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.

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


This blog post has been converted to an optional PDF that’s optimized for printing. Find it here. The free Picnic Tote Bag Pattern is included in the blog post below and is free to read, print, and sew! Just hit CTRL +P on your computer to print. The Optimized for Printing PDF download for $3 is optional. Did you know you can get ALL the Optimized for Printing PDF files organized in a library to access anytime you want? 

This free pattern is included in my Ultimate List of Fast and Easy Tote Bags to Sew.

The first fabric I picked 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.

Whenever I use quilting-weight cotton fabric to sew purses or totes, I stabilize it with some kind of interfacing, and Pellon Shape-flex interfacing 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.

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

Download and print the pattern templates.

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. 🙂