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Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

This tote bag is a great first bag project, but (thanks to a few fancy tweaks) it is still satisfying for those of us who have made a bag or 10!

Tote bags are perfect 'busy' bags (hence the 'busy bee' title). Just pop a tote in your pocket/handbag and whip it out when required.

There are however, 2 things I don't like about totes and they are the tendency for small items to get lost in the bag depths and I REALLY don't like my water bottle rolling around on the bottom. To address these most pressing of issues I have therefore made a few snappy-mods to the much-loved tote bag.

My version of the tote bag has:

    A roomy interior - thanks to it's clever and very-easy-to-do faux gusset
    Decorative and reinforced bag handles
    A purse pocket and a super-useful water bottle/umbrella/magazine pocket
    No lining = less hassle, weight and cost - yay!

Which (I dare say) all adds up to a cooler and smarter-looking tote than your average shop freebie!

Finished Size: depends on if you used 1/2rd or 0.5m (I used 0.5m and used as much of the fabric height as I could). You can make the tote to whatever size you want.  My tote measures: 14 1/8in square x 5in deep (36 x 12.3cm)

Choose brightly coloured canvas fabric for your tote and it will look amazing/expensive (like it came from a swanky art gallery or something) and the bag be nice and strong!

The handles have piece of webbing at the handle base which looks neat and tidy and it strengthens the bag too.

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

Notice the smart crisp edges of the bag gusset?  Looking good aren't they?  But this is not a real bag gusset (though it looks and behaves just like one) it is a faux stitched in gusset and it's ridiculously quick and easy to do.  

Here's how to make yours - (instructions are written to work whether you use 1/2yrd or 0.5m of fabric (I used 0.5m). Pattern is in the instructions

You will need:

    1/2yrd (0.5m) Canvas fabric and matching thread for exterior (there is no lining in this bag)
    2 yrd (2m) of 1in (2.5cm) wide webbing and matching thread
    fat quarter (18 x 22in) (46 x 56cm) solid colour quilt weight cotton and matching thread for inner pockets
    1/4in (0.5cm) wide Basting tape
    Disappearing marker
    Pins/Sewing clips

Pattern is all straight-sided and described below. Cut the following:

    For bag main body: 2 x canvas fabric squares as tall as your fabric will allow - my fabric is just shy of 0.5m so my squares measure 19 2/8in square (49cm).
    *For main body pocket: 1 x quilt cotton fabric  14 6/8in (H) x 9 5/8in (W) (37.5cm x 24.5cm).
    **For side edge pocket: 1 x quilt cotton fabric 10in (H) x 7 1/2in (W) (25.5cm x 19cm).
    For the bag handles reinforcement: 2 x webbing 10 5/8in (27cm).
    For bag handles: 2 x your length choice (mine are 25 1/2in (65cm) each, end to end.

* The pockets are optional - of course if you choose not to include one or both pockets, the bag will be even easier and quicker to make.

** If you're an absolute beginner (or a tad nervous) I suggest leaving the side edge pocket out this time - I'm sure next rime round you'll be fine to give it go!

Pattern notes:

    Seam allowance is 3/16in (0.5cm) unless otherwise stated. Pattern includes seam allowance.
    Abbrevs: WSO/RSO/WST/RST = wrong/right side out/wrong/right sides together.
    Fabric reccos: canvas, denim, heavy linen, home dec weight.

1. Make the side edge pocket - to prevent the raw edges from fraying zigzag stitch all around the pocket fabric as described in Step 11. Fold and iron one of the short edges 1in (2.5cm) to the WS unfold and repeat with the other 3 edges.

To reduce bulk at the pocket corners fold in both short edges and trim off a small corner of fabric as shown above. Be careful to NOT trim too close the long edge fold - cut 3/8in (1cm) away from the fold.  Repeat for the other 3 corners.

2. Stitch and tape the side edge pocket - fold in both pocket long edges along their crease lines. Repeat with the pocket short edges, if necessary pin folds in place. Stitch along both short edges 1/2in (1.3cm) from the edge. Stitch all around the pocket 3/8in (0.3cm) from the edge.  

