How to make a canvas bag

Forget about “Paper or plastic?” It’s time to make your own canvas shopping bag.

Materials: We used unbleached cotton canvas, which you can buy or order at your local fabric store. Organic cotton would be even cooler. We used oil-based ink, because we wanted to make bags that people could machine-wash. Non-toxic ink would be even cooler.


  1. Cutting the cloth: The cloth comes folded in half. Cut a 23″ wide piece of the folded cloth. Cut a 4″x5.5″ rectangle out of each of the two corners of the cloth that are along the fold. The 5.5″ side of the rectangle is parallel to the fold.

    Now, unfold the cloth.

  2. Printing your design: We used a linoleum block.

  3. After the printed image has dried, fold the cloth “inside out,” so that the image is not visible.

  4. Sew the edges together that will be the sides of the bag. Don’t sew the part where you cut out the little rectangles. I used a flat-felled seam (howto sew it) with a 1/2″ seam allowance.

  5. Turn the bag right-side out. There will be three holes: one at the top, and two in what should be the bottom. Pin the cloth of each bottom hole together and sew. I used a 1/4″ seam allowance. (In the first picture I’ve added some small pleats to make the two sides line up properly.)

  6. Turn the bag inside out. Push out the bottom as much as you can. Sew along what were the holes, again. I used a 3/8″ seam allowance. The raw edge will be hidden inside this seam.

  7. The top edge of the bag should be the finished edge of the cloth, so you don’t have to hem it. But I did. Fold the top over 1″, pin, and sew to make a simple hem.

  8. From your bolt of folded-over cloth, cut a 4″ width. Cut this in half by length to make two pieces, each 4″x?”.
  9. Fold each of these in half by width. Press the crease with your fingers. You could pin it, but you don’t have to. Sew the two edges together to make a tube. I used a 1/4″ seam allowance.

  10. Turn each tube inside-out. This may take a minute. Press flat with your fingers. Sew along the first seam. I used a 1/4″ seam allowance. This will keep the tube flat.

  11. The two tubes are the two handles of the bag. I folded one end of the tube about 1″, then sewed it inside the bag, stitching a big square with an X inside. Then I sewed on the other side of the handle. If you don’t like where you sewed on the handle, you can remove the stitches and try again.

Now you have a canvas bag.

Mike Baxter once wrote:

Liberals say: “Hey! The homeless aren’t being fed. Let’s march on City Hall.” Radicals say, “The homeless aren’t being fed. Let’s feed them.”

Liberals say: There are too many plastic bags, so let’s tax them. Radicals say: There are too many plastic bags, so let’s make a bunch of cloth bags and give them away.

Our friends helped us make dozens of bags, and we held a bag giveaway at our local supermarket. We had to contact people up the store’s corporate ladder to get permission, but they were all enthusiastic about the idea. The local paper ran a short article annoucing the giveaway, and people showed up that morning brandishing the article.

Several people who took a bag told us: “Everyone in Europe uses cloth bags.” I look forward to the day that people can say the same thing about Worcester.

Customer Robert F. Kelly and Big Y employee Julianne Thomas display a bag.

Mary Wernholme.

See also: How to Knit a Plastic Bag

If you found part of this “howto” confusing, please post a comment, and I’ll clarify the step.

60 thoughts on “How to make a canvas bag”

  1. Instead of cutting the long side of the rectangle cut-out at 5.5″, if you cut it at 4.75″ the sides of the bottom match up perfectly without having to make pleats.

    Thanks for the directions, fun and easy to make!

  2. I am housewife started work steching bags at home I am searching canvas cloth for doing for bags, can you help for doing the sam.e

  3. I think this is an excellent and mostly very clearly-written tutorial.

    For the people confused about the bottom corners…
    The sides (perpendicular to the folded bottom) are sewn first.

    Then fold it the other direction, so the (outside of the) bottom fold (which will now be open) lines up along (the outside of) that side seam you just sewed. (The outside of the bag is on the inside of your work in progress.)
    If you’ve cut the pieces out of the bottom to be a 4″ square, instead of the rectangle the directions say, this should match up exactly.

    Sew that short seam, on both sides. (No, you probably don’t want to pin them both at once, though it’s possible to do.)
    This becomes the depth of your bag. For a 4″ square, you’ll probably end up with a 7″ deep bag.

  4. Also, I’ve found it easier to sew the handles on with the fabric flat, before starting the side seams.

    Mark the middle of the top edge (just put a pin there), measure an equal distance toward both sides (maybe 4″ to the outside of the straps? play with it) & a couple inches down, then mark where to put the straps & sew them on.
    Definitely make a box & an X for strength.
    That shouldn’t interfere with the side seams, because the handles poke out the top of the bag.

    A different way to do the straps (instead of sewing the long side & turning them) is to press to find the center (as described), then fold the edges in – could go to the center to make it easy (but then your straps will only be 1″, so start with a wider cut) or you could just fold them under 0.5″. Sew the open side.

  5. Sorry, not a 4″ square. 4″ x 4.5″ (4.5″ parallel to the fold), with a 0.5″ seam allowance would end up with a 4″ square hole.

  6. Anyone who’s still confused about the bottom corners, if you google “how to box the bottom of a bag”, there’s a load of drawn, written and video tutorials that will explain it to you. If you don’t get it with the first one you look at, keep looking – once the penny drops and you understand it, it’s very simple.

  7. What size was your canvas. Ours is 60″ wide so cutting just the width
    would make a very deep bag

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