rock the tote

When I wrote about my orange slice bag last week, I mentioned that I changed the way the handles were constructed, and I promised a tutorial. I decided to attach the straps (and corresponding instruction) to a whole tote bag. This is a fairly standard tote, nothing revolutionary, but it reflects the tweaking and techniques from my experience making it, many times now.

Rock the Tote: basic recipe

Precious few items rival the utility of a tote bag. Yes, yes, left brain, but did you know it is also ripe for endless creative variation? (You can adapt it however floats your tote! OK, I’ll stop.) I have plans to post several of these adaptations in the future, so Rock the Tote will be my baby blog’s first recurring feature. Huzzah! It’s hard to overstate the tote’s usefulness, not that we crafty types ever have any stuff to lug about. OK, let’s get to it…

Rock the Tote: Basic Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 yard exterior fabric: I like to use something a little beefier here. If you use quilting cotton, throw on some interfacing of your choice.
  • 1/2 yard lining fabric: A light-to-mid weight fabric like quilting cotton is perfect for this.
  • The usual cast of sewing characters… needle, thread, scissors, pins, some kind of measuring device. Rotary cutter and mat are quite helpful but not strictly necessary. Even a sewing machine isn’t required, but it does speed up the process substantially!

Directions:

1/2″ seam allowance except where otherwise noted.

1) Cut your pieces. From the exterior fabric, cut two body pieces (17″x15″) and two strap pieces (26″x4½”). From the lining fabric, cut two body pieces (17″x15″). If either of your fabrics are directional, note that the 17″ measurement will be for the height of the bag, 15″ is the width.

Rock the Tote cutting layout

Rock the Tote basic ingredients

2) Construct the straps. First, fasten a safety pin to the center of one of the short ends, with the head of the pin facing the other end. This makes it super easy to turn the strap out later. When using this technique, make sure your safety pin is small enough to move through the finished strap easily; this strap is wide (1½” finished width) so that shouldn’t be an issue — I used a rather large pin.

Rock the Tote step 2

Fold the strap piece in half lengthwise, right sides together; pin along the long open edge.

Rock the Tote step 2

Stitch along the pinned edge, using a 3/4″ seam allowance. Press seam allowance open. This takes some finagling on tubes like this, but it will help immensely with the next part. I do it by turning up and pressing one of the seam allowances, like this:

Rock the Tote step 2

Then, turn up and press the other seam allowance:

Rock the Tote step 2

By gently coaxing the safety pin to the other end of the tube, turn it right side out, then remove the pin. Press the strap, with seam centered on the bottom side. Be sure that the seam allowances are open inside the tube, so that the strap’s thickness is uniform. This should work easily thanks to the pressing outlined above, but if you need to prod the seam allowances into submission, a chopstick comes in handy.

Rock the Tote step 2

Edgestitch along each long edge. Repeat all of this for the other strap.

Rock the Tote step 2, done

3) Construct the exterior. Place the two exterior pieces right sides together. Pin along the long sides and the bottom. Sew along the pinned edges, using a 1/2″ seam allowance, leaving the top edge open.

Rock the Tote step 3

Cut a 1½” square from both of the bottom corners of the bag. I created a little template for this from an old tissue box.

Rock the Tote step 3Rock the Tote step 3

 Rock the Tote step 3

Press seams open. The side seams are easier to press open — a sleeve board is helpful here, if you have it — but for the bottom seam, I do it the way I outlined for the straps above. (Press up one seam allowance, flip over, press up the other.)

At each cut corner, bring side and bottom seams together to create the box bottom; pin.

Rock the Tote step 3

Stitch across, then stitch across again just inside the seam allowance to reinforce. Trim the seam allowance to reduce bulk, using pinking shears or regular scissors.

Rock the Tote step 3

Turn bag exterior right sides out. See how neatly this technique creates the corners?

Rock the Tote step 3

4) Construct the lining. Do this the same way as the exterior, but leave a 4″ gap along the bottom seam for turning out later. Leave the lining wrong sides out.

5) Attach the straps. On the bag exterior, make a mark 2½” in from each side seam on both back and front (4 marks total). With raw edges aligned, pin the straps to the tote, placing the outside edge of each strap end at the mark. The right side of the strap should be facing the right side of the bag.

