How to Sew a Tote Bag: A Beginner’s Guide 

In a world where self-expression reigns supreme, why settle for a generic tote bag when you can create a unique one that reflects your personality and style? Whether you’re a seasoned sewing enthusiast or just starting your journey into crafting, sewing your tote bag is a fun and rewarding project that allows you to unleash your creativity.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of how to sew a tote bag. From selecting the perfect fabric to adding personalized touches, you’ll learn all the tips and tricks you need to bring your vision to life. So grab your sewing machine and let’s dive into the wonderful world of tote bag sewing!

Sew a Tote Bag in 10 Steps

Step#1 Cutting the Fabric

Small Size:

   – Cut 15″ squares from both your outer and lining fabric. Ensure the centerfold of the fabric is at the bottom of the square.

   – This method involves cutting through two layers of fabric. You’ll have a rectangle measuring 15″ x 30″ when opened.

   – Cut a rectangle measuring 2 1/2″ tall by 3″ wide at each bottom corner.

For the small-size tote bag, you’ll start by cutting squares of fabric, ensuring the centerfold is positioned at the bottom. This allows you to cut through two layers of fabric simultaneously. When opened, the fabric will form a rectangle. Additionally, cutting rectangles at the bottom corners will shape the bag’s base.

Large Size:

   – Cut 20″ squares from both your outer and lining fabrics, with the centerfold of the fabric at the bottom of the square.

   – Similar to the small size, cutting through two layers of fabric will result in a rectangle measuring 20″ x 40″ when opened.

   – Cut a rectangle measuring 3″ tall by 3 1/2″ wide at each bottom corner.

For the large size tote bag, follow the same process as the small size, but with larger dimensions. Cutting squares of fabric ensures consistency, and shaping the bottom corners with rectangles adds structural integrity to the bag.

Step#2 Putting the Right Sides Together

1. Outer Fabric:

   – Place the right sides of the outer fabric pieces together, aligning the edges.

   – The right side of the fabric is the side with the pattern or the side you want to be visible on the finished tote bag.

2. Stitching Up the Sides:

   – Stitch along the sides of the outer fabric pieces, using a straight stitch and the designated seam allowance.

   – Start sewing from the top edge and continue down to the bottom edge, securing the stitches at both ends with backstitching.

3. Lining Fabric:

   – Repeat the same process with the lining fabric pieces, placing the right sides together and aligning the edges.

4. Stitching Up the Lining:

   – Sew along the sides of the lining fabric pieces, mirroring the stitching done for the outer fabric.

   – Ensure to leave an opening in the lining for turning the bag right side out later.

This step involves assembling the outer fabric and lining fabric separately by sewing up the sides. By placing the right sides together, you ensure that the seams will be hidden inside the finished tote bag. Sewing along the sides creates the basic structure of the bag. Remember to leave an opening in the lining fabric for turning the bag right side out later in the process.

Step#3 Raw Edge: Stitch Needed

If your fabric pieces have a raw edge at the bottom instead of a fold, you need to stitch them together. This means sewing along the bottom edge where the raw edges of the fabric meet, joining them to create a seam. This step is necessary for securing the bottom of the tote bag and ensuring its structural integrity. Once stitched, the raw edges will be enclosed within the seam, providing a clean and finished look to the bag’s bottom edge.

Step#4 Sewing Bag Bottom

To form the bottom of the bag, stitch the corners. This involves sewing across each corner of both the outer fabric and the lining fabric. By doing so, you create a flat base for the tote bag, giving it structure and stability. This step is essential for ensuring that the bag can stand upright and hold its shape when filled. After sewing all four corners, you’ll have a well-defined bottom for your tote bag, ready to carry your essentials in style.

Step#5 Seam Ironing

At this stage, your outer fabric and lining fabric should resemble.  It’s time to give your project a polished finish by ironing the seams flat. This step not only enhances the appearance of your tote bag but also ensures that the seams lay smoothly, resulting in a professional-looking finish. Use an iron set to the appropriate temperature for your fabric to press the seams flat, taking care not to stretch or distort the fabric. Once ironed, your tote bag will be ready for the next steps in the sewing process.

Step#6 Assembling Outer Fabric and Lining

To assemble your tote bag, start by flipping the outer fabric right side out. This means turning the fabric so that the pattern or outer surface is facing outward. Next, nestle the liner inside the outer fabric. This involves placing the lining fabric inside the outer fabric, ensuring that they fit snugly together. By nesting the liner inside the outer fabric, you create a neat and cohesive structure for your tote bag. This step sets the stage for attaching the handles and finishing touches to complete your project.

Step#7 Pinning and Stitching the Bag Bottom

Pin along the bottom edges of the bag on both the front and back, but not the sides. This means securing the layers of fabric together with pins along the bottom edge, ensuring they stay in place during stitching. 

When stitching, use a seam allowance of 1/8″ or 3/16″ along the edge. This is the distance between the edge of the fabric and the line of stitching. 

By pinning and stitching along the bottom edge, you’re closing the opening and securing the lining and outer fabric together, completing the construction of the tote bag.

Step#8 Preparing the Bag Top and Straps

Start by folding the raw edges of the top of your bag inward by 1/2″, then pin them in place. This creates a neat and finished edge along the opening of the bag. 

Next, tuck the straps about 1″ down between the two layers of fabric, positioning them evenly on opposite sides of the bag. Pin the straps in place to secure them between the layers of fabric.

The straps can be purchased pre-made from craft stores like JoAnn’s, or you can create them using coordinating fabric. Each strap measures 14″ for the small bag and 26″ for the large bag, providing versatility in carrying options depending on your preference and needs. 

By following these steps, you’re ready to attach the straps and complete your tote bag with a professional and functional finish.

Step#9 Stitching the Top and Securing Straps

Begin by stitching around the top edge of the bag. Leave a 1/8″ seam allowance at the top, sewing all the way around to secure the folded edges in place. 

Next, sew a second seam 3/4″ down from the top edge. This adds reinforcement to the top of the bag, ensuring durability and stability.

After stitching the second seam, go back and reinforce the straps by sewing an X over each one. This additional stitching provides extra strength to the attachment of the straps, preventing them from coming loose during use.

Step#10 Creating a Boxy Shape (Optional)

If you prefer a boxy shape for your tote bag, you can follow these additional steps:

1. Pinning the Corners:

   – Start by pinning each corner of the bag straight up from the bottom, forming a triangle.

   – This step creates extra volume and structure in the corners of the bag.

2. Stitching the Corners:

   – Sew along the pinned lines, stitching 1/8″ in from the edge as you did in Step 7 around the bottom.

   – This stitching secures the folded corners in place, maintaining the boxy shape of the bag.

By completing these optional steps, you’ll add a tailored and modern touch to your tote bag, giving it a structured silhouette that stands out.

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