Tote Bag Tutorial

This is one of the very first tutorials I put together! We posted it back when this blog was started before we had many followers. My totes continue to be something I use often so here’s the tutorial one more time for anyone who missed it the first time around.

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 grocerices, 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.

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.

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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 these cotton straps from JoAnns but you could also make them out of a coordinating fabric. For the small bag each strap is 14″. Fot 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 7 around the bottom.


And now you’re all done! You should probably go shopping to test out your new bag.

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  62 comments for “Tote Bag Tutorial

  1. Allison
    May 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I love, love, love this fabric – where is it from?

    • May 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm

      Thanks Allison! The fabric is called In Flight (in pistachio) from the “It’s a Hoot” line by MoMo for Moda.

  2. May 16, 2011 at 1:25 am

    THANK YOU – a tote like this is on my “to do” list; thanks for relieving me of the need to puzzle out the math all by myself!

  3. May 16, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Thank you! I have often wondered how to get nice boxed edges like that and you’ve just explained it beautifully.

  4. Daisie
    May 16, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Great tutorial! And perfect timing too….my tote is on its last legs!

  5. May 16, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Love the bag and fabric!! Great tutorial. Stopping by from Skip to my Lou.

    Come on by my blog when you have a moment:

  6. May 17, 2011 at 5:40 am

    Fantasticv tutorial – and as other commenters have noted, the fabric is just gorgeous. Thank you so much for sharing this :)

  7. May 17, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Great tutorial! I was looking to make a bag just like this a few weeks ago, and couldn’t find what I was looking for. So I just freelanced and made something else entirely. Next time I’ll come back here!

  8. May 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Thank you so much for the tutorial. I love making tote bags!

  9. May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Very nice. I’d love for you to link up at Inspire Me Mondays @ Singing Three Little Birds

    • May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm

      Thanks Julie! Just linked up and added your button to our Linky Party page.

  10. May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    totally in love with this! SOOO CUTE

  11. May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Love the fabric you chose! Really nice tutorial!

  12. May 17, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    This is such an awesome tutorial! I am in desperate need of a new library bag for my kids and this looks like it would be a perfect fit for all of the books we drag home with us.. we are literally the librarians’ best friends! Thanks so much for sharing with the Pink Hippo Party! Can’t wait to see what you share next week!

  13. May 17, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    great bag!

  14. May 18, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Thanks for the tutorial…I always love to have a good tutorial! Bookmarked!

  15. May 18, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I found your blog through Someday Crafts! Great job on your tote bag tutorial! I love making them as gifts… they come in handy and everyone always loves homemade goods! Please stop by Sew Woodsy and link up this project!

    • May 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm

      Stopped by and linked up!

  16. May 18, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Great tutorial! I really need to make me a few cute bags like this! I am a teacher and always needing extra cute bags! Thanks for sharing!

  17. May 18, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Great tutorial! New follower here from Whimsy Couture link up! :)

  18. May 19, 2011 at 12:04 am

    oh how cute! the fabric is what drew me in to click on this! great detailed tutorial. I love sewing but I hate doing sewing tutorials because I break all the rules lol. :) hopped over from blue cricket today!

  19. May 19, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Hi from your newest google follower/s via crafty soiree, Karima from

  20. May 19, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Now I want a sewing machine more than ever……Just so I can add more totes to my already out of control collection…LOL

    Thanks for sharing!!!

  21. May 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    This is such a cute tote bag!!! I love the tutorial – you did a great job! Thanks for linking up to Think Pink Sundays – I featured you today!

    • May 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      Thanks for the feature! We are honored. :)

  22. May 24, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Just wanted to let you know that we LOVED your project!! It will be featured tomorrow at Sweet Peas & Bumblebees! :)

    • May 24, 2011 at 11:58 pm

      Thanks so much Briana! We’re actually doing some giveaways right now that include a bag just like the one in the tutorial. The giveaway ends Friday. Thanks again for the feature!

  23. Whitney
    May 27, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    I love this fabric! Can’t seem to find it anywhere though :(

    • May 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      Glad you like it! Sadly it’s getting harder to find. If you do a search on etsy for “in flight moda” there’s a few sellers that offer it!

  24. June 12, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    LOVED this tutorial! Thank you so much. Here is my version:

  25. Katie
    June 17, 2011 at 12:58 am

    So, for the smaller bag I would need about a half a yard of each fabric? Is this correct?

    • June 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      Yes, for the small bag you’ll need 15″ x 30″ total of each of your two fabrics so you should need just a little under a half yard (as long as it’s at least 30″ wide).

    • June 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      Yep, a half yard cut (18″ x 45″) of each fabric (outside and lining) would do for the smaller bag, and you’d probably have enough scraps leftover for a change pouch. :)

  26. Katie
    June 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks Ladies! I will post pics when I am done with them!

  27. Debra
    July 31, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Love this…very clear instructions on how to make the box corners. Thank You! What a great idea to make for gift holders…the wrapping would not end up in the trash :)

  28. Bella
    February 23, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    This tutorial is brilliant and I’ve just made my very first tote, thank you so much! I’m hooked, I’m going to be making totes and other bags all day long!!

