Sustainable What?

On my current kick to simplify my life, I ran into a roadblock.

Face first I plowed into a problem I didn’t know I had and didn’t know how to fix.

Multi-blade razors.

You know, those expensive bad boys you pay a fortune for, then can’t make work with your all natural, homemade, truly moisturizing shaving-cream-in-a-can replacements?  Because oil plus dead skin plus little bits of hair stubble equals one clogged razor that sort of just scrapes at the top layer of your epidermis.  Not to mention, you use them over and over while they rust away in your shower, hoping to get one more use out of them before you have to trash it because they cost a freaking fortune!

Yeah, those.

So I set to my interwebs research, because I rock at that.

It took awhile.

There are millions and billions of shaving soaps, creams, pre-shave oils, and other alternatives to shaving cream, but very very few alternatives to disposable razors.  In fact, there are two.  And mostly manly men know about them.  There are even entire message board communities filled with men who use them (here and here).

And very, very few women.

I think it is a vast conspiracy.

The men want to keep their shaving secret… well… secret.

You see, REAL shaving is a manly art.  An art practiced in men’s barber shops for… well… a long time.

Women are the newbies on the shaving scene.  We’ve only been doing it a hundred years or so.  We never had to use our handy dagger to scrape the scruff from our… well… anywhere.  We were tricked into it, and now are addicted to being fur free.  But we still aren’t, really, in the club.

You see, I’m talking about the two schools of wet shaving.

You know, a mug of soap, that fluffy brush, and a Razor.  It’s a ritual involving oils and hot wet cloths and stropping (or not, depending on the kind of razor you use), then taking your time applying foamy soap and using tiny strokes until you are baby butt smooth.  It’s straight razors passed down from grandpa or a double edge safety razor.  It’s reusable metal that you can pass on rather than cheap plastic that barely works the first time.

And apparently women can do it too!

So, I’m going to say goodbye to multi-blade razors and give wet shaving a try.

Starting with a double edge safety razor, though I find myself strangely drawn by the idea of using a straight razor on my legs.  Maybe I’m a bit of a romantic after all.


Simplifying my Life by Spending Less Time in the Lotion Aisle

You know, when you tell someone you do not use shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, face lotion, toothpaste or deodorant, they think you are a stinky hippie.  Well, not that there is anything wrong with hippies, but I’m not.  I smell like jasmine, thank you very much!  My hair is shiny and clean, my skin is healthy and soft, and my breath is cinammony fresh.

Before I had a kid attached to me, standing in the lotion aisle trying things, sniffing things, reading their claims… it was a luxury.  One that is impossible with a three and a half year old chomping to peruse the toy aisles.

I’ve spent countless amounts of money on lotions for face and body, shampoos and conditioners, body care products of all sorts and descriptions.  Few of those worked (hence the constant trying of new things that didn’t work) and all of them contained harmful chemicals that when you really REALLY think about it you don’t want anywhere near the largest organ of your body to be absorbed into you… urgh.

I mean, if you wouldn’t want to EAT it, why would you want to absorb it through your skin?

I stopped using shampoo a long time ago.  Shampoo was a luxury… one that became more of a hassle than a benefit.  For so long I spent so much effort on my hair.  Dry, brittle, baby fine hair that turned to frizzy poof at the drop of a hat.  Unless I wanted to damage it more spending time blow drying it to perfection.

So, I stopped using shampoo.

I tried the whole baking soda/vinegar routine, but my hair felt like straw.  Lovely looking straw, but not a texture I liked feeling.  So I switched it up, found a natural conditioner and still skipped the shampoo.  That worked for a long time.

Then summer hit.

Maybe it was the heat and sweating, or maybe it was a change in humidity.  My hair suddenly was looking oily, though it hadn’t been for the months I’d been shampoo free.

I recently switched back to baking soda and vinegar, just a couple times a week.

But I added a new thing.

Not a new thing to me, but a new thing to my hair.

See, I also stopped using facial moisturizer, because I found something better.

I met grapeseed oil.

I added a little fragrance oil, and BAM!  I have a moisturizer that smells fabulous, is great for my skin and contains no toxins!  Who knew oil was what skin needed?  It just takes a drop or two straight out of the bath.  (Grapeseed oil might not be the best for your skin type, though something out there will be).  No oily skin either, it soaks right in.

