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Tutorial: reversible, reusable gift bag

This post is about how I developed the sewing pattern for reversible fabric gift bags. Math alert: this post uses math calculations.

reversible gift bags

Some fabrics have what is called "nap". I originally learned about nap with suede - it looks different if you rub one way than if you rub it the other direction. Fabrics other than suede have nap as well. Nap is when the fabric looks obviously different from one direction than another. In the photos that accompany this post, the light-colored fabric has stylized Christmas tree lights in the print. If you look at the prints one way, the lights look right side up. If you turn the fabric around, the lights look upside down. That is nap. (This fabric also has nap in the sideways direction, but that wasn't important to this pattern.)

Many bag or tote patterns are shaped like an "H", where the front and back of the bag are the posts on the "H". Usually this is cut in one large piece. If I were to use the "H" tote pattern on tree lights fabric, the lights would look right side up on one side of the tote, and upside down on the other. I’ve also seen this type of pattern cut in two pieces, with a seam running down the bottom of the bag. This allows for fabric with nap.

I didn’t want upside down tree lights on one half of the bag, and I didn’t want a seam running down the middle of the bag. I decided to make my own bag pattern with a separate bottom.

First, I needed to decide what size I wanted the bag to be. Since this is a "make-the-tool post, I'll tell you how I made the pattern. You will then know how to make your own pattern in your own size for totes with a solid bottom out of fabric with nap.

drawn bag

I decided that the front of the bag needed to be "A" inches wide, and the sides needed to be "B" inches deep. I also wanted to have the bag be "C" inches tall. Finally, I decided that I would make my seam allowances "s" inches. (You can pretty much use whatever size seam allowance you want.)

When looking at the bottom of the bag, I need to deal with "A", "B", and "s". Here are the dimensions for the bottom:

Bottom length = s + A + s

Bottom depth = s + B + s

For example, if you decide that “s” = ½ inch, A = 12 inches, and B = 5 inches, you would have:

Bottom length = ½ + 12 + ½ = 13 inches

Bottom depth = ½ + 5 + ½ = 6 inches

bag pattern bottom

The body of the bag requires some more decisions. I decided that I would cut the bag as one piece of fabric. I wanted to have as few seams as possible. You could cut the four sides as four different pieces, but I decided not to do so - I had wide enough fabric to allow one piece.

Now for more math, here are the dimensions of the sides:

Sides length (and depth) = s + A + B + A + B + s

Sides height = s + C + s

For example, if you decide that “C” is 10 inches, you would have:

Sides length/depth = ½ + 12 + 5 + 12 + 5 + ½ = 35 inches

Sides height = ½ + 10 + ½ = 11 inches

bag pattern body

Once I had my math taken care of, I cut the pattern out of two separate fabrics.

I sewed the bag sides. Then I sewed the bottom onto the bag in two steps. Some hints: 1. I sewed the two “A” sides of the bag first, starting where the two side seam allowances meet. 2. I also ended the seam for the “A” side where the two side seam allowances meet. 3. I made small snips on the bag piece almost to where the seams start and end. That made it a little easier to fold the fabric for the final seam.

snip locations

Finally, I inserted on fabric bag inside the other. I folded down the seam, and pinned, inserting the handles. Voila! A reversible, reusable gift bag!

Now, for those who don't want to go to the trouble of developing pattern or sewing a gift bag, I have them for sale in my store, Thread and Wood Crafts.

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