If you are like me, then you have a hard time getting rid of clothes. I’ve gotten better over the years; the logical side of my brain speaks louder more often than not when it comes to being a pack rat. (As long as no one is coming to verify this statement by visiting my home, I’m going to run with it…) But, for the few articles of clothing I just can’t seem to part with for sentimental reasons, I needed to come up with a useful purpose to justify keeping them.
Holding one of these keepsake shirts up one day I realized if you just sew the bottom together, it essentially takes the shape of a bag and… EUREKA! This tutorial makes the perfect bag for trips to the farmers market, the grocery store, bringing home books from the library, an everyday purse… well, just about anything! The perfect reusable, repurposed, and completely unique bag!
So, first order of business is to pick out your keepsake article of clothing or just a piece with a cool image on it. My selection for this tutorial was a cami set (as pictured above) that my husband gifted me years ago that I just LOVE the imagery on!
The second thing you need to do is pick out fabric that will serve as the liner and the straps. They can either match (as I did on this bag) or they can be two corresponding fabrics. I have a rule of thumb to try and use what I have on hand (the goal is to be resourceful and not waste!) so I just dig through my collection of fabric and make something work. (For several of my bags I actually used pants that no longer fit to make the straps which worked out great!) Side note: Since this was a set, I decided to make the panties into a little matching wallet.
Once you have all your material picked out you just need the basics: scissors, pins, thread, needles, sewing machine, and an iron. Now, you are ready to go! The first step towards t-shirt bag goodness is to decide on how you want your bag to look. The things you need to establish are the shape of your bag, the size of your bag, and how best to display the image on your bag (if there is one.)
Since I am working with a cami, it has an outline and finished edges that correspond well to the natural shape of a bag so I’m keeping it just like it is. If you pick out an actual t-shirt for this project you are going to need to create the shape of your bag. The main thing that will affect the shape is if there is an image on the piece of clothing. If you want to protect the image then you have to work around it.
Pictured above are the two examples of t-shirts you can work with. The first option being the one with no image; this is the easiest to work with. Basically all you need to do is cut a straight line across the shirt, right under the sleeves (as shown by the dashed green line.) Simple, right?
The second option is the shirt that contains an image you want to retain. This is what will give you some really unique bags but it’s also slightly trickier to work with. With this shirt you want to cut the sleeves off and then cut straight across the shirt right above the image leaving plenty of room for a hem (again, as shown by the dashed green lines.) The only issue now is due to the curve of the sleeves, the top of your bag will now have a smaller opening and overall this gives your bag an odd shape.
As you can see in the image above, the arrows pointing to the black parts are the areas we need to fix. What I did to solve this problem was found a complimentary fabric to use as patches to fill in these spaces. (Sometimes I’m so clever I amaze myself…) To do this I simply laid the shirt flat on the table with the side facing up, put my scrap piece of fabric inside the shirt where the space needed to be filled, and traced the exact shape onto the fabric. Cut it out, pin it, and sew it!
You can likely tell by this little intro that my sewing style is… unprofessional unconventional. I have always had a tendency to be a perfectionist, but being a Mama with limited time and a whole lot to do has taught me a valuable lesson in acceptance and even, dare I say, value in imperfection. I have found that I do much better by eyeballing things and figuring it out as I go than I do with adhering to strict patterns and rules. If this is not your style, I am likely not your woman. But I promise I have almost always been pleased with my results when I created things myself and followed my own set of made up rules.
Back to business; now that we have the basic shape of the bag established, turn the shirt inside out and pin the bottom of it together.
Since you are likely working with a material that has a natural stretch to it, when you sew you need to set your sewing machine to a “zigzag stitch” a.k.a. the option that looks like a little lightning bolt (for any fellow Harry Potter fans.) This will ensure that the shirt does not stretch while you are sewing it, causing all sorts of distortion and general unpleasantness. (Ask me how I figured this one out… lots of seam ripping occurred prior to learning this little useful tidbit!) Once you have your machine threaded and set on the proper stitch (and turned on…), sew the bottom of that shirt up!
Once you have finished, lay it flat on a table. You will see below the picture on the left is what your shirt now looks like with the yellow lines signifying where you have just sewn. (Pretty fancy, I know.) Now, grab the middle of the front of the shirt with one hand and the middle of the back of the shirt with the other and open the shirt up (think in the style of opening a bag of chips) so that when laid flat on the table the side of the shirt is now facing up with the side seam in the middle of the shirt. The bottom where you had sewn up is now laying to where all you see is likely the loose threads where you ended sewing and it should be in the shape of a triangle. This probably sounds more confusing than it is so please look to the helpful illustration below for guidance!
As the picture above shows, the triangle formed at the bottom of the shirt that has a line that says “where you are going to pin” is… well… where you are going to pin in order to sew a seam that will help form the bottom of your bag. When laid out correctly and evenly, the seam you placed in the bottom of the shirt will be open and laying flat against the seam in the side of the shirt. Just match those two lines up to form an even triangle and then pin in place and sew!
Here are some different views of what your bag should look like so far. The seams you have sewn have now formed the bottom of your bag. When turned right side out you will notice that your bag has more of a somewhat rectangular base and has a little more depth to its shape now.
At this point in time I went ahead and started the matching wallet. I followed the same method as the bag when laying the panties out flat; took the middle of the front in one hand and the middle of the back in the other and opened them so that the side seam was in the center. I then cut out a rectangular shape around the image (shown by the dashed yellow lines.)
I then took the two pieces I cut out, put right sides together, pinned, and zig zag stitched them together. Flipped right side out, I have the exterior of my wallet!
