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Turn your orphan block into a quilted shopping bag


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!


Shopping bag using orphan blocks
Shopping bag using orphan blocks


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.


Orphan block with borders added
Orphan block with borders added


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!


Placement of batting on blocks, ¼ʺ from all edges
Placement of batting on blocks, ¼ʺ from all edges


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.


Placement of blocks and batting over backing fabric
Placement of blocks and batting over backing 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.


Orphan block once quilted
Orphan block once quilted


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.


Both blocks sewn together with a seam and zigzag edge.
Both blocks sewn together with a seam and zigzag edge.


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.


Folded fabric for the handles and binding around the bag's opening
Folded fabric for the handles and binding around the bag’s opening


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.


Measuring bag opening to calculate the needed binding lenght
Measuring bag opening to calculate the needed binding lenght


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.


Inserting markings for handle placement
Inserting markings for handle placement


Before pinning the handles in place, sew the strip folds together.


Sewing seam on handle
Sewing seam on handle


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.


Pinning handles in place
Pinning handles in place


Now that your handles are pinned in place, pin the binding all around the bag’s opening.


Placing and pinning the bag's binding in place
Placing and pinning the bag’s binding in place


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.


Placement of seams on binding
Placement of seams on binding


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.

Happy sewing!

This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3:  Matching grid lines on your quilts

I took my first quilting course in September 1994 in Barrie, Ontario, near the armed forces base where I was stationed. After moving to Ottawa in 1996, I joined my first guild. I took more courses and began to buy quilting books and lots of fabrics. Quilting has become my passion. I have made over 150 more quilts since then, and have never looked back. I now share my knowledge of quilting by teaching and doing presentations, and blogging!


  1. I have a number of blocks that are left over from testing for different designers. This would be a great way to use them, especially since stores in our area charge 5-cents for every plastic bag used. Thanks for the tutorial.

    • You must be in Ontario to get the 5 cent charge. Happy bag sewing.

  2. Jenny Hiebert

    I have a few orphan blocks where this would work. Laura’s idea for Christmas gift sewing is great too!

    • Enjoy using your orphan blocks

  3. Liz Dyer

    I cleaned out my overflowing closet in my quilt room yesterday. I found 18 orphan blocks that I had completely forgotten about. Some there were multiples and some were individual. Now I know what to do with some of them. This is an excellent idea.

  4. John tant

    Totally tubular! How do I share this to my mom.

    • Simply copy the link and email it to her


    This is such a a good way to use up those blocks…. Thanks for the Idea and the pattern too

  6. Laura Malo

    Christmas gift sewing here i come ….. and get rid of a bag of orphans at the same time … brilliant.

    • sounds like you will be busy for a while. have fun

  7. Kate

    Facepalm. Why did this never occur to me? What a perfect use for orphan blocks.

    • do not palm to hard. I just came up with this idea myself.

  8. Nicole Sender

    I love this bag! I am going to use some of my orphan blocks to make a few! Thanks for the great tutorial!

    • Happy you like it. I will be sharing more ideas for orphan block later

  9. Linda Williamson

    I use old jeans and scraps for my grocery bag. Now I can spruce them up with a quilt block too. Thanks.

  10. Jenna Z

    Great idea! This also gives me an idea of what to do with some orphans from a Christmas block swap!

    • I am happy to read that this blog gave you ideas, now go sew

  11. Nancy Giese

    Great idea! I certainly have enough orphan blocks 🙂

  12. will Phillips


  13. Rebecca K.

    I hate having to pay for bags too but I hate the plastic bags even more! This is a great idea – thanks!

  14. Kathy E.

    This really is a great idea! With my orphan blocks (ones that didn’t work out so well or ones I opted to make just to “make” something), I usually turn them into pot holders or mug rugs. With this tutorial, I now have another option. Thanks!

  15. Lee

    Great idea for an orphan block! thanks!

  16. andrea

    Great idea to use up those blocks~ and practice making totes!

    • I have a few more ideas so stay tune for more.

  17. VickiT

    I LOVE this tutorial! Plain fabric shopping bags can be too floppy, but this will have a nice thickness to them. I like that a lot. Great idea. Thank you!

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