Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

How to Sew Patchwork Tote Bag. Free Sewing Tutorial. 

Here’s Part One of how to make your bag!

Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

Some important points:

    All measurements will be in inches (“).
    Press your fabrics before sewing with them/cutting into them.
    All seams are 1/4” unless otherwise stated.
    Accurate cutting and seam allowances will give better results.
    We won’t be cutting everything up first, as most patterns/tutorials will have you do. I’ll be giving you cutting instructions right before you need it, so you don’t forget which piece is for what (like I do…)

Materials you’ll need:

- 40 x 5 inch by 5 inch squares of fabric.
- 2 x 20 inch {50 cm} pieces of coordinating fabrics. Based on a fabric width of 44 inches {112 cm}
- 14 inches {35 cm} of light fusible {iron on} interfacing. Based on a fabric width of about 35.5 inches {90 cm}
- 16 inches {40 cm} of medium fusible {iron on} interfacing. Based on a fabric width of about 35.5 inches {90 cm}
- 16 inches {40 cm} of stiff sew-in interfacing. Based on a fabric width of 44 inches {112 cm}
- One small lobster clasp.
- 31 inches {80 cm} of ribbon.
- One zip, longer than 8.5 inches {22 cm}.
- 4 inches {10 cm} of hook & loop tape {Velcro}.
- 2 large snap fasteners.

Before we begin, take a look at your two 20” coordinating fabrics. Decide which one you would like to be more prominent. This could be the brighter fabric, or simply the fabric you like better. From now on, we’ll call this ‘lining fabric 1’. The other piece will be ‘lining fabric 2’.

Ok, are you ready to begin? Here we go…

Choose 18 of your 5” x 5” squares. Try to pick a nice variety of colours, or a combination which pleases you.

Sew your 5” squares into rows of 3 squares, to make 6 rows. I did this by chain piecing 6 pairs of squares together, and then by chain piecing one other square to these pairs.

Chain piecing is where you sew your squares together without stopping to remove your squares and cut the thread between every piece. You simply sew a few stitches between every pair of squares. It is faster and also saves thread.

Though it has never been a problem for me, I should say that some people find this causes problems for their machine, with thread jams and knots. To remedy this, they put a small piece of fabric between pieces. If you would like further explanation, I found this really great detailed tutorial on chain piecing.

Arrange your rows into 2 blocks of 3 rows each.

Press the top and bottom row’s seams of each block to the right, and the middle row’s seams to the left. This creates nested seams.

 When you are sewing rows together and trying to match seams (or get all your points to line up), create nested seams by pressing the seam allowances of the alternate rows in opposite directions. This makes the seams ‘click’ into place when you line them up to pin them. 

Sew the 3 rows in each block together, to make 2 blocks of 9 squares each.

Press the seams open. (This is where you press each seam allowance in opposite directions.)

Cut each block in half vertically…

…and again horizontally.

Place your newly created blocks – we will call it them ‘small blocks’ – right side up on your table. Arrange them into two larger blocks of four squares each. Move the small blocks around within the two larger blocks until you like the colour combinations.

Now make sure each of the small blocks are facing the same direction by aligning the small square within it into the same corner. If you aren’t using fabrics which have a directional print (or a ‘right way up’), rotate your small blocks until the small square within it is facing the top right hand corner.

If you are using directional prints (like I have done with my bag), you will need to figure out which corner to have all your small squares in, by continuously rotating them until most or all of your prints are the right way up. For my block on the left (you’ll need to click on the picture to see the larger version), this meant having all the small squares within my block in the bottom left hand corner. (There was still one print facing sideways but I didn’t mind.) For my block on the right, I had to rotate my small blocks so that the small squares all faced the top right hand corner.

Now sew each of your large blocks together, by sewing them into rows and then sewing the rows together. Press seams open.

Cut a rectangle measuring 13.5” x 3” from lining fabric 2. This will be the base of your bag.

Sew this rectangle to the bottom of each of your bag sides. Press the seams toward the base fabric. We’ll call this newly created piece the ‘bag top’.

Now you need to iron your bag top to your medium fusible interfacing. Generally there are directions on the edge of the piece of interfacing. Basically, just lay your bag top wrong side down, onto the glue side of your interfacing. (The glue side will be the bumpy side, not the soft side.) You can lay a damp cloth over the top of this, then iron it for about 15 seconds.

