Saturday, July 7, 2012

TOTE BAG--Totally Cute, Totally Easy, Totally Reversible!

Someone asked me if I would be willing to make an "easy" tote bag tutorial; just your plain, ordinary tote bag, with no pockets or frills.

Well, yes of course I am more than happy to do that. The one thing I would add to the "no frills" tote bag, is a coordinated lining so that the bag has a nice inside finish and can be reversible. This becomes two bags in one and it is not difficult to complete. I promise!

The most difficult part of this project from my perspective will be leaving out pockets. I can be a bit of a pocket fanatic and in other tote bag projects I have done, I always sneak in an extra pocket or two.


It is easiest to begin with fat quarters. What is a fat quarter? I asked the very same question a few years back. Fat quarters are generously cut pieces of cloth approximately 1/4 yard. I have found that the measurements are not always exact. (Usually around 18" X 21" to 22")

At Joanne Fabrics and most other fabric stores, you can buy color coordinated bundles of fat quarters all neatly tied up in a package. These little bundles come in handy if you have trouble deciding on fabric choices, colors etc. They are often not squared and you will need to trim them a bit.

As you can see here, this fat quarter is not quite 22". 

2 fat quarters of fabric desired for outside of bag, 2  fat quarters of  fabric desired for inside lining,
2 additional fat quarters (can be one each of  fabrics above, or other coordinating, complimentary fabrics) for the handles. Also needed is lightweight or midweight fusible fleece (I buy it on a bolt at Joanne Fabrics with a 50% coupon) but it also comes in a craft sized package. You will need enough to fuse to 2 fat quarters and 2 handle pieces. Thread to match.

***PLEASE NOTE: I do not happen to care for the combination of fabrics that came in my bundle of fat quarters, so one side of my straps will be made from a scrap of fabric I had leftover from a previous sewing project. (the red small floral print)

Begin by squaring off your 4 fat quarters that will be used for the outside and lining of your tote. Your widest measurement will be the top/bottom of your bag. My fat quarters measure 18 by almost 21 3/4 but I will be trimming it to measure 20".  At this point you can also iron out any creases or wrinkles in your fat quarters. I have learned that with any sewing project, the iron is definitely my best friend. It will be yours too!

Cut corresponding sized pieces from fusible fleece and fuse to wrong sides of your 2 fat quarters (THE OUTSIDE OF BAG) following the manufacturer's instructions. I cut my fusible fleece a little larger than necessary so you can see it. **I almost fused all 4 fat quarters to the fleece because I actually have 2 other bags in process in addition to the one I am constructing here and was not paying attention. So to repeat, only fuse fleece to the 2 fat quarters that you plan to use as the outside of your tote bag.

To prepare your fabric for the handles, you will need to cut (2)  2 1/2" strips from the longest sides of each fat quarter. Again my fat quarters are almost 22" and I will use that length. If your fat quarter is closer to 21" that will be sufficient for your handles. The only reason I am keeping mine longer is so that I don't like to  waste any fabric.

Cut corresponding sized pieces from fusible fleece and fuse to the wrong sides of one matching set of handles. I place the fabric pieces onto the fusible fleece and cut around the fabric as if it were a pattern.You may use either fabric as the outside of your handle--you will have to make the choice as to whether you want your handles to match the outside of the bag, or match the lining of the bag which adds a little pizazz to your tote bag. You could even use a  completely different pair of coordinating fat quarters for the handles as I have chosen to do. There really aren't any rules, at least in my book. I make the rules up as I go.....You decide!

Now we are ready to sew. I use a 1/4 " seam allowance on all of the stitching unless otherwise directed. Begin by placing the fused fabric pieces right sides together and pin both sides. Then stitch up the side seams. Be sure that you are sewing on the shorter sides of the fabric. Remember that we want the top and bottom of the bag to be  the LONGER edge. I have made that mistake before so I want to make sure that you don't! Pin the side seams in place and stitch away.....

Once the side seams are stitched, I then cut a 2 1/4" square out of the left and right bottom corners. I cut one square and use the cut out as a pattern for the remaining side.