THAT very same bottle of grapeseed oil is also my go to leave in conditioner.  After applying to my face, I add another drop or two to the ends of my hair.  No more straw!  It’s light, it’s not drying, it’s wonderful.

I had been using argan oil, but that stuff is liquid gold.  Grapeseed oil is very economical, as are avocado oil, hemp oil, and almond oil.  All have different properties, so either test them on yourself or look up their properties.  Not so incidentally, they are great in various other body products too.  More bang for your buck!

So, now my skin looks and feels great, my hair looks and feels great, and I’ve discarded a whole slew of products from my bathroom.  Baking soda is cheap, apple cider vinegar is cheap, grapeseed oil is cheap… essential oils and fragrance oils can be pricey, but a few drops go a long way in most uses.

That sent me looking around my bathroom, looking at other products I use and how I can make a change.  Which led me to a whole bunch of information on the toxins I’ve been loading into my body without even realizing it.

Did you know deodorant has aluminum and parabens in it?  And really doesn’t work all that well in the first place?  Yeah, me either.

Deodorant had to go.  Even if it isn’t overly expensive.

BO was not an option, though.

Turns out, baking soda is an excellent deodorant for more than just your fridge.  Coconut oil (yeah, the stuff you use to make fried chicken, go figure) has antibacterial properties and is solid at room temperature.  If you want a bar or stick, you can add beeswax, then mold it, though a little starch helps with both moisture and solidifying.  Or even a bit of shea butter so you can have silky smooth moisturized underarms.  It costs pennies to make from things I already have.

This clearing out my cabinet has now become a landslide of discarding products and changing them out for the SAME FEW INGREDIENTS.

Ingredients I already have for laundry soap, soap making, and general cleaning.  A few oils and butters, plus beeswax and baking soda.  Epsom salt is a good thing to have, so is washing soda (though you can turn baking soda into washing soda in a pinch).  A few essential oils, and you are SET for body care and keeping your house clean.

What the hell?  I’ve been spending a crapload of money to buy all these products that I can replace with just a few?

I can EVEN make a good for me toothpaste that doesn’t taste bad!  It’s cinnamon flavored!  Sweetened with stevia, flavored with essential oil, a bit of baking soda to clean and either castile soap (ew!) or coconut oil to make a paste.

Seriously, a few ingredients makes tons of things that work as well or better than the commercial counterparts.  They take a bit of time to prepare, but generally less time than the drive to the store.  And you can make them in your pjs.

Just start with one, single change.  One product replaced by a natural healthy alternative.  Give that change two weeks for your body to acclimate (this is particularly true with chucking shampoo or store bought deodorant or facial moisturizer.  Your body will need time to adjust to the change.)

Make a vegetarian meal once a week.  (Don’t tell the family, just feed it to them.)

Start reading labels and thinking about the products you use.

It might SOUND difficult, time consuming, pain in the ass, but it’s not.  Really.

My Soaps

The Sexy Moisturizing Soap

This is a fabulous winter soap, with lots of moisturizing goodness.  My soap came out of the mold oddly oily feeling, but it’s luscious to use, leaving skin feeling well lubricated and clean.  Decent lather, but not super bubbly.

**This recipe will be getting a rework.  My math is bad and it’s highly superfat, which is why the bar is oily.  I’ll work on my math skills and post an update.**

Sweet Almond Oil 3.1 ounces

Canola Oil 6.2 ounces

Coconut Oil 4.6 ounces

Grapeseed Oil 3.1 ounces

Olive Oil 13.4 ounces

Safflower Oil 3.1 ounces

Shea Butter 1.6 ounces

Lye 4.5

Water 11.2

2 tablespoons of raw honey

A note on using honey – Honey is an odd thing in soap and slightly finicky.  You need to reserve some of your water (I held back 1.2 ounces), heat it up and melt your honey into it before adding it to a slightly cooled lye solution.  Honey will change how your soap behaves in hot process, you just have to wait it out.

Essential Oils (I used Orange, Cinnamon and Clove)

Kitchen Sink Soap

It uses everything but the kitchen sink.  I grabbed a bunch of common oils you probably have in your kitchen, used them all at 20%, and got soap.  Yes, I am that awesome.  This is a very nice general purpose soap with a good lather, very cleansing.  It doesn’t do a whole lot for the moisture department, but it isn’t at all drying either.

Canola Oil 8 ounces

Olive Oil 8 ounces

Coconut Oil 8 ounces

Vegetable Shortening 8 ounces

Soybean Oil 8 ounces

Lye 5.4

Water 13.2

Essential Oils

Sparkly Clean

I launched myself head first into a new adventure.

I made my very first soap.

From scratch using the evil lye solution.

I made what is known among soapers as “bastile” soap, which just means I didn’t make 100% olive oil soap.

And it was wonderful.

It was also horrible.  My second batch turned to this horrible oily scum that I had to dump out.  Bet my pipes are clean and sparkly now.

Now, soap making is a sketchy combination of science and art and turns such bad words as “fat” into a good thing.  It is also far less difficult that one might imagine.

I’ve held off on soap making, other than the cheater pour and mold type, for one specific reason.  Waiting 4-6 weeks to use my soap was just out of the question!  I’m an immediate gratification kind of girl.

Then I learned one important fact: there are two methods of making soap, and one of them gives you immediate (24 hour) satisfaction.

Cold Process — Cold process soap making is a misnomer.  This is the current popular method that you see all over the interwebs.  Essentially, you mix it up, then pour it into molds.  After a day or two, you pop it out, cut it up, and then it has to SIT ON A SHELF FOR 4-6 WEEKS BEFORE YOU CAN USE IT.

On the other hand, you can make ginormous batches of soap using this method.  Frankly, I don’t find myself needing 10lbs of soap I have to wait 6 weeks for.  (Though I’m going to give cold process a shot and give out the results for Christmas.  Lucky you people!)

Hot Process — Hot process, on the other hand, gives you usable soap as soon as it cools down, at least overnight.  You cook your soap either in a crock pot or on the stove and it goes through some acrobatics you need to monitor which are loads of fun.  Then you glop it into a mold and let it sit.

Once it is fully cooled, you can unmold it, cut it, and use it immediately, because it’s fully saponified by the heat and doesn’t need to cure.  Granted, some soaps will remain somewhat pliable (damn you bastile!) until they’ve had a bit of resting time, but two weeks still beats out 4-6 weeks.

You can use just about any recipe with either process, though do make sure you run any recipe through a lye calculator.  If you get that wrong, bad things can happen… like caustic or oily soap.

You are limited in batch size.  In my 6 quart crock pot, I can make about a 3 pound batch, but not much more than that.  (That’s nine 5 ounce bars),

The Science — The science of soap making is actually pretty darn cool.  All soap is made with lye, which is the same stuff plumbers use on really stubborn drains.  The lye reacts with the fats (either animal or plant) you add it to, saponifying it and making soap.

Lye is required to make real soap.  You can’t get around that.  Soap making requires a 33% solution of NaOH.  Lye is caustic, so this isn’t a kid friendly project, though honestly, it is less dangerous than cleaning your bathroom.  Seriously, have you really looked at the safety precautions on your cleaning products?  No, because you use vinegar and water!

The Tools — Technically, most of what you need to try your hand at soap making is already in your kitchen.  Olive oil, some glass bowls, a wire whisk and a crock pot or non-aluminum pot.  Heck, you can actually make a tiny batch in your microwave if you are feeling really confident.  (If you want to make hot process, you don’t need a special crock pot, because by the time you are finished, it is soap and all the lye is used up.)

You will also need a scale that measures in ounces.  Soap is measured by weight, always.  Here is where you can see why complete with pretty pictures.

If you use plastic or wood tools, you will not be able to later use these items for food.  Glass and stainless steel are non-porous, though, and can be completely de-lyed without issue.  Big pyrex measuring cups are perfect for soap making.

Most tutorials show a stick mixer.  The kind you use to mix up protein drinks, not the kind you use for cake batter.  This isn’t necessary, but it does speed up the process and save your arm.  You can manually mix with a wire whisk and have perfect soap.

Lye you probably don’t have, but you can find it in the plumbing section of some hardware stores (I got mine at Lowe’s, I’ve heard of someone getting hers at Dollar General.)  Lye comes as a sort of salt texture (at least, mine did) which makes it easy to pour without an issue.  You can go the gloves and goggles route, though I felt silly as hell all suited up for hazmat.  Keep some vinegar handy for accidental splashes.  AND ALWAYS ADD LYE TO WATER, not the other way around.  Exothermic reactions can be exciting, but stick to playing with vinegar and baking soda to demonstrate them.

You will also need something to mold your soap in.  You can use pretty much anything that will hold the amount of soap you are making.  I used washed out half gallon milk containers and just peeled them off my finished blocks.  Pringles cans are apparently fabulous for hot process though they are coated with aluminum and thus cannot be used as cold process molds without lining them fully first.  Plastic storage bins, a shoebox lined with butcher paper, a length of 3 inch pvc pipe… you get the picture.  Just make sure it’s something you will be able to get your soap out of again.

The Ingredients — The best part about soap making is that you can make whatever you want.  You can go strictly vegan with nut and fruit oils.  Or you can go kitchen savvy with lard, vegetable oil and shortening.  Each oil and fat has it’s own properties which will change your final result.

The best part?  I got 6 bars of soap for about $5 in olive oil.  Bars of the same soap that cost $5 a piece.  Yeah, that.  If I had done a bit more work finding cheap oil, I could have brought that cost WAY down.  And one 5 ounce bar will make 32 ounces of liquid castile soap.  I’ll let you know how that experiment turns out.

If you keep essential oils around, those are perfect for soap making.  (I used tea tree oil in my bastile soap for it’s antibacterial properties, which means I not only made castile soap, I made antibacterial soap!)  Stay away from your kitchen extracts, though!

Powdered milk, ground up oatmeal, honey, rock salt, and any number of other things also make good additives.

It’s a fun and useful hobby, but really not a child safe one!  Unless yours are like mine and love soap.  The weird kid.

Tutorial and Recipe Links!

Small Notebook’s A Beginner’s Guide to Soap Making

Soap Queen’s  Free Beginner’s Guide to Cold Process Soap Making  This one has a fabulous vocabulary list as well as a simple recipe to get you going.  There are also a whole slew of recipes and projects from soap to lotion to lip balm.  Great blog for all things like that.

Ready Nutrition’s Soap Making: A Beginner’s Tutorial This one has a hot processing recipe.

Chickens In the Road Hot Process Soap in a Crock Pot  A tutorial and recipe that is very kitchen friendly.

Hoegger Farmyard’s Simple Milk Soap Recipe  This one calls for goat’s milk, but you could substitute cow’s milk or even cream if you can’t source goat’s milk.

The Ponet Vedre Soap Shop’s Recipes and Instructions Page  A list of all sorts of bath and body recipes, including a shaving bar for the guys.  (Mica is used as colorant in these recipes and can be left out.)

Fimby’s Holiday Spice Soap recipe  This one will be ready just in time for Christmas!  Just make sure you use the Imperial recipe for your ounces measurements.  She has more recipes and a list of links here too.

There are a million and one recipes, and that’s just counting what is online.  You can get books by the stack filled with recipes and how-tos.  I was looking specifically for easy to source ingredient recipes, but there are all sorts of different soaps you can try.  Have fun with it!  And don’t be afraid of halve recipes, just make sure to run them through a soap calculator before making them.

No More Stink

Kids stink.

There, I said it.

They are really good at magically making things smell, like mattresses.

Ok, it isn’t their fault.  Fabrics of all kinds are really good at trapping odors of all sorts.  Urine, pet smells, smoke, that thing you burned in the kitchen last week still lingering in your couch cushions.

I now know a way to deal with those smells.  (It would probably work on carpet too, though I haven’t tried it yet.)

Vinegar.  And a sprinkle of baking soda.

You know that spray bottle you have under your kitchen sink.  Yeah, the one with the 50/50 vinegar and water solution you use on your counter tops because you are a hip modern parent.  Grab it.  That is your magic bottle.

It not only does countertops, you can spray it on your fabrics.  It’s clear, so staining really isn’t a problem (don’t spray silk!).  It’s all natural.  It smells like vinegar.

Ok, the last might not be a selling point, so open your windows.  It’s a good time of year for that anyway.

I had a problem.  Dillon likes to play on my bed during the day and has been known to… well… pee on it.  Drives me crazy.

So, I stripped the bed, sprayed the whole mattress with vinegar and then let that bad boy dry.  (Don’t saturate it, a light spray is plenty.)  Vinegar is an odor magnet.  I don’t know how.  (You can actually set little bowls of it around before company comes over and it will suck up all the odors and trap them.  Just dump the bowls down the drain and you house will smell fresh.)

I let it dry.  Turn a fan on it, have those lovely open windows freshening the room.  Seriously, it’s worth the temporary vinegar smell.

Once it’s dry to the touch, sprinkle some baking soda all over.  Baking soda is another good odor buster.  Sprinkle your carpets before your vacuum.  Now, let that baking soda marinate for a good long time.  You can work it into the fibers a bit if you like.  Dillon helped by jumping on the bed to get them good and deep.

The last step is to vacuum your bed.  Whatever method you use that works for you is fine, but get all that baking soda off the mattress.  Which now smells fresh and clean.

Now that your mattress smells fresh… GET A MATTRESS PROTECTOR SO IT DOESN’T HAPPEN AGAIN.

I love vinegar.

Squishy, Sticky, Veggie, Love

I don’t know if you actually like vegetables or not.  Oddly enough, most people think they don’t.  Personally, I believe that a love of veggies is in the preparation and selection.  You prepare it wrong, and it might be good for you, but you just aren’t going to like it.

That said… I’m a terrible cook.

It MIGHT be because I treat recipes like suggestions.


I am a bit of a trial and error cook.  Partly, it’s because at any given time, I can only find one measuring cup and a teaspoon.  Measuring is for pussies anyway.

So this, so-called, recipe works well for me.  And it doesn’t involve cooking.  I know, right?!

Raw Veggie Spring Rolls

So, go into your fridge, find some veggies that are good raw.  Carrots, beets, cucumber, sprouts, spring greens, lettuce, radishes, whatever.  Anything you can eat raw works.  (I’m using beets, carrots, cucumber and little yellow tomatoes, because that’s what I have.)

Here's my veggies, all ready to be grated.

Here’s my veggies, all ready to be grated.

Take those veggies and do whatever voodoo you need to do (peeling and trimming and whatnot) and then grate them, cut them into matchsticks or otherwise make itty bitty pieces out of them.  If you use a food processor, be really careful you don’t end up with puree.  That wouldn’t work.

Cucumbers aren't really good to grate, but isn't it all pretty?

Cucumbers aren’t really good to grate, but isn’t it all pretty?

Now, you need one special thing.  You need rice wrappers.  You might be able to find them in the Asian cuisine section of your grocery store.  I got mine at Whole Foods.  You don’t want egg roll wrappers, you want rice pancakes.

The wondrous rice thingies.

The wondrous rice thingies.

These suckers are weird and wonderful.  They come out of the package like sheets of plastic.  While dry, they are actually fragile and you can crack them easily.

They are sort of like plastic sheets until you get them wet.  Wonderfully weird.

They are sort of like plastic sheets until you get them wet. Wonderfully weird.

You need a pan big enough to fit a whole rice thingy in and submerge it in water.  I used a clean frying pan.  (Make sure you follow the instructions on the package here, they might be different).  You soak one at a time for just a short time, then you pull it out and CAREFULLY flatten it onto a clean dish towel.  Put a couple tablespoons total of your grated/sliced veggies on and wrap that baby up.  The rice is sticky, which holds it all together.

Just a little bit!

Just a little bit!

Ta-da!  Fresh spring rolls.

Beets might not be the best thing, but they taste so freaking good.

Beets might not be the best thing, but they taste so freaking good.

Apparently you can fry them… but seeing as I am a loser when it comes to frying things, mine ended up looking like a massacre when I was done.  Freaking mess.  And besides, that involves cooking.

The Great Spring Roll Massacre

The Great Spring Roll Massacre

Now that you have your rolls of veggie love, you need something to dip them in.  My favorite is peanut sauce.  It’s easy.  Couldn’t get any easier if you just poured it from the bottle.

Take a good scoop of peanut butter, any kind will do, though I prefer all natural in this instance.  Add some garlic… this is when minced garlic in a jar in your fridge comes in handy.  Get the big one, seriously.  Add just a pinch of sugar, or not.  Sprinkle in some soy sauce.  MIx it up, and here’s the kicker.  Add water.

Stop adding water when you like the consistency.  It’s a bit tricky to get it mixed in, but it will mix, promise.

My peanut sauce.  It's good.

My peanut sauce. It’s good.

And there you have it.  Fresh, tasty, veggie goodness.  Without cooking.  They are fresh and filled with the things you love with a nice chewy outer casing.

On a side note… beets turn everything red.  Just sayin’.

Super Simple Grocery Bag

Tote bags.

Grocery bags.

Toy bags.

Book bags.

Tote bags are seriously the easiest sewing project I can imagine.  They are fun, super simple, and useful.  Can one ever have enough bags?

Now you are asking the screen: Can a home made bag REALLY stand up to two gallons of milk?  (Because, yes, everyone puts two gallons of milk in the same bag to carry home.  Right.)

The answer is: Mine can.  I tried it.

WOULD I carry two gallons of milk in one bag?  No, that shit is heavy!

So, lets get down to business.  Making a tote bag.

First, figure out who in your family is a quilter.  Yes, a quilter.  They will have everything you need.  And you can have a convenient babysitter at the same time.  (Try your mother-in-law, Emily)

Now, if you want PRETTY bags that are all matchy matchy, you are going to need to buy fabric.  While you are there ogling, buy a yard of interfacing.  Just ask the people at the cutting counter to help you pick a FUSIBLE interfacing suitable for tote bags.  I’ve used various ones with equal success.  You can also use batting, if you happen to have some, but it involves a bit more sewing.

Now, visit your quilter, this is an afternoon project.

Raid their sewing room.  There is a reason I sent you to a quilter.  In their sewing room, you are going to find buttloads of fabric.  Shamelessly raid their stash.  You need 4 fat quarters OR two half yards OR one full yard for a bag.  You will have little leftover bits.

Really don’t know a quilter?  (Really, ask the mother-in-law or grandma)  You can use anything.  Stay away from high quality sheets, though.  The weave is really too fine for regular sewing and you will end up with a mess.  Crib sheets, old curtains or table cloths, clothes… just not anything stretchy, though with the interfacing, it’s less of a problem.

You will also need:

  • Rotary cutter
  • cutting board
  • 16×24 acrylic ruler
  • sewing machine
  • thread

Seriously, find a quilter.  They have everything you need.

Now, break out the iron and the starch.  Starching takes time, but it makes the whole cutting part much easier and keeps your fabric from stretching out of shape from handling.  Use a lot of starch now, everything will line up later.

You don’t really need to prewash, you can if you like, though.

Once everything is starched and resembling cardboard, you are ready to cut.

The SIZE you cut is less important than all the pieces matching.  Yes, I said it.

Alright, I will admit that when I was “designing” this pattern, I got hung up on measurements, which sort of defeats the purpose of “super simple.”  This is supposed to be a “raid your quilter’s stash” bag.  Not a “this is a perfectly measured and cut and pieced” bag.

That said, I have an idea in my head of what size a tote bag “should” be.  I’m tossing it out the window and making this SIMPLE.

First, stack your fat quarters together, sort of lining up the two sides as best you can.  If you are using yardage, you want to be using 2 half yard cuts, either the same or different fabrics.  Co-ordinating, schmordinating.  Now, square up one side.  That just means line up your ruler sort of square to the fabric as a whole and trim it until you get one nice even side.  Turn your fabric being careful of your layers and square up an adjoining side.  (Make sure to flip up all your layers to make sure you are trimming all four)

Square side two by lining up a ruler line with your clean edge.

Square side two by lining up a ruler line with your clean edge.

Flip up the edges to make sure all layers get trimmed.

Flip up the edges to make sure all layers get trimmed.

Now here is your single measurement.  Since interfacing comes as 20 inches wide, that’s what we want our longest side to be.  Or less.  Just not more, because then you didn’t get enough interfacing.

