Wednesday, May 1, 2013

DIY Compartmented Produce/Farmer's Market Bag + When Organic Matters

If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that I think organic and natural products are very important. I also feel that way about organic food!
The problem is, eating organic can be extremely expensive. For people on a tight budget, this means we'll have to make choices about when it's a good idea to go organic and when we can fudge it a little big.
EWG (environmental working group) releases a list every year of the "dirty dozen", the most toxic/pesticide filled produce on the market that year, and they also release a list of foods which are the safest.
I really appreciate the work they do, making it so much easier for me to make informed choices at the market.
Speaking of markets, our Farmer's Market opens in a few days and I can't wait to go! If you also enjoy a local farmer's market, please remember that while the food is grown locally (most nutrient dense), it isn't necessarily organic. You'll have to speak to the farmer about how s/he grows the food.
Generally, fruits + veggies with a thick skin or rind tend to have less pesticides because a) they're harder for pests to attack and/or b) the pesticides can't get through the skin to the fruit. However, to access the full list of DIRTY DOZEN and CLEAN FIFTEEN, and not just what I chose to put on my bag, from EWG click those links.
So- I can never remember what is on the list. Seriously. It drives me crazy. I thought about writing in my phone, but then a better idea came to me-- why not make a bag that has them proudly on display? The perks were numerous...
Raising awareness
Eco-friendly, reusable bag
Actually *remembering* to take my bag so that I have the list...
Totally customizable.
So that's what we did. I started with this massive tote from Hobby Lobby. It was $5. I was originally going to just write the lists on the totes, but then decided it would be even cooler to add little compartments to hold produce on the inside. I hate bringing home produce in the plastic bags from the store, so by making produce compartments, it was even more earth-friendly!
To create the compartments, start with an XL t-shirt. Cut up the sides, across the top and then through the middle to create 4 rectangles.
Cut little slits into the panels, this will give your produce breathing room. Next, pin the edges down all around and then sew. Now you have 4 clean panels, ready to attach to the inside.
Here's where it gets tricky. Turn the tote inside out. If you're going to machine sew, you need to make sure not to run the panels all the way top to bottom. Otherwise it will be really hard to attach them without sewing the bottom shut. You don't want that- it will be super frustrating. Mark where the tote folds in at the bottom (yellow pins in my picture) and don't let your pockets go down further than that. Pin in place and sew, leaving the top open.
You'll notice that there is a lot of extra room. I wanted them to be billowing so that lots of produce could fit inside, not tight against the tote. Note that I overlapped little folds all along the sides and bottom to create the billows.
Here's a close up shot of the pinning process.
And that's how they look once attached to the tote (the bag is inside out).
You can also choose to hand sew (or no-so, if you're extremely brave) the pockets and run them fully top to bottom. On the other side, that's what I did. I used Aleene's OK to Wash permanent fabric adhesive to attach the remaining two panels to the tote. I also mimicked the folding/overlapping from above, but it wasn't as drastic since these panels were being stretched more. If you're super brave, you can stop there. It does give a semi-strong bond, but I feel like it couldn't possibly last too long. You'd be better up to follow that (after allowing it to cure for a day or so) with a needle and thread, hand stitching it in place. 
Next it's time to label! I wanted to go with an interpretive look, so I made the "dirty" side a little more chaotic. Using a pattern marking pen/marker/pencil, mark out straight lines all the way across. I didn't follow the lines entirely, and make a more haphazard look by spacing the two sides differently. 
Next, stamp or stencil the words on to your tote using fabric paint (stamp) or fabric markers (stencil). I created a very, very subtle ombre look by starting with a bold green and then mixing white into it as I went along. Even that is haphazardly done, though. 
For the clean side, I repeated the straight lines across the bag with a pattern marking pencil/chalk. This time, I followed the lines more closely and kept everything straight to reinforce the "clean" idea. The ombre, while still subtle, followed a pattern this time. Top line is red, middle two lines are strawberry and bottom two lines are pink. "clean" is also done the same way.
At this point, you'll want to allow your project to cure for a few days and then clean off the pencil with water. I took the pictures pre-cure, so I just used a washcloth on the tote in open spots, but had to leave a lot of the pencil intact so that I didn't risk ruining the paint job. 
Here's the finished project! Now I'll never forget which products to buy organic and which to skip again :) I really should have done this last week for Earth Day... buuuut. I didn't, clearly.
All the best, and as always, thanks for reading! 


  1. What a great idea! Another idea is to make the pockets narrower so that you can safely bring home bottles of wine and this way they don't clang together, or even bottles of pop or a special pocket for eggs! After a few years of using my own bags (rather than paying $.10 for plastic), these are the things that need extra help to stay intake. For carrying meat, I bought a cheap cooler type bag at the dollar store and used it as a liner in a material bag which is great in the summer time. As an added advantage, your food is sorted ready to be put away directly into the fridge.

    1. Fantastic ideas!!! Thank you so much for adding to this!

  2. What a cute project! I love it so much that I decided to feature it in our roundup of tote bags! Check it out here:

    Have a great day!

    1. Thank you, Julia! I really appreciate it! <3


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