Several years ago, I decided that it was time for me to stop using wrapping paper for my Christmas gifts. We usually celebrate as a family at my parents' place, and wrapping paper isn't recyclable in their municipality - in fact it's not recyclable in many places, and it's not a good idea to burn it in the wood stove either, due to its high ink content. We would often end up with several bags full of paper by the time we were done our unwrapping, and most of it would eventually wind up at the local dump.
I thought about a few different options for substitutes, but I really wanted to find a way to change this habit without sacrificing the excitement of waking up to a pile of colourful parcels under the tree on Christmas morning.
So, when I realized that the local fabric store always carries Christmas prints at this time of year, I decided that fabric bags would be the way to go. I've been making bags for all my presents since then, and every year I leave them with my parents after the holidays, to be re-used by the whole family for the following year's gifts. We've now accumulated enough of them that I don't expect there will be any paper-wrapped gifts at all under our tree this year.
This is my quick-and-easy method for making draw-string gift bags. Since they're only used once a year I don't bother to finish the seams perfectly or measure everything precisely - I usually need to save as much crafting time as possible for gift knitting!
To calculate the sizing of your gift bag, you'll need to measure all the way around your gift in both directions. I've used this book (destined to be given to my boyfriend's cousin) as an example. It measured 10" around the short side, and 16" around the long side.
Next you'll need to calculate how big your piece of fabric needs to be for the bag. For this type of drawstring bag it's better to make the opening along the shortest side, so we'll calculate the fabric dimension as follows:
Take the shorter of the two dimensions you measured (in my case 10") and add 3 to 4". This is the width of the fabric you'll cut for your bag (13" for my book bag).
Then take the longer dimension (in my case 16"), divide it by 2, and then add 3 to 4". This is the height of the fabric you'll need for your bag (11" for my book bag).
Fold your fabric in half width-wise, and pin it along one side and the bottom.
Sew along these two edges leaving approximately a 1/2" seam allowance. Remember that these seams don't need to be perfect!
Open out the top of the side seam, and iron flat the first 2-3". You can iron open all your seams if you like, but it's not really necessary.
Fold down approximately 1/2" of fabric around the top of the bag and iron it flat.
Then fold the top over one more time, hiding the cut edge and creating the casing for your ribbon, and iron it again.
Pin the casing in place and sew all the way around, about 1/8" from the inside folded edge. I like to start and finish at the side seam, and reverse over it once or twice to make sure it's well secured.
Using a seam ripper or small sharp scissors, cut open the stitching at the side seam above the casing seam.
Cut a length of ribbon about 4 to 6" longer than the circumference of your bag. Pin your safety pin to one end, and use the pin to help feed the ribbon through the casing. Turn the bag right-side out.
You should now have a drawstring bag just the right size for your gift. Insert the gift, pull the ends of the ribbon tight, and tie them in a bow. I like to make gift tags with a little square of cardstock. I punch a hole in one corner using a hole punch, and thread it onto one end of the ribbon before tying my bow.