Tote Bag Tutorial

Even though it’s early in April, I have decided what to make Monster’s teachers for their end-of-year gifts: tote bags!  I’ve been wanting to design my own bag for a while, and this was my opportunity.  These bags include an applique and some hand-sewn trim detail, a lining, a pocket, and two straps for over the shoulder.


  • 1/2 yard of main fabric (the owl fabric in this example)
  • 1/2 yard of lining/accent fabric (the pink with white polka dots); if the direction of your lining/accent fabric matters and the print is upright when the bolt is upright, you will need 3/4 yard)
  • 1/2 yard iron-on Pellon, thicker like you’d use for a quilt
  • Heat N Bond for applique
  • 1/2 yard gold trim, cut into 2-inch pieces and Fray Checked on each end
  • Coordinating thread


  • Sewing machine
  • Iron
  • Rotary cutter, cutting mat, plexiglass ruler – or whatever tools you use to cut fabric

Note: All seam allowances are 1/4 in unless otherwise stated.

I wanted to go with a sun theme, since Monster is in the sunshine class, but I couldn’t find any sun fabric!  So I found some cute fabric with owls (get it?  For his wise teachers!) and decided to applique a sun on, with each teacher’s initial in the middle.  For instructions on how to applique, see my previous post (click here).

Start out by cutting out all your fabric and Pellon.


Not pictured: 1/2 yd of gold trim, 2 16.5″x12.5″ pieces of Pellon, and 2 2″x30″ pieces of Pellon

Create the front and back outside panels of the bag together by stitching along the 12.5 in side of the 10.5×12.5 piece and the 6.5×12.5 piece (twice, obviously).  I wanted to “sign” the bag so that his teachers would remember him, so I used my fancy machine to sew “Love, [Monster] 2014” on what will be the bottom of the bag.  I used a lot of Fray Check after I trimmed the threads between the letters!

IMG_2230Next, iron the Pellon onto the two pieces you just made for the front and back outside of the bag.  Now that the fabric is stable, add your applique and any other detailing (in my case, the rays of sun from the gold trim).

Make your straps by first ironing each piece of 30 in Pellon to the 30 in pieces of main fabric.  Then place the main fabric and lining fabric strips right sides together, and sew up both sides (I also sewed the end shut because it was easier to pivot, and for me it’s easier to turn – but do whatever works for you!  I had to take the stitching out of the end after I turned it so it wouldn’t be too bulky).  Turn right side out, and sew down each edge with 1/8 in seam allowance.  Repeat for the other strap.

IMG_2240Make your pocket by placing your 6 in squares right sides together and sewing most of the way around.  Backstitch at the beginning and end, and leave a 2 in opening for turning.  Clip corners, turn right side out, and iron flat.

IMG_2241Turn the edges of the opening of the pocket in, and sew your pocket onto one of the 16.5×12.5 accent pieces (1/8 in seam allowance).  Add compartments as desired.  I made a pencil slot and a phone pocket here.

IMG_2242Next, sew your shell and your lining by placing your outer (2-fabric pieces) and inner (accent pieces) around the sides and bottom.  Pay attention to which side is the top, and do not sew on that edge!


I used 1/4 in seam allowance for the outside, and a little larger, about 3/8 in, for the lining to make it a little smaller so it would fit well in the bag.

Measure 1.5 in FROM THE SEAM in the two bottom corners of each piece you just sewed, and cut out a square.

IMG_2245Open up each of these holes, line the seams up, and sew across where you cut to make a square bottom.  (I demonstrated this method with the felt bag, see photo here)

Now, I’m really bad when I sew things together, I can’t visualize how it’s going to look when I turn it all right side out.  So, to prevent error, I started the construction stage by pinning the straps on the bag the way I wanted them to look in the end.

IMG_2247Then, turn the outer shell inside out (carefully so as not to stick yourself!), place the lining right side out inside of it (I made the pocket touch the back side of the bag so their phones would be close to their body and not flopping around when they carry their bags), and pin around the top, removing your initial strap pins as you do so.  Then, sew around the top of the bag, leaving a few inches open to turn.  I backstitched at the straps because that’s where the bag will take the most abuse, and I wanted it to be strong.


Turn your bag right side out and pin along the top again, turning in the edges of the opening.  Sew about 1/8 in from the top all the way around.


IMG_2251And you’re done!  You’ve just made a beautiful, useful gift for the teacher (or relative, or friend) in your life!

IMG_2257  IMG_2258

Are you making end-of-year gifts for your kids’ teachers?  What other ideas do you have?


3 thoughts on “Tote Bag Tutorial

  1. Pingback: Bowl Mitt Tutorial | Project Mama

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