Sew Simple Tote Tutorial

Whether you’re participating in a Secret Santa or handmade holiday gift exchange, or just want a useful tote bag to have on hand, I’ve got a simple tutorial for you.  If you’re a bag maker, you probably already have some wonderful patterns.  But if you’re like me, and only randomly make bags when the need arises, this idea should work for you.

I was originally going to use an old McCall’s Crafts pattern I had in my stash.  But once I started digging through the tissue paper pattern, trying to find all of the pieces for the view I wanted to make, (with my cat batting at and biting the tissue paper) I decided it was easier to make up my own pattern!  Since all of the pieces are rectangles, if you use a quilting ruler and rotary cutter and mat, you don’t need actual pattern pieces.

The tote bag is designed to be reversible, with a row of pockets on both the inside and outer side.  You can use all the same fabric, two (or more) coordinating fabrics, or just use an accent fabric for certain pieces like I did.  Here are the measurements for all of the pieces you will need:

  • 4@ 12″h x 15″w for the side panels (you can make two of them in coordinates if you’d like)
  • 4@ 12″h x 5″w for the end panels (again, two can be coordinating fabric)
  • 2@ 5″ x 15″ for the bottom (one can be a coordinate)
  • 1@ 12″h x 15″w for the outer pocket
  • 1@ 11″h x 15″w for the shorter inner pocket
  • 4@ 2″ x 24″ for the straps (two can be coordinates)
  • You will also cut all of the above out of interfacing, (a heavier weight is better at stiffening the bag)

tote pieces Phee

I used Art Gallery Fabrics 100% premium cotton, (the AGF canvas would also work great!), and stretch twill that I purchased from Phee Fabrics.  This print is called Botanists Essay, and it is one of my favorite prints.  The stretch twill is actually navy, though it almost looks black in my photos.  I like the simple contrast of the solid twill against the floral print.

The first step is ironing the interfacing to the wrong side of all your pieces.  Of course I ran out of iron-on interfacing and instead had to baste regular interfacing to my pieces. 😦  Let’s just say that iron-on works better. 🙂

The next step is making the pockets.  Fold the pocket pieces in half, wrong sides together so that they are still 15″ wide.  Lay the outer pocket on top of one of the side panels, lining it up with the bottom and sides.  Baste the pocket to the side panel along the bottom and sides.  To form pockets, measure over 8″ from the left hand side and stitch, being sure to tack at the top of the pocket.  Measure 5-1/4″ from the right hand side and stitch, again tacking at the top of the pocket.  These pockets are sized to work great for your phone, a pen, your keys, etc.

draw out pock

The inner pockets are made in a similar way.  Lay the inner pocket on top of a side panel, lining it up with the sides and the bottom.  Baste the pocket to the side panel along the sides and bottom.  Measure 5-1/2″ from each side and stitch, tacking at the top of the pockets.  These pockets are sized to hold a notepad or tissues, and perhaps some gum or snacks!  Feel free to adjust the pocket sizes to suit your needs.

draw in pock

Now it’s time to assemble the tote bag.  Lay an end panel on the outer pocket side panel, right sides together and stitch along the side seam, using a 1/2″ seam allowance.  Then line up another side panel with the long unsewn side of the end panel, and stitch.  Then line up the other end panel on that side panel, and stitch.  Finally, line up the edges of the end panel and the pocket side panel and sew them together so that you end up with a rectangular tube.

To assist with sewing the bottom onto the tote, I like to mark the four corners 1/2″ from the edges on the wrong side of the fabric.  Line the bottom piece up with the bottom of one of the side panels ensuring that the 1/2″ markings line up with the seams, and that they are right sides together.  Stitch, being sure to back stitch at both ends.

tote bottom pins

Rotate the bottom so that one of the short sides lines up with the end panel, and stitch from one 1/2″ mark to the next.  The marks should line up with the seams.  Then rotate the bag again to line up the other long edge of the bottom with the other side panel, matching the 1/2″ marks and seams, and stitch.  Finally, rotate one last time to line up the final short side of the bottom with the final end panel, and stitch.  Clip the corners, being sure to not cut through the stitching line.

tote bottom sewn

Repeat this process of sewing the sides and ends together, then adding the bag bottom with the “lining” or inner side of the bag.  Then it’s time to make the bag straps.

tote straps

I used contrasting fabric so that one side of the straps are floral, and the other side is solid.  Place the two strap pieces right sides together, and stitch the two long sides.  Repeat with the other two strap pieces, and turn both straps right sides out.  Press and top stitch the long edges of the straps.  Measure 3″ from the seam on the side panels and pin an end of the strap in place, lining up the ends of the strap with the top of the bag.  Stitch each end of the strap in place, being sure not to twist the strap.  Repeat with the second strap on the other side panel.

tote sew layers

It’s finally time to sew the inner and outer layers together.  Turn one bag inside out.  Place the other bag inside of it, so that they are right sides are together.  Ensure that the straps are safely tucked between the two layers, and pin along the top of the bag.  Stitch along the top of the bag, leaving a 2-3″ opening so that you can turn the bag right side out.  Once the bag is right sides out, press and top-stitch along the top edge.

You’ve got a handy dandy tote with three pockets on the outside.

tote pockets full

And three pockets on the inside.  (Since it’s reversible, it can also be flipped so that the inner pockets are on the outside.)

tote reversed

 

To add stability to the bottom of the bag, I needed a hard thin piece of plastic to stick in the bottom of the tote.  Originally, I considered sewing a piece of plastic canvas between the two bottom layers.  Apparently my local craft store no longer carries plastic canvas, so that idea was out.  My husband came up with a solution when he mentioned that he had a couple of plastic lids in the garage that didn’t match any of the storage bins.   After moving and reorganizing the garage, he threw away the cracked and broken bins, but had kept the lids.  So I drew a 4″ x 14″ rectangle on one of the lids, and cut it out with some tin snips (my husband likes tools, and almost always has the proper tool for the job on hand!)  I sanded the cut edges to ensure that they were smooth, and slid the plastic in place at the bottom of the tote.

tote inner pockets full

The plastic insert can be removed and wiped clean, and the tote can be thrown in the washer and dryer in case of a spill.  I always wash and dry my fabric before sewing, so I never have to worry whether anything will shrink after making it.

And there you have it!  A simple tutorial and a new tote bag to use or gift.  Once you’ve sewn a tote, you can always personalize the size and shape and pocket formation of the next one to suit your needs.

Thank you for reading and sharing my love of sewing, patterns, fabric, creating, and design. ❤

 

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