22 April 2009

The beauty of a simple bag

I've been thinking about bags lately. Cotton storage bags to be precise. I was given a bread bag for my birthday. It's a cotton bag that has been lined with thin rubber to keep the bread fresh. I have written about covering food and food bags before here but the bags I'm thinking about now can hold food, soap, toys, buttons, knitting or any number of fine things.

These recycled bags are perfect carriers when I buy my bulk foods.

I use cotton bags here for storing various things, but the bags I use are recycled calico flour bags. I intend to make some purpose-made bags. I would like to have a drawstring bag to take my knitting to work. At the moment I just put it in my basket and usually have to search for the loose needle. I think I'll make a little cheese bag too so I can store my cheddar cheese in the fridge, sitting on a plate, covered by the bag.

I'd love to have an embroidered cotton bag as a gift wrap. I want to give a couple of luffas and soap as gifts this year. They're always difficult to wrap, but a little cotton bag containing a luffa and homemade soap would be ideal. If I embroidered a shower of rain over some flowers on the bag, that would be perfect.

Another lovely gift would be a long tube bag containing knitting needles and a couple of balls of pure wool or cotton, all contained in a linen bag with a stitched ball of wool and needles on the front. Imagine giving a new sewer an embroidered bag full of buttons. Bliss!

I use a little drawstring bag to carry my pencils, pens, eraser, pencil sharpener and calculator to work with me. I love using it and people often remark on how sweet it is. I'm going to make a new bag for my digital camera. It will be a little padded drawstring bag that will protect my camera, especially when I take it out with me.

I think these bags would be a very good way of carrying toys and books in the car. When my boys were little, they had a Lego sack that they would open out to a circle playmat on the floor and when you pulled the drawstrings, the Legos would be scooped up and put away again. I just did a google search for them but it seems Lego no longer make them, this is something similar and would be really easy to make. Picking up Legos is a real pain. This will help you reduce the number of Legos to be picked up, the kids will only have to pick up those that spill outside the circle.

Here are some links with more ideas. Please check out the first two especially for some fine inspiration. They show that a simple drawstring bag can be beautiful and delicate as well as practical.

Deb @ Homespun Living - drawstring pouches
SouleMama's bread bags.
Fabric bucket tutorial.
How to make a drawstring bag. 1
How to make a drawstring bag. 2
Organic cotton bags with see through windows from Etsy.
Calico fruit and vegie bags.

When you think about it, cotton bags have been around since Adam was a boy and they still provide a very sound, practical and often beautiful way of storage and carrying things. It proves once again that the simple ways are often the best.


  1. Hi Rhonda,

    Reading your post today about bags reminds me of the bags that I often make. I am a member of a group of like-minded people who study early lifeways of the backcounty folks of North Carolina in the 18th century. Bags were made of linen, cotton, wool, linsey-woolsey, silk, etc. Often they were embroidered with the maker's initials and a date. Most of the time I make linen ones and weave a cotton tape on a homemade tape loom. The simple twill tape is then run through a turned down edge for the casing. I treasure these bags. Sometimes they hold food, sometimes needlework projects, sometimes a journal - most anything that I need to keep handy. Some I've had for over ten years. The bags take me back to a more self-sufficient time when things were not easily thrown away, rather they were used until they had worn out. Then they might end up as stuffing in a pincushion, etc. I like that idea.

    Sometimes I teach children about the value of containers. I'll show them an empty cereal box and suggest to them that a person from 200 years ago would have marveled at such a treasure. It certainly would not have been thrown away, but likely repurposed. I hope it sparks some new appreciation of all that they have today.

    Thanks for the warm and fuzzy feelings you give me whenever I read your blog.

    Diane in North Carolina

  2. You can use smaller cotton or hemp drawstring bags for growing your sprouts too!

  3. Good morning Rhonda,

    I totally agree with your post on little bags. My grandmother always used them for food storage and a friend I knew way back always used a bag made out of flour sacks to cover the roast meat when she had carved what she needed for the meal. She did this with many foods as she was very poor at the time and did not have the finances for cling wrap etc. I learnt so much from this dear friend. So Rhonda little bags are on my to do list now and what great presents as well. I'm thinking really little one to hang my garlic in would be cute also.