 I don’t do this. I just iron the whole piece for as long as I think it will take for the glue to melt, and I can usually tell by trying to peel away a corner. If you do it this way, without the damp cloth in between, be very careful not to scorch your fabric by having the iron too hot or leaving it in one place for too long.

When your bag top is cool, trim it away from the excess interfacing.

Cut a rectangle measuring 14″ x 30″ from your stiff interfacing. {NOTE: If you are using Buckram and it is 20″ wide, and you bought the 30″ as I suggested, your rectangle will need to be 13.5” in width instead of the 14”. This is because you will need all of the remaining 6.5” in width when you’re making the bag pockets.}

Now you are going to prepare your bag top for quilting. Lay the stiff interfacing piece down on the table. You can tape it in place with masking tape if you like. Lie your bag top, interfacing side down on the top. Line it up so that it’s in the centre of your stiff interfacing piece.

Pin your piece with safety pins to hold it all together. I started by pinning down the middle of the base piece, then I put one pin in each corner., and then one midway between each outer pin. {I used a few regular pins as I ran out of safety pins.} I wouldn’t recommend pinning it too much, as the stiff interfacing might pucker too much. I’ll leave it up to your good judgement, however.

Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

Now it’s time to quilt your bag top! First start by sewing a line all the way down either side of the bag piece, as close to the seamline as you can get. {This will be needed for step 20}. Then you can proceed by quilting the rest of the bag however you choose.

Quilting is basically topstitching patterns or lines onto your ‘quilt sandwich’. Its purpose is to hold the sandwich together, but it is also decorative.

A ‘quilt sandwich’ is made up of the top {patchwork piece}, the middle {interfacing, batting or wadding} and the bottom {the backing fabric}. In this case the backing fabric is actually our stiff interfacing.

Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

Here are a few easy quilting suggestions:

-Stitch in the ditch. This is where you sew in every seam line.

-Stitch either side of the ditches. Here you sew a small distance from either side of the seam line.

-Stitch in straight lines. Sew lots of straight lines a small distance from each other all the way up the side of your bag top.

-Stitch in a crosshatch pattern. Sew lots of straight lines in one diagonal direction {about 1” apart is a good distance} then in the other diagonal direction.

I quilted my sister’s bag by stitching either side of the ditches. I quilted my own bag by stitching in straight lines on the bag’s front and back, and then doing a crosshatch on the base of the bag.

Trim the excess stiff interfacing from your bag top. On the interfacing side of the bag, draw a line all the way down the centre of the base of your bag.

Fold your bag top in half, right sides facing, with the base at the folded end and the tops at the other end. Make sure the tops of your base piece are aligned {this will help to make a nice boxed corner}. Sew down each side of your bag. {I used a ‘triple stitch’ on my machine for extra strength.}

I’m sorry that I don’t have a photo for this step!

Last step! It’s time to box the corners.

1. Hold the side of your bag in one hand with the bottom facing you.

2. Put your other thumb on top of the line. {The one you drew earlier down the centre of the base of your bag.}

3. Push down on this line, toward the inside of the side of the bag. Try to make the line you drew lay on top of the bag’s side seam.

4. Keep pushing and wriggling the front and back of your bag out with your other fingers until the corner of your bag is a triangle.

Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

5. Flip the corner over so that the bag’s side seam is now facing up. Make sure the side seam is lying on top of the line you drew on the other side, and that you’ve pulled out in either direction from the side seam as far out as you can go.

Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

6. Horizontally across the corner will be the line you stitched at the beginning of step 17. It should be about 2.5” across. {Don’t worry if it’s not exactly 2.5” – it is more important to sew along this line than to have a line exactly 2.5” long.} Pin the corner of your bag and sew along that line. I used a triple stitch on my machine for extra strength.

7. Cut off the excess from the corner, about 1/4″ from the line you just sewed.

Now box your other corner in the same way.

Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

Turn your bag right way out… TADA! Half of your bag is done!

Here is the bag I’m making for my sister, made with a charm pack…

Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

And here is the bag I’m making for myself, made with leftovers and other materials.

 I hope the instructions were easy enough to follow.


See Part Two Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial


Quilted Patchwork Tote Bag Tutorial

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