How to make a simple tote bag

When you know how, making a simple tote bag can be really easy. This tutorial will show you how to make a basic tote bag – which you can decorate and embellish to your heart’s content. Once you have the basic outline shape, it’s easy to add pockets and straps – the possibilities and variations are endless.

The outside of the tote bag is made from two pieces of fabric, a front and a back. The two pieces are joined at the sides and along the bottom. A cutout in each of the bottom corners creates the depth of the tote bag. The lining is made in the same way as the outside.

Be sure to click on each image to see a larger version.

How to make a simple tote bag

Step 1

Determine how big the tote bag will be. This will be specified using the width, the height and the depth of the tote bag.

The front and back of the tote bag will both be width x height.
The side of the tote bag will be depth x height.
The bottom of the tote bag will be width x depth.

Step 2

Determine how big the pieces of fabric need to be and cut them out. A simple formula makes this easy:

width of fabric = width + depth + (seam allowance x 2)
height of fabric = height + (depth / 2) + (seam allowance x 2)

Seam allowance is usually going to be 1/4″ so in most cases you will add 1/2″ for (seam allowance x 2).

Simple Tote Bag

Here are some examples of finished tote bag sizes and measurements for cutting the 2 pieces of fabric need for the outside of the bag. You will also need 2 pieces for the lining. All 4 pieces are the same size.

Bag WidthBag HeightBag DepthCut fabric this size
6"6"2"8.5" x 7.5"
5"6.5"3"8.5" x 8.5"
8" 8"4"12.5" x 10.5"
12"10"5"17.5" x 13"
16"12"6"22.5" x 15.5"

If you are quilting the tote bag, add an extra 2″ to both the width and height of the fabric for the outside of the bag. Add a piece of batting and backing fabric the same size. Trim to the correct size after quilting.

Step 3

Decorate and embellish the front and back of the tote bag as desired. This includes adding any embroidered appliqué designs and quilting. Trim the front and back to the correct size.

Some ideas decoration:

6″ x 6″ x 2″ Tote Bag

This tiny tote features a design from the Flower of Life Collection. It would make a great evening bag made out of silk with a small chain handle. Being small, it’s super quick to make, so you could make one to match each outfit!

Simple Tote 6x6x2

5″ x 6.5″ x 3″ Tote Bag

Featuring a design that measures 8″ x 8″, this tote bag that finishes at 5″ x 6.5″ x 3″ can easily and quickly be created using a Transformation Quilting Collection design, quilted in the hoop.

Simple Tote 5x6-5x3

8″ x 8″ x 4″ Tote Bag

Setting a design off-center can create fun and contemporary results. This medium flower from the Peace Love and Joy Collection wraps around the side and the bottom of the bag. Be sure to start with a piece of fabric that will easily accommodate the size of the design plus the extra needed for the off-center positioning.

Simple Tote 8x8x4

12″ x 10″ x 5″ Tote Bag

The “Hugs and Kisses Tote” uses letters from the Express Yourself Collection. The vertical center is 6″ from the finished top of the tote bag. The horizontal center of the O is in the center of the tote bag. The horizontal centers for the X’s are 3.25″ on either side of the O.

Simple Tote 12x10x5

On the back, an X is centered horizontally with the center of an O 3.25″ on either side.

Simple Tote 12x10x5 v2

16″ x 12″ x 6″ Tote Bag

A row of multicolored fans from the Better Than A Paper Plate Collection graces the top of this tote bag. The fans wrap around to the sides of the tote to create a ring of fans if they are continued on the back.

Simple Tote 16x12x6

Step 4

A square with sides depth / 2 needs to be cut from the two lower corners of the front and back of the outside and the lining. This creates the depth of the bag.

Step 5

Assemble the outside of the bag as follows:

  1. With right sides together, stitch the front to the back along the bottom edge.
  2. Press the seam towards the back. Top-stitch 1/16″ – 1/8″ away from the seam-line on the back side of the seam.
  3. With right sides together, stitch the front to the back at both sides.
  4. Press the seams towards the back.
  5. Repeat for both bottom corners:
    1. With right sides together, fold on the dotted line shown:
      Side 2 Bottom
    2. Align the side seam with the bottom seam:
      Side 2 Bottom
    3. Stitch along the raw edge with a 1/4″ seam.
    4. Press the seam towards the bottom of the bag.
  6. Keep the bag right side in.

Step 6

Make the lining in the same way as the outside of the bag with the following exception:

  • When stitching the front to the back along the bottom edge, stitch the first 1″ with a regular stitch length. At the 1″ mark, take a couple stitches back and then a couple forward again to secure the stitching. Increase the stitch length to 5mm. Continue stitching until you are 1″ until the end of the seam. Return the stitch length to normal, stitch 2 stitches forwards, 2 stitches backwards and then continue to finish the seam.
  • Press the seam open.
  • Clip and remove the 5mm stitches. This creates an opening for the bag to be turned after the lining has been attached to the outside.

Step 7

With the lining right side out and the outside of the tote bag right side in, insert the lining into the outside so that the top edges are aligned and both side seams are aligned.

Stitch around the top edge of the tote bag.

Pull the outside through the opening in the bottom seam of the lining. Finger press the top edge between the lining and the outside and then press with an iron. Top stitch around the top edge of the tote bag.

