For the last few years, I’ve been working to replace wrapping paper with reusable gift bags for Christmas and Birthday gifts.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to make a fabric drawstring gift bag (both lined and unlined) – without measuring! This is an easy sewing project, perfect for beginners.
You don’t measure your wrapping paper before you wrap a present, do you? So let’s make whipping up diy gift bags just as easy as wrapping a present the conventional way.
The best part is that the more bags you make in different sizes, the less prep, wrapping, and bag-making you have to do next year. You’ll end up with a stash of easy to grab for gift bags in all shapes and sizes!
Of course, you will give some bags away when you give gifts to people outside your home but I love the idea that they will reuse them too and I’m inadvertently cutting down on their wrapping paper use too!
P.S. you’ll find printable directions and a video tutorial at the end of this post!
Table of contents
- Supply List
- How to Make a Fabric Gift Bag
- Step 1: Estimating your fabric requirements
- Step 2: Topstitching the Top of the Bag (unlined version only)
- Step 3: Making your Drawstring Casing
- Step 4: Attaching your Drawstring Casing
- Step 5: Sewing Your Bag Together!
- Step 6: Adding your Drawstring
- Finished! Fabric Drawstring Gift Bags with No Measuring!
- Video Tutorial
- Top Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Printable Instructions
- Other Projects you Might Like
- Fabric – you can use quilting cotton, old clothing, old duvet covers, upholstery weight fabric – anything that you can cut with a rotary cutter and sew with your sewing machine! (See below about how to eyeball the size you need depending on the gift you are wrapping).
- A strip of fabric the same length as the width of your bag unsewn (see tutorial below and this will all make sense). The strip of fabric should be roughly between 2″ – 4″ wide unsewn, but don’t stress about that measurement – just estimate. A
- Long ribbon, twine or a fabric selvedge edge (for the drawstring tie).
- Safety pin & Chopstick or Bodkin Threader
How to Make a Fabric Gift Bag
Below you will find all the supplies and instructions you need to make quick and easy handmade gift bags.
Step 1: Estimating your fabric requirements
So there are two ways you can make these bags:
- base the size on a particular gift you need to wrap
- make bags out of leftover fabric and worry about what gift goes inside them later
The second option is pretty self-explanatory and doesn’t require any other estimating – so if that is what you are going to do go ahead and skip to the next step.
To figure out what size to cut your fabric for a particular gift this is what I do:
Pull out holiday fabric or other fabric remnants, anything from fat quarters to large scraps or even a yard of fabric if your gift is super big.
You can make these bags by folding one piece of fabric in half or using one piece for the front and one for the back.
So either fold your fabric or put your ‘front’ fabric down and place your gift on top.
Consider the depth of your gift. How many fingers deep is it (roughly)?
Try to make sure there is enough fabric on either side of your gift (when sat on top of the fabric) for not only your 1/4″ seam allowance but also for the depth of the gift.
So if your gift is 2 fingers deep (a book for example) then add at least 2 fingers width on either side of the book. More is fine too if you want to be sure.
Also, consider how tall your gift is in comparison to your fabric. You’ll be adding a drawstring casing roughly a quarter of the way down your bag – give or take – so there needs to be a bit of space above your gift before the casing would start too.
Learn to eyeball this and trust yourself!
When you are happy with the size cut away any excess fabric or any ragged bits on the top or bottom of your fabric (I’m not measuring here I’m just making sure the front and back of my folded fabric is roughly the same size to start off with.
For an unlined bag: either fold one piece of fabric and cut both sides the same as each other or cut a ‘back panel’ to match the size of your ‘front’ panel.
For a lined gift bag: either cut 2 folded pieces of fabric to the same size as each other or cut 4 panels – two for the outside of the bag and 2 for the lining.
I used some thin polycotton dachshund fabric for the front panels of two lined bags and the back panel and inner fabric were cut from some of my husband’s old shirts.
I love using upcycled materials like shirts and old denim jeans for all sorts of sewing projects including these diy fabric gift bags. You could even use Christmas quilt blocks as the outside fabric for your bags, like these cute Christmas Tree Quilt Blocks.
Again I didn’t measure – I just used the edges of my top panel as a pattern piece for the other panels.
