By Angeline Hawkes
Most people are aware of recycling gift bags, appropriating the Sunday comics for wrapping, and saving ribbons for decoration. For years, I reused our gift bags, stapling them closed, until the bags became dangerous due to old staples that I never got around to removing. Christmas, especially, drove home the need for an alternative wrapping method. Six family members each receiving about 10 gifts resulted in 60 gift bags peppered with years of accumulation of the “staples of doom.” The increasing staple “gotchas” left me with no choice but to sit down and think my way into a better gift packaging approach.
I arrived at an easy solution: a drawstring bag with a vinyl slot to hold a gift tag. I added a spring-stop toggle to the drawstring cord for closure security. My fabric stash coughed up Christmas prints, florals, plaids, and a vast array of other prints to create small, medium, and large gift bags. I made 86 bags for Christmas (that’s how much fabric I happened to have, so that’s how many bags got sewn). I sewed more bags for birthdays and other holidays.
You can make your bags any size, with any print, and any fabric (100% cotton works best), but for these instructions, we’ll sew an approximately 24-inch square drawstring bag.
2 fabric squares (26×26-inch)
sewing machine (optional; gift bags can be hand-sewn)
needle & thread
2 safety pins
55-inch-long satin ribbon (or twill, cotton, or polyester cord)
spring-stop toggle (optional)
1 2×4-inch clear vinyl rectangle
1. Cut out your fabric squares. I folded my fabric in half and cut out three sides instead of four. The folded side doesn’t require sewing.
2. Lay one fabric square on top of the other square so the print sides are touching. If you’re using solid-colored fabric, you won’t have to worry about which side is which. You should be looking at the “inside out” side of the fabric. If you have four cut sides, pin one side of the squares together. At this point, it doesn’t matter which side of the square you pin. (If you have a fold for one side, you can skip to step 4.)
3. Using a 1-inch seam allowance on your sewing machine and a straight stitch, sew the pinned sides together. Remove the pins. When you open the square, you now have a 26×51-inch fabric rectangle.
4. It’s easier to sew the casing for the drawstring before the rest of the gift bag is constructed. A casing is a “tunnel” for the cord to feed through. Place your fabric rectangle (either the fabric squares sewn together or your unfolded fabric square), print-side down, so you’re looking at the “inside out” side of the fabric.
5. Choose one of the 51-inch-long fabric edges to be the “top” (which will eventually be the opening) of the gift bag (the 26-inch edges are the “sides”). Fold the top edge over ¼-inch toward you, revealing the print side of the fabric. Iron the fold. Optional: sew the fold. I used a zigzag stitch. This ironed/hemmed fold will allow your drawstring casing to be sewn without any exposed raw fabric that can later unravel.
6. Next, fold the top edge over one inch toward you (revealing the print side of the fabric again) and iron flat. Using your sewing machine (one-inch seam allowance), or a needle and thread, sew across the 51-inch top, forming a drawstring casing. At this point, there should be a “tunnel” at the top of the rectangle where you’ll insert your cord later on.
7. Now you’ll sew the clear vinyl gift tag slot to the front of the fabric. When the gift bag is finished, this slot holds a gift tag. Flip the fabric over so you’re looking at the print side. Fold the fabric so it looks like a bag with the casing at the top. Center a clear vinyl rectangle on the fabric facing you. Don’t put a straight pin through the vinyl because the pin will leave a permanent hole. Instead, secure the vinyl to the fabric with tape.
8. Using the tightest zigzag feature on your machine (blanket-stitch if you’re hand sewing), sew the two short sides and the long bottom of the vinyl rectangle to your fabric. Leave the top long edge of the vinyl rectangle unsewn so a gift tag can be slipped inside.
9. It’s time to construct the gift bag. Fold the fabric together again (print sides touching so you’re looking at the “inside out” side of the fabric) to form a square with the casing at the top. The casing edge of your bag will be the bag’s opening. Pin along the unsewn side (remember: unless you had a fold to make up one side, you already sewed one side together to form your rectangle) and the bottom. Using a 1-inch seam allowance, sew together. Do not sew the casing openings together. Leave the 1-inch wide casing at the top of the bag unsewn. Remove the pins.
10. Reach inside the bag, and turn your gift bag right side out. Iron the bag flat.
11. Attach a safety pin to one end of your cord (ribbon, etc). Attach another safety pin to the other cord end and to one of the casing’s openings (there should be two openings). This will anchor your cord so you don’t lose it inside the casing. Feed the pin/cord that is not attached to the casing into the same casing opening that the other pin/cord is attached to. The objective here is to eventually end up with a safety pin/cord sticking out of each opening of the casing.
12. Feel the safety pin through the casing fabric, and move it through the casing until the pin/cord emerge. Pull the pin/cord so about 3-inches of cord is in your hand. Remove the safety pins and grasp the ends of the cord together.
13. If you’re not using a spring-stop toggle, tie the cord ends together into a tight knot and you’re finished! If you are using a spring-stop toggle, feed the toggle onto the cords, and then tie the cord ends together into a tight knot. I purchased plastic spring-stop toggles in bulk online, but fabric and craft stores sell them as well.
In addition to handy, eco-friendly gift bags, drawstring bags can be used as totes, produce bags, grocery bags, and for other purposes. You can wash your gift bags. Folded fabric gift bags are also easy to store.
Packaging gifts in drawstring bags is frugal, good for the environment, and a beautiful way to wrap gifts for years to come!