Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sewing Project: How to Make a tote bag...

Hi everyone!
I thought I'd write up a tutorial on how to make a tote bag that looks like this one:


3/4 yard of the inside fabric  (this is the same fabric for handles)
1/2 yard of the outside fabric
1 yard of interfacing (this is an iron on material that can be found at Joann's or a fabric store. The thickness of the material is up to you.).
1 sewing machine (and rotary cutter and acrylic ruler to help you cut the pieces to the measurements listed in the tutorial)
1 iron (no steam)/1 ironing board

Step 1:
Cut 2 18"x18" squares of the outside fabric.
Cut 2 18"x18" squares of the inside fabric.
Take the same dimension of interfacing (18"x18") and iron it on to the plain side of each of the inside fabric.  (Note, the bumpy/shiny part of the interfacing faces the plain side of the fabric when you iron it on).  The sample 18"x18" sheet below has the interfacing ironed on it.  This makes the fabric very stiff and provides 'body' to the bag.
Note: on my project below, I actually ironed an interfacing on EACH sheet because the interfacing I purchased was very thin.  I should have purchased a thicker interfacing so I would only have to iron on each of the 'inside' fabrics, as opposed to on the inside and outside fabric.

With the remains of the inside fabric, cut a (approximate) 45" x 5" length (one long strip).  [This will eventually make the handles.]  Cut and iron on the same amount of interfacing to this strip.  (note: this will make the handles stiff).
Set this aside.

Step 2:
Cut a 3"x3" square at the bottom left and right of your 4 squares:   (If your bag has a pattern that has a direction to it, you want to cut these squares at what will eventually be the BOTTOM corners of your bag).

Step 3:
Take the 2 inside fabric pieces and pin them face to face.  Sew a straight stitch  (1/2" seam) down the right side and then another down the left side.  For the bottom, you will sew across the first 1/3 of the bottom  (going from left to right),which means you will sew from the left edge to the first pin.   Then sew again from the 2nd pin to the right edge.  (THIS LEAVES A GAP WHERE THERE IS NO STITCHING!) DO NOT SEW THE SQUARES ON THE CORNERS or you can't do Step 5. 

Step 4:
Sew the outside fabric (face to face): down the left.  Down the right side... and across the bottom.

Step 5:
On the inside fabric piece, open the corners and pin them as seen immediately below.
Then, on the photo below it, you will sew with a 1/2" seam. (see note on the second photo's caption).
You will do this for both the inside and outside fabric.

Try to make the seam (in the middle) so that on the top part, the extra fabric folds up, and on the bottom part the fabric folds down. This way, you won't have a big bulky seam.

Step 6:  
For the handles, you will take the 45" x 5" 'inside fabric strip" and you will iron it in half vertically.  You will then take the right outside edge and place it up against the center vertical crease. Iron this new crease down the entire strip.   Do the same to the left side.  Fold it now on top of itself.  Once you have done this, you will pin the material to hold it in place.  You will then sew a line down the far right (1/4 " from the right edge, then 1/4" from the left edge, and then one down the center (between the two lines you have sewn already).  Then you will sew another line between each of the established lines (see the right photo).   

After doing this, you will fold the entire length in half and cut it in half so now you are dealing with 2 (approximately) 22.5" x 3/4 "strips.

 Here is a second photo that might show the creases better (Post-ironing)

Step 7: 
Take the outside fabric, fold it inside out.  Place a vertical pin at the exact center point equidistant from the two seams.  [To do this easily,  see the next photo  showing a red bag... as this is hard to explain in writing. ]


Here is a better demonstration of how to find the center point.  This is how Judy found the center point... she folded the outer core of the bag so that the two rough edge seams were lined up and then put the pin in at the center (as she is doing in the photo). 


Then place the straps as show below on the outside face of the fabric. NOTE: 3" FROM THE CENTER POINT IS WHERE THE EDGE OF THE STRAP IS PLACED ON EITHER SIDE.  YOU CAN SEE THIS ON THE MAT THAT I HAVE THE FABRIC LAID ON.   Also, this photo doesn't show that the strap should exceed the top edge by 1/2" (this is better demonstrated with the 2 photos below with the red bag).
This should be done with one strap on each side of the outside shell (See second photo below).    The way the strap is pinned is important. If you look at your sewn strap, you will notice that one edge has two 'lips' to it, representing the original edges of the fabric. Those 'lips' should be pointed to the edges of the purse and when they curve around, should be pointed towards the ceiling (see second photo).

Note: how the strap edge is to the outer edge of the purse and as it curves around, it is pointed to the ceiling

Step 8:
Sew a straight stitch to adhere the strap to the outer shell.  This should be about 1/2 an inch below the top line of the bag, and it only needs to be the distance of the strap.
You'll do this on all 4 straps. (the photo below shows 3 of the overlapping straps)

Step 9:
Next you will place the outside shell inside the 'inverted' inside shell (see below). Pin along the top edge so it is aligned (see 2 photos below).  Make sure you line the seams up.
The handles should be inside the bag between the printed edge of the inside bag and the printed edge of the outer bag.

Step 10:
After sewing a 1/2" seam around the entire top of the bag, you will then reach through that open gap at the bottom of the 'inner' bag shell and 'birth the bag.'  Judy recommends you reach your hand all the way inside to the far corners and grab a hold of the corner and then slowly pull through the hole. (see below)
You will then sew a straight stitch to close the opening at the bottom of the bag.

Step 11:  
Final step!!! Sew two seams along the top part of your bag.
The first should be at 1/4 " line from the edge and the 2nd should be 1/2" from that.

Good luck.  May the force be with you.


  1. Great bag! Thanks for sharing the tutorial and have a happy and safe 4th!

  2. Woohoo! Very cool bag! Maybe your dad can wear that?!!!

  3. Fabby tutorial, Naomi. I wish I had the time to make these, too!


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