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Fat Quarter Tote Bag Tutorial

 Here's my tutorial for a tote bag using a fat quarter of fabric. It will use every bit of it, but you do want to make sure everything is squared and true, which may mean you need to trim a little bit here and there to get to those perfect measurements.

Fat quarter of printed fabric*
Lining fabric
Sewing Machine

    *This tutorial will work around the various widths you may encounter with fat quarters: Narrow goods (45" wide) have a width of about 20" to 22" usable. Wide goods (54" wide) might have a width of 26" to 28" usable. My goods are wide, so the piece I worked from is about 18" high x 26" wide.

    Another thing you must take into consideration is that the bag will run against the selvedge - meaning the height of your bag is actually running perpendicular to the selvedge. This is important to know because if your fabric is directional with the selvedge edge, you would have a bag with a sideways print. That would not be the look we are going for here!

    If you are using narrow goods, you may want to orient your fabric in the other direction, so the bag is more tall and narrow than the one I am showing.


1.  OK, to begin, you will cut your fabric as shown in the diagram below. The width and height of the body of the bag may vary slightly depending on your fabric size... but you want the handles to ALWAYS be 3.5" wide to ensure they are not too narrow when sewn.

2. Using a body piece of the fabric you just cut as a pattern, cut two pieces of the lining fabric the exact width, but add 1" to the height.

3. Then, create the two accent panels for the outside/bottom of the bag by cutting two pieces of the lining fabric the exact width of the other panels and 5" high.

4. Pin the accent panels right sides together as shown in the photo below. It is important to make sure it is very straight across, or your seams will not line up when you sew the sides together later. Don't be afraid to draw a line if it helps- it won't show.

5. Sew 1/4" from the pinned edge.

6. Turn over and press the accent panels towards the bottom edge. Pin down so it doesn't move.

7. Topstitch 1/8" from the seam edge. I used a contrasting purple thread here.

8. Pin the panels right sides together, lining up the accent panel seams. Sew the sides and bottom with a 1/4" seam.

Pin the lining panels right sides together and sew sides and bottom with a 1/4" seam.

9. Press the seams flat on all sewn edges of both the outer shell and the lining.

10. To create the boxed bottom:  with the wrong sides out, take each of the bottom corners and open and fold them so that the seams are aligned one on top of another, creating a point. (a little like origami).
10a.  Measure 1.5" from the point tip straight along the seam and mark with a pin, or draw a line across from edge to edge perpendicular to the seam. Stitch on this line.
10b. Trim excess fabric to 1/4".

11. With the bags still wrong side out, pin the long bottom edges together on the selvedge between the newly created corners. Sew 1/8" from edge (this way you are not sewing directly on the seam).

12. Flip bag so that the patterned side is now right side out and the lining is inside.

13. Carefully fold over both the top edges of the patterned fabric 1/4" and the lining about 3/4" so that the raw edges are between the layers. You want the lining to peek over the top edge of the bag about 1/4". Best to pin as you go around the circumference. May take a little fussing to make it all look nice and even. Press.

14. Fold the handles along the long edge in half, right sides together, pin and stitch 1/4" seam.

15. Now, if you're like me, this will be an agonizing part of the project... turn the handles inside out. I use about three tools to do this *$#%& job... a narrow wooden dowel, a pair of really long tweezers and this bodkin thingy with a safety pin. None of them work great, but somehow, I manage to get the job done.

16. Press the handles out smooth with the seam along the one of the edges of the handle.

17. Topstitch 1/8" on both sides of the handles.

18. Position the handles approximately 3.25" from the seamed edges of the bag (eyeball what looks right for holding). Tuck about 1/2" into the space between the outer layer and lining and pin.

19. Sew 1/8" from top edge of the OUTER layer all around the bag, making sure the handles are well secured.

20. Sew again 1/2" from the top edge of OUTER layer, so there are two tracks of stitching.

21. Trim all your ugly loose threads and you're done!


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