Thursday, March 10, 2011

Retro Oilcloth Shopping Bag

It's not all arts and crafts in the Tiny Apartment, sometimes I make the useful things that people in my life need help with. Still, I like to make practical things as pretty as I can manage, don't you? My sister wanted an upgrade for her wheeled shopping cart bag. The one which came on the frame was made from the cheapest polyester canvas-type material, it was black, ugly, flimsy and poorly designed. We went shopping for some oilcloth and had a lot of fun deciding which retro print to choose for its replacement. Oilcloth was the perfect choice because it is sturdy, needs no lining or interfacing to give the bag body, and is waterproof, which means my sisters groceries will arrive home safe and sound. In the end she settled on a very pretty brown and white traditional print of flowers and baskets, and a cool faux bois wood in dark brown.

I copied the basic pattern for the shape of the bag from the original, adding a more generous flap over the opening, velcro closures for the flap at two positions, so that the lid stays in place even when full (did I mention it rains a lot here on Vancouver Island?), grommets at the top to help the drawstring closure work smoothly, and a zippered pocket at the back.
After sewing this and a few other oilcloth projects I have some pointers for those interested in using this great material for the first time:
  • Wrinkles: lay your oilcloth open flat for a couple of hours in a warm room, or if you are in a rush, use a warm hairdryer at a distance of at least a foot to coerce it to flatten out.
  • Oilcloth doesn't like irons! Finger press, or use the smooth edge of a spoon to press open seams or crease folds. Really, put away the iron, you will have only yourself to blame for the mess created by thinking that you could use a lower setting or a pressing cloth and then melting your project onto your iron.
  • A Teflon foot really helps. Oilcloth is slightly tacky so if you don't have a Teflon foot, you can use masking tape on the bottom of your foot to help your project go smoothly.
  • Use a long stitch length (I set my machine to about 2mm) which is less likely to cause rips.
  • Pin your project only in the seam allowance, or better yet, use binder clips to hold everything in place, as pins will permanently mark oilcloth.
  • For the bow applique, I used some adhesive spray to hold it in place (remember, no pins!), and then zigzagged over the edges.
  • In order to reinforce the seams, which could be stressed by heavy loads, I used french seams to sew together the body of the shopping bag.
  • When you are designing your project, remember that oilcloth doesn't fray, so you can simplify a lot of designs that would require a finished seam if you were sewing with a woven material.
If you have never sewn anything with a french seam, give it a try! The first time I attempted it, it felt funny sewing everything right sides out, but when you are done, you have a strong, clean finish inside. It is a great way to make laundry/shopping bags or little bags for organizing things in your home. Remember to add extra seam allowance to your projects if you use a french seam, as it eats up extra fabric. There is a great tutorial for making simple linen drawstring bags with french seams over at Between the Lines if you are interested in trying it out yourself.


  1. That is so cute! The fabrics are really great. I've never worked with oilcloth before...maybe it's time I try! :)


  2. What an awesome shopping bag! Very clever, and waterproof!

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