101brett barasewing 101

sewing 101: oilcloth storage bin

by Brett

If you’ve got spring cleaning on the brain, you may be looking for some new organizational solutions (aren’t we all?). Here’s a quick and easy sewing project to help the cause — fabric bins! These little containers are perfect for holding odds and ends, from bathroom clutter to craft-room supplies.

I’ll show you how to make the medium-sized bin pictured here, but once you get the hang of the construction, you’ll see how easy it is to make any sized container you need. I’ve made mine from oilcloth, which is stiff enough to hold the bin’s shape, and as an added bonus, it can be wiped clean. There are just a couple of tricks you need to know about sewing oilcloth, and we’ll get to those below. Let’s hop to it! — Brett Bara

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • 1/2 yard oilcloth or another stiff fabric (this adorable sunglasses print is by Echino)
  • 1/2 yard cotton fabric for lining (my lining fabric is from Ikea)
  • paper clips
  • straight pins
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
  • iron and ironing board


1. Cut the fabric:

To make a bin with a finished size of 5″ x 9″ x 5″, you will need to cut the following pieces:

  • short end pieces: 7.5″ x 6″ (cut 2 from exterior fabric + 2 from lining fabric)
  • side pieces: 7.5″ x 10″ (cut 2 from exterior fabric + 2 from lining fabric)
  • bottom piece: 6″ x 10″ (cut 1 from exterior fabric + 1 from lining fabric)

Or, for a different finished size, cut your pieces to any size you prefer, adding 1/2″ to all sides for seam allowance.

2. Sew the lining:

Place a short end piece and a side piece together with right sides facing, and pin together along the 7/5″ edge. Place the last pin 1/2″ from the bottom edge.

Sew the seam with a 1/2″ seam allowance, stopping 1/2″ before the bottom edge (at the spot where you placed the pin), leaving the last 1/2″ unsewn.

Continue to sew all four side pieces together in the same way, forming a tube. Press all the seams open.

Image above: Detail of the 1/2″ left unsewn at the bottom of each seam.

Next, pin one side of the bottom piece to the bottom of one side of the fabric tube, aligning the corners. Pin in place.

Fold the 1/2″ unsewn flap of the adjoining piece out of the way when you reach each corner.

Continue to attach all four sides of the bottom piece. When finished, this is what you’ll have!

Trim the seam allowance to about 1/4″ from all three sides of each corner. (This will help reduce bulk from excess fabric at the corners.)

Finally, fold the top raw edge under 1/2″ and press. Set aside the lining for now.

3. Sew the exterior:

Okay, oilcloth time. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Sewing on the wrong side of oilcloth is just like sewing regular fabric. Sew it just like you would anything else.
  • Sewing on the right side of oilcloth is tricky because it’s sticky, and it won’t feed through the sewing machine normally. To work around this, simply place strips of tissue paper over the surface of the oilcloth while you sew. (More on that below.)
  • Finally, never iron oilcloth, as it can melt. Instead, “press” seams or folds by creasing them with a bone folder or the back of a spoon.

To construct the exterior, sew it the same way you did the lining. Join the four side pieces together as you did for the lining, remembering to leave 1/2″ unsewn at the bottom of each seam. Then attach the bottom as you did before. Finally, fold under the top raw edge — but do not iron it; instead, crease the fold with a bone folder or the back of a spoon.

When finished, the exterior and lining will be the same shape and size.

4. Join the lining and exterior:

With the exterior right-side out and the lining wrong-side out, place the lining inside the exterior. Align all the corner seams, then use paper clips to hold the two pieces together at the top edge.

Cut several strips of tissue paper about 2″ wide. Any tissue paper will work — I’m using the gift wrapping kind.

Place the strips of tissue paper over the right side of the oilcloth, aligning the edge of the paper with the edge of the fabric. Paperclip in place, clipping all layers together — the lining, the exterior and the tissue paper.

Then simply sew through all the layers. Sew all the way around the top edge of the piece, about 1/8″ from the folded top edge.

Then just tear away the tissue paper. If small bits of paper get trapped under the stitches, gently pull them out with tweezers.

Fold down the top edge of the bin about 1″, fill it with odds and ends and you’re done!

Here’s to a well-organized spring!

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  • Brett’s posts are always the ones I look forward to most! I love these great, simplistic, and easy to understand ideas!