    Blessings Gail

  4. Hi Rhonda,

    Drawstring bags are something that have been on my mind lately as well. This year I have decided to make shoe bags for my girls and their children to replace the plastic ones they use when going away. Daughter number three then suggested she would like a "dirty clothes" bag as well. That just about takes care of Christmas this year.

    Might even get to make some for myself as well.

    Have a great day.

    Karen near Bundaberg.

  5. Some more links for your list:

    Mug bag tutorial: http://madquilter.blogspot.com/2008/11/mug-bag-tutorial.html

    Washable lunch bag: http://madquilter.blogspot.com/2009/01/washable-lunch-bag-tutorial.html

    Project bag for knitting: http://madquilter.blogspot.com/2008/04/how-to-make-project-bag.html

    I need to make up a new bag this weekend too - one for my daughter's tap shoes. She keeps all of her dance shoes in different little bags, to keep them from being damaged, and she needs a new one for her tap shoes.

  6. I love bags like this, and have stopped wrapping presents in paper unless I have some lying around that was given to me and needs using up.

    Love the comment by Diane in North Carolina, what a wonderful thing to actively study a more self-sufficient time! And to treasure containers, seeing them through different eyes than those of wasteful consumers.

  7. I use draw string bags for so many things...I've gotten most of them at Goodwill or random thrift stores for usually about a quarter. They're great...I do especially love your work bag, it is very sweet!
    have a great day!

  8. I made 30 bags of different sizes inspired by YOU a few weeks ago. Now they go to the stores with me for bulk foods and produce and any little things I buy. I LOVE them and they only took a few moments to make.

  9. Hello Diane, what a lovely comment! I would like to attend one of your study groups. I think it would be very interesting.

    Karen, I think shoes bags are a great idea.

    Thanks for the links Toria.

    That's great, Kimberly. That will surely cut down on all those plastic bags. Thanks for the heads up on the link. :- )

  10. Rhonda, Everyday you inspire me...everyday I learn something new. What a wonderful blog that you have. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for teaching me to be more down to earth..Lisa

  11. It's funny, I was just telling my husband earlier today that I wanted to make a good sized drawstring bag to stow my son's train set in so the pieces will be able to stay together and not all over the floor!

  12. I've been reading your blog for a while, but this is my first time commenting. A fun bag idea that I've used in the past is to recycle old woolen blankets as bags. They dye up beautifully with food colouring and the sky is the limit, as far as embellishing them goes- they make great project bags for knitting and can even be used as wetbags for cloth nappies (the original reason I made them!).

  13. Hi Rhonda Jean :) I enjoyed this post - what great information!

    And you gave me a lovely gift idea for a dear friend. She bakes delicious bread and shares it as a ministry. How fun it will be to surprise her with a little something that she can use :)

    Love & hugs to you, Q

  14. I have promised my readers to share how to make a gorgeous tote to be used for lots of things... but at the moment life stuff is going on and I cannot get my head round it..

    these bags are exactly like the ones that I get from a local coffee house.. just a different design.
    all going back to the old feedsacks that chicken feed use to come in & the women would cut them up to make quilts, recycling the fabrics.

  15. I loved your post today. We recycle our bags and I am a basketweaver so I use a basket for fresh produce and veggies. I love the little prim ditty bags, too, filled with drieds or candles. You have a wonderful blog.

  16. Regarding using things until the wear out. I'm only 45 but when I was little my grandmother used to make my dresses from flour sacks. They were printed in pretty prints (flowers and things) and made great fabric after the flour was used up.

    I've loving your blog!

  17. Rhonda..
    I too am a bag-a-holic.lol I love a good bag. My favorites are tote bags, as long as they are the heavier kind. You can use them for everything!

    Nice article.

