The environment is a topic that comes up often in the news. Though I would never pretend to be a hardcore environmentalist, I do try to do my part to sustain and improve the environment by recycling, composting, doing laundry during off-peak energy use times and sometimes even washing my dishes by hand!
Another environmental, and budgetary, effort I make is to bring my own shopping bags when I go shopping rather than pay 5 cents a bag in the store if I need one! You see, where I live stores sell shopping bags to unprepared or forgetful shoppers!
With an eye to preserving the environment and personal budgeting – never mind the merchants’ bottom line – the hope is that more people will use multi-use bags when they shop.
Contemplating all of this, I came up with a simple idea: why not make a reusable bag using orphan quilt blocks? We all have extra blocks sitting in a box somewhere that we’ve made or that were given to us via exchanges or swaps. It’s time to put those languishing “orphan” blocks to good use!
To start your orphan block shopping bag project, you’ll need to decide how tall and how wide you want your completed bag to be. Personally, I like this style of bag to measure approximately 17” x 17” finished. My orphan blocks are 14½ʺ X 14½ʺ unfinished. To get to the desired bag size I need to add a 3½ʺ strip on all four sides of the block.
I like to add batting to the wrong side of the block to give the bag a bit more stiffness. To reduce the bulk of the fabric/batting layers at the seams, cut the batting ½ʺ smaller (on both sides) than the size of the front and back panels. In this case, your batting should measure: 17” X 17”. Center the batting on the block.
By the way, this is also a good project for using leftover pieces of batting you may have lying around!
I like to line the inside of the bags to protect the seams of the blocks. The inside lining of the bag can be made with any fabric(s) you want. You may want the lining to match the outside or simply use fabrics that you no longer need. I used muslin for the lining. I cut the lining larger, I add between a ½ʺ to 1ʺ from all edges and an 1″ larger than the finished block size. Once the quilting step is finished I trim off the excess lining fabric.
To add to the stability of the bag I lightly quilt each block. You’ll need to baste your lining, batting and block. I like to spray baste but feel free to use the basting method you prefer to hold the pieces together.
When the quilting is done, I sew the two quilted blocks right sides together using a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch. Sew only three sides of the block. At this point, if you’re so inclined, you could also bind the seam.
After sewing both blocks together turn the bag inside out. We’re in the home stretch! The last two steps to complete the bag are: add the handles and sew a binding around the opening of the bag.
To make both the handles and the bag opening binding, I cut two 4” strips from the width of fabric. I fold these strips in half, press, then fold each side again by half and press again.
For the straps, I cut one of the strips half to get two smaller strips each approximately 20” long.
Then for the bag opening I measure the entire length of the bag opening and add ½ʺ.
TIP A flexible tape measure will be useful for this step.
To place the handles, find the center of the bag and mark 2½ʺ to each side of the center line. Repeat this step on the other side of the bag.
Before pinning the handles in place, sew the strip folds together.
Place handle’s sewn edge on the outside of the marking and pin approximately 1¼” from the edge. Repeat this step on the other side.
Now that your handles are pinned in place, pin the binding all around the bag’s opening.
Sew the binding in place. I usually sew about ¼ʺ from the bottom and top edge of the binding, when you get to the handle fold the handle upwards and sew over the handle as in the photo below.
You now have a completed shopping bag! Take it with you then next time you go fabric shopping; you will be surprised by how much fabric you can put in the bag! The folks at the quilt shop will be impressed at how you were able to breathe new life into an orphan block.