How to make your own tote bag in easy steps

This bag is big enough to hold a couple of A4 folders and to fit comfortably over your shoulder, but you can make it any size with straps any length you wish (just make sure you cut the two main bag pieces and the two lining pieces all the same size)

For this size you will need approximately 0.5m of main fabric and the same of lining material.

First cut 2 pieces 40cm x 35cm (16” x 14”) from your main fabric and the same from your lining fabric.

For the straps cut 2 pieces 9cm x 75cm (4” x 30”)

My lining pieces look smaller but this is just down to the angle of the photo.

To make it easier for you to follow my instructions I am going to use contrasting thread.

pieces cut out and ready to sew

To make the straps

Fold each strap in half lengthwise, press and open out

Fold each edge to the centre and press again

Fold the whole strap in half and press again

Top stitch along each edge

This is how your finished straps should look.

Making straps for home made tote bag

To make the bag

If you would like to add an inside pocket now is the time to do that. (I like to be able to put my phone in a pocket so I can find it quickly)

For a small slip in pocket cut a piece of lining fabric approximately 20cm x 18cm (8” x 7”) Turn one long edge twice and hem

Turn the other 3 sides in once and press

Pin in place to the right side of one of your lining pieces making sure that the lining piece is the correct way up (shorter edge at the top) and that the top hemmed edge of the pocket piece is at the top. Take care not to position the pocket either too close to the top edge or the bottom edge of the lining piece.

Stitch around 3 sides leaving the hemmed edge open. If you wish you can add another row of stitching to divide your pocket into 2 sections.

Next place your 2 lining pieces and your 2 main bag fabric pieces right sides together and stitch down one long side, across the bottom and up the other long side on both the lining and the main fabric.

The next stage is to box the bottom corners of your bag, which gives a nice professional finish.

Open out one of the bottom corners and flatten so that the side seam is central Draw a line at a right angle to the seam line about 4cm (1.5”) from the top point.

You can pin this but I just stitched across this line. Repeat for the other corner and both the corners of the lining too.

You can cut off the corners if you wish.

Once you turn your bag the right way out it will look like this

Sewing a flat bottom in a tote bag

To attach the straps

Pin the straps to the top edge of the right side of the main bag, leaving about 2.5cm (1”) extending beyond the raw edge, spacing equally. Do this for both straps one on each side taking care that the straps aren’t twisted, and that both straps are in approximately the same position on both sides.

Positioning straps prior to sewing

Next insert the main bag into the lining, slipping the straps between the lining and the outer fabric. The outer bag and lining should have their right sides together and their top edges should be level with each other. Pin the lining to the main bag around the top edge.

how to place outer bag into lining

Sew around the upper edge of the bag, backstitching over each strap for additional strength. Leave a gap of about 10cm (4”) to turn the bag the right way out. I usually leave the gap between the straps.

anchoring the straps

You should then be able to turn your bag the right way out by carefully pulling it through the gap left in the upper seam edge.

Turn the raw edges of the gap under and press around the top of the bag. Pin the gap in the lining closed. Top stitch this top edge, closing the gap in the seam as you go.

I also like to reinforce my straps by stitching an X in a box

Your bag is now ready to use.

Once you are confident in making you can adapt and customise your bag by perhaps joining 2 different fabrics for the main bag or adding a top border in a plain fabric. You could add trims and decoration before you sew the pieces together or even personalise with names or applique. Straps can be made longer or shorter, or even a different colour to the main bag. The possibilities are endless…

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