Wisdom Comes Suddenly

Teachers’ Gift Bags: A Tutorial

December 19th, 2011 · 3 Comments

Every year, I make drawstring bags for the girls’ teachers, and fill them with treats.  You can view the 2011 bags here.  The 2010 bags are here.  And heaven’s knows I make these for all other occasions.  They started as “Diaper Ditty Bags” for friends; I once took a drawstring bag apart so I could make one for myself, to haul diapers and wipes in my purse.  I’m a woman.  I simply cannot have enough bags.

I try to get fabric that is holiday-ish without being overly Christmas-y.  Our school is secular, and without knowing who celebrates what, I go “Holiday-Light”.  As well, it makes the bag more convertible for year around use.  I don’t think I’ve ever done a tutorial on how I make these simple little things, so I thought it was about time.  Please remember that I am not a professional seamstress, and I do not go crazy finishing seams or shooting for perfection. For a rookie sewer, this is a perfect first project.  Forgive my pictures from switching back and forth between fabrics, but my camera battery died, so I ended up with a hodge-podge of shots taken over the course of sewing all 6 bags.

I cut these bags by keeping my fabric folded, and making them 10″ wide and 15″ long.  The tops will be folded down into a drawstring top, so they must be rectangular.  I usually do a 12″ wide and 18″ tall when making them for diaper storage.  If you have a rotary cutter, mat, and quilters’ rulers, it’s a heckuva lot easier to whip out these shapes, but scissors and a seamstress pencil works just as well. You may notice I did not start with, “first wash your fabric”.  Oh for heaven’s sakes, WHO has that kind of time?!  I don’t use cheap fabric, so I have found “washing first” gets you nothing but an extra step.

Now lay the fabric out the long way, wrong side facing up, and iron about a 1/4″ or a 1/2″ fold facing into the wrong side.  If you were shooting for perfect, you’d fold in once more to hide the raw edge.  Wave that perfectionist flag as much or as little as you wish…no judgements from me.  Now sew that long side down on each side of the bag.  A quarter foot comes in handy for this project (and all projects I make), because it measures a 1/4″ inch and an 1/8″ seam perfectly, making straight seams super duper easy to make. If you noticed, I never said “pin and sew”.  I do use pins when pins are required, but when I sew, I usually IRON and sew.  It’s a lot easier, and in the end, faster.  That being said, turn off your steam.  Steam will stretch your fabric, which is not what you want when you are trying to line up perfect edges.

Now working with the short ends, fold in a quarter inch and iron.  It’s already tucked under in this picture.  Now fold again, about 2 1/4th or 2 1/2″.  Pin the edges.  This will be the drawstring casing.  Do this “iron and pin” step to each of the short ends.

Sewing with the wrong side facing up, I sew the innermost seam first, about 1/8″ in from the edge.  Placing my quarter foot on the new seam, I sew a second seam 1/4th an inch away.  The 3rd seam is closest to the outer edge, and that is loosey-goosey.  It must match per bag, but the distance away from the 2nd seam is dependent upon your width of drawstring.  I usually end up with about 1/2″ drawstrings, so I like to have at least an inch and half of a casing.  The outermost section of fabric will become that top gather when the strings are pulled.  I usually stick with the 2nd marking from the end on my machine’s seam measuring tool.  Heck if I know the actual measurement…as long as they all match…math ain’t my thang.

Now it’s time to fold that bag into its original shape.  I like to pin the tops so it doesn’t slide around while I finish it up.  Make sure you sew a seam from the very bottom, all the way TO the casing, but not THROUGH the casing.  If you sew your casing shut, you can’t feed your drawstring through!  This seam must be on the inside of those first seams you sewed, otherwise, when you pull the bag right side out, those initial seams will show.  Even I’m not that sloppy.

You can see above how the casing flaps open on a finished bag.

Now turn the right side out, and work to get those corners pointy.  It’s time to make drawstrings.  Each bag will need 2.  Below are 3 bags with finished strings, and 3 sets of unfinished strings.  You can mix and match the fabrics, keep them all the same, or chicken out (i.e. run out of time) and use ribbon.  No judgements!

These bags ended up being about 9″ wide, so double that, because each drawstring has to feed through both sides of the bag.  Then you need some drawstring to stick out of each side so you have something to pull.  Each of my drawstrings ended up being about 28″ long.  I ironed them as 56″ strips, and then cut them in half.  Well, wait.  That’s what I would have done had I made these with an iron.  Greg gave me an early Christmas gift, and I’ll just say that I think I’m secretly in love with my bias strip maker.  If you quilt or make a lot of drawstrings, it’s an excellent use of a coupon.

OK, so to make a drawstring, cut those 28″ strips, 2″ wide.  For 6 bags, I needed 12 strips.  Iron them in half.  Open up the strip after you’ve ironed that middle seam.  Fold each side into the middle seam and iron.  I iron a little lip over on each end, which will make for nice finished ends to your drawstring.  A bias strip maker gives a little space right in the center, which works all the same as getting those inner edges to meet.  Always remember, there are no 4H judges that show up to your house when you are damn near 40, and making gifts in the spirit of love.

Now fold it all back up (using the original center fold) and sew near the edge to close it up.  Any little edges sticking out at the ends you can just snip.  Be careful to fold it in half perfectly, or when you sew the edge, you could miss parts underneath, causing for quite the headache.  BUT, remember, MOST of this drawstring is forever hidden inside the bag, so it will never be seen.

With 2 strings per bag, it’s time to feed them through.  A safety pin is mandatory, just like you used in high school gym class.

You will run it down one side, and then dive back through on the other side, so that the tails are sticking out on the same end.  See my safety pin side (left) on a successful run of one string.  You take the second string, also using a safety pin to guide you through, and start at the LOOP side (right).  It will also run down a side, dive back in, and come down the other side.  That means you’ll now have a loop on each side of the bag, and free tails sticking out on each side of the bag.  See below (when you pull, the loops are hidden).

I take the loose tails, line them up, and tie them together in a little knot.  Pull.  The whole bag will cinch up, and give you a cute little gather at the top.  See?  Easy peasy fat man squeezy, as my girls would say.  Now here’s the fun part: stuffing them!  I usually put our family’s Christmas card (which dictates the size of my bag), which contains a gift card.  This year I wasn’t as successful in finding favorite stores, so I put in a Whole Foods gift card with the message, “Dinner is on us!”.  I love the ornaments I found this year, in a hospital gift shop in my hometown, of all places:

I came up with all sorts of flowery messages to write on the back, and the girls told me they’d need a moment to converse.  They returned a few minutes later, both in agreement that they’d like the message to be, “I love you”.  Ah, the best parts of the holiday season always comes out of the mouths of babes.  I love you it is.  Well said.

I always add a cellophane bag of bark cookies, tied with ribbon.  I had big plans this year to make fancy gift tags, but Sara’s health had other plans for me last week.  She started the week with croup and ended with a full-fledged stomach flu.  Poor little thing.  She’s rarely sick, so I couldn’t get her to lie in her bed during the day.  She became my constant companion in my sewing room, which thankfully doubles as a movie studio. In the few moments she felt well, she Cricut’ed some very classy and simple tags which I tied to the bags with ribbon.

So go ahead and live in my fantasy world: buy your fabric on clearance next week.  Congratulate yourself on having an entire year to make teacher bags, thinking, MAN, with this much time, you’ll be able to make them for the Administration as well!  Fast forward 51 weeks, when you’ll be sweating like a racehorse, throwing these beauties through your machine like your life depends upon it.

And with 28 minutes to spare, dump out a fabric storage bucket, fill it up with this handmade goodness, and let your kids play Santa to some of the most important people to ever touch their lives.  Why do I make handmade for our teachers year after year?  Because something made with your hands is inevitably made with love, and that message is felt by the receiver.  We spend so much time worrying about whether we are crafty enough or talented enough or BLAH BLAH BLAH, that we totally forget the message is always the same, no matter how many 4H ribbons we have gathering dust in our Hope Chests (I have none, by the way). And it’s not just my children who love their gifted and amazing teachers. I love them too. Merry Christmas and God’s blessings to each and every one of them.  They have made our lives so wonderful!


*Fabrics used for this year’s bags are from Moda’s Basic Grey/Fruitcake line.  I buy a lot of fabric at Quilt Quarters (where Peter Pan, my sewing machine was purchased) and at Back Door Quilts (where I took my quilting class).* 

Tags: The Girls

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ana Paula // Dec 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Can we schedule a live class, pls?
    I have been wanting to learn to sew, but it scares the life out of me!!!!

  • 2 Chris Moon // Dec 20, 2011 at 8:38 am

    OK, the running commentary had me snickering in my office (where I’m sure no one knows that I’m reading blogs instead of being productive.)

    I am so with yah, sistah, on the non-pursuit of perfection. Your daughters have very lucky teachers –

    Merry Christmas to you and your elves –

  • 3 Lydia // Dec 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Yay – I love this year’s fabric (2010 was my favorite, obviously, but this is a close second!) Thank you for the tutorial!