Curtain Lace Produce Bags (Or: How I Embarrass Myself and My Children)

I alluded to my curtain lace produce bags in my inaugural post, Green, and I thought I’d give them a post of their own.  After all, anything this eccentric deserves to have a huge spotlight shone on it 😉

I don’t remember exactly when I made these produce bags, but hazarding a guess, I would say it was about eight years ago.  I had been bringing reusable grocery bags to the supermarket for many years prior, ever since the early 90s when The Real Canadian Superstore, the grocery store I frequented, removed the plastic bags from the ends of the checkout lanes and began charging customers 5 cents per bag.  Because I’m a bit of a numbers geek and like to add things up to assess impact, I’ll do the math:  24 years X 52 weeks X approximately 8 bags per week equals nearly 10,000 plastic grocery bags I’ve saved.

So I had the reusable shopping bags well in hand when I started thinking about the ubiquitous produce bag.  I was quite certain supermarkets were going through reams of them, and unlike plastic grocery bags which can have other uses such as lining garbage bins, the produce bag, although useful for keeping salad greens and the like fresh in the fridge, was something I would usually throw away once produce such as apples, pears, and oranges were unpacked.

A sewer, I searched my stash and found a length of curtain lace which had been given to me at one point by my mother-in-law who was trying to reduce her stash.  Because the elaborate pattern was decidedly not my style, I knew I wouldn’t ever use the fabric to make anything else, and as it was more lightweight than plain cotton (I weighed a length of both), I decided the curtain lace was the best option.  Sheer curtain fabric would have worked just as well, but I didn’t have any, and as other sewers can probably relate, I was determined to make use of fabric I already had.

I made six of varying sizes, each a basic pillowcase-shaped pouch measuring between 9 and 11 inches wide and 12 to 13 inches tall.  Because I didn’t want to end up paying more for my produce, I didn’t add drawstrings or other methods of closure which would add unnecessary weight to the bags.  I threw them into the bag of bags I take to the grocery store and off I went.


Now, I’m not a confident person.  I would much rather blend in than stand out, observe rather than be observed, so these curtain lace produce bags — slightly fussy and somewhat eccentric — were a bit of a stretch for me. Unfortunately, my very first experience using them felt somewhat like a cosmic joke:  slightly nervous about using these oddball bags, I walked into the produce section, and what was the sight that greeted me?  A bin filled to the brim with individually-wrapped sweet peppers.  To say I was deflated would be an understatement:  I nearly cried over the futility of it all, and nearly gave up without even beginning.

Truthfully, futility remains the key word in this endeavour:  eight years on, I continue to be buffeted by waves of pointlessness as I look around the supermarket and mark the ocean of plastic packaging my lace bags are up against.  I often stand there thinking why am I bothering? as I observe individuals bagging things that don’t need to be bagged; I often feel annoyed that I’m forced to leave my lace bags unused, as the produce I need to buy is already — unnecessarily —- pre-packaged at some produce distribution centre.  I know, without the slightest doubt, that my bags are a drop in the ocean, but at this stage of the game I simply keep going.  I give a sigh of resignation and then — as though I’m running a marathon and counting the miles — I say to myself, one more.  In other words, I mentally chalk up another bag, and I continue on.  For the record, I don’t actually have a running tally, but I’ll do the calculation now:   8 years X 52 weeks X approximately 3 bags per week equals about 1200 produce bags I’ve not used.

While 1200 bags may sound like a lot, it really isn’t.  In the grand scheme of things it’s nothing more than an inconsequential drop of a drop of a drop in the ocean.  So if these 1200 bags do matter (to me), it isn’t because of their impact.  It’s because of the principle.  The axiom take care of the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves is a good way to think of these bags.  In other words, something small and insignificant can rapidly grow to something large and significant if you continue long enough, or if others join you.  As ‘Becca from The Earthlings Handbook said to me in a comment, they set a good example.  Of course, she said this before seeing what they actually looked like 😉 .  I wonder sometimes if I would be setting a better example if there wasn’t an air of the ridiculous hovering around them.  I admit that even after eight years, I still find myself pulling these bags out somewhat self-consciously, almost surreptitiously.  As much as I would like to say I don’t care what others think, I do sometimes worry that someone will laugh at my oddball ways.  No one has though, and quite a number of cashiers — usually women, and of a certain age — have commented favourably on them.  They ask if I made them, they say they’re lovely, and that it’s a great idea to save bags.  And no, there’s no sarcasm in their voices; they sound completely sincere.