Alright, moving right along (every time I hear this saying, I hear The Muppets singing in my head…), you will now take your fabric you chose for your liner and fold it right sides together. Take your bag (still wrong side out) and place it on top of the liner fabric. If you have the ability to choose where the fold of your liner fabric lies, have it lie where the bottom of your bag is; it will save you a step later on! Now simply cut out your liner in the shape of your bag.
Once your liner is cut out, simply pin the sides (and the bottom if you were unable to use the fold to your advantage) and stitch it up! DO NOT SEW THE TOP OF YOUR BAG SHUT ON ACCIDENT! I know it’s exciting when you start to sew and you can space out when you are sewing larger sections (not that I have ever done that), but make sure you are only sewing the sides and the bottom. Once you have done that, take the liner (still wrong side out) and sew the triangles on the bottom like you did with your bag. Reminder: you will take the fold (or the seam you just stitched) on the bottom of the liner and open it up, matching that seam with the side seam creating a triangle. Pin in place and sew away!
Now we are ready for some assembly! Keep your liner wrong side out, while your bag needs to be right side out. You will now place your liner inside your bag, matching up the general shape. The best way to do this is with the liner in the bag for the most part, match up the seams on the bottom and then put both of your arms in the bag. While holding on to the seams, let gravity help you by flipping the bag upside down around your arms and sort of shake it around a little bit to get settled. It sounds awkward and it pretty much is. It works though!
Alright, now that you have your liner in your bag, make sure it is in there correctly before you move on. When you look at the outside of your bag, obviously you should see the right side of your shirt fabric. When you look inside your bag, you should see the right side of the liner fabric. Good? Good.
Now then, you need to give your bag some finished edges. If you used a shirt like mine that had finished edges, you only need to worry about the liner. Otherwise, you need to finish both fabrics. To do this you simply fold in the raw edge (of the shirt, the liner, or both) towards the wrong side of the fabric, match the two finished edges of the fabric together, and pin in place.
You will then do this to the entire top of your bag. You can skip folding and pinning where you want the straps to be placed, but I find it easier to get the fabric to lay right if I just fold and pin it all at the same time and then unpin those spots later. DO NOT SEW THE TOP OF YOUR BAG YET!!! I promise we will get there soon enough.
I took this time to work on the liner for my wallet as well. I followed the same guidelines as before: placed the wallet over the liner fabric, cut out the shape, and put right sides together. I wanted a closure for my wallet though so before I stitched it shut I added some Velcro. Once I thought I had the best placement for the Velcro, I pinned it in place and stitched the perimeter (shown by those fancy dashed lines again.) Then, just like the bag, I placed right sides of the liner together once more, pinned, stitched the bottom and the sides shut, and then placed the liner within the wallet, folded the raw edges in, pinned in place, and joined them together.
Ok, now we are in the final stage! You now need to get your fabric you chose for your straps and decide the width and the length you would like. The length of the strap is solely dependent upon where you would like the bag to sit and how tall you are. The best way to make sure you like where it will wind up is by taking the fabric and hanging it over your shoulder to see what length looks good to you. Simply mark the length you like and then cut it out, taking into account to leave a little excess to attach it.
In regard to the width of the strap, to produce one that would wind up being about 1-2 inches wide (after being hemmed, folded, and sewn together) I cut these straps out to be about 5-6 inches wide. The length of the straps on this particular bag were about 35-40 inches long (again before being sewn.) Once you have established the length and width, cut two identical pieces out of your fabric.
To form the strap, you are basically going to tri-fold the fabric (think like a letter you would stick in an envelope) except you are going to add a small hem to hide the raw edge. First, lay your fabric out flat and then take one side and fold it just slightly under one third of the way in towards the center of the fabric. Next, you will take the raw edge on the opposite side of the fabric and fold it in slightly towards the center. Finally, you will take the fabric and now fold it in half so that both folded in edges match up and then pin in place! Please see the visual below for assistance!
Now you are ready to sew! When sewing the straps, make sure you hold the fabric taut to reduce any distortion or puckering.
At this point in time we are ready for the final assembly of the bag! If you have yet to decide where you would like your straps to sit on your bag, lay the bag out flat and decide where they look best. Go with the natural flow of the shirt if you are working with one similar to mine, or if you are working with a t-shirt you created the shape of, just pick a spot that looks good to you. (If you pinned these spots together before, unpin them now! It will make this step easier…)
You are now going to place the straps between the wrong side of the bag and the wrong side of the liner. Once you have positioned the strap straight and to your liking, fold the raw edges of your bag and liner under and pin once more. Check both sides of your bag to make sure that it is perfectly lined up and in the correct position before you sew!!
When placing the straps on your bag, you need to be sure that both ends of an individual strap connect to either the front OR the back of the bag, or in other words, you do not want one end of the strap connected to the back of your bag AND one end connected to the front. By connecting both ends of the strap to one side only, you ensure that when you wear the bag, any image on it is displayed correctly and a side seam is not the aspect that is facing outward. (Again, I bet you can guess how I figured this out…) You also want to make sure that the straps are not twisted!
Once you have one strap pinned in place, try your best to match the length when pinning down the other and ensure they are equal by stretching both out once you have pinned them down. The best thing to do is to try the bag on to make sure it is hanging correctly and you like how it looks before you sew!
If you are pleased with the placement and length of the straps, you are ready to sew! Simply sew along the top of your bag, being sure to hold taut to reduce any puckering and to make sure your folded edges are staying folded and matched up. Trust me, it’s a huge pain to think you are done and realized you rushed through this step and need to “touch up” little areas where they came unfolded or weren’t lined up correctly!
When you get to the part where the straps are, I highly suggest back stitching over them to help reinforce it and give it some stability.
When you finish sewing, unpin, trim up any loose threads, and you are done! You now are the proud owner of one completely original, repurposed, all-purpose, and likely very cute T-Shirt bag!