Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Tote tutorial

A long time ago, I made this tote using birdsong fabric, and you asked for a tutorial. Well almost a year later, here it is! Not my usual efficient self.

The bag is lined and has a base, making it pretty sturdy and roomy. All the raw seams are hidden away so no need to finish them. My bag is still looking as new (well apart from being a bit grubby) after a year of being used nearly every day.

The attachment of the base to the bag is a little complicated, so here is a picture to show you how it works, the bag is upside down in this diagram.

I have made my bag close to the dimensions of the birdsong tote as I know it's a good size for me, but have had to tweak the dimensions a bit to work with the pattern on the fabric I am using. So, I will show you how to work out your dimensions if you want to alter the size of your bag.

I am making a bag that is 35cm wide, 35cm high and10cm deep (as the seams meet half way down the side).

This is how I worked out how much fabric I would need, based on a 1cm seam allowance. The outside bag folds over 3cm and then another 1cm on the top so that has to be added on too.

So I need to cut:

2 x bag panel from the main outside material

2 x bag panel from the lining material (the lining is not as high as the main bag as it doesn't fold over)
1 x base panel from the main outside material
1 x base panel from the lining material
2 x straps from the main outside material

I had to cut my main outside panels quite carefully as I wanted to centre the print and have the stripes in the right place. Take your time cutting out your panels if you are using a print to avoid making any mistakes. Here are my main pieces cut out, in order to save fabric, I didn't bother making the print on the strap symmetrical.

So here is how you make it:

1. Using the lining panels, right sides together, sew the side seams and then press open the seam allowance.

2. On the base panels, on each corner on the wrong side, mark in 1cm from the side, this will be your pivot point when sewing it onto the bag.

3. Mark the middle of the panel with a pin and also on the base, line up and pin right sides together on one side.

4. Starting half way along a long side, sew towards the corner, as you get closer to the corner sew very carefully and make sure you are not sewing through fabric from the other side too. When you get to the pivot point you marked on, stop. Lift the presser foot and pivot round the corner, rearrange the fabric so that you are now sewing together the 2 sides on the short edge (and not including the seam or any fabric from the long edge). This may take a bit of maneuvering.

Carry on, again stopping 1cm from the end of the corner and repeat the process. It is quite possible you will have a bit of spare fabric somewhere along the line, if only a few mm. If this is the case, on the last turn, move this spare fabric up to the corner and incorporate it into a small tuck as it will be less noticeable here than half way down the side.

 a small tuck to take in any excess fabric

5. Next make the straps. Iron them in half, length ways, wrong sides together.  Then fold in the edge of the fabric to the middle on both sides, and iron these folds. Pin in place and sew close to the edge of the fold all the way from one short edge down the long edge to the other end. Take care to sew through both sides.

fold in half, fold sides in to the middle and then iron these folds

6. Next put together the main bag. With right sides together, sew the side seams and then press the seam allowance open.

7. Along the top of the bag, iron over 1cm onto the wrong side, then iron over a further 3cm.

8. Sew the bottom panel on as per step 4.

inside and outside the bag

9. Place the lining inside the outside bag, wrong sides together. Make sure it goes all the way to the bottom, push out all the corners properly and pin the lining to the outside mid way along each seam to ensure it is in place properly.

10. Line up the side seams on the lining and main bag and pin the side seam together. Turn over the 1cm fold on the main bag and then the 3cm to cover the raw edge of the lining. Pin in place all the way round and sew all the way round a few mm from the fold on the inside of the bag. Remember to remove the pins that are holding the lining to the bag.

11. Next, fix the straps to the bag. Fold over about 5mm of the raw edge on the short edge and then pin it to the bag about 9cm from the side seam. Sew the strap in place by sewing a square around the edge and then a cross in the middle for strength. You may need to hand feed your machine when sewing through the thickest parts.

12. Repeat to fix both straps on at each end, I always fix mine on the same side (as shown below) rather than opposite sides. Make sure they are not twisted.

There you are, done!

If you need any more details of have any questions, please leave a comment and I will add to the post.

tote bag made from Echino buses fabric

And don't let me kid you that my bag contains just a pretty book on Japanese patterns, more likely some stones from the beach, children's hair clips, a pen without a lid (but no lid) and lip balm. And that's on a good day.


  1. Now do I need another bag... other than to put all my other bags in? This is lovely and the tutorial is great - thank you.

  2. Love it, can feel another bag making session coming on. But just love that birdy fabric!

  3. I recently bought this very same fabric with the buses on to make a bag out of. Great tutorial.

  4. I like It, Thank you for presenting a wide variety of information that is very interesting to see in this artikle, good job adnd succes For you

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