Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's in the Bag

The Conscious Shopper gives an old shower curtain new life as some produce bags.

My farmer's market is not one of those that are trying to go plastic-free. After a couple years of only using cloth bags and letting my produce go naked at the grocery store, I was pretty peeved the first time I visited the farmer's market and brought home a bundle of plastic bags. I tried getting around it, but the farmers didn't like juggling all the produce I handed to them to be weighed, and more often than not, they slipped my items into plastic bags anyway. Those farmers are just so darn nice - how could I reprimand them for their plastic bag addiction?

For the past year, my solution has been to reuse plastic grocery bags at the farmer's market. I used the same bags over and over again, trying not to bring any new bags home. This method worked fine, but plastic bags tear and get dirty, and I'm sure I went through more plastic bags over the past year than I would like to admit.

A few months ago on my personal blog, I wrote about how I was starting to use the bulk bins at Whole Foods, but I needed to get some cloth bags for them. A reader commented that she had made her own bags out of an old shower curtain. Brilliant! It just so happened that I had an old shower curtain lying around.

So the next time I visited my mom (who is a sewer extraordinaire and also happens to own a sewing machine, which I do not), I whipped up some cloth produce bags. The finished product is sheer, lightweight, completely free, and oh so adorable.

Here's how I did it (but please pardon my sewing skills, which are not great).

Produce Bags in Ten Easy Steps

  • shower curtain
  • ruler
  • scissors
  • pins
  • thread
  • sewing machine (not necessary but definitely faster)
  • drawstrings (old shoelaces work great)

STEP 1: Obtain an old shower curtain. If you don't already have one lying around, you can find one for very cheap at a thrift store. If possible, go for a sheer curtain to help the farmers and cashiers tell what's inside.

STEP 2: Using a ruler, mark rectangles measuring 17" X 26" onto your shower curtain. (Remember that with the hems and slot for the drawstring, you'll lose several inches. The final bags end up being about 13" tall by 12" wide.) I got six bags out of my shower curtain.

STEP 3: Cut out a rectangle.

STEP 4: Using a straight stitch, double hem all sides of the rectangle. (Because you're using a shower curtain, some of the sides of the rectangle might already be hemmed. Don't bother to re-hem these!)

STEP 5: Fold down one of the longer sides of the rectangle 2". Pin in place and sew using a straight seam. This will form the channel for the drawstring.

STEP 6: With wrong sides facing out, fold the rectangle in half and pin in place. The fold becomes one side of the bag. Sew around the other two sides of the bag, leaving a slot at the top to push the drawstring through. Obviously, don't sew the bag closed at the top.

STEP 7: Push a string through the channel you made on the top of the bag. A shoestring works great for this because the plastic knob on the end makes it easy to push through. But any kind of string will work.

STEP 8: Flip the bag inside out.

STEP 9: Repeat with each rectangle.

STEP 10: Take to the farmer's market or use at the grocery store for produce or bulk goods.

When I used these bags at the farmer's market last week, several farmers commented on how pretty they are. I was pretty pleased to tell them that they used to be my shower curtain. Somehow, making something yourself makes it all the more fun to use.


Billie said...

The vendors I use at our farmer's market never complain about loose fruit. They also respect my request for no bags. When I see what I am going to buy is problematic (ie 2lbs of beans) I whip out my EcoSacs. I usually only have 1 or 2 so I can't put everything I buy into them.

I have even heard the occasional other person request no bags too!

DramaMama said...

This is an awesome idea!! I hope to use this for gift giving this year...lots of people in my family said they would use cloth bags if they had them =) Thanks for the tutorial!

Carmen said...

Great idea! Used bedsheets might work well too... I'm inspired to go make some.

Green Bean said...

I love it! Brilliant.

I've got some cloth produce bags I've collected here and there. From The Organic Needle, and a farmers' market vendor but I could sure use me some more. Now I just need access to a sewing machine. Oh yeah, and an old shower curtain. I may have to go with Carmen's suggestion of an old bed sheet. Of those we have plenty.

Over Coffee - the green edition said...

Wow! What a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

Eco Yogini said...

I bought lioli pog sacs, unbleached whole and netted produce and grain bags- I can wash them easily!
Also- cloth bags will help keep your produce fresh for longer as it allows them to breathe while plastic (reused or not) doesn't. :) I really like the idea of making my own solid bags out of old t-shirts and stuff though! Thanks for the pattern :)

daharja said...

That is an absolute brainwave, using a shower curtain for the material!

More and more, I'm thinking I need a sewing machine. Mum has one - but she's 3000 kms away in a different country! Hmmm, I'll ask Santa, I think!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Billie - You're lucky that your vendors are good about not using plastic bags. The problem with mine is that it's the state farmers market, so it's huge and very very busy. I think my failure at not using the plastic bags has as much to do with me feeling the chaos and pressure of the crowd as with the farmers being busy and in a hurry. We're lucky to have such a big farmers market though!

@DramaMama - I hope your family enjoys them as much as I have been!

@Carmen - Bedsheets would work great too. The advantage of a shower curtain is the sheer factor, but that's not necessary.

@Green Bean - Bedsheets would be perfect. I've also seen some cute bags made out of t-shirts.

@Over Coffee - Glad you like it!

@Eco Yogini - I was leaning toward getting some of those netted produce bags, but the free aspect persuaded me to make my own. I still covet the net bags though. They are so cute!

@daharja - I'm hoping Santa will bring me a sewing machine too!

Lisa Sharp said...

Love them. Just want to point out to others don't use the plastic ones as most are vinyl. :)

I use organic hemp ones.

Jennifer said...

Awesome! Those old sheer window curtains can work well too. Plus, if you have a local fabric store, it's fairly cheap to buy a couple of yards of cheap muslin or even tulle (you know, ballet tutu stuff) to make a whole bunch of these bags.

Anoter trick--if you have any old change purses or little pouches kicking around (or...blush...the free cheezy cosmetics cases from before you went green and got tons of heavily packaged freebies from cosmetics counters...or was that just me? :-), keep one in your car or purse, stuffed full of these very collapsible little produce bags, for the day you forget them. (Or is that just me too?). Or heck, make one yourself!

(Farmers market tomorrow...I'm all re-inspired!)


Daisy said...

Great idea! I havea vinyl bag (freebie from school book orders) that I use for large quantities of messy things like berries. The shower curtain bags would serve the same purpose. Thanks for sharing!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Lisa - Thanks for adding that important note. No on vinyl, that is final!

@Jennifer - Ooooh, I think I have some old sheer curtains up in the attic! Great idea! And I love the idea of using a change purse or cosmetics case to put them in.

@Daisy - Glad you like them!

knittingwoman said...

great idea. I have some of the mesh ones I bought many years ago to avoid this problem but some stuff like greens and beans need to be in plastic of sort as they get all wilted otherwise. we are still reusing bags but in the future I can see making some of our own. We use old string bags at the market for stuff like carrots or potatoes that just need to be weighed.

Meghan said...

I love this idea. What a great use for an old shower curtain!


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