Recycled Style: Stitch a Shopper • Amy Barickman

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Recycled Style: Stitch a Shopper

Paper or plastic? Neither!

If you thought the bring-your-own-bag trend at grocery stores was a recent movement, you may be surprised to learn that some shoppers were loading their own tree-hugging totes as early as 1944. That’s when Mary Brooks Picken published an article in Better Homes and Gardens called Five Paper Saving Carry-Alls in which she provides pattern instructions on how to make stylish sacks to haul to the supermarket. (After finding out that Mary was a contributor to BHG, I toured their headquarters in Des Moines and did some research looking for more of her work. I was lucky enough to tour their kitchen and photo studio.)

If a million shoppers each said, ˜No thanks, and refused on paper bag a day, think of the saving for war needs! she wrote. Bags like these hold a lot of parcels or groceries, are far easier to carry and look dashing, besides.

Nowadays, we are more concerned with waste from plastic bags. Many stores offer a discount if shoppers opt for reusable bags, and some even refuse to use plastic bags altogether.

Big box stores tend to sell eco-friendly bags specifically designed to carry your purchases out. But why not make your own? Based on the instructions in Picken’s article, I sewed a simple drawstring bag using a fun fabric from my own Vintage Notions line. This easy -to-carry tote packs your snacks in style. We also modified the design with a modern twist.

On the updated version, the casing became the upper hem, supporting two 1 ½-inch fabric handles. We also lengthened the seam to widen the bottom. This bag is sewn with lightweight cotton, with a plastic insert at the bottom to add structure.

Both bags are washable, unlike those flimsy store-bought sacks, plus you can use a recycled remnant of your favorite fabric to show off your style. With its gender-neutral hue, my son wasn’t embarrassed to carry my contemporary tote out of the store.

At Indygo Junction, you can find contemporary patterns for bags that are great as reusable shoppers  several of which can be made with recycled menswear wool or other re-purposed fabrics. Doesn’t get much greener than that!

How do you go green in your daily life?


  1. cindy coven

    I think these bags are great. I go green by recycling or upcycling things in my art. I’ve turned old sweaters into purses and rugs. I’ll use old anything in my collage art. And ofcourse the shopping bag is my number one upcycle. Have you checked out steampunk. Those artist use alot of upcycling in their clothing and jewlery.

  2. Becky P S

    I loves your versions of MBP’s bags! Thanks for including the whole article. Aren’t those ads the coolest?

    We recycle everything we can – not just through the local recycling pick-up service. I like to refashion clothes, give to and buy from charitable thrift shops and reduce waste as much as possible.

    • Amy Barickman

      That’s great Becky! I love that you find multiple (and creative) ways to reuse what you have.

      There’s many more great tips from MBP and the Woman’s Institute, so I hope to share more soon!


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