Easy Tote Bag

This sturdy square bottom bag is perfect to tote around fabric, yarn, books, groceries or anything else. Once you master the construction, make it your own by changing the dimensions, adding pockets, contrasting bands, applique or trim. Instructions are provided for an optional ribbon embellished handle. This version does not have a pocket, but one (or more) can easily be added to the lining before you sew it to the outside.

  • 1/2 yard each of two coordinating cotton fabrics
  • 1/2 yard of cotton duck cloth (a light weight canvas)
  • 1 yard of Heat'n Bond Lite
  • 1 & 1/2 yards of 1 inch wide cotton or nylon belt webbing
  • one spool of thread that matches both fabrics and handle

Optional for decorated handle:
  • 1 & 1/2 yards of 7/8" ribbon
  • glue stick

Supplies: You will also need a sewing machine, iron and board, pencil, and ruler. Rotary cutting supplies (mat, ruler and rotary cutter) are recommended for accuracy, but are not necessary to make the bag.
About seams: Unless otherwise stated, all seams are 1/4 inch. A quarter inch foot, used by quilters, is very handy. It has a blade on the right hand side that acts as a guide for your fabric. They are sold at most shops that sell sewing machines. The one shown below is made for a low shank machine and fits both my Elna and Janome.
If you do not have this foot, some machines allow you to adjust your needle position so that the needle falls exactly 1/4 inch from the right edge of your sewing foot. The needle position can also be adjusted with the zig zag dial or button. If you cannot adjust your needle, then you can eyeball it by using the edge of your foot as a visual guide. The most important thing is to be consistent with all seams.


From each of your cotton fabrics, the canvas and the Heat'n Bond, cut two 15 1/2 inch squares. (How easy is that?)

This is done easily and accurately with a rotary cutter. If you do not have one, using a ruler, draw a 15 & 1/2 inch square on a paper grocery bag, newspaper, or on a piece of interfacing and use as a pattern.

Prep for optional for Handle embellishment:

If you wish to use an embellished handle, take your webbing and run a glue stick down the center of the entire length. Center the ribbon on webbing and press firmly down the length of the ribbon (it doesn't stick very well, so don't panic if it seems like it isn't working). Set aside to dry while you sew the bag.

Step 1:
Place one square of the Heat'n Bond on the wrong side our your outside bag fabric with the rough shiny side of the Heat'n Bond facing the wrong side of your fabric, matching all edges. The dull paper side will be facing up. With your iron set on Silk (no steam), fuse the Heat'n Bond to your fabric, beginning in the center and slowly moving outward in each direction (this prevents bubbles). Do not slide, but lift and fuse, overlapping each time. Go over the edges once more. Flip over and iron on the right side of the fabric. Set aside and allow to cool. Repeat with the other square of outside fabric and Heat'n Bond.
Once your squares are cool, peel the paper away from your fabric squares. The back of your fabric is now coated with adhesive. Throw paper away.
Step 2:
Position one of your outside fabric squares over one of the canvas squares, matching all edges. The shiny side with adhesive will be facing the canvas. Fuse as in step 1 above. Repeat with other square.
Step 3:
If your fabric has a directional print or stripes, mark the top on the back of the canvas with a pencil or piece of tape. Put your two fused outside fabric squares right sides together ("RST"), matching raw edges. Sew around three sides, keeping the top side open if you have a directional fabric, backstitching at beginning and end. Do not turn right side out.
Step 4:
Make corner gussets as follows: reach into one corner of the bag, and open out the corner, matching the seams in the center. It is very important that the seams are lined up on both sides, so take your time.
Measure down 2 inches from the very tip of the sewn corner (not the raw edge), and draw a line perpendicular to the stitching.
Pin in place. Repeat with other corner.
Sew on the line you drew, backstitching at beginning and end. Repeat for other corner.
Trim off corners about 1/4 inch from the stitching line.
Turn bag right side out. Press seams to one side.
Step 5:
Place your two squares of lining fabric RST. This time you will be leaving an opening at the bottom center about 7 inches wide. Mark the opening with pins or a pencil. Begin by sewing down the right side, turn corner and stop at the place you marked on the bottom, being sure to backstitch at beginning and end. Start again at the other side of the opening in the bottom (backstitching to secure) and continue across bottom, turn corner and stitch right side. Trim threads.

