How to make cloth gift bags from old clothes

by Kristen on December 24, 2008 · 19 comments

in Green and Frugal, Sewing

upcycled gift bags

I first read about making cloth gift bags a few years ago in The Tightwad Gazette book, so the credit goes to Amy Dacyzyn. They can, of course, be made from new fabric but as any experienced seamstress knows, that immediately ups the cost of a project.

So, I prefer to make them from free fabric. ;)

Where do you get free fabric?

The best source is old clothes.

You might have some in your closet…I’ve made quite a few gift bags out of two old dresses I no longer liked. Another good place is in bags of hand-me-downs, or bags of clothes from Freecycle.

If you can’t obtain any free fabric, you might want to take a look around your thrift store. You can sometimes get a screaming deal on old pjs, or old prom dresses, and those work very well for making gift bags.

Really, any fabric that’s shiny or fuzzy is a good candidate for this project. I made this particular gift bag from an old velvet dress, which someone gave to me (and which, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, I wore for quite a few years.)

I laid the fabric out flat and cut a rectangle. If you can, cut from the edge of the garment and you’ll have one seam already done for you.

(in case you’re wondering, the Whoppers are there because that’s the gift that was going into the bag…a gift from Lisey for her dad, and I was trying to see what size the bag should be.)

I turned the rectangle inside out and sewed seams around three sides of the fabric.

Then I clipped the corners so that they would be square when I turned it inside out. I then turned the top edges over(about 1/8 inch) and sewed a tiny hem.

After that, I folded the top edge over again(this time around 5/8 inch), and sewed around the top.

And ta-da, the gift bag is done!

However, it’s awfully boring looking.

I’ve found that the key to making these bags look nice lies in the closure. I’ve tried a bunch of different drawstring options, but the nicest-looking closure is the simplest: a ribbon tie.

ribbon tie for upcycled bag

I have a pretty decent stash of ribbon in my scrapbooking desk, so I picked a ribbon from there to tie the gift bag.

This ribbon was salvaged from an Ann Taylor bag (which came filled with hand-me-downs…you didn’t think The Frugal Girl shopped at Ann Taylor, did you???).

I made this one out of an old velour dress.

And this one(which Sonia picked…it matches her colorful personality!) is made from some pj pants that I got from Freecycle.

Pants work GREAT for this…if you make one from the lower part of the leg, you only have to sew a seam on the bottom of the bag.

Lastly, here’s one I made out of an old ironing board cover (yup!)

gift bag from ironing board cover

I like these because:

  • they are free/cheap(the only cost for mine was the thread, which I already had)
  • they save money(you don’t have to keep buying wrapping paper/tissue/gift bags)
  • they’re environmentally friendly(you’re not using new materials to make them, and they’re infinitely reusable).

Lest you be ridiculously impressed, I should tell you that I haven’t made nearly enough yet to contain all of our Christmas gifts (I think I have six altogether). But I’m working on it, one old garment at a time.

Leave a Comment

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 frugal dreamer December 24, 2008 at 9:05 am

I love these!!! I made a few of these years ago, and loved them.

I need to buy myself a sewing machine!!!


2 Mrs Green December 24, 2008 at 9:22 am

These look beautiful. I’ve made a new years resolution to lose my fear of sewing and have a go at these ready to wrap gifts throughout the year.
Thanks for the inspiration and have a wonderful Christmas
Mrs G x


3 Dana Groff December 24, 2008 at 10:15 am

WOW! Those are gorgeous! I just bought 6 very expensive gift bags from Target for wine. My husband gave them to people at work and I wanted them to look nice. Do you think these would work for bottle of wine? Merry Christmas, you are very inspirational!


4 Battra92 December 24, 2008 at 11:00 am

I wrapped a few of my gifts in furoshiki. Basically a furoshiki is a Japanese wrapping cloth similar to a large bandanna. I can certainly see making them from old T-shirts or skirts and you have a reusable bag for lunch, gifts.


5 Kristen December 24, 2008 at 11:22 am

Dana, yes, I totally think you could use these for wine. You’d just want to make them tall and skinny.

Battra, I’ve never heard of furoshiki…I’ll have to google it! lol


6 Jessica December 24, 2008 at 11:57 am

If I could figure out that darn sewing machine I bought, I bet even I could do this. Very cute idea!


7 CanadianSaver December 25, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Those look great! I am going to come back to this post and see what I can make for Christmas 2009!


8 Another Kristen December 26, 2008 at 1:04 am

Very pretty. I’m a huge TG fan, too. :)


9 Stephanie March 3, 2010 at 6:15 am

I thought I share this link of beautiful gift wrap and gift bags out of old magazines.


10 Jan Hixson December 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm



11 Media Witten December 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I love these and plan to make several. I have all kinds of left over satins and velvets that will be perfect.
Thank you for this tutorial.
Media Witten


12 Elaine December 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Super cute! I’m inspired…if only I knew how to sew???


13 Robyn December 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Very nice! Thanks for sharing!


14 Libby August 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

About 10 years ago I picked up a couple yards of Christmas themed fabric at an after Xmas sale. I made these into big cloth bags. They’ve been used every Christmas and still look great. They have been perfect for those larger young kid toys. I never thought to make smaller bags out of free fabric from old clothes. LOVE the idea!


15 Leslie @ December 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I made a few of these for Christmas gifts this year out of my husbands old button down shirts. One thing I couldn’t figure out is what to do so that the recipient didn’t pick up the bag and feel exactly what was inside. I ended up wrapping the gifts in an old t-shirt and then putting them in the bags but that was a little strange when people pulled it out and thought we gave them an old shirt. Suggestions?


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