No-Sew Shopping Bag: A Funky Plastic-Free Alternative

Color border image of cropped off no-sew shopping bags, by Laura Routh.
Color border image of cropped off no-sew shopping bags, by Laura Routh.

Are you ready to make an easy peasy no-sew shopping bag? Because this project is best shared with friends, I wish that YOU could gather up some well-loved t-shirts and join me in my wood. We could make these together. Oh well, we'll just have to pretend.

I changed the title of this post after using these bags at the grocery store. They really are funky. The response in the checkout line is a familiar one. With a slight tilt of the head, the clerk unrolls a no-sew shopping bag from my stash, and the look on his or her face is priceless—utter bewilderment.

Some of the customers who are close enough to get a good view smile politely. I'm not sure if it's admiration, or maybe my bags have added some humor to their day. Humorous or not, though, I will confirm that these no-sew shopping bags are much stronger than single-use plastic bags. And they're, well, interesting.

But it wouldn't be fair for me to take credit for this project without passing on kudos to the blogs that inspired this post. In truth, I was doing a search for easy-sew hobo bags, as I might restart my craft business and perhaps sell products on my website or on Etsy.

I found a no-sew option, instead—a project anyone can do in a small amount of time. Take a look at this post, which boasts a darling Snoopy no-sew shopping bag. And then there's this site with an excellent tutorial and a lovely bag, to boot.

So grab those scissors and a t-shirt. Here we go! Oh, I forgot to mention one thing—this was my first photo op. In a year or so, we'll enjoy a good chuckle over these beginning efforts!

No-Sew Shopping Bag Project

Periwinkle and cream long sleeve t-shirt for no sew shopping bag project, image taken by Laura Routh.
Periwinkle and cream long sleeve t-shirt for no sew shopping bag project, image taken by Laura Routh.

First, find an unwanted t-shirt from home or a thrift store. I nagged family members and found one or two of my own that were stained or lonely.

This t-shirt is fancier than most. It was one of the lonely ones. In many ways, regular t-shirts with logos work best as they don't have side seams and tend to be stronger.

Cut out the sleeves and neckline.

T-shirt with sleeves and neck removed for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.
T-shirt with sleeves and neck removed for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.

Next, cut out the sleeves and neckline. Save the scraps to make ties for the tops, if desired. Since this was a V-neck t-shirt, I simply followed the lines of the V, softening the point to resemble more of a curve. For regular crew neck t-shirts, you can use a bowl to trace around the neckline, or simply eyeball it. An oval shape probably works best.

Decide on the length, turn the t-shirt wrong side out, and draw a line about four to six inches from the bottom for the fringe.

Color image of t-shirt with pencil and book for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.
Color image of t-shirt with pencil and book for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.

If you would like the fringe to be on the outside of the bag (this is a cool look, too), then don't turn the t-shirt wrong side out. Instead, go ahead and draw a line on the right side. (Scroll on down a little further to view an example of a bag with the fringe showing.)

You need the fringe long enough to tie into a double knot twice. However, the actual length of the fringe isn't written in stone. So if you decide to make the fringe visible, just use your own aesthetic discretion. You might want it to be a little shorter in this case, depending on length of the bag and the style you're going for.

Because I like to have plenty of fringe to work with, I draw the line, on average, about five inches from the bottom of the t-shirt. A ruler or measuring tape really isn't necessary. I used the edge of a book as a guide.

Cut fringe into about one-inch segments to the line that you drew across the bottom width of the t-shirt.

Color image of fringed periwinkle t-shirt for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.
Color image of fringed periwinkle t-shirt for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.

Do you see the orange line drawn in pencil? Cut the fringe to that line, as shown. You'll need to cut along the fold or seam of the two end pairs of fringe in order to separate them into two pieces.

Tie the pairs of fringe into double knots, starting at one end.

Color image of fringe tied in double knots across width of t-shirt for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.
Color image of fringe tied in double knots across width of t-shirt for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.