Step 8

Add straps and handles as desired. Use and enjoy!

40 Comments

  1. What a great tutorial. Answers all the questions.

  2. Thank you for such a detailed and simple tote bag instruction. Love the quilting ideas.

  3. I like them all but I think my favorite is the Flower of Life. Thank you
    much for sharing this with us. Can’t wait to try one.

    • I agree with you Cindy! I just used the 12″ Flower of Life with multiple hoopings on the back of a jean vest and then used a smaller one on a bag for carrying my Ipad. LOVE the look and its amazing how various thread colors make the ‘flower’ appear so very different!

  4. Marilyn Weyman Kegg

    I also like them all. But I think I’d make a bag with the off-center flower on one side and the HUGS and Kisses COX on the other.

  5. Darlene Edwards

    This is great! Thanks for not sleeping😀

  6. Sarah,
    I love them all. But the flower is my favorite. But then the X O X inspired me to make totes for my grandkids for Easter. So, that one could be a favorite also. And I love the feathers. Sorry, I can’t speak if just one. Thank you for the tutorial.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Sarah! Looking forward to having fun with this! It will make great bags for shopping the farmer’s markets this summer!

  8. Great tutorial. Thank you!

  9. Thanks my fav is Transformation Quilting Collection

  10. Love them all, Sarah. My favorites would be the Flower of Life and the Transformation Collection totes. Thanks for the great tutorial. Hope you can get some sleep now.

  11. Love the Flower of Life. Thank you Sarah for the tutorial, you have the best tutorials! Thank you so much.

  12. Kathleen De Verville

    Your designs are beautiful, and I thank you for the tote bag pattern. I did not get to watch the Splash of color webinar although I did sign up for it.

  13. I know my granddaughters will each want a hugs & kisses tote! The “challenge” will be choosing fabrics and thread colors, but I know we’ll have fun working on these together.

  14. Sarah,
    I am with Cindy, I like them all, but I would have to study them a bit and decide which size will be best for me.

  15. Very nice! Your work is beautiful!

  16. Thanks for a great tutorial. Every size has its purpose and I love the idea of wrapping a design around the sides and bottom.

  17. Awesome Sarah, I love all of them.
    Happy dreams.

  18. Flower of Life is our favorite!

  19. All your designs are gorgeous. I like the off centered Flower design. That would be a great concept for using your star designs. One large star off center with a splash of smaller stars. Keep the beauties coming.

  20. Thanks so much, Sarah! I know how much work goes into making a tutorial & appreciate all you do for your fans. I tend to like larger totes, but must consider making different sizes — perhaps gift bags that become part of the gift comes to mind! I like ALL of your designs & ideas!!

    • Sarah,
      Thanks for all your work to write up this tutorial for us! My favorite is the Peace Love and Joy design. I have a question: would you consider offering just one or two designs from each collection for purchase for this project for those of us who would like to buy less than the full collection? Your designs are always so beautifully presented.

      • Lois, this is something that I have contemplated in the past. It seems like it would be easy enough to do – but there’s a lot of work on the back end to make it happen.

  21. roxanne hamilton

    thanks for the pattern love all your work

  22. My favourite is peace love joy,beautiful bags designs would suit all age groups. So talented Sarah just love your work.

  23. Hi Sarah,
    I like all of them but my favourite is the Peace Love and joy bag
    Have enjoyed all your webinars and thank you for posting these instructions

  24. Thanks for the tutorial. I like all the bags and like Karen could see them as gift bags as part of the gift especially the Transformation Quilting bag.

  25. Thanks Sarah! Love your work!

  26. I’d love to put the Transformation Quilting Collection on both front & back of the tote then add the Peace, Love, Joy Collection on one side wrapping around the side & bottom (with appliqué fabric in the flower). It would be a fun project using bright spring colors….
    Thanks for sharing this!

  27. Love, love, love all your designs. I like the off center design. I think that would look really cool w your star patterns. A large star off center and a smattering of the smaller stars around the rest of the bag. Keep up the good work.

  28. Love the easy to follow instructions and the multiple sizes! Awesome!
    Thanks!

  29. Thanks very much!

  30. These are all special and each size can be used for different purposes. I’m so sorry that you lost some sleep but so many have gained so much more. Your webinars and tutorials are great Thank you

  31. Thank you, Sarah, for generously posting this tutorial.

  32. I like the transformation quilting collection the best but they are all attractive. Thanks for the great ideas you have and for supplying the instructions on how to make a tote.

  33. Was the tote in the email made with this pattern? Just wondering because it looks like it has bias binding along the top.

  34. Very constructive time while not sleeping for which are appreciative sharers of your creativity. Well which bag? I love them all and as a bag girl I just don’t know which one to make first.

  35. Pingback: Quilting in the hoop for your backgrounds - Machine Embroidered Applique by Sarah Vedeler Designs

  36. Brilliant! The quantity of details in here is wonderful, as if you essentially had taken a class of a training session on the topic of making a tote bag. This was just what I was on looking for. The work is not so easy, but you have made that easier. I think I can do it now. If I forget some tricks, I will come back to this blog to know again
    Sincerely,
    Adalina

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *