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Upcycling Project: How to Make a Hand Sewn Zippered Bra Bag out of an Old Pillowcase

This is a very easy hand sewn upcycling project which costs next to nothing and is suitable for beginners.
This is a very easy hand sewn upcycling project which costs next to nothing and is suitable for beginners. | Source

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
  • Nightdresses
  • Eveningwear
  • Swimwear
  • 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.

Steam ironing the pillowcase on a high setting.
Steam ironing the pillowcase on a high setting. | Source

Materials Needed

  • Pillowcase
  • 1 x DMC Embroidery Thread
  • 1 x Size 26 Tapestry Needle
  • Scissors
  • 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.

The chunky zipper I bought for my pillowcase from Lincraft.
The chunky zipper I bought for my pillowcase from Lincraft. | Source
DMC embroidery thread. Usually it comes as a skein, instead of wrapped on a card like this. You can wrap it if you want to - up to you!
DMC embroidery thread. Usually it comes as a skein, instead of wrapped on a card like this. You can wrap it if you want to - up to you! | Source

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.

It's OK to have up to a 1cm gap, but no more between the zipper's end and the end of the pillowcase.
It's OK to have up to a 1cm gap, but no more between the zipper's end and the end of the pillowcase. | Source

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).

The end of the zipper may hang off the end of the pillowcase, but this is fine, just pin it into place for a guide.
The end of the zipper may hang off the end of the pillowcase, but this is fine, just pin it into place for a guide. | Source

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.

Pinning the top end of the zip. It doesn't matter which way your pins face.
Pinning the top end of the zip. It doesn't matter which way your pins face. | Source
Pinning around the bottom end of the zip. Unzip until it reaches the end of the pillowcase (even if there is still some zip hanging off on the inside), then pin into place.
Pinning around the bottom end of the zip. Unzip until it reaches the end of the pillowcase (even if there is still some zip hanging off on the inside), then pin into place. | Source
This is the top end of the zip, after completing a lap of the pillowcase opening. Flatten the top end and pin as shown, so that there are no awkward bits sticking out from the zipper excess - the endy bits of the zipper are pinned to one side.
This is the top end of the zip, after completing a lap of the pillowcase opening. Flatten the top end and pin as shown, so that there are no awkward bits sticking out from the zipper excess - the endy bits of the zipper are pinned to one side. | Source

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).

Dividing the DMC into 2 thread sections.
Dividing the DMC into 2 thread sections. | Source

Thread your tapestry needle with one of the 2 thread sections and make a knot on the end.

Thread the needle and make a knot on the other end.
Thread the needle and make a knot on the other end. | Source

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.

Start sewing at the top of the zip end, letting the end bits hang free.
Start sewing at the top of the zip end, letting the end bits hang free. | Source
Stitches may look a little untidy - this is normal and gives it a handmade look.
Stitches may look a little untidy - this is normal and gives it a handmade look. | Source
What the back looks like. The zipper should be stitched with running stitch onto the pillow case.
What the back looks like. The zipper should be stitched with running stitch onto the pillow case. | Source

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.

Stitch as far as you can until you cannot sew any further, due to the zip lump.
Stitch as far as you can until you cannot sew any further, due to the zip lump. | Source
Pinch the zip end together and sew through it a few times.
Pinch the zip end together and sew through it a few times. | Source
Continuing the running stitch on the other side.
Continuing the running stitch on the other side. | Source

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.

Whip stitch over both of the zip ends.
Whip stitch over both of the zip ends. | Source
Lots of whip stitching to join the zipper ends together.
Lots of whip stitching to join the zipper ends together. | Source

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!

Sewing the zipper end down onto the zip.
Sewing the zipper end down onto the zip. | Source

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.

Cross stitch #1: stitching bottom left to top right.
Cross stitch #1: stitching bottom left to top right. | Source
Cross stitch #2: stitching bottom right to top left.
Cross stitch #2: stitching bottom right to top left. | Source
Continue cross stitching all of the way around the pillowcase.
Continue cross stitching all of the way around the pillowcase. | Source
What the cross stitch looks like on the back - see how it holds the zip edges in place?
What the cross stitch looks like on the back - see how it holds the zip edges in place? | Source
Going through the zipper end again to continue cross stitching on the other side.
Going through the zipper end again to continue cross stitching on the other side. | Source
Continuing the cross stitch on the other side of the zipper end.
Continuing the cross stitch on the other side of the zipper end. | Source

Vote Now

Think you'll try this project?

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We're Done!

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!

It doesn't look like much, but this bra bag will save you LOTS of money on clothing.
It doesn't look like much, but this bra bag will save you LOTS of money on clothing. | Source

© 2015 Suzanne Day

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Comments 31 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

I'm not really sure what I can say about this article. I doubt seriously if I'll be making a bra bag anytime soon. :) But it seems well-written and detailed, so nice job.


Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 19 months ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Author

LOL billybuc, well it may come in handy if your wife wants to make one!


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 19 months ago

My wife has a little bag like this she uses on wash day. I never thought to ask her what it was for. Now I know!

Crafty. Voted up.


Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 19 months ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Author

Hi Poetryman, I use them all the time. The more I used them, the more I had to make, so I ended up with about four large pillowcase ones, which I use for everything - women's tops are so flimsy these days that you do need to wash most of them in bra bags.


mary615 profile image

mary615 19 months ago from Florida

Your photography is outstanding! I love your idea. I have made many pillow covers like this, but I use Velcro to close the opening. Have you ever considered using Velcro instead of sewing a zipper in?

Great tutorial; voted UP, etc.


lady rain profile image

lady rain 19 months ago from Australia

I like the neat little stitches on the zipper, they look so cool. A great project to do while watching TV, I might get one started tonight because tomorrow is wash day!


Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 19 months ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Author

Hi Mary, I probably wouldn't use Velcro. When fabric in the washing machine pills, it will get caught up in the velcro. Plus the velcro might not stay closed in the washing machine - I feel a zip is stronger.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 19 months ago from The Beautiful South

That is so cool sewing a zipper on by hand! I would have never thought of that and you make it look so easy. I bet this would work for so many other things too, Thank you so much for sharing!


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 19 months ago from USA

What a nice job you have done here between the description and the photos. Definitely valuable for hosiery.


Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 19 months ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Author

Hi Jackie, it is really easy. If you can get past the fact that a handsewn zipper looks quite a bit different to a commercially sewn zipper then you are well on your way to being able to put zippers on everything without a sewing machine! I will have to do a hub on hand sewing button holes at some point, they are fairly straightforward too.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 19 months ago from sunny Florida

Love this, Suzanne. I am just learning to sew...yes, just!! And with these explicit instructions I do think I will be able to make this.

Voted up pinned and shared

Angels are on the way to you this afternoon ps


stricktlydating profile image

stricktlydating 19 months ago from Australia

That is a great idea!


Jojo Yousef profile image

Jojo Yousef 19 months ago

Voted up, I will try, WHY NOT?


sparkles 19 months ago

Can't I just use a pillow case with a zipper already in place?


morgantracybikini profile image

morgantracybikini 19 months ago from Maryland

I love the idea of this! I've been toying with the idea of upcycling some of my husbands old shirts to make new workout shirts for me :)


Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 19 months ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Author

You could!


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 19 months ago

What a fabulous idea! I will give this great upcycling project a try! thanks


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 19 months ago from East Coast, United States

So well done! I don't know which I like better, the project or the presentation here! I like morgantracy's idea of using old clothing to make a bra bag.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 19 months ago from America

Great idea. I always use bags for delicates. Voted up and shared.


Cardia profile image

Cardia 19 months ago from Barbados.

I definitely want to give this project a go! Such a simple and great idea, and using a ready-made pillowcase saves you on sewing time,compared to if you made it from scratch.

Great tutorial, and I think the red thread was a nice contrast against the blue and white :)


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 19 months ago from Home Sweet Home

I wanna try tosew this bag but not for bras, for my knick knacks


Marilyn Fritz profile image

Marilyn Fritz 19 months ago from Nevada

I love the idea of the zipper on the recycled pillow case for multiple washes. You're explanation is concise, and the photo's help to make the project easy for anyone. This is a great hub, encouraging recycling, and sharing improvements along the way. I am making one of these bags in the next few days.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 19 months ago from Houston, Texas

I already have some of those mesh bags with the strings to encase delicate items but should they become unusable this tutorial of yours will really come in handy. What I particularly like about this in addition to upcycling, is the fact of not needing a sewing machine. Up votes, pinning to Awesome Hubpages and will share.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 18 months ago from New Delhi, India

This is a very unique and innovative idea! This is surely make washing them easier and safe. Nice presentation and very useful project.

I would like to make it and your instructions are very helpful.

Thank you for sharing and voted up!


georgescifo profile image

georgescifo 18 months ago from India

This is a cool stuff and seems that we can create this at home and even try selling some..


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 18 months ago from sunny Florida

Just wanted to say good morning and hope that you have a lovely weekend. It is gorgeous this morning in Florida and I am so excited because in a few hours I will go pick up baby grandson to come spend the night!!!

Angels are on the way to you this morning ps


viryabo profile image

viryabo 16 months ago

Wonderful idea. This is exactly what i need.

Never ever thought about washing lingerie this way. Best way to keep them in shape, especially bras.

I think I'll make one with a zipper, following your very clear easy-to-follow instructions.

Thank you for this article.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA

Good idea--I can't find my commercial net/snap-top bag for washing delicates.

I don't have many delicates, anyway; I'm a jeans and t-shirts gal. However, I have found that the hooks on the bras tend to cause holes in our t-shirts! Even if I fasten them, they seem to come undone in the wash!

I could also use a smaller version of this bag to wash stuffed cloth cat toys in. (We have one who always manages to get toys into the litter box!!!)

That said, I'm not a hand-sewing type, either--but this could be very quickly stitched up on the machine inside of 15 minutes. I may just do that! ;-)


MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 15 months ago from Northern California, USA

This is so well-written and the photos helped a lot. I have never seen a bra bag in the stores and never thought about using one. I've just been hand washing those delicates for the longest time. I like this idea and will definitely be sewing one soon.


georgescifo profile image

georgescifo 15 months ago from India

This is really a nice stuff Suzanne and really enjoyed the way you presented it. Hope to make something similar once in my life...


DDE profile image

DDE 12 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Brilliant idea for making this type of bag. You are good at what you enjoy, Your step by step process is informative and with good explanation.

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