How to Sew a Big Color Blocked Tote Bag – free Sewing Pattern!
Get ready! I’m going to show you how to sew a tote bag, but not just any bag… You can sew a beautiful new bag – with a color blocked exterior that will make everyone say wow! And it’s actually a very easy pattern to sew. My big Color Blocked Tote Tutorial Bag is perfect for carrying everything you need for a short trip in the car, a a long airplane ride, or a relaxing cruise. Can you tell I can’t wait to travel again?
I suggest using 3 different colors of canvas fabric on the outside of this bag, quilting cotton on the inside, and foam stabilizer to help it hold it’s shape. You could use quilting cotton or another lightweight fabric on the exterior too – and in that case I’d recommend fusing some interfacing to it first – such as Pellon SF101.
UPDATE: 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. Of course, if you already own my PDF library of Optimized for Printing files, you can find it there too.
The Color Blocked Tote is large and roomy, with a recessed zipper and easy straps that have rivet embellishments.
Want pockets? That’s easy – you can use my Welt Zipper Pocket Tutorial to add a zipper pocket on the inside or outside – or both!
I filmed a short video to show you how to attach the rivets that I used on this bag and the tools you could use to apply them. The video will play automatically in the video player on this page. If it doesn’t, you can find it on my YouTube channel here. You can also skip the rivets and sew your tote bag handles on extra securely with an extra round of stitching instead.
By the way, if you are looking for something a bit smaller and cuter, don’t miss my Adorable Canvas Tote Bag free sewing pattern.
Are you ready to sew a color blocked tote! Let’s do it.
How to Sew a Big Color Blocked Tote Bag
You will need:
1/2 yard teal canvas fabric
1/4 yard cream or white canvas fabric
1/4 yard navy blue canvas fabric
1/2 yard cotton print fabric for the lining
1 handbag zipper, 20’’ or longer Note: I used a handbag zipper – it’s wider than a usual nylon zipper with a big pull. A regular nylon zipper would work ok too.
3/4 yard foam interfacing (such as ByAnnie’s Soft and Stable)
a 2’’ x 3’’ scrap of soft leather for the label (optional)
4 rivets and rivet tools (I used this set that I found on Amazon)
Note: It’s fine to use a lightweight fabric for the bag exterior (instead of canvas) – just fuse interfacing to the back of the fabric pieces before moving on. You might notice that the teal fabric I’m using isn’t canvas – it’s linen. I couldn’t find canvas in a color that I liked so I fused Pellon SF101 to the back of my linen pieces to make them approximately the same weight as the canvas.
From the teal canvas fabric, cut:
2 rectangles 6’’ x 19’’ for the bag exterior
2 strips 2’’ x 19’’ for the recessed zipper
2 strips 4’’ x 29’’ for the handles
From the cream or white canvas fabric, cut:
2 rectangles 6’’ x 19’’ for the bag exterior
From the navy blue canvas fabric, cut:
2 rectangles 8’’ x 19’’ for the bag exterior
From the lining fabric, cut:
2 rectangles 16 1/2’’ x 19’’
pocket piece(s), if using (optional)
From the foam stabilizer, cut:
2 squares 19’’ x 19’’
From either quilt batting scraps (what I used) or foam stabilizer), cut:
2 strips 1’’ x 28’’ for the handles
How to Sew the Bag Exterior:
1. For each of the bag sides, sew a teal, white, and navy fabric rectangle together with the white rectangle in the middle. Use a 1/4’’ seam allowance. Press the seams up and topstitch each seam.
2. Place each bag side piece on top of a 19’’ square of foam stabilizer. Baste the fabric to the stabilizer all the way around 1/4’’ from the edge.
Set the exterior pieces aside for now.
3. Mark and cut 2’’ squares from the bottom corners of the bag exterior pieces.
How to Sew the Bag Interior:
1. Lay a 16 1/2’’ x 19’’ bag lining piece on your work space right side up.
Lay the zipper along the top edge – also right side up.
Place one of the 2’’ x 19’’ teal strips (for the inset zipper) on top, right side down. Pin or clip in place.
2. Stitch along the top edge with a 1/4’’ seam allowance. Use a zipper foot if necessary. I was using a wide handbag zipper and a 1/4’’ foot – so a zipper foot wasn’t necessary.
3. Carefully press the inset zipper strip away from the zipper. Topstitch along the edge.
4. Place the remaining lining piece right side up on your work space.
Place the sewn lining piece right side down against it, with the unsewn zipper tape along the top edge. Once again, the zipper should be face up. Fold back the first inset zipper strip so it is out of the way.