Look at the left-hand picture - mark a line (I've use my Hera marker) along one of the long edges 1/2in (1.3cm) from the edge. Apply basting tape onto the entire line mark (you have just made), don't peel off the backing just yet. Repeat for the other long edge.  Set aside.

You'll notice that the tape is not placed right onto the pocket long edge (it is placed 1/2in (0.5cm) in from the edge), this is deliberate, to give you plenty of room for the bag side edge stitching (in the final step) to catch the pocket side edges in the seam - don't worry about this at all for now, but it'll be good preparation for later to check out Steps 16 & 17 to see what I mean. 

3. Make up the main body pocket - fold and iron one of the short edges 3/8in (1cm) to the WS and repeat.  Stitch the folds in place 3/6in (0.5cm) from the edge.  Now fold and iron the long edges in the same way, but do not stitch as before.  Fold up the folded short edge 6in (15cm) to the WS, neatly match the side edges and pin/clip as shown above.

4. Stitch the main body pocket - stitch 2 lines of stitches along both long edges. Stitch the lines 1/8in (3mm) and 2/8in (6mm) from the the edge.

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

5. Fold the bag top edge and position the main body pocket - LEFT HAND PIC - take one the main body canvas fabric pieces and fold and iron the top edge 3/8in (1cm) to the WS. Repeat, but this time fold to 2in (5cm), unfold the 2nd fold. Find and mark (a thumbnail crease will do) the top edge centre of the main body and main body pocket. Matching the centre points position the pocket onto the 2nd main body top edge crease line. Pin the pocket in place onto the main body.              

RIGHT HAND PIC - Refold the main body top edge (thus concealing the raw main body top edge) and pin/clip the fold in place. We now have a nice-looking band for the inside of the bag.  Stitch the main body top edge band down. Stitch 1/8in (3mm) away from the band bottom edge and 3/16in (0.5cm) from the bad top edge.  Now topstitch the top edge 1/8in (3mm)  from the edge. Repeat with the other main body piece, except this time there is no pocket to work with. 

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

6. Position the bag handles - place the webbing ends on the main body RS centre so that the webbing outer edges are 8in (20.3cm) apart.  Place the webbing ends 1in (2.5cm) down from the bag top edge and ensure the ends are nice and straight (not wonky).  Use basting tape and clips to hold webbing ends in place.  

Note: in the pursuit of perfection and symmetry I suggest you don't work on the other bag handles and main body fabric piece until you are done with these handles (after Step 9).

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

7. Stitch webbing ends in place - stitch the webbing ends in place with 2 lines of stitches. Stitch 3/16in and 3/8in (0.5 and 1cm) from the webbing ends. I've used orange thread so you can see better - you might want to use a more sympathetic colour thread (as this stitching will show on the inside of your bag).

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

8. Position the bag handle reinforcement onto the main body - place a small piece of basting tape at both ends of one of the bag handle reinforcement webbing pieces. Fold under to the WS by 3/8in (1cm) and press with fingers to bond.  Now place a piece of basting tape along the entire centre length of the reinforcement webbing.  

Place the folded reinforcement webbing (with folded ends on the underside) onto the RS main body top edge (thus concealing the bag handle ends).  The reinforcement webbing needs to be positioned 3/8in (1cm) down from the bag top edge (this should result in it being placed in height centre of the stitching of the bag top edge 'band'). Press firmly to bond. 

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

9. Stitch the reinforcement webbing in place - stitch all around the reinforcement webbing stitch 1/8in (3mm) from the edge.  As you stitch over the bag handle ends, stitch over them thrice (in forward and reverse and forward again) this will strengthen these high-stress areas. 

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

10. Add the handles and reinforcement webbing to the other main body fabric piece. -  Remember back on step 6 where I suggested that you do not work on the other handles until now?  Well, now we can use the first set bag handles as a guide as to how to make the 2nd set of handles match perfectly (widthwise) with the first set. Simply lay the RS 2nd main body fabric on top of the 1st main body fabric (with handles attached) and mark off the handles position. Easy and perfect!

