It’s easy enough to find a good bargain on gift wrap around the holiday season, but after the presents are all unwrapped, you are left with a mountain of crumpled paper around the tree. Back in the day when people would simply tear the gift wrap as little as possible by unwrapping the gift with painstaking care, that gift wrap could be reused the following year.
It is easy to reuse a bow that you received on a present, but wrapping paper holds the seams leftover from the corners of a square or rectangular box very easily. It is also futile to try to reuse tissue paper that you received in a gift bag since it ends up crumpled and creased, and Scotch tape sticks fast if you use tissue paper as an exterior wrap. You end up ripping the tissue when you try to peel off the tape.
For the novice sewing enthusiast and thrifty gift-wrapper, the drawstring gift bag is an excellent solution to these problems. Fabric stores and the fabric and craft sections of stores like Wal-Mart often sell holiday fabrics at a sizable discount, since people don’t often use holiday-themed novelty fabrics throughout the year. You may even be able to find sales on these fabrics as early as October. Fabric stores anticipate high sales of these fabrics due to the number of craft bazaars and holiday fairs that take place in late fall through early winter.
You can make a gift bag that the recipient can reuse for every day purposes like holding small and easy-to-lose objects like earrings and other accessories separately in his or her suitcase while traveling. The gift bag may also double as a closet sachet by filling it with potpourri.
Measuring Your Fabric
If you are making the bag out of a washable cotton fabric, make sure to pre-wash it before you begin cutting.
Measuring the fabric is not unlike wrapping a gift in paper. You will need enough fabric to go around the base of the gift, up each side and over the top. In this case, however, you will need to add extra fabric to form the seam allowances, casing, and narrow hem.
For the sake of this lesson, assume that you are making a gift bag for a small paperweight that is already in a box.
Measure the tall sides of the box, across the base, and across the top. Total this number of inches on a piece of paper. Add two inches for a casing, the length of the tall side, and an additional 5/8 inches for the hem.
Constructing the Bag
Fold the fabric in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. Machine-stitch the raw edges together, keeping a 5/8-inch seam allowance. Turn the bag right side out. With your iron, turn under a 5/8-inch hem. Below this hem and centered between the side seams, create a buttonhole. (This is a snap if your machine has a buttonholer; if not, create one by trimming a small slit into the fabric at that location and whipstitching around the edges by hand. You can also use your zigzag stitch to make two parallel rows of stitches close together, sew a seam across each end, and then slit open the fabric between the two rows of stitching with your seam ripper or an Exacto knife.)
Fold over the top of the bag the remaining two inches and press it flat with your iron, tucking the narrow hem under. Pin it in place and machine-stitch close to the folded edge of the hem.
You now have a bag with a finished casing, not to mention a hole to insert the string.
You can use ribbon or decorative braided cord as a drawstring. A shiny braided cord with a high nylon content is perfect for this project. When you buy the cord, make sure you have enough to go around the entire width of the bag, plus a few inches more so you can pull the bag shut and tie the string into a bow.
Loop one end of the cord through the hole on the end of a safety pin and knot it securely at that end. Tie another small knot at the free end of the cord. Pin the free end of the cord to the bag below the casing. Insert the pin through the buttonhole and feed it through the casing. Once you reach the end of the casing, pull the safety pin and the leading end of the cord back out through the hole. Distribute the fullness of the bag around the cord evenly. Remove the safety pin and re-knot that end of fabric so that the cord doesn’t unravel.
Making the Bag Stand up to the Test
A round or cylindrical gift might call for a cylindrical bag.
Determining the length of the fabric that you will need is similar to what you did for the square object. This time, you will cut a round panel of fabric by placing the base of the gift on top of the fabric (wrong side up) and by tracing a circle around it that is about two inches or so wider.
You will also determine the width of the fabric this time by measuring around the widest part of the object and adding three to four inches.
This time, fold the fabric in half along the WIDTH instead of lengthwise. Sew the raw edge together. Pin the bottom of the cylinder of fabric around the outer edge of the circular panel that you cut. Stitch the raw edges together. Clip and grade the seam allowances. Turn the bag right side out and handle the hem and casing the same way that you did for the square object’s bag.
For More Elaborate Gift Bags
You may want to add appliques or decorative patches before folding the fabric in half to stitch the sides. Sewing beads onto the bag can be done after you have finished constructing it. For washable fabrics, make sure to use washable beads or sequins. Buttons also add a nice touch.
You may also like some cording sewn into the side seams of your gift bag. If you purchased a packet or piping that has a raw edge and pre-measured seam allowance, you can pin some piping with the corded side facing in toward the center of the fabric and stitch it in place using your zipper foot. Then, when you fold it in half to finish the sides, all you have to do is follow the same line of stitching. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for finishing the ends.
For a Fancier Hem
For a ruffled hem when you pull the drawstring shut, omit the folded casing. Make a narrow DOUBLE hem at the top of the bag. Then pin double-fold bias tape around the bag one inch below the double hem. Fold both ends under without overlapping them and stitch it in place. You will thread the cord through the bias tape casing the same way that you did for the folded one.