Sure you can buy some trendy brand name shopping bags, but why not make your own for cheap? They can be as chic and cool as you like (unique too)!
Here’s a bunch of free patterns and tutorials to get you started, I have them sorted into three sections: Sewing, Knit, Crochet plus a new bonus section for DIY produce sacks. Some designs are pretty similar but there are subtle differences and features in each.
We all know it’s better for the environment to rid ourselves of single-use plastics, but another motivator is that it’s a money-saver too. More and more retail stores are charging for plastic grocery bags (if they even have them anymore) and who wants to just keep throwing money away like that?
The important thing to remember about reusable totes is to keep them washed, especially if they come in contact with meat, fish and poultry. Other danger zones: raw eggs (if a few get cracked in transit), unwashed fruit and veggies, leaking dairy containers, etc.
I included a couple resources at the bottom of this page outlining how filthy things can get (even by just using a grocery cart), so cleanliness is a real concern.
There’s no need to play a guessing game on which ones need to be laundered, just toss them all in the washer and dryer after each use and you’re good to go.
This is where homemade bags shine. The ones you buy for just a few pennies at the local market are oftentimes not suitable for wash and go, they tend to weaken and fall apart (if they survive the laundry cycle at all). No one wants to carry a haul of market goodies in a sack with weak seams!
Quick Tip: To extend the life of the inexpensive totes you get from stores, spray them inside and out with a food-contact surface disinfectant and let them air dry rather than launder them. Some disinfectant solutions using chlorine bleach can be found on this page: Safe Sanitizing & Disinfecting (Michigan State University).
Before getting started, consider some super-smart options when determining what fabrics to use (if sewing). Why not upcycle what’s around the house, collecting dust and not being used? This will save you money and clear up some space. Some ideas:
- Bed linens (old sheets, thin blankets & pillowcases)
- Denim garments (jeans, skirts, etc.)
- Old curtains
Look for fabrics that are strong, washable and durable so you can use them again and again, the last thing you want to do is spend time making a tote that will have a short lifespan.
What To Look For When Deciding On Which Style To Make
- Is it washable/easy to launder
- Will the handles be strong enough to carry a bunch of canned goods
- Will the body be large enough (or is something stretchy required)
- Is it quick & easy to make (when you need a bunch, simple projects are the way to go)
- Do you want shoulder straps or just handles for carrying
You don’t have to settle on one design, mix ‘n match to accommodate all your needs. Sometimes a sturdy tote is required, other trips may only need a lightweight drawstring sack.
Tips For Remembering To Bring Them With You
This is my personal weak spot. I have the bags–plenty of them in fact, but they don’t do much good unless I actually bring them into the store when shopping.
Here’s what works for us (after being freshly laundered):
- Leave a bunch in the car (we keep them in the back then before we get in to drive, we’ll move them up to the passenger seat beside us so we don’t forget)
- Set them out by the door before heading out (if walking)
- Stash a bunch in my purse (Farmers Market trips)
When they are folded down neatly and then all placed into one tote for transport, they really don’t take a lot of room (unless using the larger, heavier carriers). This makes it very convenient to bring plenty with you on shopping days.
In an effort to make locales more environmentally friendly and reduce landfill waste, many municipal governments are banning single-use plastics. In response to this, it’s not uncommon for grocery stores to provide bins full of cardboard boxes for their customers to pack their groceries in (which is a great way to reuse transport packaging), but this isn’t always available. Having a stash of bags at the ready will pay off for you time and time again.
How To Make Eco-Friendly, Reusable Grocery Bags
This article was first published way back in April, 2008 (last updated July, 2022), and since then the “BYOB” (Bring Your Own Bag) movement has grown tremendously. The result? There is far more creative inspiration for making your own totes available on the ‘net than ever before.
Each of these projects are available 100% hassle-free, which means no email addresses to submit or memberships to signup for (both instructions and pattern piece downloads if available). I’ve selected those that provide written instructions (either on the website or by direct pdf download), but a few also offer video tutorials as extra guidance.
The collection is organized into four groups for easier browsing:
- Sewing Tutorials
- Knitting Patterns
- Crochet Patterns
- DIY Produce Sacks (ideal for fresh fruits & veggies)
There’s also a Bonus section at the bottom of the page for information & resources you may be interested in.
Directions: Click on images to view project page, a new browser tab will open & save your spot here
Free Sewing Tutorials
There are a few designs in this bunch that are very similar, maybe even identical (I haven’t compared too closely). Normally I try to weed out duplicates but for these I thought the variety in techniques and tutorial styles may be beneficial for those who are newbie sewers. Plenty here to choose from!
A longtime favorite here on Tipnut, this is made by repurposing an old pillowcase which makes it low cost & low waste. Terrific!
So clever! These fold up into little “strawberries” that tuck nicely away into your purse or stashed in the car to be at the ready when needed. Folds out into a sturdy tote carry-all.
Unlined, lightweight (but sturdy) fabric totes that can be rolled up & tied closed making it easy to store a few in the car. Constructed similarly to plastic grocery store bags with side gussets so they’ll hold a good amount of product.
