How to Sew a Tote Bag

How to Sew a Tote Bag

I can never seem to have enough pretty tote bags. I use them to carry groceries and stacks of library books, to organize things in my sewing room and in my car. Tote bags are simple to sew with just a few rectangles of fabric. They are perfect for any season – from carrying Halloween candy to holding ski gear or beach wear. Follow this simple tutorial to make your own pretty totes!

Tote Bag Fabric Cutting Diagram

You can cut the tote bag out of all the same fabric or a different fabric for the outside and inside. I love using medium-heavy weight cotton, but you can use a variety of fabrics. If you have a pretty fabric you want to use but it’s not very heavy, use it as the lining or add a layer of interfacing. Cut the front/back at 15″ x13″ (2 fabric and 2 lining), the base at 13″x9″ (1 fabric and 1 lining), the sides at 15″x9″ (2 fabric and 2 lining), and handles at 4″x19″ (2 fabric). All of the seam allowances in these instructions are 1/2″ so each rectangle will have a finished size 1″ smaller than you cut it.

sew front and back to sides of tote

Sew the long edges of the front/back to the long edges of the sides, right sides together, using a 1/2″ seam allowance. This will give you a tube of fabric with all four pieces connected in the order of front-side-back-side. Repeat with the lining pieces.

sew seam stopping half inch from edge

Sewing the bottom onto the body is the trickiest part, but it’s totally do-able! Mark the bottom piece on the long side 1/2″ in from the short side. This mark will line up with the seam between the front/back and side pieces. Sew the long edge of the bottom to the edge of the front/back, right sides together, with a 1/2″ seam allowance, starting and stopping 1/2″ inch from each short edge of the bottom. Do this for the other long edge of the bottom and then repeat with the lining.

pivot seam

You will now pivot your fabric at the corner so that you can sew the short side of the bottom to the side piece, right sides together, with a 1/2″ seam allowance. Shown in this picture, the unsewn edges of the short side of the bottom and the side are at top. The seam between the bottom and the front/back and the seam between the front/back and side are both pointing down. Starting 1/2″ in, sew the bottom to side. Repeat for the other edge of the bottom and for the lining.

fold top of bag and press

Fold the top of the tote bag over 1/2″ to the inside and iron down. Repeat with the lining.

pin lining to body

Put the lining inside the tote back and pin them together so that the top edges are aligned and the various seams match.

topstitch edge of tote

Sew the outside to the lining all around the top with a seam 1/4″ from the top.

press ends of straps inside

Sew the strap along the long edge, right sides together, using a 1/2″ seam allowance. Turn right side out and iron flat. Tuck 1/2″ of fabric in on each end and press down.

sew straps onto bag

Pin the straps to the tote so that the handle is about 2″ in from the side and there is about 5″ between the ends of the handles. Sew in place by sewing a rectangle with an X in it, going over your stitching twice, as pictured above. Enjoy your finished tote!

Comments 4

  1. Thank you for this tutorial, needed this to make a christmas gift for a friend, all the best Darlene

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  2. Thanks. My mother always sewing. And could never figure out how she was making these bags. You helped me greatly thanks. Melody

  3. Thank you! Now I can try my first tote from some scrap left-overs. This will be great for school!

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