Tutorial: Totes Big and Small

Make a reusable tote bag in two sizes (free sewing pattern)!

It seems like I’m always leaving the house with something…dinner for a friend, toys for my toddler, extra pair of shoes or who knows what. I usually grab a Bath and Body Works bag or a plastic mega-store bag but in the interest of looking less “mom-frump” (my term for how I often feel these days) I thought a nice set of tote bags would help me look a bit more pulled together. Here’s the first tutorial in the series on some different tote styles. Later I’ll do a second one on a version with a pocket and different handle straps.

You can scale the size up or down for whatever purpose you have in mind. I make two sizes generally. One is a small tote the same size as one of the paper Bath and Body Works bags you get at their stores. It’s great for a few toys, extra shoes, or even wrapping up a gift. The larger size is great for groceries, farmer’s markets, extra toddler clothes/toys when going out for the day, as a beach bag, for a change of clothes for the gym or whatever else you can think of. It’s about the same size as a paper grocery bag.

Online Sewing Class

For this pattern you’ll need an outer fabric and a liner fabric. I like at least one of the fabrics to be a heavier weight to help the bag hold it’s shape a little better. All seam allowances are 1/2″ unless otherwise noted.

1. Small size: Cut 15″ squares from both your outer and liner fabrics with the center fold of the fabric at the bottom of the square. (If you do it this way, you’ll be cutting through two layers of fabric and if you were to open it up, you would have a rectangle of 15″ x 30″.) At each of the bottom corners cut a rectangle 2 1/2″ tall by 3″ wide. If the fabric you’re using doesn’t allow you to have the center fold at the bottom you’ll cut two rectangles from both fabrics 15″ wide by 15 1/2″ tall, and your corners will be 3″ square.
Large size: Cut 20″ squares from both your outer and liner fabrics with the center fold of the fabric at the bottom of the square. (If you do it this way, you’ll be cutting through two layers of fabric and if you were to open it up, you would have a rectangle of 20″ x 40″.) At each of the bottom corners cut a rectangle 3″ tall by 3 1/2″ wide. If the fabric you’re using doesn’t allow you to have the center fold at the bottom you’ll cut two rectangles 20″ wide by 20 1/2″ tall, and your corners will be 3 1/2″ square.

2. For the outer fabric, put right sides together then stitch up the sides. Repeat with the liner fabric.

3. If you have a raw edge rather than a fold at the bottom, stitch that together.

4. Create the bottom of the bag by stitching the corners. See below for photo detail. You’ll stitch all 4 corners (the 2 for the outer fabric and the 2 for the liner).

5. Your outer fabric and liner should now look like this and you can iron the seams flat.

6. Now flip the outer fabric right side out, then nestle the liner inside.

7. Now pin along the bottom of the bag on the front and back, but not the sides. Stitch along the edge with a 1/8″ or 3/16″ seam allowance.

8. Fold the raw edges of the top of your bag in 1/2″ and pin. Also, tuck the straps about 1″ down in between the two fabrics and pin in place. I used cotton webbing from JoAnns, and here’s a comparable strap on Amazon (affiliate link). But you could also make them out of a coordinating fabric. For the small bag each strap is 14″. For the large bag I wanted something I could carry by hand or over my shoulder so it’s 26″.

9. Now stitch around the top. Leave a 1/8″ seam allowance at the top and then sew a second seam 3/4″ down from the top. Then go back and put an X over each strap. Or if you don’t want to have to go back and do the Xs later, see the diagram below for the exact steps I followed.

10. Optional: If you want your tote to have a boxy shape, pin the 4 sides going straight up from each corner then stitch 1/8″ in from the edge like you did in step 9 around the top.

And now your project is complete!

Tutorial: Sink Skirt


This project starts with a little story. Five years ago my husband and I bought an old historic home. It was built somewhere in the mid- to late-1800s. The house had been empty for a couple years and raccoons used it for part of that time. We had this little gross closet (see left photo above) that I wouldn’t store anything in so my dad suggested we turn it into a bathroom.
I’ll spare you the drama of putting in the bathroom, but we ended up with the little beauty in the above right photo! You can see that the pipes under the sink are still visible. That brings us to this project. A sink skirt was the perfect solution to hide those pipes and add some extra character.
Width: I started by measuring around the top of the sink. I then added 1″ to that measurement so I could hem the sides. I decided to use 5 box pleats around the top. For each pleat I added an extra 4″ (you’ll loose 2″ for each side pleat). This bathroom is 3 feet x 5 feet so that sink is super small. For a larger sink you may want more pleats.
Height: Measured the height I wanted the skirt from the rim of the sink to below the pipes. Added an additional 4″ for hemming.
After cutting out my fabric I hemmed the left and right sides. Then in the center I pinned down a box pleat. Each pleat is 2″ wide with 1″ pleats so the folds will almost touch in the back. From there I pinned each of the two side pleats. Then I sewed a seam across the top to hold them all in place. I then folded the top back 1″ twice for the hem. The extra wide and sturdy hem will be where you later place your velcro.
I did the same process for the bottom except for making the pleats larger to the point that they overlapped each other.

