How to make cloth gift bags

Bags of many colorsThe other day I had fun making a bunch of small bright bags using scrap fabric. As it gets closer to Christmas, I’ll be watching for good prices on remnants of Christmas fabric, but this time around I used fabric that I already had. I’ve made these bags before using drawstrings, but decided to make some with zippers since I had a bunch of zippers already.

I had fun choosing contrasting colors of zippers to go with my fabric. In most cases I cut the fabric to match whatever size zipper I had in the right color. The zippers were left over from a few years ago when I bought a large lot (100 or so?) on ebay — I think they were 25 cents each, or something like that.

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One side of the zipper is sewn on







This piece of fabric is a rectangle of about 7 inches by 12 inches. In the above picture I’ve already sewn a 7-inch zipper to one of the 7 inch edges of the fabric. The next step is to fold a half inch margin on the opposite short edge of the fabric, onto which I will be sewing the other side of the zipper.

Fold over half an inch or so of fabric







Then line up the end of the zipper with the edge of the fabric. Unzip the zipper part way before you begin sewing.

Line the zipper up with the edge of the fabric








If you want, you can pin the zipper in place to keep it from shimmying around as you sew. I’ve done a lot of sewing in my life, and I’m the impatient type, so I usually skip the pins, but they do make things easier, especially if you are new to sewing. Just don’t sew over the pins and break your needle!

Pin the zipper in place to make sewing easier

Once you have your fabric and zipper lined up as shown, begin sewing the zipper at the top edge, remembering to go backward and forward a little bit at the start of the seam to make it strong. I used about a 3/8 inch seam for this.

Set the edge of the presser foot at the edge of the zipper teeth


Remember, you begin sewing with the zipper open. But once you get partway down the zipper, you’re going to need to close your zipper to be able to smoothly complete the rest of the seam. (Otherwise the zipper pull will get in the way and prevent you from making a straight seam– very frustrating.)

Begin sewing with the zipper partly unzipped

Once you’ve sewn a few inches of the zipper, you’ll need to pause, leaving the needle embedded in the fabric.Lift the presser foot (with needle in down position) and zip the zipper up past the foot


Lift the presser foot up, and gently ease the zipper tab up, past the presser foot, until the zipper is closed.

Take care not to sew through more fabric than you intend

Now continue to sew the zipper on, taking care not to sew through any extra layers of fabric. Near the end of the zipper, the fabric will get a little bunched up. But go slowly and keep an eye on your fabric and you should be able to sew to the end of the zipper without attaching any wrong bits together.

(Word to the wise: You can totally avoid the bunched-up-fabric hassle if you make your bag out of TWO pieces of fabric instead of one, and then just sew a bottom seam while you’re sewing your sides!)

Continue sewing the full length of the zipper










Once the zipper is attached, you’ll basically have a tube of fabric with open sides. Now all you need to do is sew the side seams.

Zipper is attached







To sew the side seams, begin by turning the tube inside out.
Turn inside out to begin on the side seams








Fold the tube in half. You can see in the picture below that the zipper is in my right hand, folded over onto itself lengthwise.

Flatten the tube of fabric in half







Sew the first side seam, taking care to line up the edges of the fabric. (If you’re trying to figure out what’s going on in the pictures, the zipper is now at the bottom of the picture, below.)

Sew the first side seam, lining up edges







Again, you’re going to want to begin and end each seam with a few backwards and forwards stitches to keep the seam strong.

Be sure to double-stitch at the end of the zipper







Before you begin sewing the second side seam, unzip the zipper partway. This will make it a heckuva lot easier to turn, once complete. Trust me.

Unzip the zipper part way before sewing the second side








Sew the second side seam, again taking care to line up edges neatly.

Line up the edges to sew the second side seam







Once the second seam is complete, your bag is done. Trim any threads and turn the bag right side out.

Turn right side out








Push the corners of the bag out firmly with your fingers or a chopstick to make them stand out crisp and square.

Push the corners out firmly








And there you have it– a bag that is perfect for wrapping a small book, art supplies, or a variety of other goodies.

Finished bag








This is one gift wrap that is sure to be saved!

Pretty, sturdy, and reuseable!








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  1. I do this too! I can make a bag in the time it takes to wrap one gift, then use it over and over. Mine have drawstings though – your zippers are so fancy (I don’t have that kind of patience).

  2. Daylily Girl says:

    yay! I like this picture too! it’s really bright and nice 🙂

  3. I might just have to try this!

  4. Thanks for such great directions, I might get brave and try it. I love to sew, but hate doing zippers! I think I will avoid that bunched up thing and do two pieces of fabric to start with!

  5. Great idea! My cousin makes the kind with the drawstring and sells them at their church bazar, so I’ll share this with her too!

    BTW, some sewing machines allow you to sew right over the pins without breaking your needle (my 1968 Singer does!). So, I’m sticking in a plug to get people to read the booklet that comes with their sewing maching! 🙂

    I might just have to do these for Christmas gifts this year instead of buying paper….

    Thanks again for posting this!

  6. Amber Howard-MCGinnis says:

    I save my comics from the Sun. paper the whole year just to have enough wrapping paper for presents…….sometimes I run out of comics and have to buy wrapping paper……..not anymore! : ) Thanks for the tip Mary.

  7. Now that I’ve seen your instructions, that is faster than putting in a drawstring. Off to scour ebay…..

  8. I just bought a little bag like this at a craft fair at the high school. I’m using it to hold my knitting spool supplies for making a rope to use as a belt in a pair of pajamas.
    Your pictures make it seem easy, once I would clear some space, get out the machine and thread it.
    I’ve made my own bags using drawstrings, and I crochet some which button closed.
    You are right saying that folks love them and keep them a long time.

    ps You have nice hands.

  9. What a simple idea! I’m trying to talk myself into becoming better acquainted with my sewing machine…this project seems both useful and easy. Win/win 🙂

  10. I have been thinking of doing this for a couple of years. I haven’t gotten around to it year though! I bet they are pretty quick and it would give me sone practice with zippers. Now that I know how to do button holes I think sone tabs for buttoning could be cute too!

    Thanks for the motivation!

  11. I’ve thought about doing this, but always revert to my old standby, pillowcases. Here’s what we do:


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