  18. Good morning Rhonda. I've been wondering what to attempt for my second real sewing project and here you present it to me! :-) Related to the bags: Julie of Towards Sustainability mentioned "the Japanese art of Furoshiki - the art of wrapping items with cloth for travel or gift-giving." over at http://www.towards-sustainability.com/2009/04/show-and-tell-part-ii.html It's very interesting and fits well with your post. Rose

  19. I've got my mind spinning over how I can re-create something like these. How about an old, linen table runner? I think it would be perfect, and I could likely get 2-3 bread bags out of it. Thanks for the links...I have Deb's on my sidebar...one of my favorites.
    I especially wanted to thank you for the past few posts...very thought provoking. Lots to chew on. Brings back a lot of memories from the late 70's, when living simply was a new idea for me.

  20. Hello Rhonda

    I love this post about bags! I am incorporating bags into as many aspects of our lives as I can. My daughter takes her lunch to school in a drawstring bag, I made fruit and vegie bags from netting and drawsting bread bags from linen & cotton tea towels (which I saw on Soulemama). Over the past week I have also made some slouch-type shoulder bags for my daughters and neice to use when we go out to keep track of their water bottles, snacks, purses etc and they really love them!

    I love making bags and they are so useful, the sky is the limit really.

    Have a great day.


  21. Rhona,

    I attended a green living fair this past weekend and received a wonderful reusable bag absolutely free. The group responsible will send one to anyone willing to promise that they will use it. Their website is www.greenbaglady.org.


  22. Hi Rhonda,
    This is an idea that someone passed on to me years ago, I make cotton bags from muslin,any size you want, fill with rice and sew closed. You can make these long, short or shaped for a curved neck pillow, pocket sized, channeled so that the rice pad keeps its shape or just flat and loose to lay over your back for heat on a sore muscle...you just heat these in the microwave for about two minutes and they radiate heat for a very long time. I make colorful little covers that come off for washing and I make sure to french seam these so they do not ravel.
    I also use old towels to make soap mitts. Just slip your soap inside, lather up and scrub away. Rinse and hang the bag to dry.
    I have also made shoe bags to keep our shoes covered when we pack for travel.
    My daughters and I make library bags for everyone we know.
    Our latest project is a padded laptop bag.
    Like you we use bags for so many things...
    Another type of container I've seen lately are baskets made of newsprint or magazines...another project I would like to learn how to make and use her at home.
    Thank you for sharing your ideas.

  23. For those of you using cotton bags for bread storage, I have a question or two. How long will bread stay fresh in them? Can you refrigerate the bread in the cotton bags and will it stay fresh if you do?

    I love the idea of using bags, I'm just trying to figure out how to make it work with my current bake 6 loaves for the week, once a week schedule.

    Thanks for any input.

  24. Question...
    The lady I take care of eats a lot of fresh fruit.
    Would putting them in a bag made of cotton help keep out the fruit flies?

    Coffee is on.

  25. Hi Rhonda,

    I really love your blog. I always save it until last as the 'dessert' of my daily reading.

    I love the idea of using linen bags for all sorts of things. The bread bag idea is one I'm going to have to try (this means I have to bake, which means I need to find a recipe!) The gift bag idea is a great one, too! I'm definitely going to keep that in mind in the next few months when birthdays and the like roll around.

    Also, I wanted to thank you for the post you did about getting rid of disposables, specifically the mesh produce bags. I went out and bought some netting, sewed it up, and they work so wonderfully! My mother liked them so much, I'm giving her a set for Mother's day!

    Thanks again,

  26. Just found your blog, and I really like it. Love the Grace Noll Crowell poem in the sidebar. Your banner picture is beautiful, too--very evocative of the simple joys in life.

  27. Cotton drawstring bags have to be one of the most useful items I have in my craft studio. All of my cross stitch, needlepoint and sewing threads are stowed in bags. All I now need is a simple peg rail to hand them all from and they'll make a beautiful display as well.

    Regarding knitting needles, I'm in the process of making a flat wrap case to keep all of mine together. I did one for my crochet hooks, which were rolling around loose in a drawer, and it's so practical and tidy.

