Tutorial: Totes Big and Small

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 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.
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″. 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!


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  58 comments for “Tutorial: Totes Big and Small

  1. Stoney Creek Mercantile
    January 22, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    >Love the fabric print you chose!

  2. Dani
    May 3, 2011 at 12:01 am

    This is adorable, but I’m trying to make it and I’m totally lost. I got as far as step 1. :) I can’t see how these two pieces of fabric I cut (one for the bag, one for the liner) are going to make a bag. The 20″ square doesn’t seem nearly big enough… was I supposed to cut TWO squares out of each fabric??
    What do you mean by the fabric allowing you to have a “fold” at the bottom?
    I’ve never made a bag before, and I feel like a bumbling idiot. Can you help me?

    • May 3, 2011 at 12:52 am

      Hi Dani, It’s totally my fault and not yours! I’ve gone back and clarified step 1 and I’ve also sent you an e-mail with more detail. Please let me know if I’ve helped or if any further additions to the instructons would be helpful.

  3. May 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    this project is gorgeous! I can’t believe I just found you! can’t wait to explore your blog more!

  4. May 6, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    I love the fabric you chose and how easy to follow your tutorial is. I’m going to feature this tomorrow on a Mother’s Day gift idea on my blog!

    • May 6, 2011 at 11:24 pm

      Awesome! Thanks so much Amie–you have a very cute blog!

  5. July 8, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    i love how you finished the outer edges! i am going to try that on my next tote.
    thanks for the great tutorial! i’m your newest follower!

  6. Rachel
    January 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Hi, I just stumbled upon your blog looking for a tote tutorial. This one looks awesome. Not too complicated! I was wondering what the finished dimensions are of both sizes of bags. I’m trying to make one large enough to fit all my stuff I have to take to church (so a couple binders, plus snacks, etc) Thanks!

  7. Charlene
    February 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    OMG!!! I am not much of a seamstress, but I JUST made this and it is awesome!!! Your directions are absolutely PERFECT!!!!!!!!! I had signed up to take a class on how to do this and now don’t need to. I made one with a nylon lining and interfacing so it will stand up. I am going to be making myself these for the grocery store. Mine won’t stand up by themselves and that is annoying BUT THIS ONE DOes!!!
    thank you sooooo much for posting this!!!

    • February 14, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      Awesome! If you have any photos of your finished bag, feel free to send us a link or share them in the Craft Buds Flickr group! http://www.flickr.com/groups/1657763@N24/

      • Charlene
        February 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm

        Oh I would put it up for all to see but it is just a black bag with black lining, nothing fancy. I just now made a smaller one that is pink with purple lining, again, no design, just plain. Thank you so much for helping me learn how to do this….

        • Charlene
          February 16, 2012 at 5:14 pm

          I just posted the pink and purple one on your flickr.com page…I didn’t do the sides of this one like I did the black one. It was fun though. I need to get some FUN fabric now and make one..XOXOX

    • February 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      I just checked out your flickr photos and it looks so good!! It’s great to hear that the directions worked so well for you. I really appreciate the feedback and I’m glad the pattern been so useful. Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Teresa
    April 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    This is awesome, I have been looking for an easy tote pattern to go along with the baby books that I make, these 2 sizes should fit the 2 sizes of baby books perfectly! Thank you!

  9. Erica
    April 13, 2012 at 10:36 am

    I just found the project for the fat quarters I stocked up on with no particular project in mind! Thanks!

  10. Joan
    April 13, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Great bag. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Patricia Carbery
    April 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    How can one download this Pattern Thanks

    • April 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Hi Patricia! You’ll need to use this pattern online, or copy and paste into a Word document if you’d like to save it for personal use. Thanks!

  12. Susan
    April 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    I’ve made these bags & they are SO easy! I didn’t do the extra stitching on mine for the edges. Great idea! After the first one I dame tho I started using an iron on interfacing to make them a bit sturdier. I would also sewa pocket on the front &/or one on the inside. Even made one with a little zippered pouch attached.

  13. Elaine
    April 14, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I love this… I can’t wait to make it. Thanks so much for posting.

  14. Wilda
    April 14, 2012 at 10:47 am

    How can I find the bird fabric you used for this bag? I love it!!!!!!

    • April 14, 2012 at 10:59 am

      Hi Wilda,

      The fabric is by MoMo, and is called “It’s a Hoot”. Hope this helps!

      • Wilda
        April 14, 2012 at 11:49 am

        Thank you!

    April 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I love this ! GREAT ideas can’t wait to try them !!


  16. Frances
    April 16, 2012 at 5:57 am

    Thanks for posting such a great tutorial! I just completed my first tote with your help and I am so proud that it came together so well. Thanks again!

    • April 16, 2012 at 10:27 am

      Thanks Frances, so glad the tutorial was helpful for you! We’d love to see a photo of your finished bag if you want to post it on our Flickr page!

  17. Smitha
    April 16, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Awesome……thank you for sharing the method………

  18. Jacquelyn Leggett
    April 16, 2012 at 9:44 am

    First time viewer . Thank you so much. I do not have a website. I will try this bag today.

  19. Elise
    April 16, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Thanks for the great tutorial! I made one today and love it :) I will try to remember to post a picture to your Flickr group once the weather clears up and I can get a decent picture.

    • April 17, 2012 at 11:29 am

      Awesome–so glad you found the tutorial easy to follow!

  20. Nancy
    April 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Wow! Thanks so much for posting this. I love how the bag stands up for you after you topstitch the bottom and sides and by doing so, securing the lining – great technique. I used a canvas weight for the outside and I am thrilled with the finished tote. My canvas was almost 60″ wide so I got two for the cutting of one! One step to note: Before you stitch your handles on, measure where you will be topstitching the sides so you don’t place your handles too wide. On the first one I just added the handles without consideration for the next step, so I had to angle the topstitching. Still looks great, just shaped differently, which is actually cool. Love the look and ease of these bags. Thanks again for posting this!

  21. Kelly
    April 21, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Super cute! I am going to make one this weekend! Love your blog. I am thinking that if you used a light weight plastic lined table cloth for the lining…it would work for carrying cold/frozen groceries that may have condensation. Just a thought..

  22. Elnora
    June 6, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Wow! This is the absolute easiest, nicest tote bag tutorial I’ve seen! Good for you for making it easy enough for beginners!

  23. Carolyn
    June 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    I am looking at this bag and hoping to adapt it to make a large art portfolio bag for my daughter.
    Cross your fingers for me.

  24. June 29, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Omg i love love love this tutorial! I have never even given sewing the sides and bottoms a thought! It’s genius LOL! Thanks so much!

  25. Katherine
    August 18, 2012 at 7:56 am

    This is also going to be my first bag. I saw your’s and got inspired! I have a question about cutting the big bag…. Should my piece of fabric be cut 20″ x 40″? I’m confused on what size I should be cutting my fabric and how many to cut.
    Thanks for your help.


    • August 20, 2012 at 10:34 am

      Hi Katherine!

      If you can fit a 20 x 40 square on your fabric, yes, you’ll cut to that size. Folded in half, it measures to 20 x 20. If you are using a smaller cut of fabric and can’t fit the 20 x 40, you can always cut two 20 x 20 squares and stitch them together at the bottom before you cut out the 3 1/2 corners. Hope this helps!

  26. Kulsum
    September 6, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    This is a wonderful tutorial I will definately make one from recycle fabric

  27. Deb
    September 8, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Wonderful tutorial on this adorable tote! I have been making purses for years but this one added a new and easy technique for a professional looking tote with the
    topstitching that secures the lining. Thank you for this awesome tip!

  28. Kathy in STL
    September 30, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! I’m not a very good seamstress, but even I was able to follow the directions and make something that actually looks like a bag! Thanks again!

  29. Katherine
    October 25, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    I would like to try and make the large tote. Could you please tell me what the finished size is? Thanks,

    • October 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      Hi Katherine,

      Final large size is approximately 13″ across the front x 6″ across the side x 15″ tall. Hope that helps!


