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Make a DIY Tote Bag In 5 Steps!

Even if you’re a beginner sewer, you can sew a DIY tote bag that looks professionally made in a short time. Follow my easy but detailed tutorial and you’ll be able to create totes for any occasion — the possibilities are endless.

Learn how to make an easy DIY tote bag!

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag -DIY tote bag details

This tutorial will show you all the basics to sewing a tote bag that looks perfect on the outside and on the inside. Scroll down to the very end of the page to find some interesting ways to spruce up things by adding cute and stylish embellishments!

Materials

  • Some nice fabric without stretch. I have repurposed old bed sheets for this one, but any medium-weight cotton or blend will be perfect.
  • Thread
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron and ironing board

Step 1: Cut the fabric

These measurements are for a medium-size tote bag that can hold a water bottle and a snack-sized box. I’d suggest following these measurements to start. Once you master it, you can resize it.

Piece A (tote): Cut one pice that’s 10 1/2″ wide and 29″ long (27 cm x 74 cm)

Pieces B (handles): Cut two pieces that are each 4 3/4″ wide by16″ long (12 cm x 40 cm)

Step 2: Pre-press the creases

Tip: Please don’t leave out this step! It’s the one that will save you a huge headache later when hemming.

Piece A

Lay Piece A on the ironing table, wrong side up, and press the short raw edge up 1 1/4″ (3 cm). This is fold mark #1.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - crease the upper hem

Fold the hem up again 1 1/4″ (3 cm) to conceal the raw edges. Steam press to set the crease. This is fold mark #2.

Repeat on the other short raw edge. Unroll the creases, then set aside.

Piece B

Take the two Piece Bs and fold them in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, matching the long raw edges together. Press to create crease #1.

Unfold the fabric, then fold raw edges in, to almost meet at crease #1. Steam press to set the fold.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - crease the straps

Step 3: Sewing the handles

Head to your sewing machine and topstitch each handle 1/8″ (3 mm) from each long side edge. Put aside.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - topstitch the handles

Step 4: Sewing the side seams 

Before you start, fold Piece A in half with the wrong sides together (the opposite of what you would normally do!), so the short raw edges are aligned.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - fold piece a in half wrong sides together

Sew the side seam 1/8″ to 1/4″ from the raw edge, starting at the fold to the short raw edge (make sure you have unfolded the fabric, as required in Step 2). Trim the excess fabric, leaving a constant 1/8″ seam allowance.

Tip: If you have a serger available, you can use it for making this step faster, since it will sew and trim all at once, but it’s absolutely not necessary.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - side seams

Press the side seam to one side, then turn the tote inside-out and press the side seam from the wrong side, so it lays flat.

Tip: A pointy presser/clapper will help a lot, but you can totally do without it. Use a broom’s wooden handle or a wooden spoon’s handle to reach in the corner, and press on top of it for better results.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag -press side seams

Sew another seam 1/4″ from the folded edge, backstitching on both ends.

Tip: Using your fingers while you sew, feel the seam allowances underneath to make sure you’re not sewing on top of them but you’re enclosing them so they won’t show.Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag -second seam on side
Turn the tote so the right side is out. Repeat for the other side seam.

Step 5: Attaching the handles and finishing the upper edge

We’re almost done! Turn the tote bag inside-out, and lay it flat on top of the ironing board.

Tip: Give the bag a nice steam press if it needs it, but don’t steam much on the upper edge. You don’t want the fold marks you made in Step 2 to disappear. 

Mark quarters on each side of the opening: Fold the bag in half and put a pin on each side; then fold it in half again and put two more pins on each side of the bag.

Center each end of one handle to these pins. Pin the handles in place, aligning their raw edges to the fold mark #1. Make sure you don’t twist them.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - place handles

Fold the raw edge down along fold mark #1, all around the opening. Repeat for the other handle, on the other side of the bag.

Tip: Put the pin on the exterior side of the bag because we’re going to fold the edge down once again.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - fold down once the upper edge

Fold the entire upper edge of the bag down again, along fold mark #2. Move the pins on the handles to secure them in place.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - fold down again the upper edge

Head to your sewing machine and topstitch along fold mark #2, all around the bag opening.

Fold the handles up and pin them in place.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - fold the handles up

Secure the handles by sewing a cross pattern on top of each one, so your tote bag will be cute but sturdy!

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - sew a cross pattern to secure the handles

Your tote bag is done!

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - the finished flat bag

Step 6 (optional): Boxed corners without raw edges

When I sew a DIY tote bag, I always add this last detail just because a tote with corners looks more appealing to me and it really only takes a couple more seams.

Let’s see how to add boxed corners without any raw edge showing.

First of all, take the tote bag right-side out and pull one of the bottom corners into a pointy triangle (just slip a finger inside to separate the fabric) and align the side seam on top of the fold that goes along the bottom of the bag.

Tip: It will be easier if you hold the fabric in front of a window, so you can see through.

Put a couple of pins perpendicularly to the side seam, approximately 1″ (2.5 cm) down from the pointy corner.  

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - the pointy corner

Sew along that line, just a smidge toward the pointy end, backstitching at each end.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - create the boxed corner

Trim the seam allowance (pinking shears are my favorite choice).

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - trim s.a. using pinking shears

Press the seam allowance to one side then turn the bag wrong-side out and press the seam flat.

Stitch 1/4″ (0.6 cm) from the folded edge, backstitching at each end.

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - How to sew a tote bag - boxed corners french seamed

Turn the bag right side out and repeat Step 6 for the opposite corner.

How to add a personal touch to your DIY tote bag

Now that you’ve learned how to construct an easy tote bag, I want to give you some suggestions to add interest to every tote bag you make.

  • Use contrasting fabric for handles.
  • Skip the fabric handles and use nylon webbing instead (you can buy it new or repurpose it from an old backpack) or even 1″ (2.5 cm) wide ribbon.
  • Add personality by adding an appliqué or even a crochet appliqué.
  • Why not try embroideringsashiko stitching or even adding beads?
  • Decorate the sides of the bag with a freezer paper–stenciled motif (I’m also crazy about the T-shirt fabric technique included in this post)
  • Add a 1/4 ” (6 mm) ribbon strip to the center of each side of the bag opening and close it with a bow.

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4 Comments

Linda L.

Thanks for the idea about using a broom handle to press into the corners. This has been a source of frustration when I try to get right to the corner without pressing the other part of the bag.

Reply
Irene Valle

Thank you, Linda, for liking my little tip 🙂
Sometimes little things make a huge difference!
Irene
Serger Pepper Designs

Reply
tatty

I have learned so much from this tutorial and have just made a little tote bag with boxed corners to send to a friend. Thank you.

Reply
Irene Valle

Thanks Tatty for enjoying this tutorial, you have a very lucky friend: I’m sure he/she’s been very happy to receive your gift!
Happy Sewing,
Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Reply

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