Next pin and sew the bottom seam, matching edges.

Place the rights sides of the lining fabric pieces together and pin sides. Stitch sides. Then place the
cut out square from the outside of bag and place it on lining as a template to cut out the square from each corner.

Take the corner as shown in photo below and open it sideways to match the seams.

When you are certain that the inside seams line up accurately, place a pin across the seam.

Place a couple more pins to secure.

Then stitch across.

                         Repeat this procedure to the other side of the bag and to both sides of the lining.

The bottom of the lining should look like the above photo.

If you want to peak to make sure that your seams matched up on the outside of the bag, turn it right side out and look......if seams match up it should look nice as shown below. At this stage, it really starts to look like a tote bag and it's a point of no return for me. I just have to finish it no matter what.

At this point, it is time to work on the handles. Take one handle that is fused to the fleece and place the handle cut from the other fabric on top with right sides together. Pin the long sides and stitch using a scant 1/4" seam.

Sandwich the batting, right side of bag fabric to right side of coordinating fabric

Repeat for other strap



Turn right side out

If you have trouble with this step, I use this little gadget

It really makes it a lot easier

After both straps are turned right side out, top stitich 1/4" from each outside edge

Decide which way you want your straps to face. Pin right sides together matching raw edge of strap to raw edge at top of bag. I placed the left edge of the strap 6" in from left side. The right strap is also placed 6" from the right side of the bag. There is a 3" space between  the sides of the handle.

I am making sure my straps are placed correctly, with no twists.

Looks right....then stitch each strap in place 1/4" from edge--reinforce.

Now turn your bag inside out and place straps straight down.

Insert your lining into the bag right side out. Make sure that right sides are together.
Then pin lining to bag right sides together all the way around.

The photo above is difficult to see but you should have something that looks like this....Then stitch around the top edge of the bag slightly more than 1/4" so strap stitching does not show.

Reach into the bag through the opening in the lining and pull the bag through right side out.

The exciting part! Your bag will emerge!!!!!

Pick up the bag by the handles and push the lining into the bag through the bag top--you can shake it a little to help get the lining inside the bag.

.....and VIOLA!

After pressing the bag, all that is left is topstitching 1/4" all around the top of the bag and stitching up the opening in the lining of the bag. You can either whip stitch the opening closed or pull out the lining and stitch it with your sewing machine. I used my sewing machine.

And a drum roll please.........

The photos did not come out so well and certainly does not do this bag justice. It is now midnight (I told you I would have to finish this bag no matter what time it was!!) and the lighting is off. I did get a better shot and posted it at the very beginning of this tutorial.

Hope you were able to follow these directions. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to ask in the comment section or email me. I thoroughly enjoyed making this bag for you! We will make a bag with pockets and other embellishments later!!! You can do it! If I can SEW it, SEW can you!

I promise that after you make one of these tote bags and realize how easy it is to construct, you will want one in every color! They make wonderful gifts. I have been making these for gifts for over 3 years!

"Bags are like can never have too many!"

Linking this post to:

Ivy and Elephant's What's It Wednesday Linky Party! Hop on over and wish them a Happy Blogiversary! It's their 2 year celebration! AND did I mention they are also having a giveaway???


  1. You did a wonderful tutorial! I've been making mine very similar to this but not lining some of them. They really are fun to make and with all the pretty fabric, they all look so different! Enjoy sewing!

  2. I will have to stop by and check out your bags...curious how you finish the seams on the inside. It really doesn't take long to line them and I do love the reversible part. Thanks for checking my tutorial out.

  3. Thanks for sharing this Linda. It will be great to refer to this when I finally get around to making one to use for my crochet projects.

  4. Make sure you post a photo--I would love to see how it turns out! Thanks Diane!

  5. I have a slight addiction to bags. Thanks for sharing this.:)

    1. LOL Nikki! Me too! My friends here call me the bag lady! That's the beauty of this basic pattern, you can easily indulge in this addiction. One to match every outfit!
      Thanks for checking it out. It's a pretty old post! If you make one, I'd love to see it!