Tried & tested: Upcycled t-shirt bag

There was a time in the past where I was looking for ideas on how to make bags out of old t-shirts.

In the process, I stumbled upon this video tutorial from the Chic On The Cheap YouTube channel.

Here’s the video for your reference: http://youtu.be/nPrm_zVrCHE.

What struck me most about this video was that first of all, it was one of the more original tutorials out there (I came across SO MANY of the SAME t-shirt bag tutorials by different people that I began to wonder who was actually copying who).

Not only that, the bag was reinforced by the use of another fabric as part of the bag. Most other tutorials used only t-shirt material for the entire bag. While it has a nice feel to it when it’s 100% made out of t-shirt material alone, the reality is that such material stretches way too much. So what you’ll have is a bag that gets wider/longer the more you use it and it also ends up (in my opinion) not retaining its original shape very well. Not to mention having less durability.

So that is why I was especially happy to see a big difference in how Chic On The Cheap had designed this particular upcycled t-shirt bag.

Anyway, I finally had a chance to try my hand at making the said bag when I offered to make it for my sis as a belated birthday gift.

As with all online tutorials, there are of course challenges I faced in understanding the steps. There were also some minor ambiguities which required me to make judgment calls of my own.

So I thought, for the benefit of anyone who wants to work on this bag as well, I’d post my own experience making it in the hopes that perhaps it will make the process smoother for them.

Hence, here is my review/commentary of sorts on Chic On The Cheap’s t-shirt bag tutorial. 🙂

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Getting started: I found it challenging to cut consistent sizes and get my edges measured and cut up straight.

Here’s how things looked like when I first started off working on the bag. I did my best to draw and cut out the fabric in straight lines through the aid of my fairly new right angle sewing ruler (not sure if there’s a proper name for it so I guess that’s the best way I can describe it).

I’m still not very good at cutting fabric out straight despite my efforts though. But that’s probably just because I’m pretty much an amateur.

The one thing I forgot to factor in when measuring my fabric is to cater for seam allowances. I also neglected to consider what would be the most practical width for the base of the bag. In retrospect, I think I should have made it wider.

It was not obvious from the video at first, but actually the piece of the t-shirt that you cut out to form the shape to cut out the base of the bag isn’t actually used in sewing the bag together. Its sole purpose is just to give you a means of having a guide piece from which to cut out the base from the other fabric (in my case, the blue colour one).

Had I known this, I would have straight away skipped the step where you measure the base and cut it out from the t-shirt and just proceeded to make the base as deep as I liked (so long as lengthwise it matched the length of the t-shirt).

Another thing that would have made the overall proportion of my bag better would be to use a t-shirt that isn’t so squarish in shape and more elongated. Say, a slightly oversized t-shirt or something XL sized or bigger. The reason for that being that it gives you more t-shirt fabric to play with so you can ensure your bag is longer and thus, more rectangular in shape rather than squarish.

The bag that I sewed for my sister was more boxy due to the face that it was a small t-shirt (one that she wore growing up).

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Added detail: Although not in original pattern, I added a small pocket inside the bag.

This bit was a little customisation on my part. The tutorial did not include any instructions for sewing pockets either outside or inside the bag. But I figured it’s useful to have at least one pocket around.

The part of the t-shirt which I used to make this pocket was actually the sleeves. It works out quite nicely if you turn the sleeve so that its edging becomes the top part of the pocket. It seems quite fitting this way,

The fact that you’re using the sleeves to make pockets would mean that you can fashion at least 2 pockets from the available fabric.

I only did one and placed it on the inside of the bag. But even then, I felt reassured by the fact that I had a spare sleeve to make use of should I mess up the construction of that one pocket.

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Inside job: Neatening edges and sewing up till the right points along the fabric was tough for me.

It’s more or less my first time making a bag by using a sewing machine, so naturally, I faced problems in getting the sewing parts done right. I have always had a slight fear of using sewing machines, because I feared making huge mistakes and having to unpick and resew seams multiple times.

Well, that did happen, but it was not as horrendously hard to undo my mistakes as I imagined.

What was especially challenging though was the difficulty of estimating how far down the fabric I should continue to sew before ending off the stitch and cutting threads.

Turning the fabric so I could sew around the corners was also not easy for me and I usually ended up bungling things somewhere along the way. Halfway through, I decided I would sew the bag one line at a time and not run one continuous line of sewing throughout multiple edges of the bag.

But then there was the tidying up work I had to go back and do because ultimately, I still hadn’t sewn far enough down to each of the edges of the fabric. Sigh.

Also, the video said to tidy up the raw edges at the bottom inside of the bag with a zigzag stitch. I realise a lot of people tend to use the zigzag stitch as a alternative stitch for preventing loose ends from fraying (in the absence of a serger machine), although I still wonder how effective this is.

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Tip top: There was no directions given how to finish off sewing the tips of the bag straps.

One thing which the tutorial left out was what to do with the straps of the bag after you had left a tiny part unsewn so you could turn the fabric inside out.

To solve this problem, I used overstitching to finish sewing up those loose parts of the fabric. Not the best option though because you can see the threads from the stitching. I think there is an alternative and more invisible form of a stitch that could be used, but I couldn’t think of what that should be.

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Happy "customer": Jo posing with her new bag. She likes it. Phew!

Despite my many challenges in putting this t-shirt bag together, it all seemed worth it when my sister took an instant liking to end result. I guess with any craft project that you give away, it’s always encouraging to see that it is well received as it makes you feel that all that effort was truly worth it.

Well, getting this bag done has increased my enthusiasm and boldness to try making other kinds of bags. Perhaps it all isn’t as tough as it seems when you actually get down to doing it step by step.

A final verdict on the Chic On the Cheap t-shirt bag tutorial: On the whole, the tutorial was reliable and quite clear in its instructions. But as mentioned earlier, there were certain ambiguities that were not addressed (like the finishing off of the stitching for the straps), but overall, it’s still a really useful and easy to follow tutorial.

And my next bag making attempt shall be to create a reversible tote. Hehe. I really look forward to that.

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