  29. June 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you very much for your sharing, I really liked the idea you shared on sewing the ‘X’ on straps, very useful. Appreciate!

  30. Katie
    June 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    I made over 40 of these bags this year for school. Love them! Thanks for the tutorial.

  31. Barb
    July 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    THANKS! I’m new at sewing and just completed an awesome looking bag using plain canvas, this pattern, a very large machine embroidered nautical design and including a zippered pocket, a key holder and a front magnetic pocket. I’m really proud of myself!! THANKS AGAIN for such an awesome tutorial!

  32. Colleen Todd
    January 16, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I’m a beginner at sewing…I made this bag and everyone thinks I’m a genius!! Thanks so much for the pattern!!

    • January 16, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      Colleen, that’s awesome! Maybe you are a genius. :)

  33. Setjay
    April 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Best tuto i’ve read so far ! I was looking for a tote to embroider my sons’ name on it (for kinder)… Thanks !

  34. Brooke
    August 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    So for the bigger bag, would you need about 3/4 yd for the two fabrics? Thanks so much!

    • August 2, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      Hi Brooke! You’ll need a 20″x40″ rectangle from the lining and from the exterior fabric. So 3/4 of a yard would give you 27″. As long as the fabric is at least 40″ wide that would work fine!

  35. Jenn
    August 25, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Just made 6 of these bags, and I learned to definitely use the fusible interfacing, makes the fabric sturdier and thus makes the bags easier for the clerk in the store to load, but whichever way you prefer the bags turn out great! Used the old plastic inserts from my old grocery bags to put in the bottom of my new ones. have had many compliments. thanks for the great tutorial!

    • August 26, 2013 at 11:17 am

      Thanks for the feedback Jenn! It’s great to hear you’re getting so much use out of the tutorial!!

  36. Jenn
    August 25, 2013 at 8:09 am

    I also wanted to mention since I used fabric that was on hand from my large stash, the lining of my bags were coordinating to the outside fabrics. when I found my lining fabric was short of the needed size, I cut two strips of other fabric and sewed them to the bottom length of the bag, then cut the squares out of the bottom for the corners. That way when looking at the bag, unless you peered into the very bottom you would not know there was any southern engineering going on! I have to say people will be getting these for presents, they are pretty and so many different fabric options are available. I have also used both the woven and the nylon strapping, both are good.

  37. Jenn
    August 25, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Promise one last thing here. I was looking at one of my old store bought bags and on the top lip of the bag (you would sew this in similar to the strapping) there is an elastic loop, which the store clerk can use to holf the bag to their plastic bag stand, which would make it even more utilitarian. I will be including those on my next round of bags.

  38. Rhonda
    December 16, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Hello, love your tutorial ! Wish I would have found it before my own attempt, yikes, live and learn :0 are using canvas, or duck for lining and outside? Thank you so much! Trying to make last minute Christmas presents !

    • December 16, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Rhonda! The outside fabric is a home decor weight, similar to canvas/duck cloth, and the inside fabric can be anything lightweight or sturdy (quilting cotton or home decor weight).

  39. Linda
    January 8, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    I want to make a bag like this but with pellon on the inside to make it stiff. I can’t find my pattern on how to do that. Do you have any ideas about how to do that?


    • January 16, 2015 at 9:52 am

      Hi Linda, I haven’t tried it before so I’m not sure how to go about doing that. I’d probably try ironing one of the Pellon fusible products to the back of the liner before sewing and assembling the bag. You’ll have to let us know if you figure it out!

  40. September 30, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Attractive fabric and smart finishing. I wish I could hire you as my sewist. Ha-ha! Just stopping by from Whizurl’s Shop

  41. Jane
    November 21, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Yours was the ONLY tutorial that I found which was for the kind of tote I was wanting to make! I am a pre-school music teacher, traveling to numerous child-care centers throughout the week. I needed an extra-extra-large tote for carrying around about 25 large puppets for the children to use during farm/barnyard songs. I could not find anything ready-made on-line, so knew I had to make it myself. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise!
    Texas, USA

    • November 23, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      Thank so much Jane! I’m glad you found the tutorial useful and I really appreciate hearing from you!

  42. gaby turner
    November 21, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I have read tons of tutorials to make these kind of bags. This is by far the BEST TUTORIAL EVER. The pictures are so helpful. Thank you so much. Now that we need to bring bags when we shop I will be making lots of them . Thanks again.

    • December 12, 2016 at 11:36 am

      Thanks so much Gaby, I’m so happy to year you enjoyed the tutorial!!

  43. Lloyd
    February 24, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    I just made this bag and love it. Makes me feel extra posh at the shops! lol

    • February 24, 2017 at 5:35 pm

      That’s great, I feel the same way! Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

  44. M.Sheaffer
    May 12, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    I’m so excited to try this and to show my daughter how to do it! Thanks for posting it again. And, I will definitely take your advice and GO SHOPPING to try it out!

  45. Barbara
    July 13, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    This tutorial is one of the best. Very clear and love all of the comments from years gone by. Needed gifting ideas for a Thanksgiving gathering which will include a gift exchange instead of Christmas. Thanks for reposting as I missed it this first go round.

  46. September 25, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks so much for this awesome tutorial!! Made 2 bags using this yesterday and am SO happy with them!

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