Storing your beautifully crafted homemade (or local bakery) bread in a linen or cotton bag is a great way to protect and prolong it.
Bread will keep fresher for longer kept in a bag, as it’s protected from the light, cocooned away from strong smells and drying atmosphere and the woven fabric allows the bread to breathe.
Wood, metal or plastic bins are fine if your bread is eaten exceptionally quickly and you are fastidious with cleaning. Bread has a high moisture content and is prone to mould gathering, so a sealed environment like a traditional bread bin (whatever material) is a petri dish environment as the moisture cannot escape.
A linen or cotton bread bag allows the moisture from the bread to wick away more and therefore reduces the chances of mould growing. And you can just throw it in the washing machine easily (just remember to tip out the crumbs first…).
There are plenty of bread bags to buy – typically, they’re at least £8 and often much more each. I’d be willing to bet you already have the items at home to make your own for zero money and just a little effort.
Most of us will have bought or been given more tote bags than we can handle. They’re often given out like sweeties at food & drink events or exhibitions and if you have student-age children they seem to be given them at an alarming rate. Here’s how to quickly, cheaply and usefully convert a canvas tote into a bread bag!
Ideally, use a sewing machine for neat and speedy stitching, but as this is such a little project you can sew by hand if you don’t have a machine.
- If you don’t have a stitch ripper, you can make do with some small sharp scissors or a craft bread, but I’d highly recommend you get one. They’re so cheap and are useful in a lot of ways!
- If you only have thin cord/yarn at home and don’t want to buy more, you can do a three (or more) strand plait to thicken it so it can be a suitable drawstring. Just remember the FINAL length of this plaited drawstring needs to be 3 x the width of the bag so you’ll need to start with yarn that is much longer
- If you have thick cord or rope, first thread a thin piece of string using a bodkin/safety pin and then tie this to the thick piece to drag it through
Assumptions – so you don’t get bored of me repeating myself, I am going to make the following assumptions of working process while making this bag:
- that you firmly secure the start and end of each piece of stitching. If you’re hand sewing this means a good knot at the beginning and oversewing and/or knotting-off at the end. If you’re using a sewing machine this means backstitching by reversing over the last few stitches a couple of times to secure the thread (both at the start and the end of the stitch line)
- that you snip off and tidy up all loose ends of threads as you go along (not only should you do this to make the bag neater, it reduces the chances of them catching or getting in the way as you work)
- that you tidy up and remove all the little leftover bits of thread from the original stitching after using the stitch ripper
- that you’re careful when using a stitch ripper/scissors/craft knife, especially so if you’re supervising a child doing this project
- One new (or washed and ironed) canvas tote bag
- Cord, thin rope or cotton ribbon for the drawstring (whatever you have to spare, or wish to buy new). This needs to be 3 times the width of the tote bag, for example my tote is 37cm / 14.5″ so my cord is 130cm / 43″ (See notes above but if you have a thick rope, also use a thin piece of yarn as a guidepiece first)
- Stitch ripper or set of small sewing scissors or craft knife
- Thread in the colour of the tote (or use a contrast colour)
- Sewing machine or hand needles
- Dressmaking pins (if you feel you need them: they’re not essential here)
- Dressmaking scissors or a good pair of snips
- You may also need something to help you thread the cord/ribbon through: a bodkin, a large safety pin or something like a long skewer or knitting needle
- An iron and ironing board
What we’re aiming to in stages here is to:
- carefully remove the handles, and discard these
- transform the top hem into one long pocket, with an opening on only one side of the bag
- re-sew the seam on one side of the bag so it means the hem ‘pocket’ spans the whole of the top of the bag
- keep the other side of the bag open, so a ‘drawstring’ can be used to close and tie the bag
- feed a drawstring through the top hem
- tidy up and iron the bag so it’s nice and smart for its first use
The first thing to do is unpick the stitches where the handles are attached to the bag – this is almost always sewn as a ‘cross in a box’, as below:
This image shows one handle with this stitching unpicked, and one left to complete. Make sure you unpick all four handles:
Normally on these tote bags there are two hem stitching lines, they are there to a) help hold the handles in and b) to create a neat finish to the bag. You need to unpick both these stitching lines around where the four handles were sewn in – around 3 cm on either side of each handle. However, if you think this is easier, unpick the whole hemline all across the top of the bag (we will be sewing this all up later)
Now you’ve unpicked the handles and (part of or all of) the two hems, discard the handles
Unpick both side seams part way. You don’t need to unpick the whole side – 5 – 10 cm of unpicking is sufficient. One side will be re-sewn and one side will form the opening for the drawstring
On one side, the plan is to sew the bag together so that the top hem creates this pocket for the drawstring. Before you unpicked the side, you will have noticed that the bag was sewn up in a way that the drawstring couldn’t have been threaded all the way across the bag. You need to sew up one side seam so it’s as if the bag is one piece of fabric, not two and fold and sew the hem back over….
Unfold the hems on both sides of the unpicked seam and keep these unfolded
Position the two sides of the bag together, using the original creases as a guide. One side hem is folded over and one ‘opened out’ on top of the first (see photo below ). Make sure the sides are aligned to ensure the bag is sewn straight and that it’s sides don’t doesn’t bulge or go askew
Pin the hems down to stop them moving and then sew this up, as close to the edge of the bag as possible. The end result should look as it does in this photo, one line of stitching part way down the bag:
The top hem now needs folding over in the same way as the rest of the hem. Fold this over using the original creases and sew along the top and bottom seams, matching in with the existing sewing line, so your new stitches are perfectly matched in
This side is complete
On the other side seam, we need to fold over each side and secure them without sewing them together
Unfold the top hem on this side seam too
Fold over the side seams on both sides, pin in place (if you need to) and sew along each seam to close them
Fold over the hems (using the original crease), pin in place if you need to and sew the top and bottom hemlines. You MUST make sure that you do not sew the end edge of the hem: this needs to be kept open so you can insert the drawstring. In the image below I’ve inserted a dowel rod, just to illustrate the point that this should be kept open
The last bit of sewing to do is to make sure that you’ve sewn the top and bottom hemlines back up all along the top hem. Just check in case you missed any that you’d unpicked earlier around the handles
Check the bag over and de-fluff any bits of loose thread from unpicking and snip off any ends of yarn from your sewing
Iron your bag now (you won’t be able to iron the hem once you’ve got the drawstring in). Use a high steam setting (or spritz with water first if you don’t have a steam iron). The steam heat will make taught the weave of the fabric, which will help hide any of those original sewing holes (from where you had unpicked earlier around the handles). Of course, it will also make your new bread bag look very neat
Put a simple overhand knot in one end of your drawstring. [However, if you’re using a very thin material you may want to do a few knots or thread it through a large bead or similar)
Thread the other end all the way through the hem ‘pocket’
If you are finding this tricky and have a heavy drawstring, such as a cord, use a thin piece first. Thread this through using a bodkin or safety pin, then tie it to the rope and drag that through
A thinner material, such as a ribbon, should go through easily using a bodkin or pin a large safety pin as a guide. The larger size of the bodkin/pin means that you can push it through the hem
Tie off the other end of your drawstring in the same manner as before – your bread bag is done
You may now need to go make a lovely loaf to make the most of your new bread bag. Why not try some of the bread recipes within Ink Sugar Spice: