Upcycling Project: How to Make a Hand Sewn Zippered Bra Bag out of an Old Pillowcase
Make a durable bra bag that will last many years with this easy craft tutorial. Upcycled crafts are fantastic because you save money and recycle items around the house. This DIY project is a great beginner's tutorial for hand sewing and it's a very simple, easy project. It shows you how to make a durable bra bag that can be used for many years and the sewing techniques are simple, with a minimal amount of materials required.
In my previous article, How To Make A Bra Bag Out Of An Old Pillowcase, I explained how to make a drawstring bra bag. However, after a number of washes with it, I got a bit tired of undoing the wet string at the end, so I decided to upgrade the bra bag to a zippered one for convenience.
I was able to make the bra bag pictured here during the length of one movie (1.5 hours) and I know it will last several years before needing to make another one, unlike the last bra bag I bought from a store called Bras 'N Things, which lasted only 3 months and cost AU$15.
Ideal Items For Bra Bags
Imagine if you could get the maximum wash and wear out of:
- Fancy bras
- Lace panties
- Delicate, floaty tops
- Sequinned clothes
- Kid's teddy bears
- "Hand Wash Only" type clothes
- And many more!
I can't believe that hardly anyone knows about these marvelous inventions. Once you use one, you'll never go back..... it saves heaps of money on clothing and it's so easy to use!
What Is A Bra Bag?
A bra bag is a bag that protects delicates when washing. You can make bras and fragile fabrics last a lot longer if you use a bra bag, sometimes stretching clothing life for up to 10 years, when they might have originally lasted 3 months when washing normally in a washing machine. Bra bags definitely reduce holes, wear and tear on fabrics (including pilling) and stop items from wrapping around each other, so they are most useful!
I tend to have a few bra bags on hand and put clothes into them as they get dirty, so they are ready for instant washing. The way to use one is to put the clothes in the bag, seal it up in some way (eg. with a zip, like this one) and then throw it into the washing machine with anything else you like. After washing you take the bra bag to the washing line along with the rest of your clothes and take the delicates out of the bag, hanging them up. You also hang up the bra bag to dry.
The concept of using a bra bag is excellent, but I have never understood why retailers continually sell bra bags that fall to pieces so easily. Fast fashion or "built to fail"? I don't know and so I started making my own bra bags because I got very tired of buying them. It also means I can buy delicate lace panties, shimmering tops, sequinned outfits and all of those other things that fall to bits overnight in the wash - with a bra bag, you'll get to hang onto them a LOT longer.
- 1 x DMC Embroidery Thread
- 1 x Size 26 Tapestry Needle
- Sewing Pins
- Chunky, Strong Zipper
- (Buy length to fit end of pillowcase)
Step 1: Buy Materials, Choose A Pillowcase & Iron It
The materials do not cost much and you can buy all of them for under AU$10. For each bra bag you will need to choose a pillowcase from around the house and purchase a zip and possibly, some DMC embroidery thread.
Choose a pillowcase that you like, because you're going to be looking at it for the next 10 years. Always pick one that is a plain or printed cotton, without lace or embroidery embellishments, as it's going to go through a lot of washes. Iron it, unless it's completely flat already.
You can use other needle/threads if you like, but I prefer DMC embroidery thread with a tapestry needle because it looks pretty when doing the freeform cross stitch, plus it's easier to work with and see when stitching. It washes pretty well.
The zipper should be a chunky, industrial-type zipper (think denim or hard-wear zippers) and these can be bought in a local haberdashery shop. Buy a zipper that measures the length of the end of the pillowcase - better to have it either exact or longer, not shorter. You can also get a lovely contrasting colour for the zip and thread if you like! Solid zippers should cost around AU$5 but are well worth it.
Step 2: Pin the Zipper
Take any packaging off the zipper and hold it up to the end of the pillowcase. Match the top (where the zipper rests when the zip is closed) to one end of the pillowcase exactly, without leaving too much of a gap between the zip and the pillowcase edge. A small gap of less than 1cm is fine. Use one pin to pin this arrangement into place as a rough guide.
Smoothing the zipper across the pillowcase top, see where the zipper falls at the other end of the pillowcase. If it is too long, it will hang off the edge a bit. This is fine. Simply use one pin to pin it into place (we'll tackle the endy hanging bits later).
Next, unzip the zip completely. Then, removing the guide pins as you go, start pinning one side of the zip to one side of the pillowcase. Start at the top of the zip first and hold the fabric up so it is about 2-5mm from the edge of the zip. Pin all of the way around the pillowcase.
You don't have to get it perfect - as long as the edges are pinned nicely against the zipper and the ends of the zipper fit snugly into the ends of the pillowcase. In theory, you should be able to zip up the zipper and have both edges come together nicely, with no bumps or vastly mismatched edges - otherwise, pin it again to get it right.
Step 3: Running Stitch
Cut a 40cm length of DMC thread and divide it into 2 thread sections by pulling it apart (DMC threads come with 6 threads in them).
Thread your tapestry needle with one of the 2 thread sections and make a knot on the end.
Start sewing a running stitch at the top of the fabric, closest to the zipper. You can do any size stitches you like - I like to make mine small at about 3mm long as small stitches hold better. It will look a little untidy, but don't worry about that - it's part of the beauty of handmade sewing! Sew running stitch around the entire pillowcase, removing pins as you go. If you run out of thread, stitch a few stitches on the back and thread the needle again and keep going.
Note: Do not sew the endy bits of the top of the zip down, there is something we will do with that later.
It can be a bit fiddly at the zipper ends. When you reach the bottom of the zipper end, you may not be able to do running stitch all the way around because of the lump caused by the zipper. Simply stitch as best you can as far as you can, then turn the end inside out. Pinch the zipper end together (see photo) and stitch through it a few times, ending up on the side to continue.
Continue the running stitch until you get to the top end of the zip. Gather the two ends together and do a whip stitch (see photo), joining the two zipper ends together well.
Grab the whip stitched zipper end and lay it down on the zipper, facing one direction (any direction is fine). Sew it down onto the zipper only (don't sew through the pillowcase). See photo for example. Then make a few small stitches and cut the thread. The running stitch part is now finished!
Step 4: Freeform Cross Stitch
Next, it's time to do the cross stitch. The reason for the cross stitch is not just decorational - it holds the zipper edges in nicely, so they don't flap around and get in the way.
Thread the needle with more DMC, adding a knot on the end and begin cross stitching, below the line of running stitch. Start from the bottom left (see photo) and stitch to the top right. Then stitch from the bottom right to the top left. Leave a gap and do the next cross stitch. Continue this all the way around the pillowcase, avoiding the lumpy parts like the zipper ends by going through the end on the inside, as per the running stitch before.
Think you'll try this project?
When you have cross stitched around the entire pillowcase, stitch a few small stitches to end and cut off the thread.
The bra bag is now complete - well done and congratulations on finishing an upcycling project that will last!
© 2015 Suzanne Day