Printing fabric labels at home

screen print tote bags

If you live in England, how are you coping with the new plastic bag regime? For years, as I pulled plastic bags from the hedgerows and ditches where they’d been blown or dropped, I complained about the waste generated by free plastic bags given out in handfuls by supermarkets and so was very happy when a 5 pence charge was introduced for every plastic bag requested by a shopper. Since then, I’ve watched people leave shops juggling food shopping in their arms rather than pay for a bag, watched others leave with clothing draped over their arm (which must surely be a security nightmare) and stood in the queue while people harrumph about having to buy a bag.

So far I’ve avoided paying for a bag because I’ve only bought food since the introduction of the charge and it’s second nature to pick up my food bags along with my shopping list as I leave the house. But now that we’re approaching the Christmas gift shopping season, I realise how much I’ve previously relied on a free plastic bag from retailers. Rather than dig in my pocket for 5 pence to pay for a plastic bag that advertises their shop, I needed to find an alternative.

screen print tote bag

Just as I was wondering if I was going to have to make a bag or two, Ruth came to my rescue. Mindful of the shopping bag conundrum, she’d printed tote bags to sell in The Christmas Shop into which customers could slip their baubles or bottles of gin and then continue to use for the rest of their Christmas shopping. The bags needed labels so a deal was struck: in return for finding and sewing in some labels, I could have a tote bag for my shopping.

Since making my first batch of GiveWraps (and with some still unlabelled) it has been in the back of my mind to find a better way of making labels and certainly the tote bags needed something a little more professional than a scribbled label. I could buy printed labels but reasonably priced ones are sold by the thousand and anyway, according to the plethora of tutorials and happy photographs across the internet, it’s easy to print fabric labels using an inkjet printer. I followed the instructions, fed the bonded fabric and paper into the printer and pressed the button.  After a series of clunks and rather disturbing noises, the printer ground to a halt and I had to delve inside to retrieve a screwed up ink sodden mess. I persevered and eventually managed to get one set of decent labels, but wary that the process wasn’t doing my printer any good, looked around for an alternative.

We have an ancient photocopier that is frequently cursed because it regularly jams and no longer automatically loads paper (hand feeding every sheet of paper is rather tedious when photocopying any quantity). With nothing to lose, I fed in a piece of bonded fabric and paper. Hey presto. It slid through without a splutter. The print isn’t quite as crisp as the ink jet printed labels, but that’s probably because the setting to increase or decrease the darkness of a photocopy has broken.

print your own fabric labels

Should you wish to print a few labels, perhaps for your own Give Wraps or you’ve been on one of our Screen Print a Tote Bag courses, here’s a quick guide. To test the ink fastness, I hand washed the labels after heat setting with an iron and they looked fine, but I cannot guarantee that prolonged washing will not cause the ink to fade. For bags and Give Wrap it doesn’t particularly matter as they may probably never get washed.

How to print your own fabic labels

Freezer paper is widely available from craft shops in the UK. I used white cotton fabric (an old sheet would do the job).

Cut some freezer paper slightly larger than A4 size, lay it on top of your fabric with the shiny side down and iron it so that the plastic coating fuses the paper to the fabric.

Then, using a rotary cutter, trim your bonded paper and fabric to A4 size to leave a clean edge with no hanging threads. Believe me, your printer or photocopier will not like loose threads.

Inkjet printer method: Draft your labels, using a program such as Word or Publisher. Remember to leave space for turning in the edges or folding the label, depending on how you’re going to finish off and attach your label.

Load the bonded fabric and paper into your inkjet printer and print using an appropriate paper and ink setting.


Photocopier method: Draw or print your label design onto plain paper and then photocopy onto the bonded fabric and paper.

You should now have a sheet of fabric printed with your label design. Peel the paper away from the fabric and iron the labels to heat set the ink. Cut out and sew onto your creation.


29 thoughts on “Printing fabric labels at home

  1. I have also watched people struggling to Carry food shopping without bags, I cannot understand it when the bags for life are so cheap!
    Most of the charity shops also sell hessian type bags with their logos on, which are ideal for something called ‘clothes shopping!’

    1. They probably already have a heap of bags for life sitting at home. It’s good entertainment value watching people carry out food without a bag, especially as it usually includes at least one pack of beer.

  2. I’ve never had good luck with fabric & my printer although I’ve tried a few different methods. I love the look of photographs on fabric and finally found a way to transfer the image by using gel medium. You set up your image on something like Word or Photoshop then reverse (flip it so that it’s backwards). Taking the piece of fabric that you want to transfer to, you paint that with gel medium then lay the printed image on top, leaving it for just a minute or so then rubbing it off onto the fabric using a burnisher or straightedge. It might not work for labels since it’s not going to be as crisp as a printer page but it does give a cool vintage photo onto fabric.

