7 Simple Gifts to Sew for Your Favorite Zero Waster

If you don’t know how to sew and want to learn, practice with one of these simple zero-waste gifts. Upcycle a leg from a pair of old jeans, the sturdy outer edges of a worn sheet or the sleeves of your favorite yet disintegrating shirt, and your homemade present gives the additional gift of diverting stuff from landfill. Please keep in mind, however, that washing machines can’t filter out the plastic microfibers that synthetic fabrics shed when washed. Try to choose natural fibers.

No-excuses utensil roll

Your conscientious zero-waster will never be without a fork again when chocolate cake is to be had! If you won’t horrify your recipient, you could fill this roll up with secondhand cutlery from the thrift shop, where you’ll find piles of forks, spoons and knives. Find the simple utensil roll pattern here.

Bento-style bags

People love these bags. Give them away or use them to wrap gifts or both. Find the pattern here. If you don’t sew, you can buy handmade bento bags made of natural fibers from Ambatalia, a small producer of beautiful textile goods and purveyor of daily essentials to help you live “a non-disposable life.” Check out Ambatalia’s bento bags here.

bento bag filled with fruit
Bento bag in action
homemade fabric bento bags and gift wrapping for zero waste and plastic free shopping and gift giving
Homemade bento bags on a Christmas morning (and a couple of furoshiki wraps)

Produce bags

Used regularly, sturdy cloth produce bags eliminate piles of plastic from the waste stream. I make mine out of scraps and upcycled sheets.

I sewed my first plastic produce bags in 2011 and have used them religiously ever since. Let’s say I use six a week like you see below. (Between bulk bins and the farmers’ market, I actually use more than six.) That’s 6 x 52 weeks x 8 years = 2,496 plastic produce bags I’ve kept out of the waste stream. For one family.

Find instructions here for sewing them on a serger (like the majority of the bags below). Go here for sewing them with a sturdy French seam (it only sounds elaborate).

Unpaper towels

I keep one of these in my bag at all times to use in lieu of paper towels (waste of materials) and hand dryers (waste of energy) in public bathrooms. The cozy flannel sheet I cut these out of came from the thrift shop. My daughter used it for a few years before it wore out in the center. The unpaper towels are the sheet’s third incarnation. Not bad for $2.50 (or $1.50, I forget). Find the instructions for very basic unpaper towels here.

Cloth handkerchiefs

I made these the same way I made the unpaper towels, but smaller. These feel so much better on my nose than throwaway paper tissues. I used an old sheet that belonged to my other daughter. They look so nice in a jar, as does just about anything that can fit in a jar. (Go here for 13 gifts in jars.)

reusable washable cloth handkerchiefs
Jar of reusable handkerchiefs

Makeup remover pads

Serge together a couple of flannel layers of circles or squares for reusable makeup remover pads that last forever. If you don’t have a serger, use a zig-zag stitch to finish the edges. No pattern necessary!

One of the dedicated volunteers from our reusable produce bag project brought these to give away at a sewing session. People snapped them up!

World’s cutest fabric makeup remover pads

Upcycled denim shopping bag

I’ve wanted to make one of these denim bags for months now. It belongs to another of our volunteer produce bag makers. I had trouble finding a pattern just like the bag below, but the sling bag in this post looks fairly similar. Someone on your list would love a bag like this. You better make a tester bag—just to be sure it passes quality control—and keep that one for yourself.

a model holds a very large shopping bag made out of old jeans
My daughter Charlotte bought this Bay Area Bag Ladies upcycled denim bag at the grocery store

9 Replies to “7 Simple Gifts to Sew for Your Favorite Zero Waster”

  1. I always appreciate your suggestions. On an upcoming trip I plan to take along my own pads for make-up removal.

    1. Thank you, Nancy. Have a great trip 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

  2. Thanks for the ideas. I’m inspired by how you repurposed old sheets!

    1. Thank you Melinda. Sheets are perfect for the produce bags. They weigh so little.
      ~ Anne Marie

  3. Each year we send out directions on zero waste gifts to our spice fans (last year it was directions on how to sew a bento bag). This year we’re doing the product bags, but I’ll add a link to this post, as it’s all right here!

    1. Thank you Beth!
      ~ Anne Marie

  4. Awesome ideas!

  5. My mom made a bag similar to the denim shopping bag above (though smaller) in home ec when she was in high school. I believe she told me once that she used to carry it as a purse but when I was little I used it as a diaper bag for my baby dolls and later my sister did the same. It also toted its fair share of Barbies and Polly Pockets around, was a play backpack, doctors bag, etc. That bag must have held up for about a decade of use/play (maybe more) before it started falling apart!

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