For quite a few years now, our family has been mostly using cloth bags to wrap our Christmas presents.  I’d gotten to hating that humongous garbage bag of wrap that had to be tossed every year so I decided to do something about it.

How fresh are your memories of all the time you spent wrapping just a few short weeks ago?  Was your back sore from spending hours sitting on the floor cutting wrapping paper, holding it tight around a gift while you try to get a piece of tape off the dispenser.  Then comes the ribbon and a pretty bow.  When you have cloth bags, you choose the right size, pop the gift in, pull the ties, add a to-from tag and you’re done.  When wrapping time comes, my bags disappear fast.  Everyone uses them first because they’re so easy and quick.

If you’re tempted to start using cloth bags to wrap presents, NOW is the time!  Christmas fabric is currently on sale!  The least expensive fabric you come across will do nicely for this project.  I’m starting my SIL on this path because she was saying how hard the wrapping part of the Christmas preps were.  In case anyone else is interested, I thought I’d share the how-to.

1" squares on cutting board

I bought a yard of 3 different fabrics.  You’ll need a cord for the ties too.  Previously I have used a thin jute but it sheds little fibres that irritate my skin.  You could use narrow Christmas ribbon or curtain cord.  I found remnants of curtain cord on sale.  Primarily, you want ties that will slide nicely in the bags’ casing and that don’t resist staying tied.  You’ll need 8 yards of tie per yard of fabric, if you’re using this tutorial.  That’s why cost is something to consider.  Mind you, you’ll have these bags for many years, though sometimes people will want to keep them.  :)

We’ll be using 1 yard of fabric (45″ wide) to make 7 bags:  1 long narrow, 2 largish, 2 medium and 2 small bags.  This collection of sizes will be a good start.  It will cover (ha ha, pun) most sizes you’ll need and you should keep track of sizes that you’d like more of.

Lie your fabric folded in half lengthwise, with the selvage toward you.  Square off the ends.  Cut 8″ off across the width of the fabric, creating (A).  This will be the long narrow bag.  Fold the rest of the fabric in half lengthwise.  You’ll have 4 layers of fabric about 22″ from selvage up to the top fold, by at least 14″ from the edges on the left to the fold on the right depending on how generous they were when they cut your fabric at the store.  Cut across the 4 layers about 10″ down from the top fold.  The upper piece (B) will make the 2 largish bags.  The bottom piece (C), which will be about 12″ high will make 2 medium and 2 small bags.

(A) is ready to sew, so best to get it off the cutting board.  Fold open both (B) and (C).  Cut off the top fold of (B) as shown by the arrowed line.  The (B) pieces are now ready to sew too and can be put with (A).

Next we’ll cut  a third off (C).  It should be about 28″ wide so, cut approximately 10″ off, creating (C2) & (C1).  (C1) will become the 2 medium bags. (C2) will become the 2 small bags.

All pieces are now ready to sew.  Starting with the (B) pieces, fold them in half, right sides together.  Serge or sew, then zigzag the 2 long sides, using a 1/4″ seam allowance.   Then serge or zigzag the top edge of the bags.  All the other bags will have a selvage top, so you won’t have to secure those ones.  Here’s a pic of the serged bags put back where they were cut from.  Next we turn the bags inside out and give them a quick iron.

To make turning down the top edges of the bags quick and easy, I put some small lines with a ballpoint pen on the finger I use to fold down the tops of the bags.  I’m left-handed, so I mark my left index finger.  You may want to mark your right one.  Since we have two different types of top edges (selvage and non-selvage) I’ve put two marks.  The bigger turn-down is for the selvage topped bags.  I find that if you try to gather a selvage in a drawstring bag, it doesn’t gather that well.  If the selvage is kind of thin, perhaps you will just ignore it.  Give these turned down hems a quick press too so you don’t need as many pins in the next step.

selvage hem

non-selvage hem

Now we’ll sew the casings.  The first line of stitching from the top is sewn 5/8″ from the folded top.  The second line of stitching is sewn 1/2″ down from the first line.  If your cord is thicker than what I chose, you’ll maybe make your second line of stitching 5/8″ from the first line.  If you’re unsure, just do one bag and test it out.

The last step is the ties.  Cut two ties for each bag: 4″ longer than twice the bag’s width.  For example, a 10″ wide bag would have 2 ties 24″ long each.

Use a small pair of pointy scissors or the needle of a seam ripper to make 2 small slits on both sides of each bag in the outside layer of the casing.  Use a bodkin to pull the tie through one slit, all the way around and out the other slit next to the slit you entered.  Take both ends of the tie and knot them together.  The second tie is pulled in starting with a slit on the other side of the bag, pulled all the way around, and out the second entering slit, and knotted.   Ta Da!!

3 yards of fabric plus 24 yards of curtain cord have become 21 variously size gift bags.  You don’t have to limit it to Christmas, of course.  Use birthday fabric or appropriately themed fabric.

Did you know that most wrapping paper cannot be recycled because of the metallic and toxic inks that are used. All this paper either goes to the land fill or releases toxic fumes in a fireplace.  Clearly, not good.  People might argue that the cotton is bleached before being printed with these nice bright dyes.  Yes, but these bags will live for a long, long time.  You could use repurposed fabric from the thrift store or buy organic cotton.  Ethical choices exist.  Certainly, making Christmas gift bags from inexpensive cotton is a step in the right direction and you’ll be so pleased next Christmas when your wrapping job is SO QUICK and EASY!  You’ll be glad then you sewed these bags.

Please let me know if there are any questions or if you see any typos.  And, if you make any bags, I’d love to post pictures on this blog, linking back to your blog if possible too.

In order to help you get started in using


7 Comments on Christmas bags tutorial

  1. I love that finger-tip tip : ) What a great idea! Thank you for linking such a great tutorial. I’ll get to back to you about the feature fridays – I got one ‘maybe’. But I’ll email you mroe info soon, okay? Thanks!! : )


  2. Holly McLean says:

    Boy are you prepared! What a great idea though and a great tutorial too.

  3. marjorie says:

    Oh so nice….you are really busy

  4. sheila says:

    Wonderful tutorial for a really great idea , I agree now is the time to make those bags instead of waiting until you don’t have the time . Thanks.

  5. Peg says:

    Love the bags, and great tutorial. I had made a few small bags from scraps last summer, but they didn’t get used – nothing small enough this time around. But they’re here and handy! We do use a lot of gift bags, which makes ‘wrapping’ quick and easy.

  6. Shannon says:

    Great idea & Great TUTE!
    Whoop Whoop!

  7. I’ve committed to not using wrapping paper for the last couple of years. I might reuse some newspaper here and there, but generally we use bags like these or just fabric tied with a bow. The bags are, much, much easier. I just never seem to get around to finishing them.

Leave a Reply