Not only can you make use of some of the plastic bags they push on you at the grocery store (seriously – I think the only reason they withhold paper bags is to get me to buy their reusable bags), but you can also cut down on buying disposable plastic baggies and change it up with something cute and personal with a very simple sewing project. That’s a win-win-win, right?
What you’ll need for each snack bag:
4-8 plastic grocery bags (I used 6)
Fabric scrap at least 7″x15″ (optional, it just makes it pretty!)
Sewing machine and general sewing supplies (scissors, rulers, pins, etc).
Part One: Fusing your plastic. 20 minutes.
A note about this. You will be giving your plastic a gentle melt. Yes, I said gentle, but I also said melt. That means you should get good ventilation going. I did not notice any fumes whatsoever (if you regularly use spray paint or any of the heavy-duty adhesives – those are far heavier on fumes) but when you’re talking about changing the composition of plastic, it comes with the territory that you should take common-sense precautions. I said it was a feel-good project, but I didn’t mean you should achieve the feeling by sniffing fumes, LOL.
Flatten your bags and trim them down. To do this, just trim off the bottom and the handles. This will give you a tube-shaped sheet to work with.
Additionally, you my choose to remove the printed portion (totally optional – but I did, just to have a plain white section of plastic). This will ultimately give you a decent-sized rectangular sheet once you open it up. If you’re using large enough bags, you don’t even have to cut it open, you can leave it doubled up.
Trim two sheets of parchment paper. Ideally, they will be larger than your plastic, but if not, don’t worry. You can work with smaller sections at a time if you need to. You can also reuse your parchment for fusing, so trimming off big sheets won’t go to waste if that’s a concern. One goes under your plastic to protect your ironing board or whatever surface you’re ironing on, and the other goes on top of your plastic to prevent your iron from becoming a melted and burned mess.
I started with three bags – three layers. Next time I will probably start with just two to make sure my initial fuse is nice and string before moving on. If your plastic is doubled, definitely just start with one bag/two layers. Because we’re sewing something small, it’s okay if every inch isn’t 100% perfect, but of course you want to do the best you can.
So, heat up your iron to the nylon setting. You may need to end up going a little hotter (I had my best luck nearly to the polyester setting, but you can always go hotter if necessary. You can’t un-melt plastic that’s gotten too hot, so start lower). Iron it all over, moving your iron around a lot. There doesn’t seem to be any trick, like moving in a straight line vs. a squiggly one – all you want to do is make sure that you only stay on any one section for a couple seconds. Lift your parchment every 30 seconds or so to see if your plastic is fusing, or if it’s still in separate layers. I found that once it started to fuse, it started to shrink a little, and get slightly wrinkly under my parchment. So check it often once you start to notice that happening.
Once your first two sheets are fused, add another, and iron it again, adding layers one at a time until you have your desired thickness. I used 6 sheets for a nice stiff plastic. If you plan to pack a lot of sandwiches, you may want to go with fewer layers so that it’s more flexible (basically, so you won’t squish your sandwiches closing stiff plastic).
This worked out great for a first try, but ideally, we will all eventually be so good at this that we get nice smooth sheets. You can see in the photo below that mine is a bit uneven and wrinkly – partially due to starting with too many layers, and partially because I ironed a few places just a little too long. (Like anything, though – practice makes perfect, right?)
But once your plastic is fused – you can sew with it, just like fabric. (Cool, right??) This is why it’s OK for a less-than perfect sheet of plastic – we will be making sure all the edges are sewn into our baggie.
Part Two: Sewing your baggie. 15-30 minutes, depending on your experience level.
Trim your plastic down to a rectangle 7″ x 15″. You may certainly use any dimensions you like (and the ending size of your plastic piece may dictate how big you can make it), I just found that this was most similar to a sandwich baggie size and I like it really well. So, feel free to adjust, but I’m going to show you directions using 7″ x 15″. If you are covering your baggie with fabric like I am, trim that to 7″ x 15″ as well.
Place your fabric patterned side down on top of your plastic. If there is a smoother and a rougher side to your plastic, place the fabric against the smoother side.
You can pin it in place if you want, but I didn’t bother since this is a very simple shape to sew. Sew nearly all the way around. It will look like you are doing it wrong since you’re looking at the wrong side of your fabric. Leave a 3″ hole on one of the sides.
It can be the side or either one of the ends – just don’t put the hole right by the corner, it’s more of a hassle to even it out if you do. (When I make my next one, I will probably leave my hole on one of the ends!) Once you’ve sewn nearly all the way around, stop.
Trim the corners (being careful not to cut over the line you have sewn), and if you have a lot of excess fabric anywhere, trim that too.
Now find your hole, reach inside, and pull the insides out through the hole. If this is the first time you’ve turned fabric, it can be a little alarming, because it can look horribly wrong. Just keep going until you’ve turned the whole thing right-side out through the hole!
Pay extra attention to those corners – you may want to use a chopstick, a knitting needle, or a butterknife to press them out as square as you can get them. Resist the urge to poke your scissors in there… you don’t want to poke a hole in your project now that we’re so close to being done.
Now, find your hole again, and turn the rough edges sticking out into the hole as best as you can. You may want to pin it shut, though I didn’t bother.
Sew along one of your short ends, as close to the edge as possible. (They call this topstitching – it just keeps your piece as flat as possible after you have seams sewn inside like that.) If you left your hole for turning on one of your ends – then make that the one you sew shut here.
I don’t feel like I got a really good photo pf what I mean, so take a look at this (ahem, low-tech) graphic, and sew along where I’ve put the dotted line.
Now, fold up your baggie. You’re going to place your rectangle plastic-side up, with the line you’ve just sewn closest to you. Fold it up, and then form your flap by folding the sewn edge back down again. That sounds really confusing, I know, but take a look, here’s what it should look like. I left 1/2 inch distance from the back of the baggie to the top of the fold, then gave it a 2- 1/2 inch flap. If you had to cut your scraps a little short of 15″, you can make the flap 2 inches and it should still work well.
Now finally, sew from the bottom fold, all along the edge, until you get to the bottom at the other side.
Which, once again, sounds confusing, so I made another graphic to show you what I mean – sew along the heavier dashed line. (The lighter dashed line is the end you just sewed.)
And you are done! Now, you have a baggie that can handle anything plastic can, that’s totally reusable – and pretty, of course! Oh, unless this is for your little mister, in which case it’s probably not “pretty” at all – but I’m sure you’ve made a cool one for him.
You can fill it up, and to close it, fold the flap over the back of the baggie to make a little pouch.
What I love about this is that it can handle things that are damp or may stain (for example, delicious Michigan raspberries, mmm!)
If that happens – you can rinse it right out.
It is water resistant, but not totally waterproof along the seams. So if you fill it with water, it will of course drip a little. I would recommend hand-washing it in the sink and letting it air-dry – I’m not certain it will withstand something like the washing machine, though it will take quite a bit more abuse than a regular plastic baggie!