How to make a tote bag

Mike Aspinall 13 January 2022

This craft project makes a great gift­ for yourself or a loved one

As a sewer, I have a pretty big collection of fabric off cuts that I’ve accumulated over the years. To help use some of them up, I designed this simple tote bag. It uses two types of fabric, and is totally reversible (thanks to a technique called a French seam). This is a project for confident beginners—you should be able to make one of these totes in under an hour.

You will need

• Two fabrics (82cm x 42cm of each)
• 4cm wide fabric webbing (70cm)
• Ruler
• Fabric scissors
• Pins
• Sewing machine and thread

What to do

Cut both of your main fabrics into long rectangles (82cm x 42cm each). Cut out two 35cm lengths of fabric webbing.

Lay one of your main fabric pieces face side up. Position the ends of one 35cm length of webbing along the short edge of the large fabric piece. Align the ends of the webbing approximately 14cm from the outer (long) edges of the larger fabric piece, with the rest of the webbing pointing inwards.

Put the other large piece of fabric on top (face side down), so it sandwiches the strap in the middle. The two large fabric pieces should be aligned neatly, right sides facing, with one strap in between.

Pin then sew along the top (short) edge of the two larger fabric pieces together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, going through the ends of the webbing too. Do not sew down the longer sides.

Repeat the same process for the other end of the large fabric pieces. This time, sandwich the second strap in the middle—again, make sure that it points inwards, so it’s completely hidden between the two large fabric pieces.

When the second edge is sewed in place, turn the whole thing inside out through one of the long edges to reveal the straps and hide the raw edges on the short sides.

Fold the piece in half, so the two straps meet. It doesn’t matter which side faces outwards, as the finished bag will be reversible.

Pin the folded piece together along the sides. Sew them with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, removing the pins as you go. Trim these ends, leaving approximately 1/4 inch allowance.

To add the French seams, turn the whole bag inside out and sew the sides of the bag again, this time 1/2 inch from the edge. Because this seam allowance is larger than the one you trimmed it to in step 13, the raw edges will be trapped and hidden and the bag will be reversible.

I like the idea of using a very bright and colourful fabric for one side of this tote, then a more neutral fabric for the other. That way, you get the ultimate versatile bag! These totes would make a really good gift too, especially if you find a bold fabric that the recipient would love. Because even if you misjudge it slightly, they can always turn it inside out and use the other side… 

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