You cannot have too many tote bags. Especially after you discover how easy they are to sew! Combining different fabrics and experimenting with various sizes will give you endless possibilities. A book bag, a knitting tote, a gym carryall, a catch-all for the car, it makes a marvellous customized gift for anyone.
This is an easy project, suitable for any level of skill with the sewing machine. For an added challenge, get creative with appliqué and embroidery.
5/8 yard medium weight cotton or linen (for the top panel)
1/2 yard of contrasting cotton or linen (for the bottom panel)
Matching or contrasting thread
Pre-shrink fabric by washing, drying, and pressing before you start.
All seams are 1/2" unless otherwise stated. A 1/2" seam allowance is included in all cutting measurements.
STEP 1. Cut out all pieces from the fabric
Measure and mark the dimensions below directly onto the Wrong side of your fabric, using a yardstick and a fabric marker. Then, using your scissors cut out each piece following the marked lines.
From the fabric for the top panel and handles of the tote:
Cut 1 Main Panel: 14" wide x 33" tall
Cut 2 Handles: 4" wide x 21" tall
From the contrasting fabric:
Cut 1 Bottom Panel: 14" wide x 11" tall
STEP 2. Make the handles
A. With the Wrong side of one of the handle pieces facing up, on both 4" sides, fold over 1/2" toward the centre of the handle and press. Trim the corners at a 45-degree angle to reduce the bulk, making sure not to clip the stitching.
B. With the Wrong side of the handle piece facing up, fold each long side toward the centre of the handle, so that the raw edges meet at the crease.
Press, then fold it in half lengthwise. Press again. Edge stitch the three open sides of the handle by stitching close to the edge, beginning on one short side at the fold, then up the long side, and down the other short side.
Make sure you stitch through all the layers of fabric. Backstitch at each end.
C. Repeat Steps 2A and 2B to make the other handle. Set both handles aside.
STEP 3. Make the totebag
A. With the Wrong side of the bottom panel facing up, on each 14" side, fold over 1/2" toward the centre of the panel, then press. This creates the top edge of the bottom panel. With Wrong sides together, fold the bottom panel in half, matching up the opposite folded edges. Press a crease on the
fold, then open the fabric with the Right side facing up. Set aside. See figure 3A
B. With the Wrong sides of the main panel together, fold it in half, matching up the two 14" sides. Press a crease on the fold, then open the fabric with the Right side facing up. With the Right side facing up, pin the bottom panel to the Right side of the main panel, matching up the creased centre folds and the raw edges on the sides. See figure 3B
C. Being careful to keep centre folds of both pieces aligned, edge stitch the two finished edges of the bottom panel to the main panel, making sure you stitch through all the layers of fabric.
D. With the Right sides together, fold the tote in half on the crease, matching up the raw edges. Pin in place, making sure the bottom panel has not shifted on the main panel. Stitch one side together, from the bottom folded edge to the top unfinished edge of the tote, backstitching at each end.
Repeat for the other side of the tote. Press the seams open and stitch each raw edge with a zigzag stitch to keep the seams from fraying.
STEP 4. Finish the tote
A. On the top (unstitched) edge, fold over 1/2" toward the Wrong side (inside of the tote), then press. Fold over another 1" and press. Stitch a 7/8" seam, making sure you stitch through all the layers. See figure 4A
B. To place the handles on one side of the tote, measure 4" in from each side seam. Mark the points with pins. Place the ends of the handles inside the tote, matching up the bottom edges of the handle with the finished hem of the tote 1" down from the top edge. Align the outside stitched edges of the handle with the pins, making sure the handle is not twisted.
C. Attach the handles by edge stitching a rectangle. With the Wrong side (inside) of the tote facing up, edge stitch the bottom edge of the handle to the tote, stopping just before you reach the side edge of the handle. Without lifting the needle out of the fabric, turn the tote 90-degree and stitch down the next side, stopping just before you reach the top edge of the tote.
Without lifting the needle, turn 90-degree and stitch parallel to the top edge of the tote, stopping just before you reach the other side edge of the handle. Without lifting the needle, stitch down the other side edge of the handle to complete the rectangle. For added decoration, you can stitch an "X" inside the rectangles.
D. Repeat Steps 4B and 4C to attach the other handle to the opposite side of the tote.
E. Turn the bag Right side out and press.