When the seams on the collapsible, reusable, nylon bag that I always keep in my purse finally ripped apart I was actually secretly a little bit happy. You see from the very beginning when I got the bag as part of a ‘welcome home’ package from a real estate agent, I had never really liked it. I appreciated its functionality of course, but the colour was an uninspired shade of purple and the single, non-reinforced seams along the bottom and at the tops of the handles were inherent structural flaws, preventing me from trusting the bag’s full loading capacity.
Perhaps I was a bit hard on this bag, because it did last a little longer than I would have expected, but let’s face it: I was thrilled it was finally gone. At last! I could find a bag made from recycled materials, in a nice, fun colour, and with better structure. Or so I thought.
It turns out such a bag is not so easily found after all. While some improvements in the structural design of these sorts of bags have been made, finding one made from recycled nylon was impossible. I even looked in local and online fabric shops thinking I could make my own, but there must be something about nylon that does not lend itself to using recycled materials the way that fleece (far too bulky for this application) does because I couldn’t find recycled nylon anywhere.
As I was lamenting what looked like impending project failure and pondering which of the imperfect retail options I would reluctantly need to use, someone suggested using the fabric from an old rain jacket or anorak. While in this scenario the fabric itself would not be from recycled materials, remaking an old jacket into a bag would divert it from landfill and satisfy my need for adaptive reuse. Brilliant!
The most serendipitous part of this new scheme was that I already had a rain jacket that wasn’t even close to waterproof anymore, and was also starting to get that sort of perma-grime on the cuffs and along the hems… you know, the grime that doesn’t quite come out no matter how you wash it? Yeah, that jacket was way past retirement age. Good thing it was about to get a new life!
Now I started out by examining the jacket from all angels, determined to make the most creative use of every part of it while ending up with something cute and fun. I examined zippers, pulls, elastic cord…everything to see if there was some clever way to reinvent the tiny shopping bag.
There was not.
Turns out that after a (really ridiculously) long time spent on trying to be clever, and after pulling on all of the seams quite a lot to test their structural integrity, the best solution was by far the easiest. Since the jacket was lined with mesh on the inside, I just used the back of the jacket for both sides of the bag. I placed my old purple bag on top of the rain jacket to get an idea of size:
and voila! I wouldn’t even have to sew a bottom seam! Yes, I know, earlier in this post I railed against the bottom seam as a source of structural weakness, but in this jacket the stitching was small which makes each stitch do less work, the material tightly woven and strong, and the seams were doubled, so in this case, the bottom seam would be ok.
Just in case, I performed a variety of very scientific ‘stretch tests’ (I held one side of each seam and pulled really hard), so I have high hopes of this bag lasting much longer than my previous nylon bag did, even with the seam at the bottom.
The next step was to pin the mesh lining and waterproof outside layers together in the shape I wanted for the bag, leaving about 1/4-1/2 inch (1 cm) outside of the pins for a seam allowance. Basically the pins defined the biggest shape I could get out of the back of the jacket: Then I cut out along the pins + seam allowance and sewed the side seams along the pins from the bottom to the point at the top where the opening seemed to be the right size. I actually stopped short of where I show the pins here because if I had sewn it all the way up to that point the opening would have been quite small: great for carrying oranges or cans, not so much for shoe boxes or sweaters.
Next I cut off the top and turned a little fabric down on the top of each side to make a finished edge and hemmed it in place. This step isn’t strictly necessary structurally as these fabrics will not unravel, but I like the look of the finished edge.
The handle was the next challenge. Taking another look at the remaining parts of the jacked, I noticed this lovely, strong-looking piece of material at the zipper placket.
Perfect! I cut it away from the zipper, then in half to make two handles, but then decided that I would try the bag with only one handle. Two handles would give better structural support, but I thought the difference in ‘give’ between the handle on the mesh side and the handle on the waterproof side would make it difficult to use, so I opted for just one attached to the waterproof side. Yes, I am putting a lot of faith into the waterproof side, but I think it can handle it…ha ha get it? ‘handle it’? (sorry).
Moving on: I attached the handle with some extra stitches, just in case, turned it right-side-out, and ran around the house finding things that would fill it.
Reveling in the improved capacity of my repurposed jacket-bag I then turned to the issue of containing it while not in use. I saved the tiny storage bag from my previous nylon bag, but the new bag didn’t quite fit, I’m sure because of the extraneous double layer of neon-green material at the bottom of the bag that I kept for stylistic purposes (I did set out to make a bag that was cuter than the last one after all). Enter the interior zipper pocket. Yes, it’s a bit larger than the nylon bag, but it can be folded, or kept very, very flat…and it’s so cute! No sewing required, as long as I’m happy to operate the zipper ‘upside down’, which I absolutely am! I just cut this little guy out of the jacket, turned it inside out, and voila!
Just in case I eventually want a more compact storage solution for my jacket-bag I saved the extra fabric and the neon elastic cording, but for now I’m really happy with it as-is.
What you will need to make your own:
- an old jacket
- needle and thread
- straight pins
- some patience to deal with the slippery material
A few tips and tricks:
- Lay the jacket out on a flat, smooth surface to make pinning easier.
- Use a strong stitch, like the back stitch, and double the thread to ensure a more structurally-sound end result.
- Take a break if you need one, the slippery material can be frustrating to work with.
- Don’t worry too much about the evenness of your stitching (especially if sewing by hand like I did) because it will be tricky with the slippery fabric.
- The mesh was a little challenging to sew because it had holes (being mesh) so the needle didn’t always find something to hold onto where I was trying to place the stitch. Just do the best you can. No one is going to lay the bag out flat and compare the two sides, or inspect the seams to make sure everything is smooth and even. No one. When the bag is in use imperfections will not be noticeable, so no worries! Just do your best.
While this bag probably isn’t going to win any awards at Fashion Week, it was really fun to make, didn’t take too long or require any expensive equipment, recycled something, and best of all? every time I use it I’m reminded of all the fun hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities I did while it was a jacket.
Thanks for reading and feel free to link pictures of your own recycled jacket-bag on our Facebook or Pinterest pages.