A brown paper bag is deconstructed & used as the pattern for this project. A hot iron & pressing cloth can be used to match the creases & folds successfully.
A nice design feature for this one, it folds small with a snapped flap to cover & secure it closed. There’s a pdf download link provided but it doesn’t seem to work atm, full instructions are still available on the project page.
Super lightweight yet sturdy totes that will stash neatly in your vehicle’s glove compartment when folded down & tucked into a 5″ x 7″ drawstring pouch. Stain resistant plus easy to wash ‘n go.
This is another way to make them, this time shallower but wider & with other slight differences. There’s a nice pdf tutorial to download as well.
Repurposed Bird Seed Sack
Woven plastic material sourced from bird seed packaging saved from the garbage makes this super durable, promises to take only an hour to make (that’s with a quick break too).
Tank Top Totes
A very simple DIY that transforms an old knit tank, these can be picked up cheap at the thrift store or even the bargain bins at your favorite department store.
There are four different projects provided, each with something unique to offer: a reusable fabric tote, an insulated carrier (perfect for picnics too), a heavy-duty design and a reusable mesh produce sack.
Free Knitting Patterns
All knit in garter stitch with a 200g ball of jute twine & a pair of 15mm needles. This will stretch as it’s filled with stuff & shrink back down in size when empty.
Magnolia Market Bag
I love this design with the fabric handles, wooden craft rings & knit body (drop stitches & Latvian Braid). So unique! Skill level: Intermediate.
Made with hemp & worked in a solid garter stitch at the bottom to support the weight of all the goodies it will hold. The mesh stitch throughout the body will allow it to expand as needed while keeping the piece light.
Farmer’s Market Tote
Features a solid base with stretchy lace sides & worked on circulars. Finished Size (unstretched): 15″ (height) x 12″ (length) x 5″ (width). Skill level: Intermediate. Free pdf pattern to download.
Features handles & a top edging that is nice ‘n thick to hold weight securely, this will stretch out much more than you think to hold lots of groceries.
DIY Plarn Tote
The plarn is made by cutting 1″ strips of plastic from store bags (about 120) then knit into this hefty sized tote.
Free Crochet Patterns
I think this is such a fun design, especially with the fringe tassels around the top & the diamond pattern throughout the middle. Made with Bernat Handicrafter Cotton (medium weight yarn) in white & gold, finished size measures 15″ in height & 16.5″ in width. Skill level: Advanced Beginner.
Vintage Crochet String Style
This oldie but goodie is a pattern from my personal collection, not sure how many decades ago it was published but it is but it was made with J. P. & Coats Knit-Cro-Sheen which was a mercerized cotton thread (size 10-ish I believe). You’ll find suitable substitutions at YarnSub. Free pdf download (just click the image to get your copy).
Eco-Friendly For Beginners
Supplies: Lily Sugar ‘n Cream (2 balls of Ecru & 1 ball of Jute), size J crochet hook (6.00mm). Skill level: Intermediate. Finished size: 12″ wide x 15″ length (without handles & before stretching).
A magic ring starts things off, the rest of the project is done in chain (ch), dc and sc. Recommends marking the last stitch of the round with a stitch marker in order to keep track of rounds.
A nice unique feature with pull strings at the top & pony beads on the ends. Project is worked in rounds from the bottom up. Finished size: 14″ x 10.5″ (without handles).
A bright & cheery design that would go through your yarn stash nicely, this is inspired by a “granny square” motif. Handles are sewn on then buttons added for embellishment (optional). Free pdf pattern to download.
DIY Reusable Produce Sacks
Produce bags can be made in any fabric, but it’s recommended to use sheer & other very lightweight materials since their weight will be included in the cost of the produce.
A few pretty fabric scraps will reinforce the bottom & the drawstring top, still living the main body of the piece in mesh so you can easily see what it’s carrying.
This will make a great tote for a variety of products, not just fresh produce. I included it in this bunch because I think it’s an especially nice example of how easy it is to make something for fresh fruits & veggies, eliminating any need for plastic.
A simple little project using fabric repurposed from old sheer curtains (can use other similar material) with a cute little twist: decorative stamped designs throughout (she includes an inkpad recommendation to make them colorfast).
Has two handles (comprised of 50 chains each, sc between) & is designed *not* to decrease at the top opening so large leafy vegetables can poke through without interference. Made with a skein of Lion Brand Organic Cotton Yarn & a Size I-9 crochet hook.
Crocheted Reusuable Bags
Inspired by the need to ditch single-use plastic, these simple sacks will work up quickly. They feature a nylon paracord w/toggle closure at the top. Sizing can be easily adjusted (Small, Medium & Large included).
Bonus Info & Goodies
- How To Add Fabric Lining: Directions are for crochet projects but will work for knit & even sewn as well.
