Hi there! Today I’m excited to share how to sew a tote bag. And not just any tote bag, the perfect tote bag tutorial. I know, I know – I used the word perfect, but I did that because I truly believe this basic tote bag is perfect. We’ve got french seams, pockets, different options for straps, different options for sizes and how deep to box it out. You can customize this to make it your perfect basic tote bag.
Best Fabric for Tote Bags?
I really like using canvas for the outer fabric on tote bags. I provides extra sturdiness and durability without making it more difficult to sew. They also come in great fabrics like this floral and this Arizona print.
Don’t have cotton webbing for the straps? Which I love and use all the time by the way, but if you don’t have to have some to make these bags. You can use the leftover lining or outer fabric to make these straps. I love being able to show various ways to make a tote bag. I want to show you how to sew a tote bag and give you my best practices. They are a bit shorter, but oh so cute. And this zen blossoms fabric is amazing.
Learn to Sew Series!
I have included this tutorial in my Learn to Sew series which also has tutorials for placemats, potholders, aprons and zip pouches. I sent out an email to those on the Learn to Sew email list and they voted on their next tutorial which was a tote bag! Followed by a sofa or bed organizer – maybe that should be next!
Large Tote Bag Measurements
This larger tote features longer straps and a larger body, for more contents or bulky items like beach towels. The construction is the same as the regular tote with bigger measurements. I also used drop cloth for the outer fabric and interfaced that with sf101 to test it out. You can do that or use the canvas like in the pattern.
Outer piece: 23 x 41
Lining: 23 x 37
Straps: Cut (4) 2.5 x 34
How to Sew a Tote Bag Pattern
- 1/2 yard canvas fabric
- 1/2 yard 100% cotton lining fabric
- Optional: 1.5 yard of cotton webbing for straps (As pictured straps are 25-28 inches each)
- Coordinating thread color
- Fabric Scissors
- Rotary Cutter, Mat and Ruler
- Clover Clips
- Sewing Pins
- Marking tool
- Iron/Ironing board
- Cut outer piece of fabric to 18 x 36. Cut lining fabric to 18 x 34.
- On the short side of your outer piece, iron over 1/4 inch and then again 1 inch for the top hem of the bag.
- Optional Pocket: If you would like to add a coordinating pocket to the inside of your tote bag, now is the time to do that. Cut a roughly 9 x 6 (this can vary slightly based on your needs) piece of your outer fabric. You have extra to be able to do this.
- Zig zag around the entire pocket piece. Then Iron over 3/4 inch along the top edge. Top stitch this down. Press sides and bottom.
- Find the center of the lining and the center of the pocket by folding them in half to make a crease. Line these up and pin to the right side of the lining 4 inches from the edge.
- Sew the pocket into place. Sew along the right side, along the bottom and back up the left side of the pocket, back stitching well.
- Slide the lining underneath the hem we ironed on the outer piece lining up the sides. Smooth fabric together and slide other side of the lining as well, trimming with fabric scissors if needed to fit properly. Make sure the lining is completely under the ironed hem and pin in place.
- If you are using cotton webbing for the straps you can skip to step 9. If you want to make straps from your lining fabric, cut 4 strips that are 2 inches x 18 inches. Place the right sides together and sew along the long edge with a 1/4 seam allowance. Turn right side out, press seams well and top stitch with a 1/8 - 1/4 inch stitch from the edge.
- Insert raw edge of strap under the hem of the bag, 4 inches from the side and pin in place.
- Sew along the folded edge of the hem with strap in this position to secure.
- Flip up handle and pin or clip into place. Sew along the base of the strap and along the top edge to secure.
- Line up the bag with outer fabric facing out. Make sure there are no wrinkles or bubbles and trim sides so they are perfectly even and pin in place.
- Sew along the pinned sides using a 1/4 inch seam allowance.
- Turn bag inside out and press side seams well. Make sure these are nice and flat and pressed and pin or clip into place.
- Sew along these side seams with the lining facing out with slightly larger than a 1/2 inch seam allowance backstitching well.
- Turn right side out and make sure there is no raw edge peeking through the seam. If everything looks good, you can be done here or create the boxed bottom.
- Create a crease along the bottom fold of the bag and line up that seam with the side seam. Use a ruler and draw a 3.5 inch line perpendicular to the side seam and pin. Do this on the other side as well.
- Sew along the drawn line and cut off the corner piece leaving a 1/4 or less (be careful) seam allowance.
- Flip the bag inside out and finger press that boxed seam to lay everything flat. Sew it with 1/2 inch seam allowance be careful over the bulky french side seam.
- Double check that everything looks good, trim any threads and you're done! Now you can make 5 more ;).