Making Gift Bags to Replace Gift Wrapping

By , December 30, 2018

Last Christmas, Michelle surprised us all with gifts presented in a unique, lovely, and environmentally responsible way: she made reusable cloth gift bags for many presents.

This Christmas season, we did it again, expanding our selection and use. It’s time to share this with everyone, especially considering articles just out this season, like this one: It’s Officially Time To Ban Gift-Wrapping Paper.

homemade Christmas gift bags

Homemade gift bags surround Aly’s overflowing Christmas stocking, among paper wrapped gifts last year (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Part of what made the bags Michelle sewed up so special was the fabric she used. Years ago, perhaps during one of our first Christmases as a married couple, Michelle began gathering squares for a Christmas quilt. It became a yearly accumulation that eventually led to finishing the quilt after we’d moved to the homestead, some 30 years in the making! In that time, we became quite attached to the various squares. She used the leftovers from the project for gift bags, creating wrappings of great emotional significance for our home.

Christmas quilt

Our Christmas quilt, a marriage-long project, up to a point (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Her construction process is obviously quite simple. She chooses fabric in any useful size; quilting squares are a natural source, but remnant racks and second hand stores offer good materials.

Depending on the shape of the fabric, she cuts it in a way that maximizes the size of the remnant, but also arranges the pattern appropriately (“all the Santas upright,” for instance). She orients the cloth so that it folds on one side of the bag when possible, which requires less seams.

Once her piece is cut to suit, she folds down the top edge about ¾ of an inch and sews a casing for the drawstring. Then,  she sews up the open sides right-sides together at about ¼ inch from the edge, making sure to back stitch at each end of all seams. She chooses a length of yarn or cloth ribbon 4-5 inches longer than the casing, and threads it through. She notes that she doesn’t worry about finishing the casing openings, because it’s just a gift bag, which doesn’t get used heavily. A little fraying doesn’t hurt!

She turns the bag right-sides out, and she’s done!

gift bags

An assortment of this year’s bags (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

If she’s building a bag for a specific item, she just wraps the cloth around the item, ensuring it’s big enough to cover, adding an inch for side seams and 3 inches taller (deeper) than the object, then sews up the bag as above.

That’s the basic process, customized for individual needs. She can produce a good stack of bags in short time. Aly generally sews hers by hand.

This flies in the face of our family’s adoration of wrapping paper. We have agreed not to buy any new paper in the future. We also plan to make gift boxes with the preferred papers to reuse whenever that size box is needed, as we have done in the past (see Gift Boxes That Save Favorite Paper Designs).

Our next step will be to make bags for birthdays, weddings, and other non-Christmas occasions. Before we know it, wrapping paper will be a thing of the past in our household. Not a bad New Year’s Resolution.

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