The Picnic Tote… free sewing pattern!


Sew a beautiful bag that’s reminiscent of summer fun – like a picnic! This easy tote makes a lovely purse too! All of the instructions and pattern templates are included below.

In addition, this blog post has been converted to an optional PDF that’s optimized for printing. Find it here. The blog post below is totally free to read, print, and sew! Just hit CTRL +P on your computer to print. The PDF download for $2 is totally optional.

{Hey! This free pattern is included in my Ultimate List of Fast and Easy Tote Bags to Sew. Check it out.}

I got to pick out any fabrics that I wanted from (lucky me!) and this is what I found. The top one is some gorgeous quilting cotton from Bari J. How could I resist?

The next three fabrics are home decor weight cotton twill from Premier Prints. I love the bold graphic designs and colors that they have and knew they would be perfect for this tote bag.

I also asked for 2 yards of Pellon Shape-flex interfacing. Whenever I use quilting weight cotton fabric to sew purses or totes, I stabilize it with some kind of interfacing, and Shape-flex is my favorite. It adds body to the lightweight cotton fabric and has great drape and feel. Try it and you’ll see.

I decided to use the floral quilt weight cotton for the bag lining, and slightly heavier twill fabrics for the exterior, straps, and the interior pocket.

Using all quilt weight cotton would be fine too since the exterior of the bag is stabilized with fusible fleece.

I named it the ‘Picnic Tote’ because that checked fabric on the sides makes me feel like every outing is a picnic!

Are you ready to sew a Picnic Tote for yourself? Let’s go!

{Download and print the pattern templates here}

The Picnic Tote free sewing pattern

Finished dimensions: Approximately 10 1/2” tall x 18” wide (not including the straps). All seam allowances are 1/2”.

Fabric and interfacing requirements:

  • 1/2 yard for the exterior center panels

  • 1/2 yard for the exterior side panels

  • 1/4 yard for the interior pocket

  • 3/4 yard for the lining

  • 1/2 yard for the straps

  • Shape-flex woven interfacing for any pieces cut from lightweight or quilting cotton (you may choose to skip this interfacing if you are using home decor or heavier weight fabric)

  • 3/4 yard fusible fleece interfacing such as HeatnBond fusible fleece


  • 2 Center Panel pieces on the fold for the exterior

  • 2 Center Panel pieces on the fold for the lining

  • 4 Side Panel pieces (2 reversed) for the exterior

  • 4 Side Panel pieces (2 reversed) for the lining

  • 2 Interior Pocket pieces on the fold for the pocket

  • 2 strips 6” x 50” for the straps (you may need to cut and piece fabric together to make 2 strips that are 50’’ long)

Stabilize any pieces cut from lightweight or quilting cotton with Shape-flex woven interfacing, if desired.

Make the Straps:

1. Fold the 6” x 50” strips of fabric in half lengthwise, press. Fold the long edges to the center and press.

2. Fold the strip in half again to make a 1 1/2” strap, press.

3. Topstitch close to both long edges. Make 2 straps.

Tip: use a longer stitch length as usual (such as a 3) for professional looking topstitching.

Make the Tote Exterior:

1. Mark the side panel pieces with a dot at the point where you should stop stitching (see the pattern piece).

2. Pin a side panel in place as shown above. Pay careful attention to the placement of the side panels as marked on the pattern pieces.

3. Stitch from the top to the marking, and then backstitch. Press the seam toward the side panel.

4. On the center panel, clip almost to the stitching at the mark (or at the end of the stitching line).

Sew side panel pieces to both of the exterior center panel pieces.

5. Lay the exterior bag sides on top of the fusible fleece interfacing and cut around them.

Tip: I pressed the bag sides to the interfacing to partially fuse them before I cut around them. It helped me cut quickly and accurately. Then I pressed the pieces again to fuse them completely.

6. Pin each strap to a bag side as shown above. Start pinning about 2 1/2” below the top edge. The strap should be on the center panel, right next to the side panel seam and extend all the way down to the corner of the center panel. Make sure the strap is not twisted.

