rock the tote: with all the trimmings (part 1)

I did not hit the sewing ground running when it comes to adorning my creations. I think I was intimidated for a long time — I didn’t know what to use where. I called myself liking a clean, uncomplicated style, which I now realize isn’t necessarily a conflict with trims when they’re used correctly. (“Correctly” in this case meaning nothing more than the way I like it.) There’s no question — I still come across a lot of fandangles that absolutely stump me. But now, if an embellishment appeals to me, I’ll figure out how to make it work.

Unequivocally, my favorite trim is piping. I like it in a solid color or any variety of print, with cording or without, delicate or chunky. And now that I know about that awesome way to make it from scratch, I doubt I’ll buy it pre-made again. (Well…not often.) I also adore rickrack and the perfect vintage feel it brings to its host project. In this post and in part 2, I’ll walk you through the process of using either of these on the top edge of your next tote.

For the purposes of these variations, I copied the dimensions of a small- to medium-sized gift bag, one of those paper ones you can usually get for a dollar. Not only will a homemade original be way cuter than those, but it can be used for gifting approximately a bazillion times, assuming the gift recipient is willing to pass it on. :~)

The finished dimensions are 10″ tall x 12″ wide (at top) x 5″ deep (at bottom). It does a decent job of standing proud when it’s filled; if you want it to do so when on its own, apply interfacing liberally. I also decided that the depth of this bag really needs the structure that a bottom insert provides. All the cutting specs are below, no math required. I simplified it one step further and used cotton webbing (or is it belting? anyone know the difference?) for the handles. If you want to make them from fabric following the original instructions, note that their finished dimensions are 12″ length x 1″ width.

As a reminder, the below tutorial is a variation of my original Rock the Tote. Only the steps that have changed are photographed. For ease of use, I’ve included the full instructions here, but please refer to the original post if you’d like all the photos and details. (Or see the rightsizing post for the formula to customize the size.)

gift bag with piping
1/2″ seam allowance except where otherwise noted.

1) Cut your pieces.

  • Two body pieces (14″x13″) from exterior fabric, preferably home dec weight, interfaced if desired
  • Two body pieces (14″x13″) from lining fabric
  • Two insert pieces (6¼”x8¼”) from lining fabric
  • Two 5″x7″ pieces of ultra-heavyweight sew-in interfacing (such as Peltex 70)
  • Two 14″ lengths of 1″-wide webbing for handles
  • 28″ length of corded piping, purchased or handmade*

*If you’re making a different size, you’ll need piping as long as the diameter of the top of your bag plus at least 4 inches.

2) Construct the exterior. Place the two exterior pieces right sides together. Sew along the sides and bottom, leaving the top edge open. Cut a 2½” square from each of the bottom corners of the bag. Press seams open. At each cut corner, bring side and bottom seams together and stitch across to create the box bottom. Turn bag exterior right side out.

3) Construct the lining. Do this the same way as the exterior, but leave a 4″ gap along the bottom seam for turning out later. Turn the lining right side out.

4) Attach the piping to the bag exterior. First, get your sewing machine prepped. Change to your zipper (or cording) foot, and free up that free arm if you have one. If you don’t have a 1″ seam allowance clearly marked on the bed, it will help a lot if you fix that. I put a piece of easily removable tape at the right spot, as shown here:

Next, align the piping with the top edge of the bag exterior. (As a reminder, the bag should be right side out.) You’ll begin basting about an inch to the right of one of the side seams, about two inches from the end of the piping. Here’s a picture — the pin shows where you’ll start stitching:

No need to pin all around, just pin where you’ll start sewing. [Note: the seam allowance on the piping will probably not match the seam allowance we’ll be using here. It doesn’t have to. As long as it’s less than 1″, it will work just fine.] At the machine, align the bag’s top raw edge with the 1″ seam mark, and snug the piping up to the zipper foot, so that you’ll baste as close as possible to the cording.

As you begin to sew, guide the fabric with your right hand, keeping an eye on the edge to ensure that your basting line stays right at that 1″ seam allowance. With your left hand, guide the piping so that it stays flush against the zipper foot. This all sounds like it takes more coordination than it actually does — the zipper foot does most of the work to keep the piping in place. Just don’t try to break any speed records.

Baste the piping around the top edge of the bag, stopping an inch or so before you get to side seam near your starting point. There are now two unattached piping ends, about 2″ apart, coming together at the side seam. I’ll refer to these two ends as the “left” and “right” ones, based on how you see them when looking at them as pictured.

Trim the left end so that it extends about 1/2″ to the right of the side seam. Trim the right end so that it extends about 1/2″ to the left of the side seam:

At this point, the piping ends overlap each other by about an inch, yes? We’re gonna fix that. Open up about 1″ of the bias tape on one of the ends (I did the right end in these pics). If your piping is stitch-basted together, you’ll have to unpick a few stitches. If you’ve used fusible somethingorother like I have, it can be carefully ripped apart. If it’s stubborn, blast it with some hot steam from your iron and open it up. With the cord free, trim the cord only — not the fabric surrounding it — so that the cord ends will butt snugly up against each other.

The bias tape is now about an inch longer than the cord. Fold that extra fabric about 1/2″ in to the inside, and then wrap it around the other end of the piping. If all the stars align, the folded edge of the bias binding will line up with the side seam like so:

Finally, complete the last couple inches of the basting.

5) Attach the handles. On the bag exterior, make a mark 3″ in from the side seams on both back and front. With raw edges aligned, pin the outside edge of the handle at the mark; repeat for the remaining handle ends. If the handles have a right side, it should be facing the right side of the bag. Baste in place. Turn bag exterior wrong side out.

6) Assemble the bag. Place the right-side-out bag lining into the wrong-side-out bag exterior, so that the right sides are together. Ensure that the handles are fully enclosed between the layers. Align the side seams and pin around, then stitch the top seam of the bag directly on top of the piping basting stitches.

7) Finish it up. Turn the bag right side out. Press the top edge well. I don’t usually topstitch when I’ve inserted piping because the lining isn’t going to roll out, but you can if you want. Handstitch the gap in the lining closed.

8) Make the bottom insert. Stack the two pieces of interfacing and baste them together. Working with the insert pieces you cut from your lining fabric, press one short edge 1/2″ to the wrong side; repeat on the other insert piece. Place the pieces right sides together, with raw edges and pressed edges aligned. Stitch around three sides, leaving the pressed edge open. Turn right side out. Insert the double-thickness of interfacing. Slipstitch or whipstitch the open end closed. Place insert into the bottom of your tote, tacking them together at the corners, if desired.

Thanks for joining me for part 1 of trimmings! The process for the rickrack is only slightly different from the one for the piping, and it’s coming next week here.

Comments 5

  • oooh, thanks for the piping technique! I always wondered how to do that with homemade piping.

  • Thanks for the great tute, for the piping. I love the look of piping hate doing it, I’ll have to try again as yours looks great.

  • Thank you for sharing the technique! Now it looks easier, I will try it.

  • Fantastic tutorial and easy to follow. Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi….. this is a great tutorial…. lovely bag…. do you think it would work well with oil cloth? (Perhaps without the piping?)
    Thanks
    Sarah

    Hi Sarah, I don’t see why not! I would leave a larger gap for turning it out, since oilcloth is stiffer. It’s also beneficial to use a slightly longer stitch length (say 3.5-4mm) so that it doesn’t become “perforated.” Good luck! :)

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