Rock the Tote step 5Rock the Tote step 5

Be sure that the strap isn’t twisted:

Rock the Tote step 5

Baste the straps in place about 3/4″ from the raw edge and remove the pins. Finally, we’re going to do a little insurance to help our straps remain straight during assembly. At each end of each strap, fasten a safety pin two to three inches from the raw edge, anchoring the strap to the bag so that it doesn’t get a mind of its own while out of your controlling reach:

Rock the Tote step 5

6) Assemble the bag. Place the right-side-out bag exterior into the wrong-side-out bag lining, so that the right sides are facing each other. Ensure that the straps are fully enclosed between the layers.

Rock the Tote step 6

Align the side seams and pin around, then stitch the top seam of the bag using a 1″ seam allowance. This extra-wide seam gives further strength and structure to the bag’s top edge. As you sew, reinforce stitching at each strap end — I usually just stitch, backstitch, then forward stitch a last time over the straps.

7) Finish it up. Home stretch! Pulling the exterior through the gap in the lining, turn the bag right side out.

Rock the Tote step 7

Smooth the lining into the bag, remove the safety pins holding the straps down, then press the top edge well. In order to make sure the lining doesn’t peek over the top edge, press the exterior slightly to the inside of the bag. (For any garment sewists reading this, this is essentially the tote bag version of understitching.) When you do this, there will be a small roll of the exterior fabric visible from the lining side of the bag, which will ensure a professional finish from the outside.

Rock the Tote step 7

Topstitch around the top edge.

Rock the Tote step 7

Handstitch the gap closed. I like to use what I think is called a “ladder stitch” for this. Basically, you just bring the needle up from the wrong side of one of the folds, insert it directly across the way into the other fold, take a small stitch, go straight back across to the first fold, take a small stitch, and so on:

Rock the Tote step 7Rock the Tote step 7

All done! Proceed to carrying things around. Stay tuned for the next version of Rock the Tote!

For any of you experts who’d like “just the facts please,” here’s a seriously abbreviated set of instructions, sans all the pearls of wisdom. :-)

1) Cut your pieces. From the exterior fabric, cut two body pieces (17″x15″) and two strap pieces (26″x4½”). From the lining fabric, cut two body pieces (17″x15″).

2) Construct the straps. Fold one of the pieces in half lengthwise, right sides together. Stitch along the long open edge, using a 3/4″ seam allowance. Press seam allowance open, then turn tube right side out. Press strap, with seam centered on the bottom side and ensuring seam allowances are still open on the inside. Edgestitch along each long edge of the strap. Repeat for the other strap.

3) Construct the exterior. Place the two exterior pieces right sides together. Sew along the sides and bottom, using a 1/2″ seam allowance, leaving the top edge open. Cut a 1½” 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 sides out.

4) Construct the lining. Do this the same way as the exterior, but leave a 4″ gap along the bottom seam for turning out later. Leave the lining wrong sides out.

5) Attach the straps. On the bag exterior, make a mark 2½” in from the side seams on both back and front. With raw edges aligned, pin the straps by placing the outside edge of each strap end at the mark. The right side of the strap should be facing the right side of the bag. Baste.

6) Assemble the bag. Place the right-side-out bag exterior into the wrong-side-out bag lining, so that the right sides are together. Ensure that the straps are fully enclosed between the layers. Align the side seams and pin, then stitch the top seam of the bag using a 1″ seam allowance.

7) Finish it up. Turn the bag right side out. Press the top edge well, then topstitch around it. Handstitch the gap in the lining closed.

Rock the Tote bag

Don’t stop here! Make this tote in any size following the simple steps in Rock the Tote: Rightsizing.
all right
If you make a bag from this or any Rock the Tote tutorial, I’d love for you to share on my newly created Flickr group!

15 thoughts on “rock the tote

  1. Think even I could follow these directions when I get in the mood to open up my machine. Your stitching is perfect, as usual. Love it!

    Thanks :) — You can totally do it! ~Susan

  2. Looks good to me! I imagine you will have all different skill levels trying to make the bag. Are you going to allow people who have questions, to contact you?

