How to Make Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With Strings

comments (9) January 12th, 2009     

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Jeff_Rudell Jeffery Rudell, contributor
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Nothing could be less trouble than putting a few stitches in a paper bag, but this simple operation will likely add dozens of uses to it (and keep it out of the landfill for at least a little while).
The tools are simple (and safe) enough for little hands to use, so consider getting your children involved. Ive found that kids are much more likely to reuse things that they themselves had a hand in making.
It is, after all, JUST a paper bag, so dont be shy about it; dare to be daring.
Nothing could be less trouble than putting a few stitches in a paper bag, but this simple operation will likely add dozens of uses to it (and keep it out of the landfill for at least a little while).

Nothing could be less trouble than putting a few stitches in a paper bag, but this simple operation will likely add dozens of uses to it (and keep it out of the landfill for at least a little while).

Photo: Jeff Rudell
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We all have seen it at some point during the holidays: a limp paper plate loaded with cookies and covered in cling-wrap that's not clinging. Is there a drearier way to transport baked goods, treats, or gifts from point A to point B? This past holiday season, I vowed to make every effort to put an end to this unsightly and ineffective mode of conveyance. I bought premade boxes and tins (expensive and NOT particularly green—though the tins were reusable), I made my own boxes (a substantial investment of time and energy and again, not particularly green because most of them ended up in the trash once the treats they contained were gone), and I recycled plastic containers that I attempted to tart up with fancy labels, pieces of gingham, and ribbons. All these efforts were modestly successful in one way or another, but my simplest effort, by far, garnered the best response from recipients: a humble brown paper bag.

In my household, brown bags are usually reserved for packing lunches for my nieces whenever they come for a visit or for applying breadcrumbs and cornflakes to chicken the way my grandmother used to do. As useful as even these traditional uses are, the brown bag usually can expect a single use before it's shipped off to the landfill. But with the aid of a simple hole punch (or two), a box of ribbon remnants, and the eager participation of the aforementioned nieces, we created a collection of whimsical and attractive bags that delighted their recipients. Most people reported back to me that they carefully folded their bag and tucked it safely away in a drawer to be used again. A few people said their own children commandeered the piece as a stylish lunch bag. One woman took hers into her 4th grade class and made a craft project out of it. All in all, it may not empty the landfills, but it will, in some small way, keep them from filling up so quickly.


Some assorted ribbon and a hole punch (or two, or three...) are all you need to extend the life of these "single-use" paper bags. Get the kids involved making their own lunch bags and they'll be sure to bring them back home to use again and again.

A simple basting stitch was all I needed to make a pretty container perfectly suited to hold a batch of freshly made cookies to send to a friend.


For an even quicker solution, a few knotted lengths of blue satin ribbon look festive without being fussy.

These two "woven" examples were favorites during the holiday. One contained homemade peanut brittle and the other spiced almonds (both wrapped in waxed paper before being inserted into their brown paper wrappings). For the example on left, I used a 1/2-inch hole punch. Notice that I creased the bag vertically along the dotted lines and then placed my hole cutter halfway over the fold and punch. For the example on the right, seven small cuts made with a craft knife (notice the tiny one at the bottom) provided the lattice through which I wove three bright red ribbons (I fastened the ends with clear tape on the inside of the bag).


For the new year, I like to make cookies to give to all of my neighbors. In New York, with everyone's schedule being what it is, I usually end up leaving packages at people's doors. A 2-1/2-inch circle (again, cut by folding the bag over and cutting half a circle out across the fold) makes a perfect way to hang this gift on a doorknob. I used a custom rubber stamp to label each bag and a little silver cord to stitch them shut around the hole.


For a friend's little boy who just mastered the art of tying his shoe, I made a little lunch bag that allows him to show off his new skill.


And finally, this, for a certain teenage girl who said, "I wouldn't be caught dead carrying my lunch in some dorky bag with decorations on it." Apparently, bright-colored strips of plastic cut from some old wrapping paper are NOT dorky because she carried her lunch in this one for over a week (then asked me to make her a new one...and two more for her friends).

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Comments (9)

Soil writes: How long having you being doing brown bags like this? Where did you get the idea from or where did the idea originate from?

Posted: 7:19 pm on September 27th
Mjoy writes: I think this will be great and its so easy

Posted: 10:21 pm on September 10th
Stile writes: elegantly simple. Lovely idea. Also great use for the ribbons I tend to collect.
Posted: 1:29 pm on January 17th
lling writes: Gush! You are really very creative !!! I love all your work!
Posted: 9:59 am on April 11th
Isobelrose writes: What a great idea !!! They look so good !
Posted: 9:39 pm on February 20th
eveh writes: You are just totally amazing. I want to make everything you come up with. I will use this idea over and over.
Posted: 7:32 pm on January 17th
AWilcox writes: Very neat idea! I love it. I attend many dinner parties and always bring a bottle or two of wine for the host. I am going to attempt making one of these nifty paper gift bags for the next dinner party I attend. I am sure it will definitely stick out among all the other wine bottles! The other guests will be envious.

Thanks for the great and very stylish ideas, you are the best!
Posted: 4:34 pm on January 16th
pinsandneedles writes: Thanks for the great ideas!
Posted: 4:59 pm on January 13th
dany4bec writes: Wow, perfect timing. Thanks!
Posted: 11:55 am on January 12th
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