Sunday, October 7, 2012

Patchwork Totebag Tutorial

Ahoy ahoy! Ready to sew yourself a cute patchwork totebag? You can use scraps, yardage, fat quarters, whatever you've got that you want to use. I finally found one of the Denyse Schmitt fat quarter sets at Joann's,. My coupon made it a sweet price, indeed.

To make this bag as I did you'll need four fat quarters, a half yard for the lining (more if it's a directional fabric), a half yard of fusible fleece, and a piece of plastic canvas to make a rigid bottom (optional). Throw in basic sewing stuff and something to mark with and you're all set. A few rules of thumb: backstitch at the beginning and end of every seam, and we'll be using a quarter inch seam allowance, unless I indicate otherwise (which I will, towards the end).

We're going to prep the lining first--we'll be fusing our fleece to that and the adhesive needs to cool to set properly. Sorry, I was in the zone and forgot to take pictures of this part. Fold your lining fabric from selvage to selvage. Cut two three-inch strips from fold to selvages, and then trim those so they're 25 1/4 inches long. From the rest of the lining fabric you'll need to cut 2 pieces that are 11 3/4 by 12 1/4 inches, and 3 pieces that are 4 3/4 by 12 1/4 inches. Cut the same out of your fusible fleece. Fuse everything according to the directions that come with the fleece. Set those aside to cool.

From your fabric you're using for the outside you'll need to cut the following:

From the fabrics that will make up the front and back panels, cut 2 of each fabric measuring 12 1/4 by 4 1//4 inches. From the fabrics that will make the sides and bottom cut a total of 3 pieces measuring 12 1/4 by 4 3/4 inches. For the pieces that will be the strap cut 2 each of 3 fabrics measuring 8 3/4 by 3 inches.

Take your front panel pieces, and sew the long edges together, right sides facing, with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Do the same for the back. Press those seams open.

This next step is very important if you want to make sure the bottom goes in nice and neat. You'll need to make a mark 1/4 inch in from each of the corners that will be at the bottom of the bag.

Take a side piece and one of your patchwork panels, right sides together. Line up the dots, and pin the pieces together. Sew using a 1/4 inch seam allowance, stopping at the dot. Do not sew that wee bit from the dot to the edge. Do the same for the other side piece and patchwork panel, minding the dots. Now take those two pieces (consisting of a side piece and a panel) and sew them together, lining up the dots and all that jazz. You should now basically have a large patchwork tube with tiny unsewn bits at the bottom corners. Press the seams open.

Ready for the next step? Make sure your tube is inside out and get your bottom piece ready. I like to do one side at a time--you could certainly do this in one shot, but I find I can line things up better by doing it as 4 separate seams. To each his own, so do what feels best to you. OK, we're doing the longer sides first. Pin from edge to edge--you'll be flattening that seam a little bit and pushing the side panel out of the way. Pin well. It helps.

Sew from dot to dot. Take your time at the corners and try to keep the side panel out of the way. Repeat for the other long side of the bag bottom. Now you'll do the same for the short sides, except you'll be moving the front/back panels out of the way as you sew the side piece to the bottom. When you're finished your corners should look like this:

Turn it right side out and check your handiwork. If you're not satisfied, pick those seams out and give it another go. You want it to look something like this (minus the stray threads that I just noticed):

Give the bottom seams a press to make it all look tidy. Now we're going to do the lining. Take your front and back panels, and your side and bottom pieces. Make your dots 1/4 inch in from each corner along the bottom, just as before. Sew your side pieces to the front/back panels, stopping at the dots. Sew it all together so you have a large tube, just as before. Press the seams open. Insert the bottom as you did for the outside, sewing all the way around. The fleece can make this part a little more fiddly to work with but good news--if these corners aren't perfect they're tucked down inside the bottom of the bag where no one will see them. You should have a nice sturdy-looking lining when you're finished.

Now for the straps. Take your pieces that you cut for the straps, and sew the short ends together, pressing the seams open. You should have two long strips now.

Place those, right sides together, against your lining strips, and sew the long sides together. You should have two loooooong tubes.

Turn those inside out. You might be thinking "Oooo Bethany, you big jerk, making me turn a skinny tube." But I assure you it's not that bad. Once you've got them right side out give them a nice press, and topstitch at whatever point you like (I did 1/4 inch in, just because).

Take your exterior bag, right side out. Pin your straps, lining up, centering the ends on the end pieces of your front and back panels. Make sure they're not twisted.

I placed mine so that the strap would contrast with the bag when I was finished.

Stitch these down 1/4 inch from the edge. I always go over the straps a few times, for peace of mind.

We're almost there. Place your lining and your exterior together, one inside the other, right sides facing. Pin all around the top. We are going to leave a gap between the stripes on one of the panels.

Sew around the top, minding the gap, using a 3/8 inch seam allowance. Reach inside and turn the bag right side out, shoving the lining down inside the bag.

If you're inserting the plastic for a rigid bottom, cut a piece that is approximately 11 1/4 inches by 4 inches (check to make sure it's not too large). Make sure the edges of the plastic are smooth. I also like to round the corners slightly so they're not as pointy. Put this through the gap we left in the top, and place it in the bottom between the outside and the lining. When I first made this bag I was concerned that the corners would poke through in no time, but after four years of heavy use they haven't.

Neaten everything up at the top of the bag, pinning everything in place. Fold in the raw edges of the gap, and give those a little press in addition to pinning. Now we'll topstitch it all in place. I did my first line at 1/8 inch in from the edge, which is about the closest I can get that doesn't stress me out.

I added a second line of stitching 3/8 from the edge (so 1/4 inch from the first line). When I leave a gap at the top of a bag instead of at the bottom I like to add an extra row of top-stitching for an extra little bit of security. Give it a final press. Then strut around with it, just because.

Inserting a bottom like this isn't something I do often. I usually use the triangle method to make a flat bottom. But this method works really well when you want a contrasting bottom in your bag. It also works well if you want to make something like these milk crate covers where the inset piece is pretty large. I've tried to not mark the dots and leave that wee gap, and I always end up with pleated corners that don't all look the same, so those dots are very key to a neat inset bottom.

As ever, if you find something I goofed or have any questions, please let me know. As with all my tutorials, feel free to sell the finished product (though I would appreciate a touch of credit and a link-back if you blog about it). Happy sewing!


  1. I have not used my DS fat quarters like this yet, so this is the perfect project for them. I bought the exact same ones too.... great minds think alike.. ha ha :)

  2. Great Tute! Love the cowboy/girl fabric in previous post of your first bag! LOVE it!!
    I am itching to get into my sewing room. Been way too hot, but I will be in there soon!!
    XO Kris

  3. Thanks for the tutorial. This is a great bag to take out shopping. Love the fabrics you used.

  4. Great tutorial! I love the fabric, especially the yellow fabric. I'd like to invite you to link up this project at my new link party called Submarine Sunday. I hope you'll stop by!

    Submarine Sunday @

  5. Cunning plan using that Denise Schmidt, I know a few people over here would kill to get their hands on some!

  6. I really like how you did the inset... I don't think I would have figured out the dots to show stopping and starting points on my own. =)

  7. Awe, it looks great! My husband recently bought me a sewing machine and I'm still trying to get the hang of it; I think this might be a good project to try!

    Btw, I'm coming from FPTFY.

    Happy midweek! ;D


  8. What a great scrap busting project this could be! I need to dig through my fabric. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  9. This is adorable. I've been wanting to try my hand at a bag, and since I can use fabric scraps or quarters for this one, I think I'll go for it. Thanks for a great tutorial!

  10. This is the cutest tote. I have a link party on Wednesdays, and I would love it if you would link this and any other posts. It is called Wednesdays Adorned From Above Link Party. It runs from Wednesday to Sundays.
    I hope to see you there. I am your newest follower, and I would love for your to follow me also. Have a great Day.
    Debi Bolocofsky
    Adorned From Above

  11. Beautiful fabric. This is lovely. Looking forward to seeing you at MDC :)

  12. Thanks for sharing! I've been doing a bit of bag sewing and those corners are always tricky.. yours are so sharp!

  13. Awesome tutorial, thanks for sharing.

  14. This looks absolutely gorgeous! I can't believe how neat you got the corners to look! I am very impressed! Have a great day!

  15. Thanks for this great tute, Bethany! We are featuring this beauty today! Thanks for sharing ^^)

  16. Lovely creation! find a huge assortment of colorful
    canvas totebag in different styles at wholesale rates!

  17. Lovely tote bag. I love patchwork creations.
    I am stopping by to let you know the Friday Fun Party is back. I miss you at the party! :)
    Happy almost Friday Bethany.

  18. I am enjoying making this bag. A question about the straps: on the picture is says cut fabric 8 3/4 by 4 1/4, and in the text it says 8 3/4 by 3 inches. Which measurement is the one you used? Or am I making a mistake in my understanding? Thanks for your help. Kelly



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