Your Guide to Making a Tote Bag

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Ever since the 1940’s, the tote bag has been a popular fashion accessory. It’s a simple, straight-sided bag with large carry handles that can be used by everyone from school kids to grandparents.

But you don’t need to spend a fortune on buying a tote bag; here are some simple ideas on how you can make your own tote bag from some scraps of fabric, thread and some basic sewing skills.

Your first step is to decide what you will use your tote bag for; this will guide your choice of fabrics. Heavy items, such as school books, will call for a heavier fabric such as corduroy or sturdy cotton to avoid ripping. Remember that heavier fabrics will be harder to sew and will probably need stronger needles.

If you intend to line your tote bag, then choose a softer, lighter weight fabric such as light cotton for the lining to avoid making the bag too cumbersome. If your fabric is new, it’s probably a good idea to wash it before you begin, to avoid any shrinkage later.

Start by cutting out two rectangles from both the inner and outer fabrics, the size will govern the finished size for your tote bag. As a guide, a small tote bag will need rectangles around 30 cm x 36 cm for a small bag, up to 60 cm x 50 cm for a large beach tote bag. Mark the positions of the handles by folding the fabric in thirds lengthwise and use a pencil to mark the two creases.

Start your sewing by hemming the top edges of the rectangles, if your bag is lined, hem the lining and outer together with one seam. Then lay the two hemmed sides of the bag back to back and sew along the sides and bottom. Sew across the bottom of each corner at a 45 degree angle, to mitre the corners and round them off.


To make the handles, cut two lengths of fabric to length (remember they will be looped when finished) around 5 cm wide, fold the edges in to meet in the middle and sew a zig-zag stitch down the middle. Turn the handles inside out to conceal the seams, and then attach them securely to the bag at the already marked positions by a top stitched square.

You can leave your tote bag as it is, especially if you made it from a fancy fabric, or use your imagination and attach your own decorations. There’s no limit to how you decorate your bag, use fabric paint, screen print a design or use appliqué techniques...

And there you have it, your very own, unique tote bag. Enjoy!


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