Quick and Dirty Oilcloth Travel Bags

Living in cities for the past seven years has taught me that a good bag can mean the difference between aching shoulders and complete comfort or the difference between buying a new metro card after losing it in my bag (again) and getting to work on time, cool and collected.

I handle a day out with the matryoshka method: bags within bags to keep things organized. In the past I’ve used ziploc bags and bandanas, but in my new capacity as a Working Woman, I decided I needed something a little more official. Desafortunadamente (say it, it just rolls off the tongue), tiny bags cost way more than they should. Afortunadamente (considerably less fun to say), bags are really easy to make.


I looked up a couple of patterns before settling on my own scheme and made the hike down to ABC City and Chinatown to get the materials I needed.  Once you’ve got what you need, you can whip this bag up in 30 minutes – maybe an hour if you’re sewing by hand or are new to a sewing machine – and use it to wrangle all your little loose things.

Oilcloth Travel Bags


  • Oilcloth or laminated cotton
  • A zipper
  • Thread
New York Online
(Alphabet City)
543 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009

  • This is technically a Mexican dodads shop, but they just so happen to sell the oilcloth that so many of their things are made out of.
Oilcloth by the Yard

  • $8-$12/yard + $5.60 shipping

Oilcloth Addict

  • $9.00/yard + $5.75 shipping
A. Feibusch Corporation
27 Allen St, New York, NY 10002

  • Don’t be intimidated by the total out-of-place-ness of this tiny store. It’s the brick and mortar headquarters of zipperstop.com and the guys there couldn’t be nicer.
  • A sewing machine
  • Scissors
  • Paperclips (optional)
  1. Decide on the dimensions of your bag to determine what size zipper and how much cloth you’ll need. Your zipper should be at least two inches longer than the horizontal edge of the bag. You should add 1/2″ to each dimension so that you have a 1/4″ seam allowance the whole way around. Draw your pattern out on a piece of scrap paper and cut it out. e.g. I wanted a 6″x7″ bag so I got a 9″ zipper and drew a 6.5″x7.5″ rectangle on a magazine page.oilcloth bag 1
  2. Use your pattern to trace two rectangles onto the wrong side of the oilcloth. Cut the two rectangles out.
  3. When you sew, the right sides should always go together. Place the pretty side of the oilcloth against the right side of the zipper and line the edges up. Pins will puncture holes in oilcloth, so you can use paperclips to hold everything in pace.oilcloth bag 2
  4. To make this seam, either use a zipper foot and follow your machine’s instructions or improvise with a normal foot. To use a normal foot, adjust your sewing machine’s so that the needle is as far to the left as possible. This will allow you to run the foot along the side of the zipper and get a nice, straight seam. Stitch on!
  5. Fold the oilcloth over so that the pretty side is showing and stitch along the zipper so that the fold stays in place.oilcloth bag 4
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the other piece of oilcloth and the other side of the zipperDesktop3
  7. Sew the extra bit of the open side of the zipper along the edge. This will ensure that the edges end up pretty.oilcloth bag 7
  8. Unzip the zipper (otherwise you’ll never be able to get your bag open!) and turn the rights sides of the oilcloth together. Adjust your needle back to its normal position and sew along the bottom of the bag.oilcloth bag 8
  9. Sew up the two sides of the bag. Start at the bottom and stitch up to the zipper but be careful when you reach it. You don’t want to break your needle by running it into the metal or hard plastic of the zipper. You can always hand-stitch the very end if you need to.
  10. With the bag still inside out, open one bottom corner and press it flat a la origami. Sew across the corner. Repeat with the other corner.oilcloth bag 9
  11. Turn the bag right side out and poke all the corners out with your fingers.oilcloth bag 10

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