Now, from your longest side (the 20 inch or less side) cut about a 2 inch strip.  Just make sure it’s the same width all the way down.  You can go narrower or wider, if you want.

Now, square up your last side.

You should have 4 rectangles and 4 strips.  Yay!

Now, cut your interfacing to match your pieces.  You will need to cut 2 rectangles and 2 strips.  If you need to fudge, do it on the strips, not the panels.

Attach the interfacing to whatever 2 pieces of fabric you want on the outside of your bag as per the instructions.  Take your time with this step, you really want it stuck on there.  If you are worried it doesn’t stick enough, you can run some “quilting” lines through it.  You can use some of the decorative stitches your machine might have to more solidly anchor the interfacing to the fabric.

Attach the two strips to any two of your fabric strips.

Now you are ready to sew!

Get out your sewing machine, make sure you know how to use it.  If you don’t, get your quilter friend to load the bobbin and thread for you.

Take your two interfaced panels, put them right sides together.  You can pin, if you like.  I rarely pin.  Sew together two of the short sides and one long side.  The other long side will be left open.  Unless you like tall narrow bags.

Do the same thing with your non-interfaced panels, except leave a 3 inch gap in the long side.  Make sure you back stick on either side of your gap.  This is important, you need it for turning and your hand needs to fit in the gap.

Sew one interfaced and one non-interfaced strip down both long sides, right sides together.  Make sure you leave the ends open.  Repeat with the other set.

I'm using a quarter inch seam on each long side of my handle strips.

I’m using a quarter inch seam on each long side of my handle strips.

Attach a safety pin to one end of your sewn strips and turn it so that right sides are facing out.  Press it flat, then top stitch along each long edge.  It doesn’t matter how far from the edge you stitch, as long as it’s a straight line.  This is another time you can bust out the decorative stitching.

Pin it and push the pin right through the middle between the layers, towing the rest along for the ride.

Pin it and push the pin right through the middle between the layers, towing the rest along for the ride.

Turn that baby right side out.  Get rough with it.

Turn that baby right side out. Get rough with it.

I like to add a little hanging tab to all my tote bags.  This is totally optional.  Find one of your little scraps.  What size?  Doesn’t matter, though at least 1.5 inches wide.  Longer is better, but you will need at least 4 inches.  Square it up into a rectangle and take it to your ironing board.

Press your rectangle in half, wrong sides together (you should see your pretty fabric on the outside.).  Now comes the tricky part where you are likely to burn yourself.

Open out your rectangle again and fold in one half to the center.  Use your fingers to press it, then set the iron on it.  Repeat with the other side.  You should end up with three folds with your raw edges in the middle.

Tri-folded strip.

Tri-folded strip.

Top stitch everything in place.  This is where the longer is better part comes in.  It is easier to sew if it’s longer, you only need to sew about 4 inches of the middle of your folded piece, then trim it to size.  And I swear no one will notice if your stitching isn’t perfect.

I'm top stitching with an eighth of an inch using my foot as a guide.

I’m top stitching with an eighth of an inch using my foot as a guide.

It's not perfect, but I swear no one will notice.

It’s not perfect, but I swear no one will notice.

Now you should have the outside of your bag, the lining of your bag, two handles and a hanging tab.  You could, right now, put your bag together.  It would be a perfectly serviceable bag and it would carry all your stuff.

I, however, like to have a gusseted bag.  That means it’s got a flat bottom and definitive sides.  And it’s really easy to do.  I’m not going to explain it, I’m going to send you here instead.  Use the sew first technique and make about a 4 inch gusset.  Don’t worry TOO much about how big it is, but be consistent with all your gussets.  Both the outer bag and lining need to be done.

All my parts, ready to be assembled.

All my parts, ready to be assembled.

Turn your outer bag right side out (this is the one that is interfaced).  Now, match up your side seams and fold it in half.  This will find the middle of each panel so you can pin on your handles.  Measure about 2.5 inches from your midline fold and pin on a handle.  Repeat.  Make sure the same fabric is facing towards you every time and the handle isn’t all twisted.  Stand back and look at it.  Does it look right?

