How to Make a Tote Bag

Projects

My newest creations, with improvised double pockets:

The flowered bag is shown in process with instructions here.

The original instructions are below.

 
Finished Size
Cut Size
Strap Length
(Opt.) Pocket Size
 
Width
Length
Height
A
B
C
= A
E

Shopping

6

13

12

20

32

92

20

12

Short Lunch

6

7

9

14

26

80

14

9

Tall Lunch

6

7

12

14

32

92

14

12

Call Bag (shown)

3.5

12

11

16.5

26.5

83

16.5

11

Make a custom-sized tote bag. Calculate sizes of fabric cuts needed to make it with this MS Excel spreadsheet.

All measurements are in inches:

A = Length + Width + 1 - The ends of the fabric with this measurement are the Top Edges.

B = (2 x Height) + Width + 2

C = 2 x (B + 15)

E = Height

Using the above formulas, you can make any size bag you want. Optional pockets are shown for a small outer pocket and a larger inner pocket. The bag shown is the Call Center bag and has a small pocket for an ID badge on the outside, a large pocket for a headset on the inside, and the notebook fits in the center of the bag.

You should have a new sewing machine needle for this project. Since the fabric shown is a heavy jacquard, I used a size 80/12 universal needle. I also used fusible thread to fuse the pocket pieces onto the bag piece before stitching down the pockets, then to fuse the strap to the bag before stitching that down.

Strap should be made of cotton webbing. Steam shrink the strapping before you cut to length above.

Fabric should be sturdy, such as heavy denim, canvas, double-cloth upholstery, or heavy brocade. If using a less stable fabric, interface it as described below the picture.

BEFORE YOU CUT THE FABRIC, serge or zigzag the edges of the fabric, preshrink it in the washer and dryer, then cut the bag piece(s) to size. The fabric shown has been cut for a bag with optional pockets (instructions below). The short ends of the large piece will become the hemmed top edge of the bag. See How to Use a Rotary Cutter.

If the fabric has loose strings on the underside or is on the thin side, cut the same size of woven fusible interfacing and fuse to the wrong side before proceeding. After cutting out the bag pieces, serge or zigzag all cut edges.

Optional Pockets: Cut the pocket piece, cut off one third, and finish the edges of both pieces. The larger pocket piece will become the inside pocket, and the smaller pocket piece will become the outside pocket. Turn and fuse a one-inch hem on one long edge of the larger piece. Top stitch this hem edge. Turn and fuse a one-inch hem on both short edges of the smaller piece as shown in the picture above. Top stitch one hem edge.

Optional Inside Pocket: Lay the wrong side of the large pocket on the wrong side of the bag piece. Place the hemmed edge of the pocket 2.5 inches below and parallel to the top edge of the bag piece, as shown below. Place an adjacent edge of the pocket piece exactly on top of the long edge of the bag piece. Pin the pocket piece to the bag piece. Baste, with contrasting thread, only the inside edge of the pocket piece (away from the outer edge). The contrasting thread will serve as a strap placement line.

Optional Outside Pocket: Place the bag piece right side up and the small pocket piece right side up. At the end opposite the inside pocket, place the hemmed edge of the pocket 2.5 inches below and parallel to the top edge of the bag piece. An outer edge of the small pocket should follow the line of basting created for the inner pocket. The clear ruler at the left of the picture below follows the basting line and the outer pocket is to the right of the upper portion of the ruler. The clear ruler at the top ensures that the top of the small pocket is parallel to the top edge of the bag. Baste the unhemmed edges of the small pocket with contrasting thread to serve as strap placement lines.

The following picture has been turned and brightened for illustration purposes. Two rows of basting to the left hold down the exterior pocket, and one row of basting to the right holds the interior pocket in place.

Using the thread selected for this project stitch two rows, about 1/8-inch apart, across the exterior pocket's lower hemmed edge. This is close to the middle of the bag piece.

No-Pocket Version: On the right side of the bag piece, draw two strap placement lines parallel down the middle, spaced apart approximately 1/3 the Length distance as determined at the beginning.

Continue Making the Bag: Put a pin at the center of the strap piece. Also put a pin at the center of one long edge of the bag piece. Aligning the pin on the strap piece to the pin on the bag piece, lay the strap down centered over the strap placement lines on the right side of the bag piece, forming a continuous circle, turning under the overlapping end. Use a small piece of fusible tape to hold the turned under section of strap to itself. Also fuse the strap to the bag, but not the last 3 inches at the short edges of the bag and not the last 2 inches of the overlapped strap (allows you to stitch down the underlap).

Stitch securely along both edges of the strap, stopping 2.5 inches from the top edge, but do not stitch through the large inside pocket piece, as follows:

First attach the section of strap which concludes beneath the overlapping end, stitching from near the short edge of the bag piece to the end of the strap, across the end, and back up towards the bag piece short edge. When you attach the overlapping strap section, stitch from the bag's opposite short edge, down to and across the fold where the other end of the strap is folded under, and back up to the bag short edge. Attaching the other side of the strap is done simply by stitching along both edges of the strap. Stop all stitching 2.5 inches below the short (top) edges.

Fold the bag in half lengthwise with wrong sides together. Pin both layers together (1/2 Width measurement above) from fold. In this example, the pins are placed 3 inches from the fold.

Fold both layers back from pins with right sides together, forming a pleat as shown below. Stitch through all layers on each side with a half-inch seam.

Fold top edge to wrong side with a one-inch hem and top stitch all around. Make sure you don't stitch through the middle of the inner pocket! Sew straps up to the top edge, but do not stitch through the middle of the inner pocket.