How to make quick and easy fabric gift bags

by Debbie Sullivan December 19, 2017

How to make quick and easy fabric gift bags

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!

1. Gather all the supplies you'll need

You'll need:

  • fabric
  • 1/4" wide ribbon
  • sewing thread
  • pins
  • scissors
  • seam ripper
  • small safety pin
  • measuring tape
  • ruler
  • pencil or chalk for marking fabric
  • iron

materials to make fabric gift bags

2. Measure your gifts

measuring gift to be wrapped

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. 

3. Cut your fabric

measuring fabric to cut

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). 

4. Sew the side and bottom seams

pin side and bottom seams

Fold your fabric in half width-wise, and pin it along one side and the bottom. 

seam with 1/2 allowance

Sew along these two edges leaving approximately a 1/2" seam allowance. Remember that these seams don't need to be perfect!

5. Make casing for ribbon

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.

Open side seam

Fold down approximately 1/2" of fabric around the top of the bag and iron it flat. 

Casing for ribbon

Then fold the top over one more time, hiding the cut edge and creating the casing for your ribbon, and iron it again. 

Casing pinned and ready to sew

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. 

casing seam

6. Insert ribbon

opening casing for ribbon

Using a seam ripper or small sharp scissors, cut open the stitching at the side seam above the casing seam. 

cut ribbon for drawstring

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. 

Ribbon inserted into casing for drawstring

7. Wrap your gift!

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. 

Inserting book into bag

finished reusable fabric gift bag



Things to keep in mind:

  • These bags will most likely only be used once a year, and no one will be critiquing your sewing. Don't worry too much about being precise or exact. 
  • Drawstring bags work best for relatively small and flat gifts. If your gift is large or oddly shaped you may need to add extra fabric to accommodate it. 
  • The amount of fabric and ribbon you need will of course depend on how many presents you're wrapping and how big they are! I usually end up using 1-2 metres a year for all my gifts.
  • You might not be able to transition to all fabric wrapping all at once, depending on the size of your family. Try making a few each year, and eventually you'll have enough of a collection that you'll only need fresh ones for those pesky large or oddly shaped ones!



Debbie Sullivan
Debbie Sullivan


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