Repurposed-Cloth Produce and Bulk Bags

Jump to the bottom of this post for info on snagging some free bags I made from new cloth.

In my quest to eliminate kitchen waste, my most successful strategies have been:

  • Using cloth produce and bulk bags or containers for shopping
  • Shopping at the farmer’s market
  • Shopping at the bulk bins

These three tips assume you cook everything from scratch. Let’s call that the supreme tip. If you grow your own food and raise your own livestock (as many of you do), I bow at your feet.

I’m all for plastic bag bans but these bans don’t address the amount of trash generated from plastic produce bags that most of us stuff into our reusable shopping bags. Taking your own reusable cloth produce bags is just as easy as taking a shopping bag. I keep mine tucked inside the shopping bags so I always have them on hand.

You can buy cloth produce bags at ChicoBag, Ecobags and a number of other stores. But if you have a bit of fabric, a sewing machine and a few minutes, you can just make some. In a previous post, I sewed simple cloth produce and bulk bags from virgin cloth. Today, I’m posting instructions for making them out of an old pillow case (even easier!).

pillow cases

Rummaging around my closet recently, I found four large pillow cases set aside in my Goodwill pile. My daughter heads back to university in Canada at the end of the month and had mentioned that she needs some more produce and bulk bags, so when I saw these, I knew just what to do with them.


cut case

1. Cut a pillow case into four relatively equal parts. As you can see from the picture, I didn’t quite do this evenly and wound up with different sizes. That’s fine. I’m not sewing my daughter a prom dress.

finished bags

2. For the bags with the finished hem (left in the above pic), sew across the open side and the bottom. For the bags with the finished bottom (right in the above pic), either serge the top to finish it and sew the open side shut, or sew the open side shut and then hem the top edge. I have a serger, which takes no time.

The finished edge of this pillow case had a very thick border with piping, making the two bags on the left a little heavy. This is fine unless you buy $149/pound vanilla beans. You’ll pay for the weight of the bag and at $149/pound, that can cost several dollars. But for apples, potatoes, tomatoes and so on, even the heavier bags work well. The lighter the better though.

bag in action

Take your bags shopping! These heirloom tomatoes came from the farmer’s market.

Free Bags!

free bags

If you would like some bags but don’t want to spend money or time acquiring them (and you live in the U.S.), let me know if you want two of the lightweight, sturdy bags pictured above. I’ll mail two each to the first three people who ask for them. You can either leave a comment below, tweet me or send me a message on my Facebook page.

I’m not sure what kind of fabric this is but it looks and feels nice. My kids’ dad brought it back from India a few years ago and it has sat on my fabric pile ever since.

I’m on a mission. Since I started my blog in March, I’ve given away 55 homemade produce and bulk bags. I hope I can get that up to 61 this week 🙂

43 Replies to “Repurposed-Cloth Produce and Bulk Bags”

  1. I’m guessing you wouldn’t fancy mailing them to either the UK or Australia?! Otherwise I’d have my hand up! My paper bags that I reuse again and again are starting to be life-expired, and I need more cloth ones to replace them : )

    1. Let me check the rates. They are thin enough that I may be able to squeeze one into an envelope. I’ll DM you on Twitter for your address if postage is cheap 🙂

    2. Kerryn Wood says: Reply

      Boomerang Bags is an Austrlaian based organisation that helps communities set up workshops for making bags – great initiative – google them 🙂

      1. Awesome! Thanks for the info Kerryn. Someone working with my library wanted to do this–the library now has several sewing machines available–and I’m not sure if it ever did get up and running. I’ll forward this info to her. ~ Anne Marie

  2. Great idea. I’ve been cutting back on the little plastic bags by just leaving fruit and veg loose, but this would be much better. I’m not sure the grocery staff at my local store are that delighted about trying to catch and weigh, for example, 10 tangerines!.