11. Stitch the bag together - bring the main body pieces RST and stitch along the side and bottom edges. Now we are going to zigzag stitch the raw edges to prevent them from fraying.  For this canvas fabric I found stitch width 5.5 and the length also 5.5 to be perfect, but it's best to experiment with your own machine).  

How to stitch the perfect zigzag (look in the left hand picture) position the central gap of your machine foot directly over the fabric raw edge. So when you sew the needle will sweep left (stitching into your fabric) anchoring a stitch into the fabric and then it will sweep right into the machine foot gap (in other words, it will stitch into nothing (avoiding the fabric altogether). The needle may look like it's stitching into nothing, but what it's actually doing is wrapping a thread around the raw edge - thus preventing it from fraying. The result should look like the right hand picture - a neat line of straight stitches accompanied with a neat zigzag stitch.

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

12. Form a flat bottom for the bag - pinch together one of the bottom corners of the bag, and lay the seams flat as shown - look at the left hand picture, notice how on one side the (zigzagged) seam lays flat in one direction and (you can just about see at the triangle tip) the seam on the other side lies flat in the opposite direction - this makes for a smooth bump-free seam.  

Right hand pic: as you pinch the bottom corner together look inside the bag and check that the side and bottom edge seam - this will make for a neat and professional-looking flat bag bottom.  Pin in place ready for the next step. Repeat for the other bag corner.

13. Measure and mark the bag bottom width line - take your ruler move it up the main body triangle (in other words, the pinched bag bottom corner) until you can get a 5in (12.7cm) long line across the seam and mark the 5in line as shown above. Ensure the marked line is at right angle (perpendicular) across the seam.  

Stitch across the 5in line twice (in forward and reverse) for strength.  Do not trim the excess triangle fabric - I've just left it there as is (and actually, doing so has a bit of a bag reinforcing effect). Repeat for the other bag corner.

14. Stick the side edge pocket to one pocket side edges - take your ruler and on the main body fabric draw a long perpendicular line at both ends of the bag bottom width line (you drew in the previous step).  These lines represent the bag side edges (in other words, the faux bag gusset) and the lines will be a guide as to where to stick down the pocket side edges.  

Take the side edge pocket, peel off one the backings and carefully place the pocket sticky edge onto one of the long lines you have just drawn. Place the pocket 1in 2.5cm up from the bag bottom width line - also take your time to ensure the pocket is positioned nice and straight - not wonky.  Repeat for the other pocket long edge - you will notice that the side edge pocket is wider than the bag side edge - this is deliberate, as it gives us a roomier side pocket to stuff with fat water bottles and magazines/newspapers.

15. Measure and mark the faux gusset (bag side edges) - tackle the bag side with the side pocket first.    At the bag top edge measure and mark 5in (12.3cm) across the side seam (in the pic you can see I have used pins to mark out 5in).  Repeat halfway down the bag side seam.

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

16. Iron in the faux gusset edges- so the bag bottom width is 5in, and now there are 5in marks half way up the side seam and bag top edge - now we can join up the 5in marks (thus creating the faux gusset edges).  Finger press and  iron the edges (I've use my trust finger presser) as shown above.  

Look inside the bag and check the pocket side edges are still firmly bonded to the bag side and that the pocket side edges (where the tape was applied) are also creased in line with the faux gusset lines (in other words the pocket side edges are also folded in with the faux gusset folds you have just made - this will ensure the pocket side edges are caught and stitched into the faux gusset seam).

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial

17.  Repeat for the other side edge and bottom edge - for the bottom edge the procedure is just same, measure 5in (12.3cm) across the bottom edge seam and iron the edges as before. If you like you can clip/pin these folds in place as above (you can really see the faux gusset taking shape).  

Now to stitch the faux gusset. Before you stitch do one last check to ensure you are happy that the side pocket in the bag is properly in position to be stitched into the bag.  Stitch along the side and bottom edge faux gusset folds you have just made. Stitch 3/16in (0.5cm) from the edge. Turn the bag over and repeat.

Ta Dah! All done. That is one stylish Busy Bee tote bag! 

Tote Bag Pattern & Tutorial


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