How to make a Tote bag : Here is the best & easiest way to make this every day bag

Step-by-step instructions for learning how to make your own tote bag with detailed photos - materials needed, sewing techniques, and tips

A tote bag is a very simple, very useful, medium-sized every-day bag you can carry anywhere. It is made of a somewhat sturdy bag material and is usually left unfastened. If you want to make a cloth bag as a beginner, a tote bag is the one for you.

And it is so versatile. You can use them as a reusable shopping bag or even an everyday working bag. The tote bag is a good handbag for all simple everyday uses – going to the library, taking around your laptop, taking things to the beach…. You may have got some of them as give-aways at supermarkets, bookshops, boutiques but with their own logos prominently displayed. But don’t you want one, without any of these promotional signs?

Here is a tutorial to make a tote bag very easily – you just need some pretty fabric and a sewing machine. 

A simple tote bag

The tote bag is usually made of thick and heavyweight fabrics like canvas, upholstery materials, denim, pleather and leather. Learn more about the popular bag fabrics and the bag materials used to make bags.

Here is my favourite way to make these unstructured, uncomplicated and unlined tote bags. 

How to sew an easy DIY Tote Bag

Step 1. Set up your sewing machine. 

Optimal sewing machine settings for cotton fabric

sewing machine setting

Thread : Polyester all purpose thread prefered because of strength. Or 100% cotton thread.

Needle.: Size 12/14/16 according to thickness of fabric


Step 2. Choose the fabric

What material is best for this tote bag? : You can use any thick cotton fabric to make your tote bag – this is my preference. Denim, corduroy, damask, drill, gingham, canvas, calico are all good cotton fabrics for this. Cotton canvas is the most popular choice for tote bags – it is known for its durability and thickness.

But you need not limit yourself to cotton. You can use leather, polyester, waterproof nylon, faux leather, jute, wool and even silk.

Step 3. Cut out the fabric pieces. 

How much fabric do you need for this tote bag? Around 3/4 (three-quarters) of a meter or a yard. This is for this particular bag. You can downsize it or make it bigger depending on your preference.

The size of a normal tote bag can vary widely and depends on your preference. The typical dimension of a tote bag is like this – Height of the tote bag can be 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cms) ; Width can be 14 to 20 inches (35 to 50 cms)

Dimensions of fabric to cut for this bag.

The bigger fabric piece is the bag body – cut out 36 inch by 16 inch fabric piece for the bag body

24 inch by 3 inch long pieces are for the two bag handles

16 inch by 2 inch pieces are for the facings. 

cut out 16 inches by 36 inches fabric for main bag body and 24 inch by 3 inch fior handles and 2 facing pieces
Bag body, Handles and facing

You can decorate the bag fabric the way you want it. I have appliqued another fabric piece on the front side of the bag. 

applique made on totebag fabric

Step 4. Make the straps

You have your strap pieces, cut and ready – Two, 24 inch by 3 inch fabric pieces. Fold the edges of each strap piece 1/4 inch to the inside.

make the tote bag handles

Fold by the middle; Press in place with iron.

fold the edgs of the strap material to the inside and sew in place

Top stitch the edges and make your straps. 

Step 5. Join the straps with a facing

Keep the strap on top of your body fabric piece as in the picture below. The edges of the strap should project out about 1/2 inches.

Ensure that it is arranged so that there is a distance of 4 inches between the handles – use tape measure to place accurately. Pin in place. 

Bag handle kept on bag surface
Keep the handle on the edge of the bag top, a little bit projecting to the outside

Keep the facing piece on top of these, at the top edge. Pin in place. Stitch the top edge, joining all these, with a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

sew a tote bag

Turn the facing to the back.

Facing turned to the inside

Sew in place after folding the cut edge to the inside. Sew the hem carefully by sewing straight – remember, this will be shown to the front of the bag.

Facing stitched place

Do the same for other edge as well.

If you want to add a pocket to the bag, do so at this point. Just add a patch pocket to the inside or outside in a pretty fabric.

Step 6. Sew the sides

Keep the bag body in front of you, right side to the outside.

At this point, you have two choices. You can either stitch the side seams the simple way. Just stitch a straight seam joining the sides. And then afterwards, finish the fabric edges with a zig zag stitch or piping.

In this case, keep the bag material, right sides to the inside and stitch the sides.

Or Do a french seam.

A french seam will give your bag a neat look inside as well.

I will be making a french seam here – which is why the right side is kept to the outside. Check out the tutorial for French seams here.

Sew the sides with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Trim the seam allowance to 1/8 inch.

sew the sides right sides outside

Now turn the bag wrong side out.

Turned to the inside and sew in place

Sew the sides again with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, thereby enclosing the seam allowance inside the seam. This way, you will not have any loose edges inside the bag to deal with. 

The red line in the picture above is the stitching line.

Step 7. Sew the boxed corners 

Now, you have to make a flat bottom for the bag. 

Take the bottom corners – pinch it so that the seam is by the middle. Mark across 2 inch down from the corner. Sew across.

Pinch cornes and sew across

Do the same for both the sides. When you have done the sewing it will look like this.

Flat bottom for the tote bag

Leave the corners as it is (ie do not cut it off) – it will add to the strength of the bottom part of the bag. You can, maybe, hand stitch it in place. Turn your bag rightside out. 

Very easy to ,make tote bag tutorial
tote bag

Related post : Make your own grocery bags; Sew a hand bag tote with zippered openingSew a reversible hand bag. 

reversible bag pattern

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

6 thoughts on “How to make a Tote bag : Here is the best & easiest way to make this every day bag”

    • Hi Sheila
      If you are using interfacing you will have to use another fabric to shield it, inside – ie sandwich outerfabric, interfacing and lining and treat them as one.

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