Now we’re sewing bag straps. The first step is to pin the straps to the bags. You will need the stack of bags, your collection of straps, pins, and your spacers and bag insert.
If you want to insert a horizontal fabric tag indicating you made the grocery bag, you’ll need them too. I place mine under a bag strap on the front panel where it can be seen and when the bag strap is sewn down, the label is sewn down as well. I do not use purchased sew-in labels for this. Instead, I use red rayon seam tape (½-inch wide) or ribbon (3/8 or ½-inch wide). I cut pieces, about two inches long, fold them over wrong sides together, and insert them when I pin the bag straps down. I put them in every bag I sew, as my marker. It is a tiny pop of color and makes the bag look more professional. I like red, but any color you like will do. It is not necessary for functionality so you can easily skip this part.
If you haven’t made your spacers and insert, it’s time to do so. The sizes and directions are in the tools chapter. Spacers make pinning the straps much faster as you don’t have to measure out their location with every bag. The bag insert is vital for pinning down the straps without pinning them to the other side of the bag. You’ll go crazy without the insert.
Lay a bag, front panel side up on your work surface. Slide in the bag insert so that it lies directly behind the front panel down to the bottom seam. The insert will be longer than it is wide and the excess will be sticking out of the bag.
Arrange the spacers on the bag. Place one of the wider spacers on each side of the front panel, aligning its far edge with the inner line of stitching on the flange. Place the narrow spacer along the bottom, aligning the long edge with the inner line of stitching on the flange.
Arrange the bag straps so each end rests against the bottom spacer and alongside the side spacers. Make sure you have not twisted the bag handle. Pin both legs of the bag strap in place. The insert will keep you from pinning all the layers together; you will only be pinning the straps to the front panel and not the back one as well.
For ease of sewing, I normally pin with my pins pointing up towards the mouth of the bag so I can remove them more easily as I sew down the strap.If you are going to add a horizontal fabric tag, insert it underneath the inner side of the left strap about an inch or so below the trim line. Adjust it until you like the way it looks. Pin it in place.
Flip the bag over and readjust the insert so it again slides against the back panel down to the bottom flange. Place your spacers, arrange the bag straps and pin them down.
Repeat this process with all of the bags. When you’re finished, it is time to sew down the straps.
(This post is a draft from the upcoming book “Sewing Cloth Grocery Bags.” A complete list of the posts can be found here.)