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.
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.
In this article I will cover:
How to sew an easy DIY Tote Bag
Step 1. Set up your sewing machine.
Optimal sewing machine settings for cotton fabric
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.
You can decorate the bag fabric the way you want it. I have appliqued another fabric piece on the front side of the bag.
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.
Fold by the middle; Press in place with iron.
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.
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.
Turn the facing to the back.
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.
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.
Now turn the bag wrong side out.
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.
Do the same for both the sides. When you have done the sewing it will look like this.
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.