This fall, when your garden is overflowing with the season’s bounty and you find yourself in need of some sturdy baskets to hold it all, look no farther than your recycling bin. In as little as five to ten minutes, you can easily transform ordinary brown grocery sacks into attractive, functional, and surprisingly strong baskets that are perfect for gift giving. Cut, fold, and tie, and you’ve got a basket. You’ll think of so many uses for them that you may never look at a grocery sack the same way again. If you’re like me, you’re probably delighted to find a use for all those brown paper bags that accumulate under the sink or behind the refrigerator.
I first discovered these ingenious sack-baskets in an old Brownie Girl Scout manual from the 1950s. Three grocery sacks nest together, the sides folded or rolled down to different heights. A fourth sack, with the bottom cut off and the sides folded down, becomes the handle. Because the basket is three bags thick and because the handle is attached as a loop, without seams, this sack-basket can hold a lot more weight than you might think.
I make these baskets for my own use as well as whenever I give away something from my garden or kitchen. In fact, they’re indispensable. I’ve tucked potted seedlings, fresh-cut herbs, homemade herbal bread or muffins, cookies, or jellies into sack-baskets. I’ve filled them with crackers and popcorn for outdoor parties. I’ve made small ones from lunch bags and filled them with potpourri, party favors, or small presents. At fall dinner parties, a small one at each place setting can hold nuts and spices while a larger one serves as a centerpiece filled with colorful leaves, gourds, and small pumpkins. I sometimes take one to the farmer’s market and fill it with vegetables. People always appreciate receiving a basketful of natural beauty products made with ingredients from my garden. When I teach classes on herbal crafts, I carry my supplies and props in these baskets; I often find that my students are more intrigued by the baskets themselves than by what’s in them.
I’ve taught paper-sack basketry to children of all ages. The baskets are so simple that anyone can do it, and because they’re quick, they hold the attention of even small children. The kids in my Girl Scout troop enjoy making and decorating them. My daughter filled one that she made with small potted plants and gave it to her teacher.
Any size or color of sacks will work. If your grocery bags are imprinted with an advertisement or a store logo, so what? You can roll the sides all the way down to hide any printing on the bag or let it show to add to the character of the finished sack-basket.
Sometimes, when I’ve been in a hurry, I’ve just stapled or glued a basket together and still ended up with a fairly sturdy construction. Even unadorned, the baskets are attractive and appealing.
The possibilities for fastening and decorating these sack-baskets are virtually endless. You probably have some materials on hand already: dried herbs or flowers, glitter, ribbon, raffia, twine, even beads.
As long as you don’t get the sack-baskets wet, you can reuse them many times, but they are intended as temporary and disposable containers, so feel free to scribble a message, greeting, or instructions that relate to the contents along the top edge or handle.
4 paper sacks, all the same size
Raffia, string, ribbon, twine, or other material for fastening
Large-eyed sharp needle
1. Open the first bag and gently fold down the top edge about 1 inch. Continue rolling down the bag until the roll is about 1 inch from the bottom.
2. Open the second bag and place it inside the first bag. Fold or roll down the sides of this bag until the edge of the second bag meets the rolled edge of the first bag.
3. Open the third bag, place it inside the second bag, and roll down its sides. You now should have the three bags nested one inside the other with all three rolled edges stacked one above the other.
4. Without cutting the sides of the bag, cut the bottom out of the fourth bag. Fold or roll down the sides of this bottomless bag until you have a round hoop about an inch in diameter. This is the handle.
5. Slide the handle around the nested bags and position it in the center.
6. With the needle threaded with raffia or other material, attach the handle at two places on each side: between the edges of the first and second bag and between the edges of the second and third bags. Pierce all three bag layers with the needle, forming an X of raffia on the outside of the basket. If you prefer, you may staple or glue the handle in place instead of sewing it.
7. Decorate your basket as you like and it’s ready to use.
Janice Cox is a Medford, Oregon, homemaker and mother of two who has been making these sack-baskets for years. Her book Natural Beauty for All Seasons (Henry Holt, 1997) contains hundreds of recipes for beauty products made with natural ingredients.