Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reusable Holiday Gift Bag Mini-Tutorial

Each year the Lincoln Quilters Guild (LQG) donates hundreds of Santa Socks and Santa Sacks filled with toys, toiletries, and small gifts to various local charities and shelters.  As I was making a batch of Santa Sacks to take to our next guild meeting, I decided to photo as I go, creating a tutorial for these eco-friendly reusable gift bags.  I'll give you three options:  1)  The Basic Method;  2) Serger Method; and 3) French Seams.


The Santa Sack bags I make for charity are fairly large—made with one fat quarter (18" x 22") of cotton fabric.  I chose "Winter Birds" by James Hautman for Cranston V.I.P. Fabrics, purchased on sale last year.  It's not a "traditional" Christmas print, but I loved the cardinals and evergreens.  For smaller bags, adjust the size of your beginning rectangle. 



1 fat quarter or 18"x 22" holiday fabric

¾ yard (27 inches) of cording, rattail cord, or ribbon for the drawstring ties

Coordinating thread


The "Basic" or Jiffy Method (Unfinished Seams are OK)


These basic LQG directions are from the LQG Plain Print newsletter:  Fold down about 1" along one 22" edge of a fat quarter.  Stitch to form casing.  Fold fat quarter in half with right sides together – should measure about 11"x17".  Sew across bottom and up one long side ending at the casing.  Turn right side out.  Thread ribbon through casing. Knot ends together.


Although these bags are reusable, they will probably not be laundered often, so several of my quilting buddies use this basic method with unfinished ¼" seams.   The quilt police will not arrest you if you opt for that easier method!


Serger Method:


Serge around two "short" sides and the top "long side" of the fat quarter. 

Stitch a ¼" to ½" seam to join the two serged sides, stopping approximately 1" from the top edge.


Serge /stitch the bottom seam for the bag.  Tie off and "bury" serger tails in the stitches, and clip.

Fold down 1" on the top side and press to form casing.  Turn in ends at the side seam so that serger stitching is no longer visible (it will be tucked inside the casing).  Stitch just above the top edge of the serger stitching, backstitching at each end, and then restitching across the side seam for extra reinforcement at that pressure point.


Use a safety pin to thread cording or ribbon through the casing.  Tie the ends together using a square knot. (Right over left. Left over right.)  . Use Fray Check or a similar product to seal the ends of your cording or ribbon to keep them from fraying.  Press.  Voila!


French Seam Method:


Fold down approximately 1" on top (long side) of fabric, and then turn raw edge under 1/4" and press to form a casing.  Edgestitch.  Start and stop approximately 5/8" from each end.  (The casing is a little tricky when you make French seams!)

With WRONG sides together (I know, this is SO counterintuitive for sewists), stitch a very scant ¼" seam (or stitch your regular ¼" seam and trim to about 3/16").  Turn the bag wrong side out, and press the seam you just sewed to create a knife edge.  Now stitch ¼" from that pressed knife edge (RIGHT sides together) to create your French seam.  Stop at the top casing and backstitch.


Turn the bag right side out, and sew the bottom edges together, WRONG sides together, using a very scant ¼" seam, or trimming a ¼" seam to approximately 3/16".  Turn and press, then sew that seam with RIGHT sides together to create the bottom French seam.  (One corner will be a bit bulky.  Trim before stitching if you like.)  Turn and use a tool to create nice square corners.  I love my Purple Thang.


Now—the tricky part.  Carefully clip in ¼" where your side seam stops and your casing begins, so that you can turn the unfinished top edges inside your casing.  Once you have fiddled with this until the edges match, and the raw edges are neatly tucked inside the casing, finish edgestitching the top casing, reinforcing the stitching at the side seam.


Use a safety pin to thread your cording or ribbon through the casing.  Tie the ends together using a square knot. (Right over left. Left over right.) Use Fray Check or a similar product to seal the ends of your cording or ribbon to keep them from fraying.  Press. Voila!


Trims and Embellishments (Optional)


Use embroidery, appliqué, trims, rick-rack or beading to embellish your bag.

Add small buttons, beads, or jingle bells to the ends of your drawstrings.



LeAnn aka pasqueflower




  1. Great tutorial, LeAnn. I used to sew a lot when I was younger, but have never heard of a French seam - very interesting! If I ever break out my sewing machine again, I might have to employ that technique for seams.

  2. What a great idea! And I love the cardinal fabric you used :)

  3. Awesome, you take part in so many worthy projects

  4. The bags are adorable and what a great idea! You can always find a use for the bags or you can use them for someone else's gift. Pretty fabrics too!!!

  5. You are TALENTED!! I need more practice:)

  6. Great idea. Thanks so much for sharing.