For both: If you are using separate panels instead of a folded piece of fabric then sew the outside of your bag right sides together along one of the long edges before moving to the next step. (See below for sewing your lining if you are using one).
Step 2: Topstitching the Top of the Bag (unlined version only)
If you are going for an unlined bag, the next step is to hide the raw edge at the top of your bag.
To do this you want to fold over the top edge twice to hide the raw edge inside.
Again we are not measuring, you can make this tiny or somewhat chunky – it’s up to you (see photos for a rough guide).
You can watch the whole process in the video at the end of this post too if you aren’t sure what I mean here!
Press the first fold and then fold again and press again. The only thing you want to check is that the fold is roughly the same width all the way along your piece of fabric.
Next, take it to the machine and ‘topstitch’ it on the bottom fold line – but do this wrong side of the fabric up – so topstitching on the back essentially. I do this from the back so I can make sure I am catching the folded fabric in my stitches. I use a 3.5 stitch length.
Note: if you are going to line your bag – skip this step!
Step 3: Making your Drawstring Casing
Next, you need to find a long strip of fabric (or you can piece two together if needed).
It should be the same length as the width of your bag.
Note: at this stage, the outside of your bag is not sewn together at both edges yet. If you are using a folded piece of fabric it should be unfolded for this. If you have pieced the front and back they should be lying flat on your cutting mat as one piece.
A leftover jelly roll strip is perfect for this but if you have a strip that is a little skinnier or thicker than that – that’s fine too!
This strip of fabric will be visible on the outside of your bag as it is the drawstring casing – so make sure it coordinates with your main fabric.
Hide the raw edge on either end of your strip (the short ends!) by folding over twice and stitching along the fold (same process as Step 2 above).
Again no need to measure but you are probably safe to make these folds slightly smaller than the ones in Step 2 above.
When you have done that, sew the whole strip to itself wrong sides to wrong sides using a 1/4 seam along the long raw edge. Backstitch at both ends.
One that is sewn, bring your strip to your pressing matt or ironing board and pinch the strip so that the seam is at the back and the ‘pretty’ side is to the front. Then press.
You can press the seam open or to the side, it doesn’t matter. It just needs to be hidden at the back of the casing.
Step 4: Attaching your Drawstring Casing
This step is the same whether you are making a lined or unlined bag.
Lay your prepared drawstring casing seam side down on top of your bag fabric.
Usually, I do this a little less than a quarter of the way up but I also often use the gift I am wrapping as a guide. To do this place your gift back on top of your bag and make sure there is room for your seam allowance at the bottom and a bit of ‘breathing room’ at the top. This is not an exact science – just learn to trust your gut.
Once I’m happy with the position of my casing, I check with my fingers or my whole hand how far away the top edge of the casing is from the top of the bag.
I then use that rough hand ‘measurement as a guide when I am sewing the drawstring casing in place.
I topstitch at the top edge of the casing first and then on the bottom edge. I use a 3.5 stitch length and I backstitch at both ends.
Step 5: Sewing Your Bag Together!
Unlined Drawstring Bag Instructions
For an unlined bag all you need to do is fold your bag fabric together – right sides to right sides – and sew down the side seam and bottom of the bag with a 1/4 seam.
You can choose to tidy up the inside of your bag by doing french seams or using a zig-zag stitch, adding gusseted corners, or even just clipping your corners before turning it right side out – I don’t do any of that.
It is a gift bag – they’ll be looking at the gift, not inspecting the inside of the bag!
If you want to hide your seams, the easier way is to add a lining – see below.
Lined Drawstring Bag Instructions
For a lined bag, you will want to sew the outside of your bag together as described in the unlined instructions first.
Next, you will sew your lining fabric – again right sides to right sides – along both side edges and along the bottom – but you will want to leave a 3″ turning gap along the bottom seam. So back stitch at either edge of that turning gap.
Then you are going to turn your outer bag fabric right side out and put it inside your lining which you are going to leave inside out – so the two layers will be touching each other right sides to right sides.
Line up the side seams for the lining and the outside of the bag then sew the two layers together using a 1/4 seam allowance.
Pull the outside of your bag out through the turning gap and turn everything right-side out.
Fold in the raw edges of your turning gap and sew in place to close the gap – backstitch at both ends.