  28. I love those old bags! Where does one find them? Been looking on and off for awhile with no luck locally.
    I also make bags, rarely using a pattern. I had to take a break from making them because I have so many. I never saw the post about keeping bread in proper bags and was wondering about that, so thanks for tackling the subject.

  29. Ah ha! Yay! I just made a linen (embroidered) bread bag the other day after reading about them over at Soulemama. It's such a good idea, and beautifully tactile.

  30. I made a bag using an old pillow case..got the idea from Martha Stewart. I like the idea of bread bags..that would be so fun to do to gift someone with a loaf of bread in a cloth bag. Thanks Rhonda for the idea..and now my mind is off and running with other possiblities!
    I also use empty cracker, cereal boxes etc, glue bits of leftover fabric scraps to cover them and they turn into nice gift boxes.

  31. What wonderful ideas! I can't wait to check out all those bag links. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I wrote a tutorial at the holidays about repurposing thrift-store items into holiday gift bags. These are easy and fast, and could apply to other gift-giving (or playing) occasions, too. Reusable gift bags tutorial here.

  32. Excellent post! I just made Soule Mama's bread bags and I love them. I'm currently working on the lunch bag ideas and bulk bags at the grocery. Thanks for the inspiration as always.

  33. Rhonda, I enjoy visiting your blog daily but have never commented. I lurk in the shadows! Today's post really hit me because when my son was little, I had made him a bag with a drawstring. I used a heavier material..not quite canvas weight and he would fill it will toys to haul to grandma's house. It worked perfectly and your post was a sweet reminder of that. I have been trying to follow a lot of your ideas (live in the US) and have yet to find flour in sacks or organic flour. Not sure where to even go to research for it. I would love to try the soap making but have 6 kitties and you suggested not to if you have children or animals because of the lye. Do you sell yours? I have started bread making...a big step for me and so far it has turned out great...perhaps a little too dense for me but it still tastes good. Thanks for writing this because it is such a pleasure reading it!

    Vivian in Michigan

  34. Linda, I buy my flour in those bags.

    Viv, I'm not sure where you could buy sacks of organic flour. I'll put the word out in Monday's post and see if someone can help.

    That's a nice gift for your mum,bunny.

  35. I've made a few Japanese knot bags recently. I use one to carry my sock knitting to knit on the train. It just slips over my wrist while I knit, no more chasing dropped balls around. I found the pattern online here - http://showyourworkings.wordpress.com/tutorials/japanese-knot-bag-instructions/

    You can see ones I've made on my blog.

  36. Hi Rhonda,

    I just love this post! I have been asking that same question for several years now. How was bread stored before plastic bags....

    here are some of the answers:
    In cheese cloth in the bread box
    in brown (left over) paper tied tight with a string. In any old clean dish towel.And my favorite, who ever had left over bread? we baked every day and in the morning the day old bread was given to the chickens! :)

    Have a wonderful day!

  37. My first comment here!

    That Lego mat/bag is ingenious! Even before clicking on the link I could picture it in my head (and the skies opened up and I could hear angels singing). THANK YOU.

  38. Good Morning,
    I am love cloth bags and have made different kinds for different purposes over the years. We have used cloth gift bags for about 15 years now.
    My question is does anyone have any ideas for freezing bread in something other than plastic bags. I bake 6 loaves at a time, but now that it is just my husband and I at home they last quite a while and need to be frozen.
    Rhonda I will be very interested to hear how long bread will keep in your new bread bag with the rubber lining.

  39. What a wonderful post, full of good, old-fashioned wisdom! I'm on a baby blanket and quilt kick right now but I sense bag making in my near future. First time visitor to your lovely blog.

  40. How ingenious. I bought a gluten free cook book from A charity shop. The author recommended I store the flour mix in a calico bag. She said it allows the flour to breathe and it can be stored in a cool place for years. It has been inspirational to read your post. It has given me lots of ideas. Many Thanks. I will visit again


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