Image of Tote Bags
Image of Tote Bags
How to Reuse Feed Bags to Make Tote Bags—and More
Neighbor’s Club member Debby Sparks finds a creative solution to upcycling animal feed bags
By Jennon Bell Hoffmann
Photos provided by Debby Sparks and Shutterstock
On her land in Leakey, Texas, Debby Sparks has a lot of mouths to feed: bunnies, goats, chickens, quail, peacocks, guineas, dogs, and cats—which means she goes through a lot of feed bags regularly. Because recycling feed bags isn’t widely accessible—the coating and construction that makes them great for storing feed is also what makes them unacceptable for standard recycling processors—Debby turned to her sewing machine to craft a resourceful solution.

Upcycling feed bags into useful items gives the material new purpose. Debby says that feed bags are an especially versatile material because the exterior canvas is water-resistant, tough, and easy to sew into different applications, including aprons, grocery totes, zipper pouches, and more.

Image of Purina Tote Bag
Image of Paws & Claws Tote Bag
“In our area, we don’t have a fabric store within 40 miles,” Debby says. “I have a free resource with these empty bags. [They’ve] turned into something that’s actually very useful and has the potential to replace the need for plastic sacks.”

A standard 50-pound bag of feed yields almost two yards of raw material, so Debby always has some ready for a project.

“When feed bags finish their original purpose, let’s turn them into something that’s useful, sustainable, reusable, virtually indestructible, and beautiful,” Debby says.

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/ Prepping Feedbags for Sewing /
To go from cast-off to carryall, the feed bags need to be stripped, cleaned, and prepped.

“Even if you’ve dumped out the feed, you’ve still got this raw bag that’s dusty and has a smell,” Debby says.

Step 1:
Cut and Air Out the Fabric
Debby cuts the bag and strips off any unnecessary parts, such as the stitching and lining that can’t be washed or reused. Then she lays the leftover fabric—the outside layer and usable lining—flat to air out a bit.
Image of Fabric
Step 2:
Wash the Fabric
Washing the material in the washing machine will get rid of the feed smell, Debby says. In her experience, there are only a few deer feed brands that don’t wash well; otherwise, every other animal feed bag she has tried has worked.
Image of Washer
Step 3:
Air-dry and Organize Fabric
Lastly, Debby air-dries the material overnight. After it’s dry, she moves it to a pile for pattern making or to the reserves of raw material to be used in the future.
Image of Air drying
/ How to Turn Feed Bag Material into Tote Bags /
For each bag, Debby finds the most interesting, colorful, or eye-catching part, and that determines what product she’ll make with it.

To make tote bags, she cuts off the parts of the feed bag she doesn’t want or need (like the top of the bag) and sets them aside until she has a stockpile of several of the same style. She also cuts out any ancillary components, such as handles and matching fabric lining that she’ll pair with the bag. For inner lining, she cuts the fabric a little larger—maybe 1/2-inch—to accommodate a side seam in the lining.

When Debby’s stockpile is large enough that it threatens to topple over—sometimes reaching a few feet tall—she takes to the sewing machine, churning out a complete bag or apron in under an hour. Here are her directions for making a tote bag:

Step 1:
Prep Your Station
Debby sets up an assembly line for each section: the lining, the outer feed bag, the handles, and the base. She equips her sewing machine with a standard size 14 needle.
Image of working station
Step 2:
Sew in the Bag Liner
Since the bag is circular, Debby doesn’t worry about lining up side seams. She turns the outer bag inside out, overlays it evenly with her fabric liner, and uses a zigzag stitch from bottom to the top to sew them together. To prevent the plastic ends from fraying, Debby uses a straight stitch and a zigzag or overcast stitch.
Image of Sew in the Bag Liner
Step 3:
Make the Handles
For the handles, Debby folds the rim of the bag down 1 inch, places the handle ends where she wants them for her preferred handle loop size, and sews the ends to the top of the bag using a top stitch right at the edge. She then does another top stitch across the bag, creating two strong points of contact for the handles, making them less likely to break.
Image of Tote bag handles
/ Finding Purpose in Repurposing—Even During a Pandemic /
Since Debby started repurposing old feed bags nearly two years ago, word spread fast and her sources of material have flourished.

“People call me from all over and bring me bags; they leave me bags wedged underneath the windshield wiper of my truck, throw them in the back of my truck, leave them under the propane tank at the fire station, leave them on the front porch, call me to meet them in parking lots—all different places and different cities,” Debby says, laughing. “I’ve become known as the Bag Lady.”

Image of Purina Tote Bag
Picture of Purina Horse Tote Bag
Image of Chicken Tote Bag
Debby has started selling her creations to friends, at craft fairs, and at local events. She says her customers appreciate the durability and size of the totes for shopping, as well as her aprons’ easy-to-clean protective outer layer for cooking and butchering. Some people use the zippered pouches she makes to keep their ammo dry while hunting.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Debby pivoted from sewing bags and aprons to using the material to create masks to donate to local hospitals and essential workers.

For Debby, creating solutions to ongoing problems—like reusable items filling landfills or ending up as litter—is a no-brainer.

“This is not rocket science!” she jokes. “If you can use a pair of scissors and a ruler and a pencil, you can do it too.”

To see Debby’s creations, visit her website.
About the Writer
Jennon Bell Hoffmann writes lifestyle and human-interest stories from her home in Illinois.

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