Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gift Bag Tutorial

Hi all -

For several years now, I've been wanting to make reusable gift bags for Christmas rather than wasting wrapping paper or using the paper bags that get old and rip after a few uses. But I kept procrastinating because I wanted to do something that was easy, but would still be nice and sturdy, so it was more of a thought than an action. I'm really good at that procrastination thing!! This year I finally gathered the supplies and made the gift bags. I thought I would share how I made them in case anyone else is interested in doing the same thing. I hope you enjoy it!


Gift Bag Tutorial

This tutorial will show you how to make gift bags like the ones I made this year:

These bags are very basic, but still look pretty. They have enough body that they can stand up on their own, but are not uncomfortably stiff. They are fairly quick to make, especially once you've made a few. They can be made any size, but my instructions are for a bag that will comfortably fit a box that is 8"x5.75"x2.75". This turned out to be a very useful size for me.


For these bags, I used a quilting cotton fabric for the outside of the bag and a polyester lining fabric for the inside. I've been collecting Christmas fabrics that were on sale explicitly for this purpose. I made a birthday gift bag for a friend earlier this year using a home decorator fabric and that worked really well, too. I like using a lining fabric for the inside because it's cheap and because the gift slides in and out more easily. I used a light weight fusible interfacing (Pellon P44F) on both the outer fabric and on the lining to give the bag some body. For the tie I used satin cording. I like the look of the cording and bought spools in several Christmas colors so I would have a variety. You could also use ribbon or any other cord strong enough to be tied without breaking.

Outside fabric:            Cut 1 piece 32" x 10.5"
Lining:                        Cut 1 piece 30" x 10.5"
Fusible interfacing:     Cut 1 piece 32" x 10.5" and 1 piece 30" x 10.5"
Cording:                      Cut 2 pieces 42" long

Here are my supplies except for the satin cording that I forgot to include in the picture:

NOTE: I used 3/8" seam allowances for all of the sewing for these bags.

Prepare the Fabrics

Prepare the fabrics by fusing the interfacing to the back of both fabrics:

I used a dry iron on a cotton setting when fusing the outer fabric, but switched to a lower temperature setting when working with the lining fabric.

Sew the Lining

Fold the lining in half, right sides together, to form a rectangle that is 15" x 10.5". Sew the two sides, leaving an opening for turning on one side:

It's a bit hard to see on my monitor, but the opening is on the left side in the picture. It needs to be at least 2" from the bottom of the bag so it doesn't get in the way of the boxed corner and at least 4" from the top of the bag so it doesn't get in the way of the channel for the cording. I backstitched at the top of the bag since we'll be pulling on that a lot as we manipulate the bag; but didn't backstitch at the bottom since we'll be cutting off those corners when we box them.

Press the side seams open. I have this nice pressing ham to make that easy:

Here I am pressing the seams:

Make sure to press the seam allowance along the opening you left for turning, too:

This will make it easier to close up that hole nicely after turning the bag right side out. I also pressed the bottom of the bag flat to give me a nice line along the bottom for lining things up when boxing the corners.

To box the corners, fold the lining at the corner so that the side seam is in the middle and lines up with the crease along the bottom. I pin along the seam to keep things from shifting while I'm measuring and sewing. Measure 1.5" from the point and draw a line:

Sew along that line, backstitching at each end:

Trim the corner, leaving about a 3/8" seam allowance:

Turn the lining right side out and set it aside:

Sew the Outer Bag

The outer bag is made the same way as the lining, except there is no opening for turning and there are small openings on each side for the cord.

Fold the outer bag in half, right sides together, to make a rectangle that is 16" x 10.5". Make marks 3" and 3.5" from the top of the bag on both sides. Sew the side seams, leaving the space between these marks open:

I backstitched at the top of the bag and on each side of the openings, but didn't backstitch at the bottom of the bag.

Press the seams open:

And box the corners, just as you did for the lining:

Your outer bag is now finished. Leave it turned wrong side out:

Assembling the Bag

Slide the lining inside of the outer bag, keeping the right sides together:

Sew all the way around the top:

Pull the lining out:

And turn the bag right side out through the hole in the lining:

I think it's easier to pull out the outer bag side and then pull the lining out. Your bag will now look like this:

Close up the opening in the lining. I'm lazy so wanted to do it all by machine. I just lined up the folded edges of the opening and pinned it (I'm a pinner....):

Then I sewed up the opening on the machine, backstitching at both ends:

Now push the lining to the inside of the bag. Just shove it in and smooth everything out nicely. The outer bag is longer than the lining so that the outer bag will fold over to the inside of the bag, giving you a nice finish on the top:

Once everything is smooth, press the top edge of the bag with an iron and edge stitch around the top:

I like to have one line of stitching along the edge of the bag and a second line of stitching about 1/4" away.

Finishing the Bag

Now we just need to add the channel for the cord and slide the cord in.

Find the openings on each side of the bag that we left for the cord. Mark both edges of the openings on both sides of the bag:

Using a ruler, mark lines all the way around the bag on both sides of the openings:

The distance from the top of the bag will depend on how far you pushed the lining into the bag. My lines were 2 1/8" and 2 7/8" from the top edge. You want to make sure that openings are inside of the channel and that the channel is wide enough for whatever you are using for your cord and whatever you are using for pull the cord through the channel. Sew along both lines, all the way around the bag:

I used an elastic threader to pull the cord through the channel. It worked really well for me:

Starting on one side, thread the cord through the hole and all the way around the bag, pulling it out the same hole:

To help get the threader past the folded edges inside the channels, I poked a chopstick through the hole while pushing the threader through and used that to guide the threader past the folds. Thread the second cord through the hole on the other side of the bag and all the way around the bag, pulling it out the same hole:

On each side, tie the ends of the cord together:

Trim the ends to even them up:

I don't know if it's necessary, but I used a butane lighter to melt the ends of the cord:

Your gift bag is now finished. Slip in your gift and tie the cords in a bow:

Handling Directional Fabrics

If you have a directional fabric, you can't cut the outer bag as a single piece. Also, if you're making a large bag, it's sometimes easier to use two pieces for the outer bag and for the lining. If you want to make this bag using directional fabric, cut the following pieces:

Outer fabric:        Cut 2 pieces 16.5" x 10.5"
Interfacing:          Cut 2 pieces 16.5" x 10.5"

When sewing the outer bag together, sew both sides as above, but also sew along the bottom edge. I don't backstitch on the bottom edge because the corners will be trimmed after they are boxed. Rather than turning at the corner, I sew the lines separately:

Then I trim off the corner:

The trimming makes it easier for me to box the corner:

The rest of the construction is the same as above.

If you find any errors in my instructions or if anything is confusing, please let me know and I'll update my post.




  1. Great tutorial, Nancy! Your sample bag fabric is festive and I like the idea of using satin cording for the glitz. --Terry

    1. Thanks! I also got that fabric in pink and mint, so there'll be a lot of bags that look like this one!

  2. Nice tutorial! Will the bag become part of the gift and you'll have to remake every year or will you take them back for refills? If it's for family gifts they probably would not mind.
    Karen Fitzpatrick

    1. I'm trying to decide about that. I'm thinking I'll mention that I'm happy to take the gift bags back if they don't have a use for them. Especially the tall, skinny ones that I used for wallhangings since those are shapes that are less likely to be useful to them. I'll also try to be more timely and make each bag as soon as I buy or make the gift rather than waiting and making them all at once. That'll be easier now that I have a stash of lining fabric and satin cord and a big bolt of interfacing.

  3. Nancy - Great idea! I made similar bags one year using a wine gift bag as a sample, yours are far superior to mine they'll be a big hit!