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How to Make a Tote Bag

Tote bags are so useful and eco-friendly. For those reasons, a stylish and well-constructed canvas tote bag will be a work-horse for years to come. I decided to design and sew my own DIY tote bag.

DIY Tote bag

DIY Tote bag

This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you purchase from one of these links, I will make a small commission, but rest assured, you will not pay more for any products. 

How to Sew a DIY Tote Bag 

30 years ago, I purchased my first tote bag from LLBean, and I am still using it today. It has been around the world, and it still has years of use left. To that end, I would guess that LLBean totes could last a lifetime.

However, over the past 30 years, the styles have changed, and I wanted to make an easy sew tote bag with a vinyl design with my Cricut Maker (oh, the places we will go), so I turned to our team’s graphic designer and Cricut expert, Olivia, for the vinyl design. That was easy!

How to Choose Fabric

If you have been reading the blog, you know I LOVE twill since it has the three strands of yarn woven to form the rib pattern, and it is tough, but I decided to construct this tote from the canvas. I thought it might look better with a vinyl design. You can find my secret source for canvas HERE. For the handles, I used webbing. 

Sewing Supplies

DIY Tote Bag Pattern (Cut Plan)

The cut plan is the Holy Grail of sewing. You will love having a cut plan for each project since you can make adjustments before cutting. You know that old saying measure twice cut once? It applies to fabric too.

The first information you will want to write down on your cut plan are the finished face size measurements.  I wanted a finished size of 16″ by 16″, so I wrote that down and a 4″ bottom.  As you can see in the photo below that my cut plan is nothing fancy, but it has saved me time and helped me avoid wasting fabric.

 

 

Simple tote Cut plan

Simple tote Cut plan

The width of the cut fabric needs to be 18″, which includes seam allowances.

To determine the length of the fabric, I accounted for a 16″ face that is doubled and the 4″ bottom; also, the 2″ header adding together equals 38″.

The math would look like this:

 16″ + 16″ + 4″ + 2″ = 38″

My tote bag canvas fabric is solid so that I could make it all in one piece. 

Please note: If your fabric is a one or two-way print, you will need to alter the simple tote bag pattern. You will need to cut 2 pieces of fabric at 19.5″ and sew them together at the bottom.

Fabric, cut plan and chalk marker

Fabric, cut plan, and chalk marker

I like to measure the fabric to help me decide which way to cut out my tote bag canvas (I am making 10 totes), so I need to save fabric.

Measuring the fabric

Measuring the fabric

 

Cutting the Fabric 

Preparing the Fabric for Cutting 

After getting my fabric thread perfect, the fabric can still seem a little out of square; for that reason, I like to use a ruler (like this one) that can guide me to make my cuts as square as possible.

Fabric cuts: 

  • 38″ by 18″ (for a solid fabric)

I mark all my cut lines on the fabric with a chalk marker (this one is my favorite). 

Squaring the fabric

Squaring the fabric

To be sure my fabric rectangle is in the square, I use a quilt ruler with another ruler to guide me as I mark my cut lines.

Marking the rectangle for the tote bag canvas

Marking the rectangle for the tote bag canvas

Next, I cut out the tote bag fabric with sharp scissors (which I use).

Cutting on the chalk marks

Cutting on the chalk marks

Nylon Webbing Straps 

After cutting out my tote, I cut the straps out of nylon webbing into 27″ lengths (you will need two 27″ lengths per tote) with a hot knife (this is the one I use).

Cutting nylon webbing with a hot knife

Cutting nylon webbing with a hot knife

 

Sewing on the Handles

I placed a pin in the center of both of the tote bag’s short sides. Then from the center pin, I measured out 3″ on both sides to find where to pin the nylon webbing handles to the fabric.

Deciding on placement for handles

Deciding on placement for handles

Once I find the strap placement, I pin them in place. Next, I serge the entire tote. Serging the tote will prevent the cut edges from reavling, and it helps to baste the straps in place. 

