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How To Hand-Sew A Tote Bag

Making a bag without a sewing machine.  How to make an easy-to-sew tote bag through step-by-step instructions.

sewing needle
iron (optional)

cotton muslin fabric
cotton webbing
thread bobbin

Gather your tools and materials. We are showing you how to hand sew this tote bag, but if you have and know how to use a sewing machine... now would be an excellent time to bust it out and dust it off!

We dyed the fabric shown here using natural dyeing techniques.  You can also dye this tote bag after you have sewn it but that's completely up to you!

Start by folding the fabric in half and lining up the cut edges as best you can. The top (the rust colored area in our photo) will probably not line up exactly as it is probably warped from cutting, dyeing, and such. No worries - we’ll fix that later. If your fabric is wrinkled, give it a good once over with a hot iron in order to make sure this step goes smoothly!

Cut a piece of thread about 30 inches long. Thread your needle and knot the end of the thread a couple times.

To sew the sides together, start at the bottom of the fabric at the fold. Begin your first stitch about ¼” from the folded edge (bottom of tote) and 1/3” from the cut edge (side or tote). To work the running stitch, insert your needle through the back side of the fabric at your starting point. Pull needle through the fabric until the knot hits. Next, weave the needle in and out of the fabric, making evenly-spaced stitches.

For the running stitch: you can either do the standard up and down, or weave the needle through and make several stitches at once. Running stitches should look the same from both sides, and running stitches work best when they are smaller and closer together.

When you get to the top, knot your thread several times and snip off the end. Follow steps 4-7 and repeat sewing the other side of the fabric just the same way.

Once both sides are sewn you can trim the top edges so that they are even.

Fold the bottom corners at a 90 degree angle and push down to create a crease in the fabric.

Cut a piece of thread about 12 inches long. Thread your needle and knot the end of your thread a couple times. Sew a running stitch along this folded line.

When you get to the end knot your thread and trim the excess. Repeat sewing on the opposite side of the tote.

Cut off the corners leaving at least a 1/4" seam allowance beside the stitches.

Fold the top edge over about an inch.

Fold it over one more time and press down to keep it in place.

Cut another piece of thread about 32" - thread the needle and knot the end. Starting from inside the folded edge we just created (and at the edge seam), pull your needle through.

Sew along the folded edge. Make sure you go through all the layers but don't go through so many that you stitch the tote bag closed. Continue stitching all the way around the tote bag until you reach your starting point.

Your final stitch should come back to the top. Knot your thread several times to the tote bag and trim the excess thread.

Turn your tote bag right side out.

Cut the cotton trim in half.

Fold the ends of the trim over about 1" and place them on the tote bag about 4" from the edge on both sides.

Stitch the one side of the handle to the tote bag by making a square of stitches. Remember to start and end your stitches on the back side.

Knot your thread and cut tail. Repeat to attach the other side of the handle. As you place the handle on and before you start stitching, make sure that your handles are evenly placed and spaced. Repeat process to attach the other handle on the opposite side of the tote.

 All done!

Have fun with the project by mixing dyes or adjusting the shape of your tote. We love a shorter tote as well - just cut more from the top before you fold it over (step 8 and 13).


  1. Nice clear instructions, but a back stitch would be much stronger for seams that take stress.