Tote bags are so useful and eco-friendly. A stylish and well-constructed canvas tote bag will be a work-horse for years to come. So I decided to design and sew my own DIY tote bag.
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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 worldwide, 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.
- Canvas fabric
- Chalk marker
- Scissors (this are my favorite)
- Hot knife (this is the one I use)
- Sewing machine
- Magnetic seam guide
- Heavy thread
- Cricut Maker
- Easy Press
- Pressing pad
- Teflon pressing sheet
- Ruler 4′
- Quilting ruler
- Ruler 6″
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. Do you know that old saying, measure twice, cut once? It applies to fabric too.
The finished face size measurements are the first information you will want to write down on your cut plan. 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.
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 added together equals 38″.
The math would look like this:
16″ + 16″ + 4″ + 2″ = 38″
My tote bag canvas fabric is solid, so 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 two pieces of fabric at 19.5″ and sew them together at the bottom.
I like to measure the fabric to help me decide how to cut out my tote bag canvas (I am making ten totes), so I need to save 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.
- 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).
To ensure my fabric rectangle is in the square, I use a quilt ruler with another ruler to guide me as I mark my cut lines.
Next, I cut out the tote bag fabric with sharp scissors (which I use).
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).
Sewing on the Handles
I placed a pin in both tote bags’ short sides. Then, I measured out 3″ on both sides from the center pin to find where to pin the nylon webbing handles to the fabric.
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 raveling, and it helps to baste the straps in place.
Next, I turn down one inch of the fabric to form a header on both short sides and then carefully iron only the canvas to crease the fold.
Pin the folded fabric in place.
I sew the header and straps in place using a magnetic seam gauge at a 1/4″ seam allowance from the top and bottom of the folded fabric. Again, being careful to remove pins as I sew.
Note: Use a magnetic guide to ensure that my header has a consistent stitch line.
Adding another line of stitching for extra strength.
How to Add a Vinyl Design
Before sewing the side seams, it is easier to add a design.
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
Adding the vinyl design
You can find complete directions about attaching a vinyl decal HERE.
After the design is pressed on start, I carefully peel away the carrier plastic sheet. Olivia added a layer.
How to Sew Side Seams
Fold the tote bag in half with the right sides, then pin and sew the side seams.
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.
Olivia used these bags as her swag bags for the Haven Conference. The bags are filled with amazing goodies she created as well.
We had so much fun styling the custom-made tote bags that Patrick decided to join us.
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Monday 18th of April 2022
Hi Beautiful totes bag. Very nice instruction. I like. Have a great weekend.
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?
Friday 2nd of August 2019
Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared.
Tuesday 30th of July 2019
Thank you for sharing on the Classy Flamingos Blog Party. http://poinsettiadr.com
Tuesday 30th of July 2019
Excellent tutorial! I am pinning it. I may need to make some totes one day.