Serging the handles and canvas

Serging the handles and canvas

Next, I turn down one inch of the fabric to form a header on both of the short sides and then carefully iron only the canvas to crease the fold.

Measuring the one inch fold over heading

Measuring the one-inch fold-over heading

Pin the folded fabric in place. 

Both sets of handles sergred

Both sets of handles serged

Using a magnetic seam gauge I sew the header and straps in place at a 1/4″ seam allowance from the top and bottom of the folded fabric. Being careful to remove pins as I sew. 

Stitching the header and handles

Stitching the header and handles

Note: Use a magnetic guide to ensure that my header has a consistent stitch line.

Sewing a second stitch line

Sewing a second stitch line

Adding another line of stitching for extra strength.

Header finished

Header finished

How to Add a Vinyl Design 

Before sewing the side seams it is easier to add a design. 

Folding the bag in half

Folding the bag in half

Measuring for Cricut design placement

Measuring for Cricut design placement

 

Now I am ready to figure out where I want to place my vinyl design. If you are not adding a design, omit this step.

With the tote folded in half, measure up 2″ from the bottom (see the blue pin below) and then measure from the blue pin to the bottom stitch line of the header and find the center. Mark the center with chalk

Finding the center for my Circut design

Finding the center for my Circut design

Marking for Circut design placement

Marking for Circut design placement

Adding the vinyl design

You can find complete direction about attaching a vinyl decal HERE.

Lining up the design for placement

Lining up the design for placement

Placing the ironing pad under the tote

Placing the ironing pad under the tote

 

Ironing the design with Easy Press 2 Iron

Ironing the design with Easy Press 2 Iron

After the design is pressed on start, I carefully peel away the carrier plastic sheet. Olivia added a layer.

Adding a special holographic to the design

Adding a special holographic to the design

How to Sew Side Seams

Fold tote with right sides together

Fold tote with right sides together

Pin sides

Pin sides

Fold the tote bag in half with the right sides together, then pin and sew the side seams.

 

Forming a point at the bottom side seams

Forming a point at the bottom side seams

Measure up 2" from the point

Measure up 2″ from the point

Make a chalk line across at the 2" mark

Make a chalk line across the triangle area at the 2″ mark pin and sew.

Pin across the stitch line

Pin across the stitch line

Bottom view

Bottom view

Side view of bottom corner stitch line

Side view of the bottom corner stitch line

Finished tote bag

Finished tote bag

Below you can see the finished tote bag canvas held by Olivia. It is a perfect size for all her goodies. Notice the length of the handles (we cut them at 27″ each), and they fall at a comfortable place for her.

Check the handle length by placing the webbing over your shoulder before cutting to see where you want it to fall.

DIY Tote Bags

DIY Tote Bags

Olivia used these bags as her swag bags for the Haven Conference. The bags are filled with amazing goodies she created as well.

Ladies holding Handmade Tote Bags

Handmade Tote Bags

We had so much fun styling with our custom-made tote bags Patrick decided to join us.

 

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You might enjoy this super easy fabric pumpkin tutorial with a printable pattern. I made them using old shirts.

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Kris Lee

Sunday 13th of June 2021

What a great idea for a family road trip! The handle color idea is ingenious! Your instructions are thorough and easy to understand. Thank you for sharing! By the way, what does your vinyl design represent?

Marilyn Lesniak

Friday 2nd of August 2019

Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared.

Linda

Tuesday 30th of July 2019

Thank you for sharing on the Classy Flamingos Blog Party. http://poinsettiadr.com

Michelle

Tuesday 30th of July 2019

Excellent tutorial! I am pinning it. I may need to make some totes one day.

Elise L Ho

Monday 29th of July 2019

The totes are so cute. I am impressed by your handiwork.

Kimberly

Monday 29th of July 2019

Thank you so much for your comment it really made my day! Have a great week, Kippi

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