After I had the skirt finished, I used sticky velcro squares and attached one side to my sink and one side to my sink skirt. The ones on the sink stuck really well but the ones on the fabric lost their hold when the unheated bathroom reached arctic temperatures. After that I handstitched the squares to the fabric but the stickyness made it nearly impossible to push the needle through and now my finger is full of holes. You can benefit from my suffering: I would recommend sticky velcro for the sink and nonsticky velcro stitched to the fabric. I used 5 squares, but again, it’s a really small sink so you may need more. Now it’s ready to be attached and you’re all done!

Machine sewing for beginners: Projects and tutorials

>My first big sewing project was this dress. I got frustrated when I sewed one of the sleeves inside out, couldn’t figure out the neckline, and put down the project for months before returning to it.

People often tell me they’d like to learn how to sew, but don’t really know where to start. I usually recommend that they get acquainted with their sewing machine by trying out a project with straight lines, like a pillow case, curtains or a simple skirt. Small, simple projects are rewarding because you can easily finish them up in an hour. Some of them even make great gifts!

Here’s a list of some machine sewing projects for beginners.

Easy: Sew straight lines and learn to finish edges.

  1. 5-Minute Tank Top Tote: Sew one straight line, and you’ve made a purse. 
  2. Bandana Table Runner: This is a 15-minute sewing project. Just sew a few straight lines, and you’ll feel like Martha Stewart.
  3. Pocket Tissue Cover: Master this, and you can move on to pillows. Make up a bunch in different colors and give out as stocking stuffers.
  4. Envelope Pillow Cover: Great beginner project, and it’s a video tutorial. This is like the pocket tissue cover, but all grown up.
  5. Fabric gift/favor bags: Use up fabric scraps and make a gift wrap your friends won’s want to throw away.


      Medium-Easy Sewing Projects:  Explore your machine and add zippers, elastic and fusible interfacing.

      1. Eye Pillow: Learn to sew on a curve while using a simple pattern.
      2. Easy Fabric Cuff: This project will let you explore those fancy stitches your machine has.
      3. T-shirt Pillowcase: This project will teach you how to insert a zipper, and you can recycle a favorite t-shirt in the process.
      4. Coffee Cup Sleeve: This project will introduce you to fusible interfacing (which makes fabric sturdier), so grab your iron.You can substitute for fusible fleece.
      5. 10-Minute Fabric Headband: Great tutorial, and a fun way to use scrap fabrics. You’ll need elastic for this one.


          Getting harder: Draw a simple pattern and learn about bags.

          1. Six Gore Skirt: Once you take your measurements, use a paper grocery bag to draw out your pattern. This is a challenging project for beginners, but not too difficult.
          2. Lined Cell Phone Cozy: Get out your interfacing and some fabric scraps. Once you’ve mastered this project, you’ll be ready to try a lined purse or tote.  
          3. Yoga Mat Bag: Ommmmm. A bit challenging for the beginner, but you’ll feel proud after the bag is complete.
          4. Tiny Tote Bag with Pocket: Learn to add a strap and pocket to your purses.

          If you have suggestions for the list or know of a great tutorial for beginners, please leave me a comment!

              Tutorial: Embroidered Wildlife Onesies

              >This project is much more simple than it looks. To make the embroidered onesies, visit your local Goodwill and pick up some gently used, colorful kids clothes in a solid color. Wash and press.

              Here are the materials you’ll need:

              • Onesie
              • Sewing machine
              • Thread
              • Computer, Internet & Printer
              • Scrap fabric 
              • Sewing pins
              • Embroidery Floss
              • Buttons
              • Heat’N Bond (optional)

              1. Using a Google Images search, find some wildlife clipart (try searching for “seahorse silhouette,” for example) and print.

              2. Using sewing pins, attach clipart printout to a piece of fabric that will become your applique. Clip fabric scrap to the clipart, and cut around the image with sharp scissors. Remove paper and pins.
              3. Using a zigzag stitch, sew applique to onesie. If design is intricate, you may wish to apply iron-on adhesive such as Heat’N Bond to keep it in place before sewing. (I didn’t use fabric adhesive for any of the designs here, but the horse probably would have benefited from it.)
              4. Using embroidery floss, go over the outline using a simple running stitch.
              5. Use thread and buttons to embellish. 

               Voila! What a great way to use up scrap fabric and save a onesie that’s seen better days.




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