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Tutorial: how to make a drawstring gift bag

If you’ve ever wondered how to make a drawstring bag, you are about to pee your pants with joy. That’s right, you no longer have an excuse for buying a teeny gift for someone before wrapping it awkwardly in sticky tape and paper, making it look like a kidnapped hamster. Instead you can pop it in a gift bag and look fabulously classy and clever. Even better, this gift bag guide can be adapted to make bags of all sizes regardless of whether they contain a single Rolo or an entire Crimbo-load of presents and, as an extra touch of wonder, it’ll contain French seams too. You can make it with your sewing machine or by hand but if you are hand stitching be aware that the bigger the bag, the more stitching you’ll have to do so be ready with the patience and swear words. Ok, then, Here we go!

You’ll need:


Needle and thread/ sewing machine


Ribbon or cord

Safety pin


Ruler/measuring tape

Seam ripper

Chalk or fabric pen



Step 1

NB: I’ve used red thread in the pics so you can see the stitches. When you sew, use thread that matches the fabric. Decide on the size of bag you need (it can either be square or rectangular but make sure it will be roomy enough to contain your gift). Then, to accommodate the seams, you need to add 3cms  to the width of the bag and 5 cms to the length of the bag. So if you want your finished bag to be 7 cms wide and 10 cms high you’ll need to cut out pieces of fabric that measure 10cms wide and 15 cms high (ignore this if I’m teaching you to suck eggs). Put the fabric flat on the table in front of you, mark out the measurements and cut two pieces of fabric the same size. These will form the back and front of the gift bag.

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Step 2

Crank up the iron to a setting that suits the fabric (start on cool and work your way up if unsure).  And look, I know that it’s tempting to skip this bit but don’t. It really does make a difference to the finish. So, taking each piece of your cut fabric, turn down the top edge by 2cms, towards the wrong side, and iron it to create a crease. Do this to both pieces of fabric and then turn down the top of the fabric another 2cms from the crease you’ve just made. Iron this again to create a second crease. Open up the folds and you will have two creases on each piece of fabric. This is the top of your bag. Turn off the iron because you don’t want to leave it on all night in the sewing shed like I do every bloody week (even if it does take the nip off the morning air).

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Step 3

You now need to mark the wrong side of your fabric with your chalk or fabric pen. This mark will be the slot that gives you access to your cord channel. So, from the bottom crease you’ve just ironed, 2 cms in from the right edge of the fabric, mark a 1.5cm vertical line. Do this on one piece of fabric.

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If you have a sewing machine this is when you sew a buttonhole stitch along the mark. Practice on a piece of scrap fabric beforehand (I always do because I can never remember whether, on my machine, the buttonhole stitch starts on the top left or bottom right).

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After sewing the buttonhole, take your seam ripper and tear the fabric that sits between the two sides of the buttonhole to create the opening. I tear from the bottom to the top but put a pin across the top first, just below the stitches, to stop me accidentally cutting through them. You should now have a buttonhole.

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If you are stitching this by hand, place a pin at the top of the vertical mark you have made and tear along it with the seam ripper. You will now have an unstitched buttonhole. To neaten the edges you can whip stitch them. With a needle and thread, tie a knot in the end of the thread and then push it from the back to the front of the fabric at one end of the vertical line. Taking the needle over the top of the raw edge and back to the knot, bring the thread through to the front again. You should now have a vertical stitch that goes over the raw edge. Next, start angling the stitches by taking the thread  back over the raw edge but pushing the needle through to the front a few millimetres along the raw edge of the button hole. You’ll now have a stitch that is at an angle. Keep doing this until the raw edge is stabilised with whip stitches. Secure with a knot and then do the same along the other raw edge of the buttonhole. You should now have a neat buttonhole. You would never use this clothing but on a gift bag it’s fine.

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Step 4

Right then.  It’s French seam time. We’ll make one along both sides of the bag and here’s how. Taking the two pieces of fabric, place them wrong side together. Now, against all of your shrieking internal voices, stitch along each side, approx 0.5cm from the edges.

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Nipping back to the ironing board, iron along the seam, opening out the raw edges of the seam as you go. Then, turning the bag through so that the wrong sides are showing, fold each side over at the seams you have just made so that the right sides are together and iron them again. The seam should be on the very edge of the, well, edge. It should look lovely and crisp.

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Now,  stitch the sides again approx 1cm in from the original lines of stitching, this time with the wrong side of the fabric facing you. By doing this you are making another seam and enclosing the raw edges of the last seam. Go on, check out the sides of the bag now. No raw edges! You’ve made a French seam. And OK, they are usually more narrow than this but for this gift bag these seam sizes are fine.

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Step 5

It’s time to secure the bottom of the bag so, with the right sides are together, stitch along the bottom of the bag approx 1cm from the raw edge (making sure the pattern you’ve chosen isn’t upside down!), . Trim it with your scissors to neaten (Use pinking scissors if you have them).


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Step 6

Now you’re going to create the drawstring channel. Making sure the bag is the wrong side out, you’re going to return to the creases you ironed into the fabric right at the start. So, first fold over the fabric at the topmost crease then fold the fabric over again at the second crease. You should have what looks like a deep hem with no raw edge at the top of the bag an this should also enclose the buttonhole that you made earlier.

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To secure this channel sew along its bottom edge, being careful to be neat because the stitching will show on the outside of the bag.


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Step 7

Here’s the fun bit – creating the drawstring. Whether you’re using cord or ribbon, fasten your safety pin to one end of it (make sure the pin is small enough to fit into the channel first, natch).

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Turn the fabric to the right side and then push the safety pin into your buttonhole, wiggling it along the channel, drawing the cord or ribbon through it as you do so. Keep going until you have gone all the way around the bag and have come back to the buttonhole (when you pass the seam on the other side of the bag you may need to wiggle the pin through a little. Your ironing, though, should have left you with a really neat channel which helps enormously). When you get back to the buttonhole, draw the pin out of the bag, bringing the cord with it.

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Keep pulling out the cord until you have enough emerging from the bag that it won’t get lost in the channel with repeated use. Cut the cord or ribbon to the required length, tie a not in each end and whoa! You’ve made a gift bag!


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Don’t forget that this bag can be adapted in as many ways as your imagination can stand. You can make it to varying shapes and sizes because the principles are the same. You can also decorate it with buttons, trims, appliqué or embroider messages onto it. Just go berserk! Well? What are you waiting for?