Make corner gussets for the lining as you did for the bag outside. Do not turn bag right side out. Press seams to the opposite side that you pressed the bag outside. Set lining aside.

Step 6:
Optional embellished handles: (If you are not embellishing handles, skip this step and proceed to Step 7). With the ribbon side up, top stitch the right side with the smallest seam allowance you can. When you get to the end, turn the corner and continue to top stitch the other side. Go slowly as the ribbon likes to wiggle, even when glued.
Step 7:
Cut webbing in half and trim each half to 21 inches. Tip: If using nylon web, very lightly touch the ends to your iron to sear the edges and keep them from unraveling. If using cotton webbing, zig zag stitch the ends.

Take the outside of your bag, and measure in 3 and 1/2 inches from the seam. Pin one side of the handle to the bag as shown.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you want the embellished part of your handle to face out, then it should be facing the bag at this point, not you. Do not follow the photographs. For this bag, I chose to have the embellished part of the handle on the inside - see photo of finished bag for result.

Measure in 3 and 1/2 inches on the other side of the bag, pinning the other end of the handle in place, being sure not to twist it. Machine baste in place using 1/8 " seam allowance.
Step 8:
Slip the outside of your bag into the lining - RST - tucking handles in between the layers, not up.

Pull lining up until the raw edges of your lining match the raw edges of your outside bag. Match up seams and pin. (NOTE: Seams match up better if they are pressed in opposite directions. If at this point you see that both seams were pressed in the same direction, finger press the lining seam in the opposite directions. This allows the seams to "lock" in place and makes them less bulky and easier to sew).
Pin all the way around the raw edges.

If you have a free arm sewing machine, remove the base extension.

Sew outer bag and lining together as pinned using a 1/4 " seam allowance (this is the only point in the bag construction where this really matters).

Step 9:
This is the fun part! Remember that opening in the bottom of the lining?

Reach in there and grab your outer bag...
and pull it through! Wasn't that cool?
Press in the edges of the opening 1/4 inch.
Hand or machine stitch the opening to close.
Push your lining into the bag and tug and smooth it down. You will see that about 1/4 inch of the lining shows on the outside of the bag. Although it means that your lining is a wee bit shy of the bottom of the bag, it does add a nice decorative element. If you do not like this, then boss that lining around and tug it in place so that the seam is right at the top. In the next step you will top stitch 1/4 inch from the top instead of in the seam.

Press firmly all around the top. Pin in place if needed. If you used a ribbon with painted decoration, be sure to avoid touching it with your iron as it will melt the decoration. Cover handles with a piece of fabric to protect it.

Step 10:
Finish your bag by top stitching in the seam between the lining that shows at the top and the bag - this is called "stitch in the ditch". If you pulled your lining all the way down, just top stitch 1/4 inch from the edge as stated above.
Flip handles up and stitch each one in place - backstitching all the way backwards and then forwards again to reinforce.
You're done!Fill your bag with goodies and go show it off!


Flo said...

these directions are just what I was surfing the net for. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Awesome instructions! I made one :). Thanks so much.

Nikki said...

WOW...I never have figured out how to make purses until I read your instructions.

VERY good pictures and details that I never could figure out with any other instructions.

I actually made a "miniature" sized one to practice with first and my daughter LOVES it :) Looks SO professional.

One thing that I have to also point out....this purse is REVERSIBLE!!

Thank you so much for these instructions!

Janet Murie said...

Thank you very much for your fantastic instructions and great photos. I'm so happy I surfed the net and found your wonderful blog!
I have a number of bags made from some Simplicity patterns that were suppose to be "so easy", but your instructions are the best!!!

Teri Sewimperfect said...

Great tote!

quilterkimmy said...

These were wonderful instructions! I am actually making gift bags to cover a variety of wine and fancy drink bottles and these instructions helped me so much :) Thank-you!!!

SR luin said...

Good to see such nice tote bags with beautiful customization. Tote bags are a symbol of stylish gesture and smart personality. Popularity of tote bag is increasing day by day. As it is a nice product, some customization can take the style/smartness to a new level. Wanna know more.

Custom Tote Bags

James McAllister said...

Nice! Love the photos, I am sure they help. How long did this take you? I am inexperienced at sewing so I figure it would take me longer but I am always looking for new DIY ways to make custom tote bags. Thanks!