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
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.
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).
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 Width||Bag Height||Bag Depth||Cut 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
On the back, an X is centered horizontally with the center of an O 3.25″ on either side.
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.
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.
Assemble the outside of the bag as follows:
- With right sides together, stitch the front to the back along the bottom edge.
- Press the seam towards the back. Top-stitch 1/16″ – 1/8″ away from the seam-line on the back side of the seam.
- With right sides together, stitch the front to the back at both sides.
- Press the seams towards the back.
- Repeat for both bottom corners:
- Keep the bag right side in.
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.
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.
Add straps and handles as desired. Use and enjoy!