    1. Thank you! I had been forgoing the bags also. A few potatoes don’t really need a produce bag. Blueberries are a another story though. Tangerines are borderline 🙂 I was worried the market vendors and store cashiers would give me a hard time over the opaque bags since they have to take my word for what’s in there. But I haven’t had any trouble, which pleasantly surprised me.

  3. Awesome , everyone of us should follow this 🙂

    1. Thank you, I like to think so too 🙂

  4. The bags look great! I love them. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you like yours 🙂

  5. Nice, resuable and affordable I like that! Easy to add to the preps, and cost effective!

    1. Thank you. Almost every time I take these bags to the farmer’s market, after weighing my produce, a vendor with throw in an extra tomato, strawberry, or whatever, for free. They always seem happy that I bring my own.

      1. That’s awesome I’m going to try that next time I go to the farmers market

  6. good on you. hadnt thought of old pillow cases and I reckon tea towels would work too. I made ‘shopping bags’ some years ago out of upholstery scraps which the family snubbed but I thought they were groovy and lo and behold they are now seen as being ok.
    because I get flour and rice in bags I can then reuse them by cutting them in half and stitching on a drawstring. the trick is to remember to take them with me.

    1. Hi Sandra. Your homemade bags sound awesome. I’m glad your family has deemed them suitable. I keep my produce bags inside my shopping bags so I won’t forget them. Also, I probably have about 20 of them, so I won’t run out (they wind up in the laundry or in the cupboard storing food). Do you mean you get flour and rice in cloth bags? Those would look great cut down as produce/bulk bags. You could do all sorts of cool things with them. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  7. This is great. Right now I try to be mindful of plastic bags by reusing them, or using no bags at all, but I know that this is the right way to go. Saving this post for the day–hopefully soon–when I can spend an hour or two with my sewing machine.

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you found the post useful 🙂

  8. This is a great idea, since you wouldn’t even have to sew all of the edges with the existing seams on the pillowcase.

    1. Thanks, it’s very easy and takes only a few minutes. The bags are very sturdy too.

  9. Any bags left? I would love a few! Starting on my “Zero waste life” soon. Thanks for inspiring us all! 🙂

    1. Hi Rita. The bags are all gone but I’ll do another giveaway at some point. Thanks for checking out the post 🙂

      1. Please do announce when you’ll have more Chef! 🙂

      2. I will. Making more is the to-do list 🙂

  10. Kalpana Dave says: Reply

    I made reusable bags with tulle repurposed after a birthday party to hold produce. They weigh less than an ounce.
    For its ties I used repurposed ribbons.

    1. Great idea Kalpana. Those sound super cute 🙂

  11. Thank you for the reblog!

  12. […] of machine sewing practice: two drawstring bags I made out of an old pillowcase. Thanks to the zero waste chef for the […]

  13. Hi,

    Thanks for the idea. Do you happen to have any extras? I wish I had some cloth scraps to make these. Thank you 🙂

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Madhuri, Are you in the Bay Area by any chance? I’ve been organizing meetups to sew these. I’ll schedule another one soon. ~ Anne Marie

  14. I just reclaimed 3 pillowcases from the Goodwill bag. Sewing machine is ready and I’m excited. Thanks.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Awesome Terry! These bags make a big difference in cutting the plastic. Enjoy! ~ Anne Marie

  15. Julia Singleton says: Reply

    Could I do this using a cotton sheet and sewing by hand?

  16. Darshana Maya Greenfield says: Reply

    You can also stop at the cashier and weigh a bag before you fill it – that’s what I have to do when I bring my Rubbermaid containers in to get bulk. They don’t mind.

  17. […] free and effective alternative is to stitch old pillowcases into your own DIY produce bags. I love these instructions from Zero Waste Chef on how to easily transform old linen into produce […]

  18. Thanks for this! I was worried about my gloves getting smelly.

  19. This is a great idea, thanks!

    1. Thank you! Glad you like it!

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