Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How To Make Grocery Bags Into Typing Paper

One does not simply do something as neurotic and repetitive as converting paper bags into typing paper without developing a few techniques and best practices. As there seems to be some interest from the typosphere in trying out this practice, I thought that I might share a few.

Usually, one of The Wife’s grocery trips will provide more than enough paper to keep me typing for the week. In fact, I have yet to run out of grocery bag paper since she has started saving these bags for me. If I could keep up with her grocery runs, I’d probably have a trilogy completed by the end of the year. In any case, it frees me up to ramble on to no end when I know that at least, the paper was free.

So, to begin:


It’s best to make your first cut along the seam, where the two layers of paper are glued together. When I started, I would cut along the corner. But this meant that, when the paper was all laid out, the bulky seam would be stuck in the middle. Typewriters don’t like passing that doubled up layer under their platens.





BottomCutWhen you get to the bottom, cut around to remove it. It’s easiest if you cut about 1/4” away from the crease. This keeps your scissors from getting caught up in all the layers and glue down there.






SeamRemoveOnce you’re done with this, you’ll be able to spread out the bag in one giant sheet. Now you can slice off that seam and get rid of it.




WasteThere is very little waste involved in this process, but I’m wracking my brains to come up with a use for the discarded bottoms and seams. Maybe grocery bag bottoms could supplant the Dollar as a new currency, in the thriftier times that may be coming? Perhaps I’ll line my mattress with them…



Back to the sheet. Fold it in half the long way. Surprise! It’s approximately 8 1/2” wide! At this point, you can use a knife to slit along this length and get two long strips. Paper this size has its uses. It makes for uninterrupted typing—you could even tape a bunch of them together for a Kerouac type scroll or BAROP. It’s also pretty dramatic to start feeding one of these through your machine in a public place.

I tired of these vanity sized strips, however, when it came time to store and file my writing. Long strips don’t fit in a file cabinet too easily, and there’s really nothing useful you can do to them with a three-hole punch. Sure, you can fold and stack the strips, but then unfolding it anytime you want to revise or reference something you wrote last week gets to be a drag pretty quick.

SizeCutInstead, I cut through the folded-over bag along the seams, located one third and two thirds along its length. This will make three 12” sections with no more waste.  That’s close enough to normal for me, but someone with a proper paper cutter could trim off the extra inch later on if they were so inclined. They would probably also use a lot more care in executing straight cuts throughout this process, while I am embracing the absurd rusticity of the whole deal.


Take the three folded-over sections into a single stack and then slit the fold with a knife. Careful not to cut yourself!

Now you’ll have six sheets at 8 1/2” by 12”.




Huzzah! A proper stack of durable, heavy paper.

It’s not lying quite flat enough, though.





A day or two under a stack of books helps take out the creases and compress the paper into something a little more manageable.





For a little extra weight, enlist the help of  a friend.

Oh hey, I found a use for those discarded strips!







ReadyAll flattened out and ready for a typecast.

Very nice!





* * *

MarketAdvantageOne final observation: you can see here the clear advantage of Market Basket over Stop and Shop grocery bags. Stop and Shop has chosen to spread their marketing around the whole circumference of their bags. This is their prerogative, of course, but it means you’ll only be able to use one side of their paper. (That leaf pattern really is too dark to type legibly across, even with a fresh ribbon.)

The Market Basket bag, on the other hand, will provide a sheet that is blank on both sides four out of six times. This strikes me as a very generous design decision on their part. One of the great joys of paper bag typing is that it’s tough enough to use both sides with no punch-through.

I’m toying with the idea of making journals out of this stuff, since it works phenomenally well with fountain pens as well. Moleskine should have started using this years ago. Their journals bleed fountain pen ink something terrible.

In anticipation of this project, I’ve taken to sorting the logo-free sheets from the printed ones. I’ll type on the blank side of the printed ones and fold the virgin pages into a nice journal.

Which probably brings me to a whole new level of crazy.


  1. Thanks for the procedures. Now I have to learn if our local grocery stores still offer them. I especially like the paper link necklace. We used to make LOOOONG chains out of red and green construction paper for Christmas.

    Do you know if the bag material is available as rolls at office supply stores? In case the stores don't offer paper bags anymore.

    I've got to try this. Besides typing, the color would work well for drawing with pen and ink and oil pastels. I like the idea of a hand made journal.

    Jeff The Bear

  2. You should look into creating you own envelopes. I bet those sack bottoms could be turned into envelopes with little effort.

  3. Jeff - I've never seen it at office supply stores, but then, I've never looked. I have seen rolls of newsprint paper, though. Similar color, and cheap, but much, much thinner.

    I'd be surprised if the grocery stores didn't carry paper. I've heard of places with plastic bag bans, but not the other way around. Keep me posted!

    Deek - That's brilliant. There has to be a way to make envelopes out of these. I am on the case!

  4. Winston,

    Finally got some bags. One grocery in town still offers them. I haven't tried typing on them yet but I have been playing with various drawing tools. (Drawing and sketching is a skill I'm trying to learn in retirement. I bring little talent to it but I only have to please or disappoint myself.)

    These bags are great! They DO NOT bleed through no matter how wet the ink line is. Even drops from a dip pen don't penetrate. No feathering: a line stays a line, not a smear. The paper has enough 'tooth' to hold ink, pencil, and pastels and can hold up to erasing and blending. It can even stand up to very slight wetting with watercolor pencils. Extremely versatile. Of course the bags are not archival quality but I'm doing this for fun, not creating art for the ages. :-)

    By the way, I use the glued up bottom as a palette to test color blending and experiment with techniques.

    Thanks for broaching the idea and the bag cutting tutorial.

    Jeff The Bear

  5. Jeff - my pleasure! I'm glad it's working out so well for you. And great idea for using up those bottoms!

    Maybe we better not get too excited about it or places might start charging for the bags.

    I was wondering about the archival thing. It might be fun to leave a couple of typecasts (or drawings) out in the sun for a month, one on paper bag paper, the other on regular typing paper, and see which one holds up better.

  6. What a great idea. Totally going to try this. I love the color and texture of paper bags.

  7. This is the fantastic idea and we can make creative products at home through paper grocery bags.