- Try Crocheting Plastic Into Sleeping Mats For Those Sleeping Rough
- Eww, Reusable Grocery Bags’ Germs Can Make You Sick: “For the environment, they’re still better than thin single-use…but the cycle of contamination often begins when you place them in the shopping cart…If a grocery store has disposable wipes to disinfect the carts, use them”
- Are Reusable Bags A Health Issue? “…have confirmed that reusable bags pose no significant health threat, and simply need to be laundered on a regular basis! In fact, the shopping cart in the grocery store, and any coins or money in your pocket likely has more bacteria than a reusable bag (and they can’t be thrown in the laundry!).”
i just wanted to let everyone know how wonderful the pattern for the singlet style bag is (#16). even for a beginner seamstress like me, they are fun and relatively easy to make. they hold tons (ex. 1 gallon milk, 2 64 oz. cans of juice, and numerous soup cans, in one bag!) they are lined, washable, compact (they can be folded into themselves), and cheap to make. i make mine out of old pillowcases and sheets from thrift stores.
Where is this free pattern.
I am ready to sew this beautiful bag.
Sandy just click the link for the pattern you’d like to visit, you’ll see the pattern or tutorial on that page.
I buy tank tops from thrift stores at the end of summer for 29-50 cents each and just turn wrongside out sew a seam or two across the bottom and remove the tag if I’m feeling ambitious. These make great bags. They hold a lot and stretch which can be good depending on what you are carrying. Just get tank tops with big neck holes!
Clever! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks you for such a great list of wonderful links. Have added to our tips, as I know that our ecobiters are so intune with making bags and will love this. If not ok to have your link posted, please let me know.
am trying to find crochet patterns for using plastic grocery bags instead of material or yarn. i have seen them on the market but can’t find a pattern for making things using the plastic bags. any help would be very appreciated. thx carol
all you do is substitute the bags for the yarn – i’ve done this with knitting (not much luck; crochet would be the best option for a project like this) .. just cut the handles off the plastic bags and then proceed to cut the bag in a 1 inch (or whatever thickness you prefer) spiral the whole way down .. repeat with other bags and tie the ‘yarn’ together at all the ends and voila! you have a whole bunch of plastic bag ‘yarn’ for your crochet-ing pleasure =)
My Mama has made school bags for church world service for many years. When I came home to take care of her after a fall the job of making the bags fell on me.
I had been cleaning out the basement of the bags of clothes my sister had left 10 or more years back, I washed and folded and sent them on to the church rummage sale. when they arrived the ladies went thru them and said; who would want these old cotton camp shirts that you have to press. Then tossed them to the side. At the end of the sale I gathered them up and returned home with them and a new idea.
First I cut the front with the buttons off and the collar and sleeves, then sewed the front with the pockets together and cut the rest in a square large enough for a notebook. Then I took the strips with the buttons and sewed them to the top and used them for the handles. What a great little school bag full of color and whimsy~ great for kids everywhere.
I also took the sleeves and sewed them together and cut off the cuffs and put the cuffs together and laced them through the placket and made a handle and use them to carry socks and swimwear when I travel. The narrow opening keeps everything inside.
Now those same ladies are asking me for their own totes;~}
Susan, thanks for that wonderful idea about turning tank tops into shopping bags. Now I know what to do with those old tank tops I’m not wearing anymore, but aren’t in good enough condition to donate.
I love the idea of making your own grocery bags. This is such a great source, I want to make them all! Are there are any tutorials for fused plastic grocery bags? I think it would be neat to be able to reuse the plastic bags that have accumulated over the years.
Had a few pairs of old jeans & my family put in a few pairs too – The bags not only saved plastic and these old jeans from being thrown out, they’re also really cute 🙂 – I tacked the back pockets on to hold small items. I can wash them whenever I need to & they hold up really well!
If you’re not the crafty or sewing type, there’s an easy alternative to plastic produce bags. Simply go to a dollar store that carries net lingerie bags, you know, the ones you wash your bras and delicates in that come with zippers. They are usually white and can hold your produce purchases again and again (without complaint from a grocery checker).
Stuff them in with your reusable shopping bags so you have them on hand when you need them. I keep everything in my trunk at all times, as many of my grocery trips are spontaneous or because I often fail to remember to stick them in my car before I head out to the store. Our city’s upcoming plastic bag ban will help jog my memory, to be sure! Kudos to you for your conservation efforts.
After reading about the mesh bags, it dawned on me that I didn’t have any mesh on hand but did have some scraps of lace fabric (polyester) that I made curtains out of 30 years ago. Most elegant produce bags you’ve ever seen!
Nice. I’m so happy to hear of people who care enough to sit down and make their own produce bags. Kudos to you. I’m a Canadian manufacturer of Bulk and Produce bags. We use a similar textile with stretch. Although we were the first around and our bags are tested to decades, it’s still so hard to get people to switch. I congratulate you for making the effort to make a difference. Yes reusables are work… but work is good.
These are some lovely bags ,i am going to make some of them thamk you very much.
very interesting bags..
Love your site and your vintage patterns. Also loving the handbags – have made a couple of my own and will be making more. I always carry re-useable shopping bags in the car and in my handbag. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for the links, I’m getting my machine out and make some bags!
The simple bags from morsbags.com are easy to make and super useful – I’m making loads for gifts this Christmas and as wrapping too… Thanks for the link!