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Make a Tote Bag From An Old Grain Sack

A long-time crafter, Dolores has created sewing projects for private clients, including pillow covers, linen pillow cases, and sink skirts.

Grain sack tote bags

Grain sack tote bags

Easy Sewing Project

If you like an easy sewing project and enjoy creating handmade gifts by recycling vintage fabrics this project is great. Below find instructions on how to make a simple tote bag.

I saw a huge pile of old grain sacks at an antique store and found it hard to resist buying a few as I love old textiles. Grain sacks can be utilized to upholster chairs, make pillows, or used as curtains and tablecloths.

I decided to make some tote bags with the grain sacks. They are certainly too long to use as they are! If you want to make a tote bag, or reusable grocery bag out of these vintage grain sacks, beware - if washed the print may fade. They must be dry cleaned. But stains and wear add to the authentic look of the piece.

I chose 3 different brands of grain sacks - a Chase A Seamless Extraquality bag, a Fulton Seamless, and a Bemis Extra Heavy Seamless bag.

Bemis Extra Heavy Seamless burlap sacks have been in use since Judson Bemis founded his company in 1858. The large bags have been used for cotton, grain, and feed. The bags I found measure 46" long and if cut length-wise are 92" long.The seller claimed that the bags are about 80 years old. Actually, Bemis still produces these burlap bags today.

Made from tough, durable material, the sacks had to stand up to some rough treatment so will make an excellent heavy duty grocery tote.

Now, I must admit to having a problem with older textiles. I buy an old kitchen towel or curtain, thinking to use the fabric for a project then can't bring myself to damage the old fabric. Today, however, I cut one of the bags to begin my sewing project. Here is how I did it:

Make Two Bags From One

The sacks cost $10.00 each, so using them to create two bags wound up costing $5.00 a bag. I cut it so that the stenciled label appears on one bag while the other is plain with vertical stripes on each side.

Measure before you cut so that the bags are even. Make sure that you have enough fabric for seams and hems. The loose weave easily frays, so you want to work this project in one sewing session. You can also run a line of fabric glue along the cut edges to avoid fraying.

Measure before cutting

Measure before cutting

Cutting the Grain Sacks

  • When you cut the bags, make sure that you leave enough fabric to make handles; two for each bag.
  • Measure the handles so they will be even and long enough to carry the tote bag comfortably. I made one with extra long handles so it can be used as a shoulder bag.
Cut and arrange pieces - make sure image is centered

Cut and arrange pieces - make sure image is centered

  • Cut the handles wide. That way they will be strong enough to tote a heavy load.
  • Fold each handle length-wise. Bring each horizontal end together in the center then fold again to hide loose edges (as shown below).

  • Pin along the entire length of the handle. Iron to maintain shape.
  • Tuck in the ends.
  • Carefully sew along the open ends. Be very careful with the folded edges as the heavy fabric may break even a strong needle. You may want to hand stitch the ends.
Four folded strips for two tote bags

Four folded strips for two tote bags

Sew the Bottom of the Bag

  • Sew the bottom of one bag. The other will already be closed at the bottom as it is the bottom of the bag. There are no side seams.
  • This fabric is very heavy so use a heavy duty sewing needle and sew slowly. Use a zig-zag stitch for extra strength and to help avoid fraying.
  • Turn the material inside out so the seam is on the inside.
  • With a pencil, draw a line on each bottom end of the bag about 2" in, creating a triangle on each end of the bottom of the bag. Sew along this line. This will enable you to set a filled bag down without it falling over.

Hem the Top of the Bag

  • Hem along the top of each bag using a zig-zag stitch.
  • Make sure the handles are placed for comfort. Pin the handles on between the vertical stripes. Try out the bag to make sure the handles feel right. Adjust.
  • Sew the handles to the bag stitching a square pattern for strength.

Bag Made From an Old Grain Sack

These grain sack bags are strong, good for heavy items.

These grain sack bags are strong, good for heavy items.

There are other brands of grain sacks but most are similar. Here you can see the length of this Chase A Seamless bag. This one is a bit more funky than the ones I used for the sewing project.

There are plenty of these bags around. They can be found at estate sales, yard sales, antique and salvage shops, as well as in several online shops. Prices very greatly so you may have to look around. Vintage European sacks seen featured in decorating books and magazines can be very expensive. American styles are much more affordable.

Chase A Seamless ExtraQuality Grain Sack


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