  30. March 25, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks. Made one today for a gift bag.

  31. Stacie
    October 17, 2013 at 6:18 am

    Is there a general rule of thumb to follow when adjusting the size of the bags? I didn’t have enough fabric to cut 15″ out of so instead I cut pieces that were 13.75 x 13.25. My question is how do I calculate how much to cut the corners now?

    • October 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      I don’t have a specific calculation that I use. As long as you end up with a square at the corner you can cut whatever size you’d like! You can go ahead and follow the corner directions for the 15″ bag since your size is close to that, or size those measurements down by 1/4″ or 1/2″ on each side if you want. I hope that helps!

      • Stacie
        October 19, 2013 at 7:27 am

        Yes, that helps! Thank you so much!

  32. Meena
    January 22, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Loved this tote bag. I am a newbie to sewing; have never done sewing before and just started to learn the basics. I loved your tutorial. I loved the fabric you’ve used and would like to buy the same type of fabric from Jo Ann. What type of fabric is yours? I looked at some 100% cotton fabrics at Jo Ann today, they dont look as sturdy and crisp as yours…


    • January 23, 2014 at 11:20 am

      Hi Meena!

      Welcome to the sewing world! I’m glad you liked the tutorial. When fabric shopping, you’ll find that JoAnn’s has a big variety of their calico cottons and then they have a smaller range of their premium quilting fabrics. I purchased the exterior fabric for the bag at a local quilt shop that only carries premium quilting fabrics (and designs that aren’t available at JoAnn’s). The downside of the premium quilting cotton is that designs are often only printed for a short time and then discontinued. That fabric was from a few years ago and is no longer in print. It sometimes shows up on Etsy or ebay, it’s called “It’s a Hoot” by MoMo. I purchased the yellow interior fabric of the bag and the straps at JoAnns. I think the yellow fabric is a canvas or duck cloth. As long as you use a cotton for one side of the bag and a heavier fabric for the other side (like duck cloth, canvas, upholstery fabric, indoor/outdoor fabric, etc) it should be crisp and sturdy like the one in the photos!


      • Meena
        January 23, 2014 at 8:53 pm

        Thanks for the details Mary. I’ll start to look for premium quilting fabrics. Also, I’ve started sewing this tote bag with the cotton fabric I purchased from JoAnn. I wanted to learn the basics of cutting the fabric and just learning to sew straight :-) lol. It is taking me so much time just to measure the fabric to the right measurements but I’ve it all cut now. I plan to finish sewing this bag in the next couple of days and hope to send you an email with a picture of my bag :-)


        • January 25, 2014 at 10:04 pm

          That’s great Meena, I’m glad you’re moving forward with it! I’d love to see a photo when you’re done. As for the premium quilting fabrics, I sometimes use them and sometimes don’t. I just wanted to explain why you’ll find some designs at JoAnns and different ones at quilt shops. JoAnns is a lot closer to me so I do use a lot of fabrics from there too!

  33. Janet
    November 10, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Really fun and straightforward! Directions plus photos were great. I learned a new way to make box corners–Thanks!

  34. Pinky jb
    December 8, 2014 at 8:11 am

    I am a see and learn person this tutorial helped me to imagine how to sew a tote corner which was difficult to learn from other tutorials …Thank you

  35. TexasShopper
    January 3, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Just finished my first reusable grocery bag using this pattern. Wow!!! The pattern is perfect and makes a very nice large bag. Thank you so much! Making several for our family to keep in each car because our city has just started a ban on plastic and paper grocery bags. Fun to make and so useful. Thanks again!

  36. Janice
    January 24, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    I love the bag and fabric! Would you be able to provide your source?

    • January 26, 2015 at 11:45 am

      Hi Janice, The bird fabric was from a few years ago and is no longer in print. It sometimes shows up on Etsy or ebay, it’s called “It’s a Hoot” by MoMo. I purchased the yellow interior fabric of the bag and the straps at JoAnn Fabrics. I think the yellow fabric is a canvas or duck cloth.

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