All images © Alan B. Harshman
How to Sew a Tote Bag
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Straight pins or safety pins
Sewing machine or needle and thimble
Decorations, such as a Byala design
Rotary cutter and mat (optional)
Cotton duck or canvas fabrics are great -
The easiest way to make a bag is to fold a piece of fabric in half, hem the top edges, sew the sides together, and attach handles. Decide how big you want your bag to be, and add one inch to all sides for the seam allowances. Place the fabric right side down on an ironing board. Fold up the edge on the short side of the fabric about half an inch, and iron it flat. Repeat with the other short edge. Sew one line of stitches on each of those edges.
Fold the bag inside out, with the right sides facing each other, and the hemmed edges even. Sew one line of stitches on each side. To reinforce the edges, sew another line of stitches right next to the first. If the seam starts to give way for any reason, the extra row of stitches will probably hold, which will buy you some time to repair the bag.
There are several ways to make straps for a bag. The fastest way to make straps that don’t have exposed edges is to sew and turn tubes of fabric. To do this, take a strip of fabric that is about an inch longer than you want the strap to be, Fold it lengthwise so that the right sides of the fabric are facing each other, and sew down the long edge.
Turn the tube inside out, using a large safety pin attached to the end, and thread
it along the inside, inching the fabric along and turning it in on itself as you
go. Another way is to use a long crochet hook or a bent piece of wire from a clothes
Alternative: Some people prefer to topstitch their straps. To do this, you need an
iron. Turn and press the edges of the strip in toward the middle, then fold the strip
in half and iron it. The cut edges of the fabric should be inside, out of sight,
now. Put one row of stitches down the edge of the strip, sewing the two halves to
each other. These stitches will show, so try to keep them straight and evenly spaced.
You can use a matching thread if you want to minimize the stitching, or you could
use a contrasting thread to make the stitches stand out -
Decide where you want the strap(s) to sit on your bag, and pin on the strap(s) before sewing. Try on the tote and make sure it’s comfortable. Adjust as needed. Then sew on the strap(s), making sure to remove the pins before sewing over that area. If you sew over a pin, you could break your sewing machine’s needle, and a flying needle is dangerous.
Be sure to sew several lines of stitches to attach the straps securely. After you sew on the straps, you can trim any excess material from the ends of the straps inside the bag.
A tote bag is one of the simplest things to sew. It’s basically a piece of fabric folded in half and sewn together, with a strap for carrying it. You can make them more complicated, of course, and you can decorate your tote bag any way you like.
If you’ve never made a tote before, start simple. You can always add more features
later, such as pockets, zippers, flaps and snaps. Often, simple makes a bolder impression,
anyway. Here are directions for a basic open-
Cotton duck fabric in green with brown trim
Sew a tote bag with a sewing machine to make the job fast, easy, and accurate.
Make a tote bag with this picture -
Transfer image to fabric before or after sewing tote.
I’d rather be quilting tote bag design
Fun summer tote design
Make sure your bag is comfortable.
Butterflies decorate this tote bag using fusible webbing.