Then tuck the lining into your bag and topstitch (3.5 stitch length) around the top of the bag to give it a finishing touch.
Step 6: Adding your Drawstring
Next, you just need to find something to be your ribbon drawstring and feed it through your casing.
I say ‘something’ because I often use thin offcuts of fabric and selvage edges if I don’t have a piece of ribbon long enough!
Remember that your drawstring needs to be longer than the width of the entire bag BEFORE it gets scrunched closed. This is so that you don’t lose the ends of your drawstring inside the casing when your recipient opens your bag.
The well-known trick is to use a safety pin attached to the end of the ribbon and feed that through the casing.
I find this fiddly, so I like to help my safety pin along by pushing it in as far as I can with a chopstick.
For a drawstring bag, this won’t go all the way around but it can get my ribbon halfway through and then I only have to fiddle with the safety pin for half of it!
See video below if you don’t know how to do this part!
Finished! Fabric Drawstring Gift Bags with No Measuring!
I love making these fabric bags and I love giving gifts in them.
I also love whipping something up quickly without measuring or stressing and have it still turn out looking great.
Below you can see the back and the inside of the lined bag – the back panel and lining are from three different men’s shirts.
I think these handmade gift bags are a great way of using up leftover Christmas Fabric or other fabrics that have ended up in your stash that you don’t know what to do with.
And remember you don’t need to use quilting fabric, I’ve made bags like this using upholstery fabric, upcycled clothing, and old duvet covers and they look just as good!
- If you are having trouble feeding through the drawstring ribbon you might want to try a special tool called a bodkin that many people find useful for this.
- You can embellish your drawstring fabric bag with a pretty bow, a personalized applique name or a handmade gift tag.
- If you are making a very large gift bag you can consider boxing the bottom corners to give it a flatter bottom (similar to what you would do if you were making a large tote bag).
Frequently Asked Questions
If you have small gifts that need a smaller size bag, you can absolutely make these easy gift bags as small as you like.
Use the same intuitive measuring technique I used above but perhaps consider a different closure method if it feels like the bag is too small for a drawstring. You could use a snap, a button and a loop, or just tie a ribbon around the top of the bag.
A little gift bag can be great for small gifts like a gift card, jewelry, or money.
If you would prefer handles for your bag you can skip the drawstring closure step and use some bag webbing to attach handles approximately 2″ down from the top of your bag.
Yes of course! If it is made with cotton fabric you can definitely wash it. The first time you wash it consider using a color catcher to avoid color bleed in your washing machine.
Some fabrics may shrink slightly with washing and drying but most will not shrink a large amount.
I hope you love making these Christmas gift bags, below you will find handy instructions you can print out to reference later.
How to make a simple drawstring bag - either lined or unlined - with no measuring! Great for Christmas Gifts or Birthday Gifts, reusable and fun to make.
- Christmas Fabric (or any other type you like!)
- Leftover Jelly Roll Strip
- Long piece of Ribbon
- Additional fabric for lining if desired.
- Sewing Machine
- Rotary Cutter
- Safety Pin
- Chopstick (optional)
- Fold one piece of fabric in half or cut two pieces of fabric the same size.
- Estimate the needed width and height for your gift.
- Hide the raw edge at the top of your bag by folding the edge over twice and topstitching (unlined version)
- Create your drawstring casing from a strip of fabric the same width as.your bag (unsewn)
- Fold in the raw edges of the casing and topstitch.
- Fold the casing in half wrong sides to wrong sides and sew at the raw edge using a 1/4 seam.
- Iron casing flat with right side up and seam to the back.
- Use your fingers to estimate the distance between the casing and the top of the bag.
- Topstitch in place at the top and bottom edges of our casing.
- Close your bag by sewing along the long side and the bottom edge with a 1/4 seam.
- For a lined drawstring bag - don't topstitch the raw edge at the top. Instead, make a lining the same size as the outside of your bag.
- Leave a turning gap in the lining and place the outside of the bag inside the lining right sides together.
- Sew the two layers together along the unfinished edges then turn right side out.
- Close the turning gap by machine sewing or hand sewing.
- Topstitch along the top of the bag to finish.
- For both methods feed your ribbon drawstring through the casing and. you are done!
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