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Simple Tote Bag Tutorial

Simple Tote Bag (for beginners!)

Hello everyone!  It’s finally time for me to add a bag to my tutorials. 

Fun fact: bags were one of the first things I learned to make.  Once upon a time, I could make pretty much any bag.  Then I fell in love with quilting, and it re-wired my brain and now I find some bags tricky.  Lol

So if there are any of you out there, who are like me, and want a simple pattern with no pockets or special hardware…this is for you.

This bag was inspired by the simple canvas bags I used to have as a kid.  It won’t necessarily haul your groceries, but it’s a great size to carry a notebook and small essentials.  Or as a library bag for the littles.

I used an Art Gallery Fabrics panel from the Pine Lullaby Rediscovered collection.  Each panel contains 6 panels--enough to make 3 exteriors.  I used 2 of the panels for my exterior--which gives each side it's own look.  And now I have extra panels for the next time I need to make a quick tote!  Read on for full supply list.

Side 1 above, side 2 below :-)

Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission when you purchase products from these links, at no additional cost to you.

Before you begin:

If you are brand new to bag making, I strongly recommend making a sample bag first using scrap fabrics, preferably in a print.  The trickiest part of bag making at first is all the wrong side out, inside out techniques.  Don't worry about using interfacing on your sample bag.  This is just to practice the construction before using your "good" fabrics.


For the exterior: 2 panels or ½ yard of fabric

For the interior:  ½ yard of coordinating fabric

For the handles:  ¼ yard of fabric

One package of Pellon Light Woven Fusible Interfacing SF101 (one package normally contains 15” x 2 yds).  You can order from Amazon here.


Pins or Fabric Clips

Sewing Machine (preferably one with a free arm)


Pen for marking handles

Cutting Instructions:

Exterior: Cut apart 2 panels along the dotted lines.  If using yardage, cut 2 rectangles of fabric measuring 14” x 17 ½” each.

For the interior:  Cut 2 rectangles of fabric measuring 14” x 17 ½” each.

For the handles:  Cut 2 rectangles measuring 6” x 14” each.

From the interfacing:  Cut 2 rectangles measuring 14” x 17 ½” each (will be fused to the exterior panels).  Cut 2 more rectangles measuring 6” x 14” for each handle.

Making the Handles

Begin by fusing the woven interfacing to the back of each 6” x 14” rectangle.  I find using steam will help the fusion.

Once pieces are fused, take one of the rectangles and fold in half lengthwise and press.  This will create a center mark to use as reference for the next step.

Open the rectangle and take the bottom long edge and fold up to the center seam you just pressed.  Press flat.

Repeat this process with the top long edge so that the edges meet at the center.

Fold the rectangle over on itself to create a 3” x 14” rectangle.  The raw seams are now enclosed in the center.  Press well.

Take the 3” x 14” rectangle to your sewing machine.  Starting with the open edge, top stitch 1/8” from the edge.  Repeat with the opposite edge. 

Sew another topstitch ¼” away from the edge on each side.  It will look like this when finished.

Repeat all these steps for the second handle.  Set aside for now.

Making the Exterior and Interior Panels

Take your two exterior panels and fuse the interfacing on the backs of each panel.  Be sure to fuse well so you don’t get bubbles or ripples.

Take your two exterior panels and place them right sides together.  Sew a ¼” seam around the edges and bottom, leaving the top open.

Clip the corners carefully and press the seams open.  Use the end of an ironing board if possible.  If you don’t have an ironing board, you can roll up a bath  towel and place inside the panels to easily press the side seams.

Leave the exteriors panels wrong side out for the assembly later.

For the interior panels (which will not have interfacing), sew a 3/8” seam along the sides and bottom, but leave a 6” opening on the bottom for turning the bag later.

Clip the corners carefully and press the seams open, as you did with the exterior panels.

Assembling the bag

Flip your lining inside out.  Take your exterior panels (already wrong side out) and place it inside the lining piece.  The exterior panels will be nestled inside the lining unit, both pieces should be facing wrong side out.  You can see in the photo below, the lining is facing wrong side out, and the exterior panel unit has the interfacing facing out.

Line up the side seams and pin or clip in place. 

Next you will need to place your handles.  Mark a line 3” in from the side seams from each side for your handles.  Your handle's outside edges should line up with the lines you marked as shown.


Handles will need to be tucked inside, between the layers.  Be sure the handles are not twisted and sandwich them between the exterior and interior panels.  They will downwards and be inside the bag. You will have a handle on the front and back of the tote.

Take the unit over to your sewing machine.  I recommend using the free arm in your machine if you have it.

Increase your stitch width to a basting stitch and baste the handles in place 1/4" away from top.  Be sure the flat edges of the handles are staying aligned with the top edge of the bag.

Decrease your stitch width to your normal stitch length, Sew a ½” seam allowance along the top of the bag.  Backstitch at the beginning and end.  You can also do a backstitch over the handles for a little extra durability.

Using the hole you left open at the bottom of the lining, pull the bag through.  Your bag should come out looking like this—with all fabrics right side out.

Sew up the hole at the bottom of the lining.  Press the lining and do a straight stitch along the edge.

Tuck the lining into the inside of the bag.  Work it into the corners and be sure to turn out the corners of the exterior as well.  I like to use a chopstick to do this.

Press the top edge of your bag well.

Top stitch ¼” away from the top edge to keep the lining in place.

And voila!  You are done and now have a cute little tote bag to gift or use for yourself.



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