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Upcycling: Feedbag Totes

The large woven stockfeed bags may be designed for single use, but they’re strong, sturdy and far too good to throw away.

Homemade feedbag totes
Homemade feedbag totes are lightweight and long lasting. Photo by Lisa Brown

Polypropylene can potentially be recycled and used to manufacture other forms of plastic, but we can delay that process by turning them into robust tote bags. Often adorned with images of the animals their original contents were once destined to feed, with some simple cutting and sewing, you can create a unique shopping bag that will reliably carry all your awkwardly-shaped, bulky goods.

What You’ll Need

As well as your feed bags and a good pair of large scissors, you’ll need a tape measure, sewing pins, cotton sewing thread and a sewing machine – preferably with a new sharp needle fitted. It’s advantageous to have thought ahead to be completing this project at the time you opened the bag, but if you open the bag using the threads rather than slicing it open, you’ll start with a stronger straighter edge. But don’t worry if the bags you’re using have been cut open, the sewing process will strengthen any raw edges and prevent them fraying further.

You want to open both the top and bottom of the bag. If you’re lucky, you’ll cut the top binding at the end that unravels easily, otherwise patiently snip away at the cord until you’ve opened the entire top neck. After you’ve emptied out the pellets or grain, undo the stitching holding the bottom of the bag to form a tube.

Prepare The Bag

Have a look at your bag and decide which images or graphics you’d like to feature on your new tote.

Whether it’s a picture of chickens, goats or horses, it’s also important to work out bits you’d rather hide, like nutritional panels or blatant advertising.

Look for wide sections of a plain colour or simple pattern that may be suitable to cut out and use as the handles of your tote. Locate the side seam of the bag, most likely a fused thicker plastic and, using your scissors, cut along the seam to open up your tube lengthways. It’s likely there’s grainy residue inside the bag so at this point it’s a good idea to rinse or hose the inner side of your newly formed material and hang it up to dry before going any further. This is good to improve the quality of the finished product, but also for your sewing machine.

Deciding The Size

Regardless of the size of the bag you want to produce, the same construction principles apply. You might want to make a large water-resistant beach bag, a bag to collect kindling in for the fire, a huge bag in which to store your picnic rugs, skinny wine-bottle sized gift bags – there’s no limit to what you can create. You can use two feedbags to make a tote with matching or contrasting sides, or make one tote from a single feedbag cut in half.

Cutting The Pattern

For a practical mid-sized shopping tote, measure and cut two squares approximately 60 centimetres wide and 60 centimetres deep. For the handles, cut two pieces between 12 centimetres wide and at least 45 centimetres long. The woven nature of the bags makes it pretty easy to aim for and cut in a straight line, but you could put in some pins as a guide or use a ruler to draw a straight line with a marker pen. Don’t get too hung up on perfection, especially with your first one. These bags look good and will function well, even if they’re a bit wonky.

hanging
handles
layout
pins
totes
Clockwise from top left Once opened, rinse off any residue left in the bags and dry; Identify the images you’d like seen; This is the tricky step of making a triangular point to form the gusset; A second life as a tote makes it easier to justify the cost of animal feed; Stitching and attaching your handles at the start of the process will simplify things. Photos by Lisa Brown

Handles First

It’s easier to make and attach the handles before sewing up the body of the bag. That way you’re attaching them to a flat section, rather than trying to sew in the round and almost having to put your head inside.

Fold the sides of the long edges into the middle, overlapping one side over the other slightly. Use a zigzag stitch to cover this join and sew along the length of both pieces. You’ll now have two 45 centimetre-long pieces measuring about five centimetres wide. Set these aside.

Decide which is the top edge and sew a straight hemming seam, approximately one centimetre deep, along that edge. Find the exact centre of the top edge and put a pin (or a small mark with a pen) at that point. Measure out six centimetres either side of centre and pin the handles so that there’s a 12-centimetre gap between them. Face the raw edges of the handles towards the top edge of the sides, so that when the tops are folded down, the handles will sit up above the bag.

Attach the handles securely by sewing across from side to side, up three centimetres, back across, and then diagonally within the sewn rectangle.

Sides, Base And Seams

With feature pictures facing outwards, pin together and sew a straight seam inset approximately one centimetre along. Turn outsides in, and again pin and stitch along the sides – half a centimetre larger to ensure the original seam is encased within this seam. This method is called a French seam and is useful for containing any fabrics which might easily unravel – it’s strong and it always looks neat.

Following the same technique pin and stitch a two-centimetre seam along the bottom edge, turn and encase this within a a slightly larger seam as before. By this stage there are lots of fabric layers at the bottom corners so, if your sewing machine is struggling to sew through all the layers, it doesn’t actually matter if you leave the extremities unsewn. Because the next step creates a gusset, the fabric that will be tucked into the corners won’t be taking any weight.

Making A Base

One of the things that make these bags so practical is the rectangular base we create in the bottom. To do this, turn the bag inside out and smooth out the lumps. Find one of the bottom corners and pull it towards yourself while squeezing the side to the base.

Form a triangular point which is perpendicular to the other seams (see photo, opposite). Place a straight line of pins across this point with the middle one approximately 10 centimetres from the apex. Stitch along this row of pins before repeating the process on the other bottom corner.

Finishing It Off

Fold down the entire top edge making sure the handles are extended in their usable position. That deep hem will fall naturally at a point where the handles can extend as much as possible beyond the place where they’re attached; it’s going to be about seven centimetres deep. Pin and stitch inside the cylinder (it’s much easier to sew inside a cylinder than around the outside).

Remember that top edge was hemmed before the handles were attached, so you only need to sew one straight row of stitching. It can be a bit awkward at this stage with a large object to navigate around the working end of the sewing machine, but it’s almost finished. Snip off the last threads, stand your fabulous creation up and enjoy what you’ve made.

Once you’ve been through this procedure once or twice you should be confident to make adjustments for any various sizes of feedbag you acquire, and to create bags of differing proportions. Variations such as using large plain-coloured panels patched over text before getting started on construction can add to the final aesthetic appeal too.

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