    That said, I remember long ago over here when they were trying to ‘save trees’ by discouraging customers from using paper bags, especially at the grocery store & they would ask you if you wanted paper or plastic, strongly encouraging plastic. I always thought that plastic bags were much more wasteful but I use them for lining small waste baskets. Every store now has a big bin where you can recycle all of your used plastic bags. Some stores tried charging 5 cents for a bag but that didn’t go over very well so now they’ve tried the reverse – if you bring your own totes or bags they give you a 5 cent discount.

    1. I’ve tried the gel medium transfer method with a photograph and it worked very well, so it may be worth a try for labels.
      I used to line waste baskets with plastic bags but now we don’t have a ready supply I’ve realised I don’t really need them. Funny how when something isn’t free any more I decide they’re not that vital 🙂

  3. You are so resourceful and creative Anne, plastic bags abound here although many of us bring our own bags I have a wardrobe of bags that I use. I will confess when my sweet dogs were alive I used the plastic ones to pick up their offerings when walked but I am constantly picking up plastic bags that are laying in front of my house or have attached themselves to the iron gate. Maddening.

    1. Plastic bags seem to blow everywhere. Next on my hate list is balloons that people release with no thought of where they end up. Luckily Chinese lanterns are now actively discouraged over here.

  4. I hate plastic bags – we are drowning in them out here in America – as I travel the world I buy up the reusable ones in different places, they are wonderful and very cheap wee gifts to bring back to america and everyone loves them. Lots of people use them too. Lots don’t. I love your labels – how clever of you! c

    1. I have quite a collection of fabric bags from chemical companies that are handed out at farming trade shows and though seems odd putting food into a bag emblazoned with their logo, it’s better than plastic. Excellent idea to collect them from different places.

  5. I make bags as gifts and the labels are just perfect. Sometimes I fill the bags if the bag is for someone special with items I know they will like

  6. I’m a sucker for a well designed bag-for-life – the Slamseys bags are lovely. If I ever need to print a label onto fabric I’ll follow this advice! Thank you for working it out 🙂

  7. Here in Wales we’ve had a plastic bag charge for years… no one even notices any more and pretty much everyone has their own shopping bags (in the car, in a pocket, in a handbag). I went to a shop in England just after the change there and was amused by all the fuss! I think the lady serving us was quite relieved when we laughed and produced our collection of cotton bags.
    By the way, the flat ones are mostly fine, but sometimes you need something more capacious, and require one with a gusset. They are easy enough to make. I wrote a tutorial here:

  8. Lovely! I really like the idea of some gin in the bag too. I really seeing enjoy clever creativity that is attractive too. Good work, I’m useless at that sort of thing.

  9. Love the bags and the labels. I’m all about reuse and if I never see another plastic bag that will be just fine. I do want to see someone juggling their groceries…!

  10. Lovely spot on post Anne, on several occasions over the last month I’ve been caught without a recyclable bag to use. I had started Christmas shopping early and like you would normally have food shopping bags with me but not Christmas shopping bags.PS – Your raspberry cake has become a family favourite, I made that again at the weekend. 🙂

  11. Your bags and labels are brilliant. I make bags and give to friends as gifts, and sometimes as a special gift I turn the bag into a ‘hamper’ and fill it with special gifts.

  12. we’ve been ‘plastic bag free’ at supermarkets and some other shops in tassie for a while – where you have to bring your own or pay for the plastic bags. so it’s a great excuse to purchase lots of canvas and calico totes – you can get some great designs! (it’s an industry in itself).
    the supermarkets also sell sturdy squarish bags at reasonable prices, some with groovy designs that you’re not embarrassed to carry (i have a few finely woven hessian that say, in cool handwritten lettering, “my bag’s better than yours” !) and that tie in with charities or seasonal holidays. mostly there is a culture now of ‘keep the bags in the car boot”.

    anyway, it’s great to see you getting with it with those gorgeous prints and your special labels. pretty soon, BYI bags will be second nature.

    1. I think you’re right. Like most things, it just takes time to get into the habit of keeping the bags in the car. Looking forward to seeing some inventive fabric bags over here now plastic bag use is declining.

  13. I carry a very ugly, torn & tattered Ikea tote bag around with me – it screws up into a pocket or my handbag. I think it cost me a quid and when it gets past the point of no return I buy another one.
    You are seriously one resourceful soul – I love how you persevered with the labels!!

    1. I only persevered because I was cross that some people made out they were incredibly easy to do. For so little outlay, an Ikea tote bag has to be better than plastic.

  14. Only some stores here charge for bags. The supermarkets are still free so I haven’t seen anyone trying to carry their food. I used to take fabric bags to the shop all of the time, but found the checkout staff over packed them badly – I was flat out carrying them!
    Your post has inspired me though to take fabric bags again – so thank-you for that!
    I try to think of reasonable ways I can reduce household waste, but honestly in our house there isn’t much to start with so I have trouble cutting down. Plastic bags are a good place to start though.

    Sarah x

    1. I always found the checkout staff packed everything much neater than I do, but in the wrong order! I pack things according to where they go when I get home.

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