My children, however, have been another story.  If I’m slightly embarrassed (still) by these produce bags, that’s nothing to how they felt when I first whipped them up.  They were completely aghast at what their crazy-lady mother was proposing to do at the grocery store, the very place they might run into a classmate or a teacher. They would stand by the cart, mortified, as I put pears into a bag.  If I asked them to get oranges, and tried to hand them a bag, they flat-out refused.  They wouldn’t even put them on the conveyor belt when it came time to check out.  Undaunted, I would silently remind myself — somewhat churlishly — that I was doing my part to save the earth for them, and simply continue on, adding 2, or 3, or 4 to my non-existent mental tally.

It’s a testament to my oftentimes stubborn frugality that I have passed up sales on non-embarrassing, non-eccentric, non-curtain-lace produce bags.  Our grocery store used to sell them.  They were plain, a fine mesh, with strings at the top, and although I haven’t seen them recently, there are many versions available for purchase on  I’ve looked at them, considered them, and then dismissed them.  After all, why should I buy produce bags when I already have produce bags?  And as time has marched on, my kids have come to accept them as well:

One day, about a year ago, my daughter pointed to a check-out display of plain, unobtrusive produce bags marked down to clearance price.

I shrugged and said, “I already have produce bags…”

And as she put the apples — in all their lace-dressed glory — onto the conveyer belt, she replied, “Yeah, that’s true.”

(Next post:  Compostable Bags and the Four Rs)


12 thoughts on “Curtain Lace Produce Bags (Or: How I Embarrass Myself and My Children)

    1. You’re so kind, ‘Becca 🙂

      I wash them whenever I wash my grocery bags, so they get washed several times a year (which sounds rather vague; perhaps you can tell I don’t worry about it too much…)


  1. Ha, I love the story of your daughter coming around! And also the irony of the individually wrapped peppers. Too funny!

    Alright, so tell me how you use these things. Do you transfer produce out of them immediately when you get home from the store? You must, or else you are way, way better than I am about never letting things go bad in the crisper drawer, given that you only find that you need to wash them a few times a year.

    And how do you keep greens crisp? I haven’t been able to figure out how to do this without plastic. This is the main thing keeping me from switching to reusable produce bags (I don’t want to go to the trouble of making them if they’re not going to work in practice, you know?) but I would be glad to be guided onto the right path.


    1. Thanks Sarah 🙂

      Yes, I do transfer produce immediately when unpacking groceries. I mainly use these bags for things which don’t need to be wrapped when in the fridge or when left to ripen on the counter, so for example, apples, oranges, pears, plums, etc, which I just store loose in the produce drawers or in a bowl on the counter. Around here, much of the organic produce (and I try to buy organic when I can) is already packaged in plastic (so for example broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, carrots and celery), so I don’t use my produce bags for items such as these. For items which need plastic (in the fridge), if the store is out of organic and I buy conventional, I do sometimes take a plastic bag; other times I won’t bag it at all, and then when I get home, I’ll put it into a bread bag. This summer and fall, we’ve been getting a bag of local produce weekly and now bi-weekly, much of which isn’t bagged, so when I get this home, anything that needs a plastic bag in the fridge gets a bread bag.

