I'm not sure how universally this question applies; I live in Canada. When we buy potatoes, they often come in large bags made out of heavy paper. The bags are closed by sewing a string into the top of the bag with a distinctive stitch. Sometimes it is very easy to open a bag: you just pull on the string. Other times, not so easy. Noone seems to know whether the efficacy of such an undertaking depends on the method used. Some suspect or even claim that snipping the string in a certain location, or pulling in a certain direction, will guarantee success.

However, it is also possible that some of these bags are just not sewn correctly. It may also be that any such ease of opening is altogether a side effect of the bag-closing process, and that they are not meant to be easy to open.

Is there a reliable method for opening potato bags with ease and rapidity?

  • 7
    Apply scissors.
    – user4697
    Mar 17, 2011 at 23:03
  • 1
    @Tim: That's still less easy and rapid than just pulling on the string. To be fair, though, I didn't specify the quantity of ease and rapidity.
    – intuited
    Mar 17, 2011 at 23:57
  • Some rice bags seem to be similarly stitched closed and after playing with one for a bit, I determined that it appears to be designed to close the bag, not to provide an easy zip-like opening. I don't know how it compares to potato bags though.
    – Allison
    Mar 18, 2011 at 6:22
  • 3
    I love your question! We have the same stitching here, for cat litter and chicken food. And I have the same problem.
    – Mien
    Mar 18, 2011 at 8:22
  • This is a question that has bothered me for years. I never thought to ask. Sometimes, one pull and the whole string comes out. Other times, It seems like I'm ripping one stitch at a time. Jul 4, 2012 at 14:13

8 Answers 8


Heh, this used to trip me up with feed bags all the time...

The bags are machine-sewn (of course). For each stitch, a needle pushes the string through the bag creating a loop which intersects the loop from the previous stitch on the other side. Pull from one end, you'll pull the loop out all the way across. Pull from the other, you'll pull it tight.

Hold the bag to where you're looking at the "messy" side of the stitches (with all the interlocking loops). Find the edge where the loops start - the end of the string will probably be tucked into the first stitch. Pull it out, and keep pulling...

Steps provided by an anonymous reader:

  1. Loosen the loops of the "messy part" up to the edge of the bag, where the real sew actually begins.
  2. Then, pull gently on the "clean" side of the first chain of the sew (the side that has 1 string, not the one with the loop).
  3. And there you go all the way!
  • 4
    This depends entirely on the stitch used. Chain stitch comes apart easily. Lock stitch doesn't, as the name implies. There are many other types too, with varying degrees of locking. See wikipedia for more info than you need. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sewing_machine
    – yossarian
    Mar 18, 2011 at 13:52
  • @yossarian: quite true. There are some bags I've never been able to pull open... Including the sugar I bought yesterday :|
    – Shog9
    Mar 18, 2011 at 14:49

I know this is an old discussion, but in case anyone is still reading... sometimes when it locks up like that, if you tease out and un-sew a few stitches from the flat side, then pull both the flat and knotted strings at once, it'll go.


This inconsistency happens because the bags aren't all sewn shut the same way. Some manufacturers, in their great wisdom, use the chain stitch that can simply be pulled out. Others, for whatever devilishly-inspired reason, actually sew the bags shut so that they must be cut open. In my experience, the ones that can be pulled open usually have a small extra strip of paper under the stitches.

If you pull and the string doesn't come out, you're not doing anything wrong. It's just a different stitch on the bag. I keep a small box cutter around for these.


Both sides are looped. Take an end, loosen it hale way, grab one string and pull. It will very easily pull off all the way across the bag.

  • doesn't work always, sometimes the last loop is tightened around a string end.
    – rumtscho
    Oct 10, 2012 at 21:36
  • And some times you need to start at the other end. (If the loop is tightened around the end string you can pull it out if you can see what you do.)
    – Willeke
    Jul 28, 2022 at 17:48

I've even forgotten about the stitching on the top of potato bags! That's an answer to the question isn't it? The "distinctive stitch" stinks. Scissors are stupendous; a universal sharp cutting utensil that dispenses swiftly with the entire top of the bag. Behold, the bag has been opened with ease and rapidity!


It's usually a lockstitch similar to this one. The ones on the rice/potato/onion/cat food sacks are less complicated since there is usually just one thread rather than two going through the loops.



High-carbon forged 9-inch santoku. It'll go through a paper bag like butter.

  • 12
    Cutting paper is one of the worst things you can do with a good knife ... unless it's cotton rag or linen, it's probably made from wood pulp, and will dull your knives rather quickly. Yes, I know, you don't use it this way very often, but I'd still rather go with a pair of crappy scissors (or one of the many pocket knives / multitools I likely have on me, or a utility knife that I probably have in the next room), than use a good knife.
    – Joe
    Mar 18, 2011 at 2:52

Give up and cut the bag open 🤣

  • Isn’t this the same as an earlier answer?
    – Sneftel
    Jul 24, 2022 at 19:51

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