How to sew a drawstring bag by hand – easy DIY

Finding yourself home more than usual? Perhaps you want to try your hand at sewing thing, but don't have a sewing machine? In this post, I give you an easy DIY hand sewing project that is all straight edges and two simple seams. You don't need much in terms of equipment either.

It is not to stick under a chair that, unless you are healthcare personnel, grocery store clerks, transportation, virus testing personnel or other essential staff, you might find yourself home a lot more than usual. Time that is usually spent commuting might free up. Maybe you are itching to make something tangible with your hands? How about a drawstring bag that can store many things?

Obviously, if you have and are comfortable around a sewing machine, this can just as easily be done with one. But if you don’t have a sewing machine at home, this one is for you.

Hand sewn drawstring bag

As with the crochet produce bag and repurposed button-down shirt, I recommend cotton for this project. It is hard-wearing, machine washable and affordable. Old or worn out clothes work well for this too.

If you have new fabric: Remember to wash it first or account for shrinkage. New fabrics can shrink up to 5-10 % in the wash the first time. Wash the fabric as hot as you will want to wash the bags once you start using them.

You will need:

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  • A rectangular piece of cotton fabric twice as big as the bag you want
  • Sewing thread, preferably cotton but synthetics work if you have pre-shrunk your fabric as described above
  • Sewing needle
  • A couple of pins
  • Scissors
  • Safety pin
  • Thicker yarn or other drawstring material a little longer than the length of the longest side of your fabric

Instructions

Start by folding your fabric in half lengthwise and pin it in place to avoid the two layers sliding apart as you work. If your fabric has a front and back to the weave, you need to make sure the front is turning in and the back is outside/facing towards you. You can do this with as few as two pins that you keep moving ahead of your work.

Thread your needle, make a knot at one end and being from the bottom left corner and work your way to the top right, leaving 1/2-1″ seam allowance over your stitches. I recommend backstitch, as it is a very strong seam.

You don’t have to copy my tiny stitches. It is just my habit when sewing by hand. Think about what you want to store in the bag you’re making. If you want to be able to buy rice with it, well, then your stitches need to be smaller than the width of a grain of rice. Adjust accordingly. If I don’t know, I err on the side of a tiny seam, but perhaps that’s just me.

Before you reach the top:

As you reach the top of your bag, you need to skip doing any stitches for 1/2-1″, while leaving a seam allowance of the same width on the other side that you do need to stitch. This will be the hole we pull our drawstring through, and it needs to be at least as wide as your safety pin.

Laying down the seams

By now, we could stop and turn to make the space for the drawstring, but we are sitting down anyway, so why not lay down the seam allowance properly? It will stop your fabric from fraying and extend the lifetime of your bag, as well as avoiding any loose threads from getting into whatever you keep in your bag. Especially important if you will use it to store or transport food.

Fold the seam allowance once so the end of the seam allowance is along or a tiny bit in front of the backstitch seam we just made. Then, fold it again so you are half a seam allowance over the original seam. You can pin it down if you prefer, but this is a seam I do so much I just keep it down with my thumb and adjust as I move.

Here, I recommend whip stitch. Extra points if you, every once in a while, sew the needle twice in the same stitch to reduce damage if a thread tears. Keep going all the way down and up both sides of the seam. If you are lazy and don’t want to fasten all your threads, you can “cheat” buy tying the end of the old thread with the end of the new, and then tuck that into your hem as you go.

The drawstring

Once you have hemmed all the way, you are almost done! The last step is to turn the bag right side out and do a very similar thing there.

Fold down the top edge, just like we did with the inside seam. Here, you will need to leave more space in the hem. At least as wide as your safety pin, preferably a tiny bit wider to give you some wriggle room. Also, make sure the hole we made earlier by not sewing the entire backstitch seam is facing out.

Stitch with your whip stitch again. If your whip stitches are wide, give yourself even more room so you don’t accidentally sew yourself into a corner you can’t pull a safety pin through.

Once you have sewn your way all the way around, give yourself a pat on the back. We only have threading the drawstring left now, and incidentally – the excellent safety-pin-trick.

The safety pin trick:

If you have ever pulled out a drawstring from a hoodie or pair of sweatpants, you know they can be a pain to lure back inside. The drawstring is simply too soft to force all the way.

Enter, our safety pin!

By attaching our safety pin to the end of the drawstring, we get a solid piece of metal we can move through the drawstring “tunnel”. It still takes a little bit of pulling and patience, but you will get there in the end. Once you get to the other side, pull the safety pin out, tie a solid knot on the two ends of the drawstring, and ta-da!

Congratulations, you now have one small, handmade drawstring bag, to use for anything you would like!

What will you keep in your bag?

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