7. Sew the straps to the bag sides starting about 2 1/2” below the top edge. You will finish sewing the straps in place later. Sew right on top of the topstitching on both sides of the strap.

Prepare both sides of the bag.

8. Pin the bag exterior pieces right sides together along the sides and bottom. Stitch. Press the seams open.

This corner has the fusible fleece trimmed away so I could see how the seam lined up.

This corner has the fusible fleece trimmed away so I could see how the seam lined up.

This corner does not have the interfacing trimmed away, but the end result was the same.

This corner does not have the interfacing trimmed away, but the end result was the same.

9. To sew the corners, flatten each one and pin the side seam against the bottom seam.

Note: as you can see from the two photos above, I experimented with trimming the interfacing away so I could line up the edges of the seam perfectly, and with simply flattening the seam. Both methods produced the same result. So use whichever way seems best to you.

Sewing the corner with the fusible fleece trimmed back.

Sewing the corner with the fusible fleece trimmed back.

Sewing the other corner that was simply pinned flat.

Sewing the other corner that was simply pinned flat.

10. Stitch across the corner.

The edge of the straps will be caught in the corners. This is what they should look like.

11. Turn the bag exterior right side out and set it aside.

Make the Interior Pocket

1. Place the pocket pieces right sides together and stitch both long edges.

2. Turn the pocket right side out and press it flat. Topstitch along to top (narrower) edge.

3. Place the finished pocket on top of one of the lining center panel pieces. When it is in the correct spot, the sides will align perfectly. Pin in place along the sides and bottom.

4. Topstitch along the bottom edge of the pocket to attach it to the lining center panel. Baste the sides in place.

Sew one or more dividing lines in the pocket, if desired.

Make the Tote Lining:

1. Pin and stitch the side panels to each center panel piece, the same as the tote exterior. Make sure to stop sewing at the spot indicated on the pattern piece. Press the seams toward the side panels.

2. Clip to the dot (or to the seam at the spot where you stopped stitching) on both sides of the center panel (visible in the picture below).

3. Pin both lining pieces right sides together along the bottom and side edges.


4. Stitch, leaving a 6” opening for turning the bag right sides out. Press the seams open.

5. Flatten each corner with the side seam lined up against the bottom seam. Pin and stitch.

Note: If the corner won’t line up nicely, check to make sure you clipped the center panel to the stitching as directed in Step 2 above.

Sew the Exterior and Lining Together:

1. With the tote exterior right side out and the lining wrong side out, place the lining over the exterior.

2. Pin the top raw edges together, matching the side seams and the seams on the sides of the bag.

3. Stitch all the way around the top of the bag.

4. Turn the bag right side out through the opening in the lining.

5. Pin the opening in the lining together and stitch it closed by machine or by hand.

6. Push the lining down into the bag and press the top edge carefully.

7. Topstitch around the top of the bag 1/4” from the edge.

8. Pin the top 2” of the handles in place. Make sure that the lining on the inside is smooth and flat.

9. Stitch the handles in place, sewing on top of the previous topstitching and backstitching neatly at the start and stop.

I really love the look and feel of the home dec weight fabrics from Premier Prints found at I think some dining room curtains might be in order next!

Now share pictures of your beautiful Picnic Tote using the hashtag #picnictote so I can find it. You can tag me on Instagram @sewcanshe so I won’t miss it.

Happy sewing,

Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂

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  1. Lois Thompson says:

    I made this Picnic Tote today for a birthday present. I will definitely make another one (or two) but I’m going to add outside pockets. Great pattern, thank you for posting!! I’ll post photos for you after my friend gets the bag.

  2. I have a question. I am using a lighter fabric and used fusable interfacing on the back. DO I still need to use the fleece? And if so, any tips on how to attach it?

    1. Yes. I would still use a thick interfacing for body. If you can’t find fusible fleece, you can attach non-fusible fleece interfacing by sewing around the edges or spraying it with an adhesive like QuiltnBond.

