinning and unpinning.  I never understood what that tool was for before she helped me one day.  You can see I have the guide set for 1/4" and I move it along as I iron, folding the edge and pressing as I go.  I hate fussing with pins.  Fun!  Just be careful not to burn your fingers...

Next, turn the casing again toward the wrong side 2" (for the large bag) and press that double fold.  You can see below that I have folded down the edge and have moved my measuring guide to 2". 

Next, edge-stitch about 1/8" from the edge (that edge that is closest to the 2" guide in the picture above.)  The phrasing of the instruction in the book confused me here but their diagram was most helpful.  In the photo below I am using my seam gauge to figure out how far in 1/8" is.

The idea behind edge-stitching is to secure the raw folded edge in place cleanly.  My seam was pressed at 1/4" so my edge-stitch is half of that.  When you are edge stitching your eyes are the best guide to help you stitch close to the edge.  Below is my edge-stitched seam.  Isn't it a thing of beauty?  Maybe the sewing machine isn't so bad after all!

The next step is to turn the bag right side out and sew a top-stitch to create the upper edge of the casing.  Again, I found the wording of the instructions slightly confusing but the idea is to create a channel that will be wide enough for whatever you are using as a drawstring to pass through.  Whatever material is above your top-stitched line will be visible above your cinched drawstring area when you pull the bag closed.  My top-stitch is about 1/2" from the top edge of my bag.

To create the opening for your drawstring (here come the magical part) the author uses a short zig zag stitch back and forth about 1/8" at the two points where the casing seams meet the side seams.  I simplified this when I sewed my bag:  I stitched back and forth a lot over the 1" area of the side seams as I edge-stitched and top-stitched the casing.  In the picture below you can see (to the left) the completed lower edge-stitching with the thicker backstitched area extending across my side seam and I am just completing my backstitching across the top before I continue to the other side seam.

In this pattern a seam ripper is used to open the side seam between those two heavily stitched areas.  This is important:  rip open only the top layer of fabric!!

Here is what the completed opening looks like.  You can see that the outside edge is open and the inside is still sewed shut.  Do not rip through all that heavy stitching you did.

Step Three - Inserting the Drawstrings:

Now here is the part that was so mysterious to me: inserting the drawstrings so they extend out either side and cinch the bag closed when pulled.  It is very simple really.  Cut two drawstrings, equal in length, twice the width of your bag plus some (that will extend beyond your bag when fully opened).  You can use anything for a drawstring as long as it will fit within your casing width-wise.  I decided to use some nylon cording left over from the days of stringing my son's lacrosse heads (sorry son, it was handy...). 

Tip: Attach a safety pin to the end of whatever material you choose for a drawstring (the book also has a pattern for sewing your own). This makes it easier to feed the drawstring through the casing.

Insert the end of the drawstring with the safety pin into one of the slits you just cut out and feed it through the casing channel.

Continue feeding it through the channel passing the 2nd slit until you can pull it out the same slit you pushed it into.

Remove the safety pin and knot the ends securely so the string doesn't slide back in. (Funny how different lighting affects the color.  The picture below makes it looks like I have made a gray bag as well as the blue denim but it is the same bag  you can trust me on that!)

Attach the safety pin to your second piece of drawstring and repeat the process, however this time begin and end with the slit on the opposite side.

Here is a diagram of the threading pattern for those (like me) who find pictures and diagrams very helpful.

Ahhhh, that's how the magic happens!!!  Pull the ends and ta-da!!!

Here is my drawstring laundry bag all done.

This really was a very simple project and the bag was completed in no time.  I started when my husband went outside to mow and I was done by the time he came back in.  He made my day when he remarked as he entered, "Wow, that really was quick!" (he doesn't usually notice these things and I am really not that fast...I hem and haw alot and try to reason things out...procrastinate...before I really get started.)

I was so encouraged with the ease of this project that I decided to put my new found skill into practice with bags of different sizes.  I had some Halloween fabric and some black satin ribbon that I decided to turn into small treat bags using the same techniques but on a smaller scale. 

I had some other fabric that boasted colors reminiscent of Fall so I cut that into long, skinny rectangles and sewed up a gift bag for the wine I will bring to Thanksgiving dinner.  This time I made only one slit and used a wide wired ribbon for the tie.

This was a  lot of fun. I suspect I am just getting revved up, after all the sewing machine is out of the cabinet and set up and there were some interesting projects I saw as I was flipping through all those books I checked out.   Hmmm...

Some additional books that might be of interest:

Sew & Stow
by Betty Oppenheimer

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


In my last posting I wrote about summer being a great time to take on simple projects that can be quickly and easily packed up and taken anywhere to be worked on...the beach, vacation, your deck.  One of my fellow bloggers seems to be on the same mind-track as me, at least in regards to thinking about projects-on-the-go.  This girl is amazing and seems to write perpetually and I am in awe. Her blog is called Sew Many Ways (there is a link on the left of this page).  On Tuesdays she publishes a feature called Tool Time Tuesday in which she thinks outside the box to find new uses for everyday items.  My hat is always off to her for the way her mind works and the simplicity of the tutorials she provides.  We know how wordy I can be!

One of her recent articles features a brilliant use for the type of fill and pour paint cups that you can find at any paint or hardware store.

It makes a great portable container for toting your craft project around and the magnet can secure your needles, pins, scissors, etc.

Because it has a handle it can be hooked over the arm rest of a chair.  I love that!  Off I can go to the outside world and get to know the view from my deck.

So simple.  So Duh!  So brilliant!  Her article made me look around my house to see if I had any similar items that I could re-purpose...hmmmm.

 Click here to go to her full article called Paint Craft Bucket. 

I  thank her for allowing me to include her photos in my blog and link to her blog Sew Many Ways.  If you go to her site you will find her to be a very active blogger who is full of good ideas.