  • Very cool – I haven’t worked with oil cloth before – although I’ve always wanted a lunch bag made of it, I love the look. I assume I could pick some up at my local fabric store? Thanks for the great post! Dianne

  • I have that same pin cushion, however my mom’s cat ate all the hair off of the people…

  • This looks great. Just wondering though, what is the purpose of the tissue paper? So that the sewing machine doesn’t mark the oil cloth?

  • The sticky oilcloth will keep your machine’s feed dogs from moving the fabric through the sewing machine at a steady rate — the tissue paper will help you get a good glide and nice, even stitches.

    Thanks D*S! So cute!!!

  • very cute project, and a good tutorial with great step by step pics. I’d probably take a few backstitches when you sew the sides to within a half inch of the end of the seam….that way you are sure the seam is secure and wont ever come “un- sewn”.

  • Can you make both the inside and the outside out of oil cloth? This would work great form my bathroom, but there is no ventilation, so I would rathe not use the cloth inside piece.

  • super cute! i want to try this weekend! I am already thinking this could be a a great christmas gift to co-workers!

  • I love that echino print is so chic but you lost me at sew. :) maybe some fabric adhesive will do the trick?

  • Love this idea and will definitely have to make one (or many). Excellent pictures and intructions! Quick question: when attaching the bottom to the fabric lining should you pin the entire bottom to all four sides and sew them all at once, or pin and sew each side separately, one side at a time? I think the latter but I’m not sure?? Maybe I missed this – if so my apologies! :) And thank you!

  • This is adorable and practical for so many things. The fabric is too cute, going to find some now. Thanks for the great tutorial.

  • I am looking for companies with cool modern printed oil cloth. Encino and Purl, although good, are limited. Anyone else know where to look?

  • Robin: I’d recommend pinning and sewing each side of the bottom separately, which should help to keep things as neat as possible.

    Peggy: B&J Fabrics (http://www.bandjfabrics.com/servlet/StoreFront) laminates some of their fabrics to make them like oil cloth. I think they *might* offer a service to laminate other fabrics but I could be wrong about that. Worth checking though to see what they offer. Good luck!

    Tina: yep, you could definitely make the inside and outside from oilcloth!

  • Is it better to use a certain needle on your sewing machine for this? (heavy fabric needle) or is the standard needle sufficient?

  • Heat ‘N Bond makes an iron- on flexible vinyl so you can “laminate” almost any kind of fabric yourself. I’ve used it with great success. Find it at large fabric stores like JoAnn’s.

  • Fab tute! I was never convinced that fabric boxes worked as they are too floppy and often can’t be fussed with the faff of interfacing. I have a small stash of oilcloth and never thought to use that! I will now!

  • Fantastic. I am in love with handmade storage boxes at the moment. If only we had better access to nice quality oilcloth here in Australia.

  • I am a total oilcloth addict, so this is wonderful to see! I’ll be trying out the tissue paper method and sharing it (with links to this great tut) on my Oilcloth Addict Blog ASAP!

    Thanks for the oilcloth love!

  • Thank you for the fantastic project. I have made several oilcloth journals and now they will be easier to make with your sewing tips.

  • Super cute, I can’t wait to try this pattern out. But why tissue paper? I’e never sewn oilcloth before & I’m guessing it has something to do with that… ?

  • Thank you so much. I was just thinking of purchasing some of these. Now I’m going to try to make them for myself and what a great baby gift filled with baby supplies!

  • Fabric bins may be a great solution to getting rid of those unwanted clutters around the house. Thank you for showing the process of making a fabric bin step by step.

  • These are my favorite posts! These are by far the best sewing tutorials I have found on the web. Any chance of doing one for a dust ruffle/bed skirt? All the tutorials I find look so complicated, but that is what I really need!

  • Man, I thought I might get away with making a slightly larger bin out of laminated cotton. It was a big fail (too floppy)! I might have to add some stabilizer to the cotton. Thanks for this tutorial, though! It was SUPER easy! I just wish oil cloth were more readily available in more modern prints.

  • This is great; thanks! I’d never thought of something like this. I’m making a lunch bag right now but will use this “how to” many times to get my sewing room more organized.

  • Tissue paper is one way to prevent your presser foot from sticking to the oil cloth. But if you find the little leftover bits of tissue to be annoying, try using a Teflon presser foot. Don’t have one? No worries! Just put a piece of matte scotch tape on the bottom of your normal presser foot. (Be sure to cut a hole for the needle to travel through.)

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  • Hi. Thank you for info, I recently purchased some beautiful oilcloth and will now get started I had been wondering how it would all work out. And feel more confident since reading you details
    Much appreciation. Jean