      In deciding whether or not to go to the expense/trouble of switching to reusable bags, I think it really depends on where you shop. If you can buy apples, oranges, pears, etc, loose, then you might find it worthwhile, and not much hassle. If you can buy things like broccoli and lettuce/spinach without packaging, and are willing to save bread bags and do the job of bagging at home, you could save even more plastic bags, but of course, this isn’t as convenient. Another good option is to reuse plastic produce bags (if I recall correctly, ‘Becca (from The Earthlings Handbook) said in a comment on Rita’s site that she reuses her plastic produce bags several times). I’m unfortunately finding that I use my bags a lot less now, compared to when we lived in the States. Our grocery store in the States had much more available loose; here, it seems like our store is going to more and more packaging, which is frustrating. I find myself trying to weigh options: is it better to buy pre-packaged organic, or to use my bags and buy conventional? So far, I’ve mainly been opting for pre-packaged organic, because I figure it’s probably more important to lessen the amounts of pesticides/herbicides used than it is to save a bag.


      1. Thanks for this info, Marian. Yes, we definitely reuse plastic bags (basically over and over, until one ends up holding a cut onion, or a wedge of cheese, or some sort of green thing that goes slimy). That’s frustrating that it’s hard to find loose produce where you live now. I guess we have kind of a similar situation — I tend to do most of our shopping at a store that packages most of its produce (Trader Joe’s) but if I have items on my list that aren’t carried there I will wait and get most of the produce at another grocery store. Kind of a tradeoff between time/gasoline/packaging/etc. So I guess we are all doing that “which is the lesser evil” dance.

        I’m going to check out that link you posted below about storing veg without plastic!


      2. I like how you word it: “which is the lesser evil” dance – that rings so true! It’s so nice to be becoming part of a community (here on the internet) where we can bounce ideas off each other 🙂

        I was so impressed by the information on that link that I’m going to be putting it into my next post, which I’ll hopefully get out later today (I don’t really need to clean bathrooms or scrape out a pumpkin for my son to carve this afternoon, do I…?)


  2. That’s the best use of that lace that I can think of. I’m still plunking away at sewing my grocery bags. I have almost enough now. This week I got to the store and reached into the back of my car and realized they weren’t there. I’d forgotten to put them back in the car after unloading the previous week. It really bugged me to use the plastic store bags! So, I guess a habit has been formed (mostly). I will definitely need to tackle the produce bags next. Since I don’t have any lace in my sewing stash, I might just buy some of those bags you mention on Amazon. But what I really want to know is this: Which vegetables need to be wrapped in plastic in the fridge? I’ve just been throwing them all into the crisper without any plastic.


    1. Your very diplomatic “that’s the best use of that lace that I can think of” made me laugh out loud 🙂

      I’m so glad you’re getting your grocery bags to the store most days! There’s bound to be times when you forget your bags, especially in the early days; once you’ve been using your own bags for a while, plastic bags might become such a hot commodity in your house that a day of forgetting is actually a good thing. My 16 year-old son often swears at the lack of plastic bags in our house (he uses them to carry muddy runners for cross country meets); similarly, I quite often find myself scrounging for a bag to line a bathroom garbage. I’ve taken to unwrapping packages of toilet paper very carefully – from the top – so I can make use of those to line the bathroom garbages … which is easier than facing an irate teenager who’s late for a bus 😉

      I’m not sure there are any hard and fast rules on which veggies need plastic in the fridge. I’ve always assumed salad greens, broccoli and cauliflower would need to be wrapped, and that’s what I’ve done (using bread bags if I don’t have a produce bag), but a quick Google search just now has come up with what looks to be a really valuable resource on how to store produce without plastic:

      (Not sure if copying and pasting is going to work as a link; if it doesn’t, I’ll reply to my reply and see if I can get a link to work).


      1. Thanks for the link–just saw now after reading your next post. Just wanted to say, I skip plastic bags in bathroom trash bins. We just go around and dump them all into a larger bag when they’re getting full. And our stash of plastic bags is noticeably smaller!


      2. What I usually do with my bathroom garbages is to dump the stuff – while leaving the plastic bags (or toilet roll wrappers) in place in the bins – into the larger bag of kitchen garbage, which is then the only bag that actually goes to the street. Most times I can get away with this, but other times things get stuck and it just gets too messy and I end up tossing the bag and starting fresh. I’ve always figured the bin would get too dirty without a plastic bag inside it (and then I’d have the additional step of washing the bin) but maybe it wouldn’t? (And maybe washing out the occasional garbage bin isn’t a big deal). I think a trial run of your method is needed …


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