reusable produce bags in organic cotton FI

DIY Reusable Produce Bags – Great For Bulk Foods, Too!

Are you ready for a great next-step in becoming more eco-friendly? You can do it easily by making these reusable produce bags. They’re simple and quick to make, machine washable, and you can even go the extra mile with organic, GOTS-certified fabrics.

If you want to be really eco-friendly, though, why use produce bags at all? Well, I actually started my plastic-free journey by completely eliminating plastic produce bags, but quickly discovered that only a small amount of produce can be stacked on the scale before some of it makes a bid for freedom. After watching several, very patient, cashiers struggle with my free-range produce, I realized bags really are necessary.

Of course they sell mesh bags right at the checkout (possibly a hint for people like me?) but they’re made from nylon. Reusable, but not so eco-friendly. I wasn’t sure whether fabric bags would work, since you can’t see inside, but thought I’d give it a try. It turns out they work even better than plastic. They’re not slippery, so you don’t even have to close them most of the time. The apples, potatoes, and other round produce I tested all stayed right inside the bag. I did over-fill one bag with peaches, but closing it part of the way with the elastic kept them inside, and the cashier could still see what they were.

Ready to make your own reusable produce bags?

Here’s how:

Before you do anything else, wash and dry your fabric as you plan to once the bags are finished. This will reduce shrinking after you make them, which can cause puckering at the seams.

Then, cut your fabric to size. This should be the width you want by twice the height, since you will fold it in half at the bottom. Be sure to add 1 1/2″ seam allowance to each measurement. I cut my fabric to 13″ x 22″, which seems small, but actually holds quite a lot:

fabric cut for reusable produce bags

Next, fold your fabric in half, inside-out, so the fold forms the bottom of the bag. After folding, my bags were 13″ wide x 11″ high:

fabric folded for reusable produce bags

Then, starting at one side of the bag, fold-over both layers of the fabric twice and pin in place. This will make a seam where the cut (raw) edge of the fabric is hidden inside the folds. This folded seam should be about 1/4″ – 3/8″ wide:

detail of folded seam for reusable produce bags

Tip: This type of seam is great for keeping fabric from fraying without making over-lock (serger) stitches, but is not normally used for garments.

Repeat this for the other side, so both sides are pinned, then sew along the pins to secure the side seams:

sides seamed for reusable produce bags

Next, fold-over the fabric at the top twice, like you did with the side seams, and pin in place. Make sure you fold it towards what will be the inside of the bag (the outside at the moment). Starting at the side seam will help keep the fabric opening straight as you go along:

pinning top seam for reusable produce bags

Once you have the entire top edge of the bag folded and pinned, sew it in place along the pins. If you are using a sewing machine, just pull a little harder when you get to the thick side seams and it should go right through.

Now turn your bag right-side-out, and select an elastic for the closure:

choosing elastic closure for reusable produce bags

Attach the elastic at one of the side seams, about 3/4″ from the top of the bag. Use a doubled thread, and make stitches all the way across the width of the seam (the fat part). This will give a nice, thick anchor for the elastic so the fabric won’t tear if you pull the elastic:

sewing elastic closure on reusable produce bags

elastic closure on reusable produce bags

That’s it! You’ve finished your first reusable produce bag:

reusable produce bags in unbleached cotton

To store it, just fold it in half:

reusable produce bags folded for storage

Then fold it in half again:

reusable produce bags ready to roll for storage

Then roll it up and secure it with the elastic:

reusable produce bags rolled for storage

If you want to add an erasable label-panel to your reusable produce bags (great for bulk food items), use heat transfer vinyl. You can find instructions for how to do that in my post How To Customize Clothing With Your Own Graphic Designs.

reusable produce bags with erasable labels

What you will need:

  • Fabric of your choice, at least 13″ x 22″ for each bag
  • Coordinating thread
  • Needle
  • Straight pins
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Pen or fabric marker to mark cuts
  • Covered elastic for closure (hair elastics work well)
  • Heat transfer vinyl (optional)

Tips and tricks:

  • I found two types of pen that work with the heat transfer vinyl labels. The first is a dry-erase marker, and the second is a wineglass marker. Dry-erase marker will wipe right off of the vinyl, while wineglass marker looks fantastic, but will leave a shadow behind. I recommend experimenting with a piece of vinyl adhered to scrap fabric first. You can always bring your scrap to an art or stationary store and test pens with it right there.
  • Double-folded seams are inherently a little difficult to make exactly even, so don’t stress too much about it. Your mushrooms and broccoli will be so happy to be plastic-free they won’t care if the seams are a little wonky.
  • Drying your reusable produce bags on the high-heat setting will cause the elastics to degrade more quickly. Just replace the elastics when necessary, or let your bags air-dry.
  • You can also make reusable produce bags with a drawstring closure by following the directions in this Creatorvox post: Eco-Friendly Reusable Gift Bags. The seams are different, and they require a little more sewing, but they work well for produce.
  • In case you’re curious, the unbleached cotton bags weigh 1 oz. each. The printed fabric bags, which are a much lighter fabric, weigh 3/4 oz. and are actually two inches taller:

reusable produce bags colorful bag

I had a great time making reusable produce bags in different colors and sizes, and have really enjoyed their enthusiastic welcome at the grocery store (the cashiers are probably glad I finally have my produce under control). I hope you enjoy this project too. Feel free to ask a question or leave a comment, and send photos of your completed reusable produce bags:

reusable produce bags

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Have any questions or comments?