Place the second inset zipper strip on top – right side down. Pin or clip in place.
5. Sew along the top edge with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.
6. Carefully press the inset zipper strip away from the zipper. Topstitch along the edge.
7. Mark and cut 2’’ squares from the corners of the bag lining pieces. (see below)
Assemble the Bag:
1. Pin the bag exterior pieces and interior piece right sides together.
2. Sew around the sides and bottom of the exterior with a 1/2’’ seam allowance.
3. Sew around the sides and bottom of the lining with a 1/2’’ seam allowance – leave a 6’’ opening at the bottom of the lining for turning the bag right side out later.
Press all of the seams open.
4. Trim away the excess zipper tapes in the lining seams, if needed.
5. Flatten each side seam against the bottom seam to make a boxed corner. Pin. Stitch across with a 1/2’’ seam allowance.
Add the Label (optional) and Handles:
1. If you want to add a label for embellishment, center the 2’’ x 3’’ leather scrap on the teal fabric. Adhere in place with a glue stick and then topstitch around it.
Tip: you could also add the label before sewing the sides together. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it – so I waited until this step to sew it on.
2. To make the handle straps, fold and press the ends of the 4’’ x 29’’ strips to the wrong side by 1/2’’.
Fold each strip in half lengthwise and press. Then fold the raw edges to the center and press.
Open the raw edges on one side and insert a 1’’ x 28’’ strip of quilt batting or foam stabilizer to give the strap body.
3. Refold the strap to make a 1’’ x 28’’ piece. Pin or clip all of the edges. Repeat for the second strap.
4. Topstitch all the way around each strap, 1/8’’ from the edge. Using a walking foot will help keep your strap straight and even.
5. Pin each strap to one side of the bag, with the strap ends centered between the label and the side seam. (If you did not attach a label, place the strap ends 4’’ from each side seam and 2’’ above the teal/white seam line.)
6. Topstitch a 1’’ square at the bottom of each strap to secure the strap. Sew around a second time to make the strap extra secure, if desired.
7. Open the zipper in the lining all the way.
With the bag right side out and the lining inside out, place the lining over the bag so that right sides are together. Pin or clip around the top edge.
8. Sew around the top edge with a 1/2’’ seam allowance.
9. Turn the bag right side out through the opening in the lining. Carefully press the top edge of the bag. Press the raw edges in the opening of the lining to the inside. Hand or machine sew the opening in the lining closed.
10. Topstitch around the top of the bag, 1/4’’ from the edge.
11. Attach the rivets to the bag handles using the manufacturer’s instructions.
See the video I made about the rivets that I used. It is located in this blog post or on YouTube here.
I can’t wait to see all the Color Blocked Totes that everyone makes. Please tag me on Instagram @sewcanshe so I can oooh and ahhh at yours!
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. 🙂
Love this, do you think little feet would work? I’m thinking is you take it to the pool it’s not sitting on the wet ground.
That’s a great idea. I’ve also seen buttons used for that if you can’t find the little feet.
I love this! Can you tell me what SA you used when connecting the exterior panels to equal 19" in height?
Thanks so much for this! This is a great size and a beautiful bag. I certainly need to get some of the handbag zippers you use. I think it make such a great visual statement.
I couldn’t find anywhere how to download free Sewing Pattern! ((((
Everything you need is in this blog post. Just hit CTRL + P on your computer to print. 🙂
Thank you for another fun pattern and great instructions! I’ll be making this today!!!
I love this tote! But…As a newbie (I mean FIRST bag newbie!) even though I have watched many hours of videos, I am so nervous about sewing a recessed zipper. Would you consider this bag beginner friendly? Also, I want to make one as a gift. Should I do a test bag first to become familiar with the pattern and to see if I run across any tricky parts? Thanks for your site! You always come up with interesting and fun content!
Absolutely! This is the easist way to put in a recessed zipper that I have ever shown. Doing a test project first is always a good idea. I do it because my second time sewing something is always better than my first!
I want to know how to get the heart log cabin pattern
Love bag. What are dimensions? Wondering if it will fit under airplane seat?
Thank you for another wonderful project! I am so appreciative of your continual generosity in sharing your patterns and techniques… thank you
I don’t see finished dimensions anywhere. Could you please provide? Thanks!
Where did you find the beautiful colors in canvas fabric?