How to Turn a Feed Sack into a Grocery or Shopping Bag

How to Turn Feed Bags into Grocery Totes
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The internet is full of great ideas for upcycling feed bags - in fact, I posted links to my favorite ideas last year. But recently, when I posted a photo on Facebook and Instagram of an upcycled feed sack grocery bag I'd made, a lot of people had questions. So perhaps I have something to offer on the subject that hadn't been covered by others. Here are the questions I received and the easy sewing method I use for these upcycled bags.

What type of needle do you use?

I use a standard sewing machine needle, size 90/14. (Here's the exact size and brand I use.) A heavy-duty needle is not required, though some people I've talked to like using a needle designed for sewing denim (size 100/16). EDIT 11/13/19: I recently bumped into feed sack material that broke my standard needle. So you may wish to begin with a denim needle, just to be safe.

Do be sure to give your machine a fresh needle when you are done with this project, because it will quickly dull sewing feed sack material.

What type of thread do you use? 

I use standard, all-purpose sewing thread. (Coats and Clark.) Heavy-duty thread is not needed.
Feed sacks make durable shopping bags.

Do you use a heavy-duty machine? 

No, although admittedly my Juki has more power than an inexpensive Brother or Singer. That said, lots of people are using standard sewing machines to make similar bags, so I think it's safe to say a heavy-duty or commercial sewing machine is not necessary. Yes, the material is unusual and very strong, but it's not super-thick.

Do you use anything else special? 

After some trial and error, I discovered a walking foot made a big difference in the quality of the stitches. Without it, particularly on certain feed bags, my machine tended to have loopy-looking stitches and it wasn't always easy to get the material to run smoothly through the machine. That said, it's completely possible to use a standard sewing foot and come up with a sturdy and practical finished bag. It just won't look as tidy.

Does any feed bag work? 

I think so, but I choose to only use bags that are rip-stop. Our dog and cat food bags do not qualify, but our rabbit and chicken feed bags definitely do. (You can test your bags to see if they are rip-stop trying to rip them. 😊 )

Do you prep the bags before sewing? 

Yes! Unless you want to breathe in a bunch of feed dust and get your sewing machine filthy, you need to prep feed bags by cleaning them. I simply take mine outside and spray them with a hose, inside and out, then hang them to dry.
Feed sacks, hanging to dry.
Do you line your bags? 

No. Because I will use these mostly for groceries, and since this material can't be thrown into the washing machine, I chose not to line the bags. This way, I can wipe them down with a soapy sponge, then rinse in water to clean them.

Any other tips? 

Yes! Don't use pins for this project. You don't want to poke holes in the bag. Instead, use Wonder Clips or binder clips. (I've used both, and I prefer Wonder Clips.)

Most feed sacks work well for this project.
Also, do not use an iron on feed bag material or you'll melt the bag and ruin your iron. Instead, finger press edges; with this type of material, finger pressing is pretty easy.

Finally, do not use fabric sheers for this project! You will ruin them. Ordinary paper scissors work best. You may also use a rotary cutter, but be sure to change to a fresh blade when you are done with the project, since the material dulls blades quickly.

Is this an easy project? 

I would say this is an easy project if you have machine-sewing skills. If you're a total newbie, it's going to be more challenging, but I think it's do-able.

The most difficult and time-consuming part of the project is, in my opinion, the handles. This is why so many Internet instructions explain how to make the handles from something else - like store-bought webbing designed for bag handles. I didn't want to buy anything to make these bags; I wanted them completely upcycled. But if you prefer, you may certainly substitute other types of handles.

How to Turn a Feed Bag into a Grocery or Shopping Bag 

You will need: 

feed bag
sewing machine and thread
ruler or seam gauge
yardstick or quilter's ruler
Sharpie and pencil
office (paper) scissors or rotary cutter

1. Cut off the bottom end of sack, just above the line of stitches. Discard the bottom.

Cut off the bottom of the feed sack.
2. I make my bags 19.5 inches tall. (This allows room for a hem at the bottom and top of the finished bag.) Decide what part of the graphics you want to show on your bag, and cut off the bottom and/or top accordingly. Reserve the scraps.
Trimming the top of the sack.
3. To sew the bottom of the bag, method 1 (probably easier for beginners): Turn the feed bag inside out. With the right sides of the bag together, sew the bottom of the bag using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Sew another row of stitching right next to the first line, to make the bottom of the bag stronger.

To sew the bottom of the bag, method 2 (looks nicer): With the wrong sides of the bag together, sew a 1/4 inch seam along the bottom. To ensure a stronger bag, sew another row of stitching right next to the first one, a little closer to the raw edge.

Two rows of stitching secure the bottom of a French-seamed bag.
Turn the bag inside out. With right sides together press the bottom seam flat with your fingers. Sew a slightly generous 1/4 inch seam along the bottom of the bag. This creates a French seam, which looks tidier when the bag is finished.
The French seam when it is done. No raw edges are exposed.
4. Finger press the top of the bag down 1/4 inch to the wrong side of the bag. Use Wonder Clips or binder clips to hold in place.
Pressing and holding down the bag's top hem.
Now finger press the top of the bag down again, just slightly more than 1/4 inch. Use clips to hold in place. Stitch close to the fold farthest from the top of the bag.

5. This step is tricky to describe, but easy to do. We want the bottom of the bag to be "boxed" so it sits up all by itself and holds more groceries. To accomplish this: Place the bag so the bottom seam sits on a tabletop, then reach one hand inside the bag and push out the bottom corners.

Push out the bag's corners.
With your other hand, flatten the pushed-out corner. The bag should look like this:

6. Use a ruler and pencil to mark a seam on each corner. I like mine to measure 2.5 inches from the point. Stitch. For extra durability, stitch another seam very close to the first. Trim the seam to about 1/4 inch from the stitching line. Turn the bag right side out.
Measure from the point of the corner.
Stitch twice, then trim off the corners.
The ]inside of the bag when you're done sewing the corners.

7. Use the scrap material to make handles. I make mine 2 5/8 inches wide and 21 inches long. I use a ruler and a Sharpie to mark the material, then cut out the handles with paper scissors, but you may certainly use a rotary cutter, if you prefer. (When the bag is complete, you will not see any marks the Sharpie left behind.)

8. Finger press a scant 1/4 inch on each long side of each handle.
Wonder clips hold the pressed edges of a handle in place.
9. Finger press each handle in half, lengthwise, lining up the folded edges. Use clips to hold in place.
Fold the handle in half lengthwise, so the folded-under edges meet.
10. Along the edge of each handle, where you've just folded under the edges 1/4 inch, sew about 1/8 inch away from the edge. Repeat on the opposite, long side of the handle.
Top: A handle held in place for stitching, using Wonder Clips. Bottom: Both long edges of the handle, stitched.

11. Fold the top of the bag flat and measure 5 inches from either side. Mark these spots with clips.

12. Place one handle inside the bag and butt one unfinished, short end up against the top hem of the bag. Stitch in place using a 1/4 inch seam. Repeat with the opposite side of the handle.
Butt the end of a handle against the finished top hem of the bag and stitch in place.
13. Flip the handle up, so that it's loop is above the top of the bag (as it will be when you use it). Stitch the bottom of the handles to the bag by sewing a line of stitches that is rectangular in shape, then sew from one corner of the square to the opposite corner, until the square has an X in its center. Repeat for the opposite end of the handle.
A rectangle with a cross in it firmly holds the handles in place.
14. Repeat steps 11 - 13 for the second handle.

The finished bag!

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