I love bags. I’m not a purse girl but I love tote bags. All shapes and sizes and purposes.
If I’m honest, this obsession could get out of hand.
Today, I’m going to show you how to make your own, inexpensive if not free, tote bag!
Actually, I made 2 bags and a pair of curtains for Kaleigh’s apartment! (see end of post)
I have this love/hate relationship with plastic grocery bags. I despise purchasing 10 items and carrying out 5 bags. I actually cringe when the checker starts double bagging heavy items. I realize this is terribly unreasonable but it’s true. On the other hand, they’re awfully handy for garage sales or when deboning a chicken. 🙂
I’ve been using grocery tote bags for several years now. That is, when I actually remember to get them out of the car and take them in with me.
But they’re ugly and very thin. Why not make cute ones?
The solid off-white tote bag was made from a canvas remnant. The stripe fabric is called Sofia from IKEA. It’s 100% cotton and is a nice weight but not as heavy as the canvas.
I’d suggest using a medium weigh fabric or canvas unless you plan to line your bag to give it more stability. Look around to see what you may have on hand to use. Drop cloth fabric is a great weight or maybe an old table cloth. I’ve even thought about using jeans.
The finished size is 15″h x 12″w x 7″d.
You will need 1 yard of 45″ or 54″ wide fabric.
Side – cut 2 @ 8″ x 16″
Front – cut 2 @ 13″ x 16″
Bottom – cut 1 @ 8″ x 13″
Facing – cut 1 @ 3″ x 42″
Straps/Handles – cut 2 @ 4″ x 22″
I purposely played with the pattern and mixed up the direction of the stripes using the horizontal stripe for the front with the vertical stripe on the sides.
Using a 1/2″ seam allowance begin by sewing one side to one front.
Continue by sewing the 2nd front to the side.
Next sew the 2nd side to the front.
You will now have four pieces sewn together. Iron seam allowances flat.
*Now is the easiest time to iron these seam allowances flat. Or you can wait until later in the process.
Fold pieces right sides together and sew remaining side & front together to form the body of the bag.
The 2 sides and 2 fronts are now sewn together leaving the top and bottom open.
Line up corners of bottom piece with the sides and front and pin in place.
Pin pieces together with the body of your bag on top rather than the bottom piece being on top.
I find it’s easier to sew these pieces together when the body of the bag (fronts and sides) is the top piece.
Begin in a corner, opening seam allowances flat as you sew.
Continue sewing to the next corner…
…and with your needle in the center of the next corner/seam allowance turn your fabric and continue around the tote bag until all four sides of the bag have been sewn to the bottom.
Carefully snip each corner to reduce excess fabric and thickness.
Possibly Confusing Side Note – There are several ways to sew these tote bag pieces together. For instance you could sew the fronts to the bottom and then attach each side. OR you can sew the sides to the bottom and the attach each front. OR you can make the sides and bottom from one pieces of fabric instead of 3! I felt this method was the easiest but feel free to adjust if you prefer!
With this fabric I was able to cut each strap/handle vertically using one white stripe and one black stripe.
Iron fabric in half lengthwise.
Fold and iron each side of fabric in to meet the center fold.
The 4″ piece of fabric will now be folded in 4 times to create a 1″ strap/handle.
TOP STITCHING YOUR TOTE BAG
Playing along with the black and white pattern I used black thread in my bobbin and white thread for the top stitch.
I top stitched each handle, black side up, so that each black side was topstitched with white thread and each white side is stitched with black thread.
What can I say? I like details.
ATTACHING THE STRAPS/HANDLES
If your strap is two-sided like this one choose which side will be on the outside of the bag. I chose the black side to be on the outside.
With right sides together, pin each strap to the top of the bag approximately 2″ from the side seam.
The center of each straps is 2.5″ from the side seam.
Be sure to place straps the same on each side of the bag so they will line up properly.
Stitch straps in place using a 1/3″ seam allowance.
Switch your bobbin thread back to white thread.
Fold and iron one side of facing piece under 1/2″.
Again, I played with the pattern by cutting the facing using the vertical stripes. I thought this was more interesting than a horizontal stripe.
Align raw edge of facing, right sides together, with the top of the tote bag and pin in place.
Playing with the pattern again, I aligned the stripes to contrast with the stripes on the two sides.
Beginning several inches in from the edge of your facing (see next photo) sew facing to bag using a 1/2″ seam allowance.
Reinforce the handles by backstitching several times over each handle as you sew.
Stop sewing several inches from where you began.
I allowed extra fabric for the facing. Better to cut off the extra than be short.
Align the two ends of the facing and pin together where facing will fit snug to bag.
Open out the folded/ironed edge of facing.
The red pin represents where my seam will be.
Stitch seam to connect the two ends of the facing. Trim excess fabric to 1/2″.
Pin facing to bag and finish stitching in place.
Fold and iron facing inside bag. Top stitch facing in place along folded edge. Here it’s shown being stitched on the outside of the bag but you can stitch from the inside if you prefer.
Another Possibly Confusing Side Note – Facing Alternative. If you prefer to not use a facing you can allow extra in the length of your fronts and sides and turn the body of the bag under to create a top hem. In this case the handles would need to be sewn directly to the outside of the bag instead of in a seam. This would be easier but the bag, where the straps are attached, would be less sturdy.
MORE TOP STITCHING
I chose to top stitch every seam on this tote bag for extra reinforcement but also for cuteness.
I top stitched each side seam, along the bottom seams as well as the very top seam.
I imagined staging these tote bags like you see them in the movies…
…With beautiful flowers, french bread and organic carrot greens sticking out of the top.
If you’re looking closely you’ll notice my topstitching is not perfect and these are unlined with raw edges inside. That’s not going to bother me. I wasn’t after perfect here but functional.
And, of course, cute.
For the canvas tote bag, the fabric was so thick that I couldn’t topstitch the upper portion where the facing is so I stopped just below it. I also top stitched an imperfect X to reinforce each strap and add another detail.
The end result is a cute, reusable, washable, eco-friendly, up-cycled & free (if you happened to have a used wedding runner hanging around) grocery bag!
The rest of the runner was used to make Kaleigh a tote bag and curtains for the apartment. I’m sure Jared loves them. Look at the cute copper pipe she used for her curtain rod! Isn’t that clever?