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two embroidered tote bags

This post is also available in: French

In this post you will learn how to sew your own tote bag. This project is beginner-friendly as it only has straight lines to stitch. It’s also is a good way to upcycle medium to thick cloth.

Moreover this kind of reusable bag is highly customizable. The decoration techniques are endless. It can be an idea for a fun DIY workshop with family or friends.

I keep a sweet memory of a DIY afternoon with my daughter. We had a tote bag painting workshop when she was around 3. I had prepared the pieces for the bag in an old beige curtain. Then I made her choose 4 or 5 colors of textile paints. I let her paint free brush strokes on the fabric pieces.

Then I sewed the tote bag and we offered it to her grand-mother. It’s a cherished object that accompanies her every day.

You can see your tote bag as a blank page. You can fill it with the colors you love or something you’d like to express or to remember.

Another good point is that you can decide the size of your bag. You can adapt it to the piece of fabric you have on hand. You can recycle an old curtain, sheets or a tablecloth, just to name a few.

Likewise you can fit the bag to the items you’d like to carry : a certain book, a vinyle record…

In this tutorial the finished size of the bag is 14 1⁄8 x 15 3⁄4 in (36 x 40 cm) with shoulder straps of 29 1⁄2 in (75 cm) long each.

The seam allowances of 3⁄8 in (1 cm) are included in the pattern.

Fabric and Notions

  • 33 7⁄8 x 21 1⁄4 in (86 x 54 cm) medium weight or heavy weight fabric
  • Matching thread.
    • Note : for the photos I used a thread color that stands out. You can do so if you like the contrasting top-stitch.

Steps To Follow To Sew Your Tote Bag

Time needed: 1 hour

Take your time and follow the steps to make your easy, simple and unique tote bag!

  1. Draw the pieces on the fabric

    First of all, if the fabric is crumpled you should iron it.
    Then draw a rectangle of 33 7⁄8 x 15 in (86 x 38 cm).
    Trace also two strips of 31 1⁄8 x 3 1⁄8 in (79 x 8 cm).

    Tote bag pieces drawn on fabric

  2. Cut the pieces

    Carefully cut out the 3 pieces of fabric on the lines you just traced.

    Cut out fabric pieces for tote bag

  3. Neaten the main piece

    Neaten the long edges of the main rectangle. This will prevent the edges from fraying.
    You can do so with the zigzag stitch of your sewing machine. If you have an overlocker you can of course stitch the edges with it.
    Another possibility is to cut the edges with pinking shears.
    In my example I sewed with a zigzag stitch.

    zigzag stitches on white fabric

  4. Decorate the bag (optional)

    At this step you may customize your bag with textile painting, hand embroidery or machine embroidery for instance. Feel free to express yourself!
    Because it’s graphic and refreshing, I chose to stitch my monstera machine embroidery.
    It is indeed much easier to do it before the bag is made up!

    Monstera embroidery on white fabric piece

  5. Sew the sides of the bag

    Fold the rectangle in two at the middle, with the right side to right side.
    Check that the edges are well aligned.
    Then you can pin in place and sew along each side.

    Pinned main piece of tote bag

  6. Press the seams

    Press the seams on one side.

  7. Double-fold the hem at the top of the bag

    Fold the raw edge on 3⁄8 in (1 cm) and press.
    Then fold again on 3⁄4 in (2 cm), pin and press.

    Double fold hem on top of tote bag

  8. Sew the hem

    Turn the bag to put it right side out.
    Top-stitch the hem all around the bag. Sew at about 3⁄4 in (1.8 cm) from the edge.
    The main part of the bag is done!

    Top-stitched hem

  9. Fold the short edges of the handle

    Fold each short edge on 3⁄4 in (2 cm) wrong side to wrong side.
    Press the fold.

    Folded short edge of strap

  10. Fold the strip in the middle

    With right side out, fold one strip lengthwise in the middle.
    Press to mark the fold.

    Tote bag strap folded at center

  11. Fold each side to center

    Open the strip. Then fold each side so that the raw edges join at the center.
    Fold again on the middle, pin and press.

    Folding and closing the stripe

  12. Sew the strap

    Remove the pins.
    Fold in the middle to close the strap.
    Press and stitch all around the handle, at about 1⁄16 in (2 mm) of the edges.

    Top stitched straps for tote bag

  13. Repeat steps 9 to 12

    Repeat the previous steps with the second strip to create the second handle.

  14. Position the straps on the bag

    Place each handle at the top of the bag. Position it at 3 1⁄8 in (8 cm) from the sides and 3⁄4 in (2 cm) below the top edge of the bag.
    Pin in place.
    Take care not to entangle the straps!
    Straps pinned on tote bag

  15. Stitch the straps on the bag

    Sew the straps by top-stitching a rectangle and a cross inside it.
    The bag is finished, bravo!
    White tote bag with monstera leaf embroidery

Now you know how easy it is to sew your own tote bag! I’m sure you will have many ideas to upcycle all kind of fabrics into unique bags. You can even use them as gift wrappings.

Sewing an item you can use or wear every day is so rewarding, isn’t it?

If you are looking for more ideas to upcycle your clothes and accessories, you might be interested in 100 ideas to upcycle fabric.


I'm the creator of Filafaire. I conceive machine embroidery designs and sewing patterns for nature lovers and upcyclers.

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