This is how your handles should look pinned in place.

This is how your handles should look pinned in place.

On one side, measure a half inch from each side of your midline fold and pin on your hanging loop the same way.

The annoying little tab all pinned a half inch to each side of the fold line.

The annoying little tab all pinned a half inch to each side of the fold line.

It’s starting to look like a tote bag, right?

Now things get complicated.  Not difficult to do, but hard to understand no matter how freaking clear the instructions are.  There are tons of good bag making tutorials you can watch on youtube, I highly recommend doing so.  Seriously.  Just look for lined bag tutorials.

Now, what you need to do is put your outer bag with it’s pinned handled inside your lining.  You should end up with right sides facing in between the two layers.  Make sure everything is tucked between the two layers.

Match your side seams, then pin the hell out of it.  Seriously.  Tons of pins.  Just don’t run over them with the sewing machine.  (It actually makes no difference which way your seam allowance lays.  You might have noticed we didn’t bother pressing any seams.)

Pins, pins and more pins.  It really makes life easier.

Pins, pins and more pins. It really makes life easier.

Sew around the top edge with a half inch seam (you can go larger).  Yup, all the way around.  Back stitch over your handles for stability.  This doesn’t have to be pretty, it won’t be visible.

Now, remember the hole you left in your lining?  You did leave one, right?  (If you didn’t, pull out the seam ripper and make one.  This isn’t ideal, so I hope you left a hole.)  Reach in there and help your lining give birth to a bag.  Pull that badboy all the way right side out.  Yeah, that’s it.

My bag, giving birth.  Again, get rough with it.

My bag, giving birth. Again, get rough with it.

Before you tuck your lining in where it belongs, you need to stitch up your turning hole.  You CAN neatly and invisibly hand stitch it painstakingly.  That is perfectly acceptable.  It is also acceptable to run that bad boy through your machine.  It’s the bottom of the inside of the bag.  You aren’t going to care about a visible seam when you use it.  Promise.

Tuck the guts where they belong and pin all around the top again.  This involves folding down your seam allowance so the seam actually is the top edge.  It helps to start around the handles, just pull them up and it will fold over.  Pin, pin, pin.  It makes the top stitching easier.

Roll that seam right down so you get a tidy edge.

Roll that seam right down so you get a tidy edge.

Top stitch around the top edge.  Yeah, go ahead and use that decorative stitch that’s been eyeing you across the bar.  You can happily use more than one row, if that floats your boat.

Your lovely finished product.

Your lovely finished product.

Guess what?  That’s it.  Fini.  You have a freaking tote bag.  Go dump ten pounds of potatoes in it or a couple full gallons of milk and see how it works.

That little hanging tab that was actually a pain in the ass to make?  It fits nicely over the plastic bag racks at the grocery store so your bag stands proud while you fill it.  Bag handlers everywhere will praise you for it.

Is it machine washable?  Heck yeah.  Throw it in when you do towels.

Will it shrink?  Who cares, it’s a freaking bag.

Do I have to make them one at a time?  Heck no!  Hit a sale, garage sale, thrift store and pick up lots of hideous fabric.  Starch it all up, cut it all out, then mix and match and have a whole herd of hideous tote bags.

Do these make good gifts?  Absolutely.  And they are a green way to wrap gifts as well.  You might wanna measure that gift first, though.

Did you really mean it about raiding a quilter’s sewing room?  Oh, oh yeah.  But ask first.  Remember quilter=fabric hoarder.  As long as you aren’t picky, they are going to have plenty of fabric for you to choose from.

Do I have to use ugly fabric?  Of course not!  I happen to have a box of really hideous fat quarters.  Don’t ask.  However, you can buy lovely matching fabrics to make your bags.

I like pockets, can I add pockets?  Of course.  But that’s another lesson.

So, here you are, finished reading my sad excuse for a tutorial and you still don’t have a clue.  Well, I have a clue for you.  A little list of better tutorials. Tote Bag Tutorial

Homemaking Dreams Reusable Grocery Bag

MADE Reversible Color Block Tote Bag

ps i quilt Friendship Bag This cute little bag is actually the first bag making tutorial I used.  It’s the one that started the bag making frenzy.  Beware.