Kicking out Plastic – Tutorial Signature Shopping Bag

embroidery hack
Design penned onto calico shopping bag

I really hate using plastic bags and avoid them at all costs. As supermarkets here are phasing out single use plastic bags, there is even more need for consumers to have their own environmentally friendly and sustainable shopping bags.

And it is not just reusable bags for groceries. Even when buying a new outfit, I will carry a clean cotton bag for my purchases inside my regular handbag, rather than use a plastic variety that is not only bad for the planet, but also advertises companies who make absolutely no effort to take care of the future of the environment and wildlife. Why would I want to promote them?

In less than ten minutes, you can create an individual environmentally friendly solution. A solution, so easy, that even the children can get involved and create their own reusable, plastic free shopping bag.

Back in 2012, I began making a variety of D.I.Y, “plastic free” bags: in Redwork embroidery, painted Norwegian Telemark and floral designs, and also with a pen and painting technique.

Here are a few samples from my existing bag stash.

But I needed more bags to have on hand, and as plain calico is rather plain, and ‘Redwork’ embroidery makes such a pretty and easy adornment. My initial plan was to embroider some designs on the new calico bags, in redwork technique, with a needle and thread. However, I am not the world’s neatest hand sewer ( far from it, really), and embroidery takes me for-EVER to complete, as I have an aversion to sewing, itself!

Solution: Enter the Evanscraft craft and cross stitch pen…. a permanent, acid free pen in a Barn red colour, that can simulate cross stitch or other types of embroidery. Wonderful! With this technique, you can create a pretty cottage garden or folk art design on fabric, (or even wood), and the result is something unique, and useful, created in a matter of minutes.

More time for plastic free shopping!!

It just might inspire others to take up plastic free shopping as well.

flower pattern

You will need:

  • A Calico or Cotton bag in a light colour from your local haberdashery store, ironed flat.
  • A pattern such as the one above, which you can trace over in thick black pen. NB. If you aren’t feeling particularly inspired to draw your own design, you can find plenty of free ‘Redwork’ or other embroidery patterns, (there are some here on Pinterest); in colouring books or even on google image search, itself.
  • A permanent pen, preferably in barn red or a dark red colour, but any colour will do, as long as it doesn’t bleed or run when you wash the bag. I used an Evanscraft Craft and Cross Stitch pen but please patch test the pen of your choosing, on a hidden corner, to check its colour fastness and suitability.


  1. Tape the design on a glass window to create an impromptu light box and trace your selected pattern in thick black pen.
  2. Tape the traced design on top of a piece of cardboard and slip both inside the bag, centering horizontally. The calico is fairly thin so it is easy to see the traced design through the bag. Mounting the design on the cardboard prevents any bleeding of the penned design, through to the rear side of the bag.
  3. Then it is just a matter of re-tracing over the pattern with the chosen pen, and adding a few embellishments of your own, within and around the design.
  4. A final press of the bag, with the iron seals the design and you are ready to shop!

Tip: A ruler may be used to keep long lines straight, or you may prefer to keep them loose and rustic, as I did in the border design. Use the ruler turned upside down to prevent smudging on to the bag.

A major complaint of those who continue to use plastic bags, is that they forget to bring the re-usable bags, along with them, when they shop.

I purchased the plain cotton shopping bags from Lincraft for a dollar each. Not only are they strong, bu they can be scrunched up to a really small size, for carrying inside my handbag, (see in photo to the right above).

In this way they are always on hand, for my use just when I need them.

No more forgetting the bags!!

What design would you choose?

Something environmentally friendly and creative to ponder About.


16 thoughts on “Kicking out Plastic – Tutorial Signature Shopping Bag”

  1. Your bags are wonderful. I have mountains of reusable bags—one has a schnauzer on it. I bought my first ‘green bag’ in 2003 in Ireland—the year they came out there. That said, I started carrying my own bags in the 1970s. My mother reinforced my behaviour, and she died 20 years ago.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My Gran used to have those old expandable string ones. She was never without a bag!! It is to the detriment of the marine life that we lost that habit and have to work to regain it! So glad to hear you have been environmentally friendly since 2003 Peggy! You are an inspiration!! I am envious of the Schnauzer one but also have to admit to having made a pocket for several with my own Schnauzer designed and printed fabric on it!!


    2. Just so you know, I’ve been environmentally friendly since the late 1970s when I lived in Egypt. That’s when I bought a ‘cone’ of peanuts wrapped in a letter I’d thrown out in the previous week.


    3. It was eye-opening and educational to see how absolutely nothing was wasted in Egypt in the 1970s. Same was true throughout Africa. Sadly, it’s not always the case now.


        1. Once it becomes a habit for everyone to BYO bags, they will see less value in plastics, I think. What do your kids think about plastic bag use? Are they getting through to the younger generation too?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That’s true. It’s a matter of getting used to it and remembering to take our own bags.
            My kids are all for no plastic. They have been brought up with that mentality which is great. The younger generation are more open to these ideas I feel. 😊

            Liked by 1 person

            1. So good to hear that the younger generation has an environmental conscience! That bodes well for our future. The teachers are obviously including proactive environmental concepts in their curriculums.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. What happened to the personnel shopping trolley? I can still see my mum doing her shopping up and down from our house in suburban Revesby by dragging a green trolley bulging with groceries for our large family of eight.
    She would empty the trolley and park it next to the kitchen door on the veranda, ready for next day’s shopping.
    Not many people now walk to shops. They drive to shops in giant black double story SUV’s groaning with diesel engines. I daren’t look at them in case they take it wrongly and assault me in a rage. I have even seen them parking in a space reserved for the frail and elderly.
    While stepping out of those black cars they are holding a cell-phone under their chin. It has all become so bewildering.


    1. A scene all too familar and very grating for me too, Gerard. This morning my husband and I walked home from dropping our car off for the annual service at the local dealership. We had a glorious walk home and a coffee along the way. Ordinarily we would have driven home in a second car. His retirement and adult children has given us more time to do such things and think about doing things differently. The younger generation have so much more technological simulation in their lives, they are time impoverished and add the consumer culture into the mix, and they would not even contemplate the shopping trolley trip. But are they any happier with this level of intensity and being this busy? Do they necessarily achieve any more than a person leading a slower lifestyle?


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