You can proceed in several ways from here. I found it easier to tie only two pairs of fringe into double knots at a time so as not to get confused. Alternately, for one of my bags and as shown above, I tied all the pairs into double knots before proceeding with the next step. This begins the process of no-sew stitching. You'll be able to see a gap between each pair of double-knotted strands, which we'll be closing up by tying more knots.

Take one strand from each side by side double-knotted fringed pair and tie them into a double knot to close the gap.

Color image of closing the gap for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.
Color image of closing the gap for no sew shopping bag project, by Laura Routh.

I found it helpful to work as if looking down into the gaps instead of keeping the t-shirt flat. As a result, I could actually see the spaces and not get confused by all the various pieces of fringe.

Finally, when you've closed all the gaps, turn the bag right side out, and Voilà! It should look something like this (see below). Note the ties made from scraps, which I added to the top of each side.

Congratulations! Now, you have a funky no-sew shopping bag, too.

Color image of finished periwinkle no sew shopping bag, by Laura Routh
Color image of finished periwinkle no sew shopping bag, by Laura Routh

Here's a sampling of other no-sew shopping bags - complete with wrinkles and stains from use!

Image of three colorful no sew shopping bags hanging on hooks, by Laura Routh.
Image of three colorful no sew shopping bags hanging on hooks, by Laura Routh.

Final thoughts

Advantages to using a funky no-sew shopping bag

Although I mentioned the funkiness of these bags, nevertheless, I'm sold. No-sew shopping bags are strong (at least stronger than single-use plastic bags), inexpensive, nonplastic, machine washable and fun.

Image of black and cream whale t-shirt made into no sew shopping bag, by Laura Routh.
Image of black and cream whale t-shirt made into no sew shopping bag, by Laura Routh.

Our family would prefer to spend money on plastic-free food storage, plastic-free water filtration, and other plastic-free goals. Alternately, for those of you who enjoy creative projects, check out your local thrift stores for interesting designs. I'm sure you'll find plenty of old, well-loved t-shirts—with hope in their little (or big) hearts for the chance to become a no-sew shopping bag!

Alternatives

For those of you who don't mind spending a little money, below are some options for reusable shopping bags. I'm partial to the natural fiber bags because plastic isn't biodegradable.

But bottom line, using a shopping bag made from recycled plastic or a synthetic material is an enormous improvement over single-use plastic. I won't be judging you! Hopefully, one day we'll run out of so much excess plastic.

This funky no-sew shopping bag is looking less funky all the time! But then, funky is cool.

Reusable shopping bags - sources

Citizen Love - Beautiful rainbow bags printed on recycled cotton/recycled PET fabric - each one is unique. (mostly cotton)

ChicoBag - Bags for all kinds of endeavors made from recycled materials - they can easily fit in a purse or even a pocket, depending on the bag.

ECOBAGS - Many natural fiber bags along with other popular synthetic brands - there's a bag for you!

Envirosax - Colorful bags that take up little space when not in use.

Life Without Plastic - Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) Canvas Tote Bag - purchasing this bag supports the work of the PPC.

Little French Market Company - Oh, such lovely handmade artisan baskets - you have to see them to appreciate.

Mothering Mother - I love these cotton bags. Take a look at the starter set, which includes bags for produce, too.

Onya Life - Reusable shopping bags made from plastic water bottles.

Project GreenBag - Made from organic cotton, and surprisingly affordable, these made in the USA bags are sure to please.

reuseit - A huge variety of grocery and shopping bags made from both recycled plastic and natural fibers. The Mini Jute Storage Bags could be used for home organizing. (Some are made from natural fibers.)

A big thank you to Plastic Free July and the Plastic Pollution Coalition (resource page) for most of these sources. Check out their websites for more ideas. And thank you to Beth at My Plastic-Free Life, also, for so many resources and tips.

For more ideas on resources that inspire us to live greener, check out this page, which contains a list of products and websites that support a healthy planet.

Laura