      Flex-Foam or ByAnnies interfacing would work well here too. Have fun!

  3. Hi there, in the middle of making my second one of these, but just a query, (I think it confused me the first time round too) instruction number 3 and 4 of "make the tote lining", shouldn’t that be pin both sides together on sides and bottom (it says top) and then 4, to sew leaving a 6" seam on bottom? As I just printed off the instructions, I didn’t have pictures to refer to, so checked back here. Also I think it would be a great idea to stress the importance of making sure with the side panels that you have mirror images for both sides. (Yes I made the mistake of them all going the same way twice! Note to self now on my pattern)
    Other than that, I love this pattern and bag, looks very professional .

  4. I spent today making this picnic tote in modern gray, white and yellow prints. I love how it came out! Thanks so much for the cute pattern and your always thorough instructions. 🙂

  5. sarah parton says:

    hi can I just ask a quick question as I’m a relatively new sewer and bags are my thing at the moment, is the seam allowance included on the pattern pieces or do I need to cut bigger than the pieces printed? thank you

  6. I have just finishes making this tote and it turned out just fine. The instructions were easy to follow. Love it. Thank you for the design.

  7. Caroline, this is the cutest! I wanted to make something exactly like this, only bigger – more like 13" tall, >20" wide – do you have any tips for enlarging a pattern? I imagine it’s more complex than simply adding inches all around each piece. (novice sewer here)

    1. Hi Lauren – I’m glad you like this pattern! This pattern was drafted on a computer and perfected through several versions. You could enlarge it – but expect to make several tester versions like I did before it is just right. 🙂

  8. I LOVE this tote! However, it would be so helpful to those of us that are new to making totes, etc., if you could list the exact size of each pattern piece, length and the width. It is hard to tape the pattern pieces together after printing and cutting them so that every piece will match the other pieces exactly, so that the tote doesn’t come out lopsided. Thanks so much for this pattern!!!

  9. I have made three of these totes in the past two weeks and really love them! Your tutorial is so easy to follow and the results are perfect each time! I added a magnetic closure to the last two I made so they will close. Thank you for sharing such a great project. I plan on giving them as gifts and I know my friends will love them, too. 🙂

  10. Anita Morton-Wilson says:

    I searched the Internet for a tote pattern that I liked. This one jumped out at me. I have made it and WOW! Everyone loves it. Including me! I would love a zipper panel in the top though. I am playing around with it, but wondered what your advice would be. Thank you for the wonderful pattern!

  11. This is a beautiful tote bag. I can’t wait to make it for my summer shopping trips. Thanks so much for the free tutorial.

  12. is there a way to print without all the garbage around it…. i select print and it 18 pages!!! and it seems to be all garbage, only like 3 pages of instruction

    1. Hi Nelli,
      There is a green ‘print PDF’ button at the bottom of each post that will enable you to print it without ads, and choose the photos that you want to keep.

      Hope that helps!


  13. Hello Caroline. Since I have retired, I find "usable" sewing projects that my grandchildren can use.
    I sewed this tote pattern for them to carry books and writing materials, that I will give them for Christmas.
    They will love them! I love them! I eventually will try out all of your totes.
    Thanks for the pics and wonderful directions.

  14. Lori Rodgers says:

    Just cut out pieces for the picnic tote, going to use laminated cotton for exterior. Thanks for the pattern!

  15. OK ladies that have made this, how did you get the straps out of a half yard of fabric when most cotton fabric is 44" or less? What are you using for your straps? I wanted to use quilting fabric that matches.

    1. So if you have 1/2 yard of fabric (18”) you can cut 3 strips 6” x 40”. Cut one of those 3 strips in half and sew it to the ends of the first two. That will give you two strips at least 6”x 59”. Trim to size as needed. 🙂

  16. There is a link closer to the top for the pattern pieces, but not the usual “pink box” at the end with the link for the entire pattern. Thanks very much.

  17. Sweet! Just realized there was a pattern a day…since your emails were going into allmail instead of inbox. Thanks so much!

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