    I sew the strap, right side together lengthwise, turn the tube right side out, insert a closet pole and press the seam open then press the strap flat with the folded edge on one side and the seam on the other.
    It seems lots easier especially when you are going to top stitch anyway. I would also mention to make one last check for pins before you turn it right side out.

    Hope this was helpful. I’m home if you want to chat.

    Joanne

    Thanks for your input! That’s a good note to always check for pins. And of course anyone can contact me with questions! ~Susan

  3. Craft Gossip Sewing pointed me here, and I’m so excited about Rock the Tote!! I love making bags, and all the ones I’ve made have been variations on this same tote theme.

    I take the handle construction even one step simpler – just press the fabric in half the long way, then press in both long raw edges to the center, pin & top stitch down both sides.

    That totally works well — I’ve made them that way too! Glad you’re excited about the feature. :-) ~Susan

  4. This is great! I want to make tote bags as the favor bags for my daughter’s birthday party . . . and I don’t really know how to sew. : ) So glad I found this!! Now, maybe it’s slightly more possible that I can make this a reality.

    Hi Lisa! The next Rock the Tote focuses on resizing — and I actually have a party favor bag version in it! Should be up early next week. ~Susan

    • http://www.SpoonFlower.com , the custom fabric printing company, just had a bag design contest. One of the top 10 was a party favor bag set. You can order a yard of fabric and it comes printed with the bags ready to cut and sew, with instructions printed right along side. If you don’t already have fabric on hand, it’s a nice way to get 12 different but coordinating bags in one shot.

  5. What a super tutorial! You did not leave anything out and I really love the way you did your handles.
    Thanks so much for sharing.
    Happy Easter to you and your family.
    Nettie from Spanish Fork, Utah

    Thanks, Nettie! To you and your family as well. :-) ~Susan

  6. Woo Hoo! I can’t wait to get at my fabric stash! Well, and get my shelves painted and loaded. =) We just built some shelves in a closet in one of the bedrooms (now turned into my craft room). Love this! TY for sharing this.

    Congrats on the new craft room, Deborah! I just made major changes to my space as well. If I ever get at least 90% satisfied with it, I’ll do a “reveal.” :-) ~Susan

  7. i love your clear instructions, this was a fabulous tutorial you made it look easy to do.. thank you so much!

    It’s absolutely easy, Zeena! Thank you :) ~Susan

  8. Took my narrow tote version to Cancun last week and ended up using it most often as my purse&tote!

    That’s great! Glad it worked for you! ~Susan

  9. Hi, just finished making a bag using your great tutorial. After an unplanned sewing hiatus this was a perfect project. And I learned some stuff. Fun fact, you can tear the head off a safety pin halfway through turning a strap! And that I can swear like a sailor when I finally get that strap turned and realize it was such a PITA because I accidently used 7/8 seam allowence instead of 3/4. Do’h! But then a good new song came on pandora and I totally rocked that tote. Thanks – pictures to follow when my tech guy gets back with the cable…

    That is hilarious! So sorry about the busted safety pin, that sounds like a PITA indeed. Can’t wait to see your pics! ~Susan

  10. I love this tutorial. It was so easy to follow. I made a totebag for my niece for her birthday. Her sister liked it to so much that she asked me to make one for her birthday too. I plan to make many more of these totes :)

    Thank you Jessica, for letting me know! I’m glad it worked well for you… it sounds like it’s a good thing they’re fast to put together, huh? ;)

  11. Thank you so much for this brilliant tutorial. I plan to use your instructions to make several patchwork bags to take to the States when I visit friends in late June.

    Is there any chance of showing us how to add an optional flap closure in case someone (me for instance) wants to be able to fasten the top of the bag?
    Pretty Please!

    Jean from UK

    Hi Jean — that’s a great suggestion! I do intend to do more Rock the Tote tutorials in the future so I will definitely add that to the list. :) ~Susan

  12. I scoured the internet for 2 days looking for a pattern I could understand and this one was by far the best! Thank you! I would love to see a tutorial on how to add pockets. Right now I’m just going to add pockets after it’s completed but am wondering how to add them beforehand.

    Hi Julie — I’m so glad the tutorial is what you needed! I think that pockets are very important, and I would love to do a tutorial for them. Are you interested in plain, patch-type pockets, or the ones that zip?

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