Pleated Bag


  • Five fat quarters of fabric (used here were Oakshott cottons, Colourshott in Marigold, Coleus and Gloriosa and Longshott in Hazelnut and Volcano)
  • One pack eyelets (you need 8)
  • 1.5m coloured cord for drawstring
  • 26 x 10cm thick card for firm base if desired

Finished Size

26 x 31 x 9cm (10 x 12 x 3 1⁄2in) plus handles

Skill Level



Oakshott cottons are available at many quilt shops

Davina first made this bag as part of a fabric challenge with her group New Horizons. Barbara Corbett had been to Malawi and brought back three fabrics for each member and challenged the group to make a container. Davina explains I liked my bag so much I kept using it although it was meant to be kept smart for our next exhibition so I made a few more in different colour combinations all of which were equally successful. The basic principle remains the same but you can adjust the number and size of the pleats and the gussets to suit your fabrics.

The original Malawi fabric bag uses black as a contrast to the batik fabrics

The Pleated Panel

  1. Cut assorted strips 1 3⁄4 x 8in. You can decide to have them matching on the front and back or mixed. You need 16 in total for the pleats and 10 for the background.
  2. Take the fabrics for the pleats and sew into pairs with long sides together. Press the seam to one side and top stitch along the seam on the RS. If you have a top stitch on your machine use that, otherwise lengthen the stitch slightly. Variegated thread is good for this.
  3. Lay out the pleats in line and decide on the colour arrangement. If you want them all the same make sure the same fabrics are on the right of the fold for each pleat.
  4. Sew the background strips between each pleat and press well as in Figure 1. When they are sewn together pin the pleats at the top, over the background fabric to the right, and at the bottom to the left to create the twist. Adjust if necessary to make sure the panel is 8in wide. Stitch the pleats in place 1⁄8in away from the top and bottom of the panel. This will be in the seam allowance and wont be seen later.
Figure 1: Pleated Panel
Figure 1: Pleated Panel

Bag Front and Back

  1. Cut four pieces 3 x 8in for the top and bottom borders. They dont have to match. Sew to the top and bottom of the pleated panel and press towards the border.
  2. Cut four pieces 4 1⁄2 x 12in for the side panels. These form the gussets and the borders of the panel.
  3. Carefully cut away a 2 1⁄2in square from the bottom of the side borders. Measure your completed front and back and make two lining pieces without the pleated panel in the same way. If you have large enough pieces you can cut them from one piece of fabric.
  4. Cut 3in wide strips for the bag handles and join into two pieces 30in long. Sew together along both long sides to make a tube and turn the right way out and press. Carefully fold the handle and top stitch the central 6in together.
  5. With any spare fabric you can sew pockets for the bag lining. Sew into position on the RS of the lining pieces, the top of the pocket should be about 3in from the top of the bag.
  6. Sew the side and base seams on the bag outer pieces, leaving the square hole seams at this point. With the bag inside out pinch the fabric at the bottom so the two seams from the side and the base meet, and then sew along this in one line to create the square corners. Repeat with the lining pieces but this time leave a 4in gap for turning in one of the side or base seams.
Figure 2: Bag Front and Back
Figure 2: Bag Front and Back

Assembly and Finishing

  1. With the bag RS out, pin the handles in place centrally over the side seam at each end, make sure they are not twisted. You need to pin them so they hang down and when the seam is sewn they will fold back up to create the handle.
  2. Place the lining over the bag with RS together and matching the side seams pin in place around the top. Sew together and turn the bag through the gap that was left in the lining seam.
  3. Top stitch around the top of the bag. If you want a firm base for the bag, insert it though the gap in the lining before hand sewing the gap closed.
  4. Following your eyelet instructions place eight eyelets evenly around the bag for the drawstring. Pin safety pins in the place you have planned for the eyelets and put some string through and draw them up. You can then adjust the position to suit you before you have cut the eyelets holes. Davina found it best to protect the table with some newspaper and a cutting mat as you have to give the hammer a good thump to get the eyelets to close up. Thread the cord through, knot the ends and wear your bag with pride.
The original Malawi fabric bag uses black as a contrast to
the batik fabrics
The original Malawi fabric bag

Other Options

  • You can vary the number and size of the pleats to suit your fabric.
  • The width of the side borders also determines the width of the bag so for a squarer bag cut the borders a bit wider.
  • If you piece the lining you can add hidden pockets in the pieced seams.

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 14 Number 3 - March 2006