Early in January, just after we took down the Christmas tree, I got out my stash of Christmas fabric and made gift bags. We have been using fabric gift bags for the presents under our tree for several years, ever since I bought some from a friend who had a business making bags. She even made little felt initials for the children to attach to the bags.
We never quite had enough and last Christmas I counted the number of presents that had had to be wrapped in the traditional way using paper. I decided to try for a zero waste Christmas 2018 and resolved to make us more bags, even though the cat is quite fond of the tissue paper.
I guess you could say I’ve had a mental block about making these bags, since some of the fabric is left over from a set of napkins I made for my mother in 1993. The mistake I was making all these years was to try to make them before Christmas. I always feel like an idiot doing Christmas crafts in October (besides, I’m making Hallowe’en costumes then), and by the time I get to November I’m marking essays and starting the Christmas cake. December is right out. If it’s not a gift, I’m not sewing it.
But January was the perfect time. The kids were back at school and the winter sunshine was streaming in the window. Time to invest in a waste-free Christmas 2018.
Another approach is to wrap all the presents in festive tea towels, if you don’t want the work of sewing bags. Use one like this, tie it up with ribbon, and there you go. The serious advantage of the bags, however, is that wrapping becomes almost no effort on one of those evenings in the week before Christmas.
I made five bags out of random bits of fabric. I used them as a bit of a practice session for French seams, but I didn’t get too perfectionist. They are only gift bags, after all.
French seams are a good way to bind your seams if you don’t have a serger, which I don’t. I don’t like fraying fabric on internal seams. I made PJs for the kids for the first time this Christmas, and used French seams on those too. But I always need more practice.
To make a French seam, put your fabric wrong sides together. Stitch as closely as you can to the edge of the fabric, perhaps 5-7 mm, or 1/4 inch. (Frustrated note here: most patterns sold in Canada give yardage and other measurements in Imperial, but fabric in Canada is sold by the metre. I’m always converting. It’s good for the brain, I suppose). Once you’ve finished your seam, trim the edge so you have as little fabric as possible. Iron the wrong side of the fabric to flatten the seam, then fold the fabric right sides together and iron the seam that way.
Sew a new seam with a sufficient seam allowance that all of the fabric from the first seam is enclosed. Now both the outside and the inside of your little bag look nice.
I put a ribbon drawstring at the top of my bags. I ironed a little fold into the top of the bag and stitched it down, then folded it over again to make a slot wide enough for my ribbon to be threaded through. In some of the bags I made the top of the bag first and then did the side and bottom seams, and in some I did it the other way around. It was easier for me to do the top first.
And a little tip, if you have a selvedge you don’t need to worry about finishing the seam first. I didn’t care about grain for these little bags, so on this bag the selvedge ended up at the top. And on this bag, the selvedge was at the side and I didn’t have to make this bit into a French seam.
Then, once my knots were tied and my threads were snipped, I got out my little ribbon stash and threaded the ribbon through the top of the bags. The best part of this was using a bodkin. It’s like a large needle except the eye goes all the way from top to bottom. I bought one years ago, and it’s very handy when drawstrings bury themselves deep into clothing. I do love a specialized vocabulary, and textiles have a lot to offer: bodkin, selvedge, grain…
I didn’t get ambitious and make a channel for the ribbon so I would get a charming frill at the top. I just made plain old drawstring bags. Maybe next time I’ll use the bag-making session as as a tutorial, not on French seams, but on fancy bag closures.
And there will be a next time. I’m planning on making non-Christmas themed bags for birthday presents too. I am motivated by considerations of zero waste, but I am also motivated by the horrible gift-wrapping corner in my basement. I tidy it and tidy it, and it always reverts to chaos. I realize blogs often show an idealized version of life, but this is reality. It’s definitely worth a few hours of sewing to get rid of this lot.