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!
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!
- Some nice fabric without stretch. I have repurposed old bed sheets for this one, but any medium-weight cotton or blend will be perfect.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Secure the handles by sewing a cross pattern on top of each one, so your tote bag will be cute but sturdy!
Your tote bag is done!
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.
Sew along that line, just a smidge toward the pointy end, backstitching at each end.
Trim the seam allowance (pinking shears are my favorite choice).
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.
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 embroidering, sashiko 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.