Sew a cute clamshell bag just the way you like it! Without anything fancy, this zipper bag is just right for holding supplies, cosmetics, or small things when you travel. But if you add exterior pockets and handles it makes a darling handbag. The finished size is approximately 9 1/2’’ wide and 5 1/2’’ tall (not including any handles).
This blog post has been converted to an optional PDF that’s optimized for printing. Find it here. The blog post below includes everything you need including a free template in the materials list and is totally free to read, print, and sew! Just hit CTRL +P on your computer to print. The Optimized for Printing PDF download for $2 is totally optional.
This little bag is nice and sturdy thanks to the layers of quilting cotton and foam stabilizer quilted together. I worked out the size so that it’s just right for fat quarters! Yes – just grab 2 fat quarters (one for the exterior and one for the inside.
I also included piping around the main seam. You can leave off the piping if you want – but I hope you don’t! I’ll show you the easiest way to sew it on and believe me, piping adds so much personality to this bag – you’ll love it! Plus it hides any waviness in your seam. There are special piping feet for most sewing machines, but I’ve never bothered to order one, I just use a zipper foot. 🙂
The zipper on this bag is one of the easiest you’ll sew using the same insertion technique that I teach in my free Designer Zipper Bag video course. I recommend using a wide handbag zipper (YKK size 4.5 or a piece of Zipper by the Yard).
The fancy version of the clamshell bag takes a little longer to sew, but it’s totally fun. There are small exterior pockets on both sides and easy to find hardware to give it some bling. These are the same handles that I put on one of my Speedy Patchwork Totes. Since the handles clip on, you can leave them off anytime you want, or use them on another bag.
So are you ready? Let’s sew a Clamshell Bag or two or three!
Clamshell Bag Pattern
To make the plain bag you will need:
1 fat quarter of quilting cotton for the exterior (or 1/2 yard if buying yardage)
1 fat quarter of quilting cotton for the interior (or 1/2 yard if buying yardage)
a 18’’ x 21 1/2’’ piece of foam stablizer, quilt batting, or fusible fleece (I used Soft and Stable)
1 zipper 15’’ or longer (I used a piece of Zipper By the Yard)
1/2 a package (1 1/4 yards) of Wrights Maxi Piping
1/4 yard of fabric for making bias binding (FQ is fine)
small scraps of fabric for the pull tabs at the ends of the zipper
fabric pen or marker
If you want to make the fancy bag, you will also need:
1/4 yard fabric for the straps and handles
1/2 yard medium weight fusible interfacing for the straps and handles (I used Pellon SF101)
Initial Cutting and Quilting
1. Trim your fat quarters to 18’’ x 21 1/2’’, or cut two pieces of fabric that size. Cut a piece of stabilizer the same size. I used Soft and Stable foam stabilizer because I love the shape and body that it gives my bags. But you could substitute quilt batting or fusible fleece.
2. Smooth the first piece of fabric over your stabilizer (right side up) and baste all the way around 1/8’’ from the edge. Here’s a how-to blog post and video for this step.
Note: if you are using fusible fleece, you could press to fuse for this step instead of machine basting.
3. Smooth the second piece of fabric over the back of the stabilizer (right side up) and baste all the way around 1/8’’ from the edge.
4. Quilt the fabric and stabilizer together however you like. I used free motion quilting with rulers. Easy straight line quilting is a good option if you’re in a hurry. 🙂
Second Round of Cutting
1. From the quilted piece, cut:
1 rectangle 16’’ x 10 1/2’’ (body)
2 strips 2 1/4’’ x 14’’ (zipper panels)
2 rectangles 3 1/2’’ x 4 1/2’’ (zipper panel ends)
2 rectangles 4’’ x 4 1/2’’ only if you are making the fancy version (optional pockets)
2. From a coordinating fabric cut:
2 rectangles 3’’ x 4’’ for the pull tabs at the ends of the zippers
If you are making the fancy version, also cut:
2 fabric strips 2 1/4’’ x 4 1/2’’ for binding the pockets
2 fabric strips 4’’ x 15’’ for the d-ring straps
2 fabric strips 4’’ x 20’’ for the handles
2 fusible medium weight interfacing strips 4’’ x 12’’ for the d-ring straps
2 fusible medium weight interfacing strips 4’’ x 19’’ for the handles
Fuse the 4’’ x 12’’ pieces of interfacing to the 4’’ x 15’’ fabric strips, centering the interfacing on the fabric. Fuse the 4’’ x 19’’ pieces of interfacing to the 4’’ x 20’’ fabric strips, centering the interfacing on the fabric.
3. Use the 3’’ radius curve on the curved corner ruler or my 3” radius curve template to round the corners of the 16’’ x 10 1/2’’ quilted piece.
4. Baste around the edges of all of the quilted pieces 1/8’’ from the edge. This will ‘seal’ the edges and prevent the fabric from folding the wrong way when you sew the seams.
Cut and sew together 2 1/4’’ wide strips of fabric on the bias to make:
2 pieces 2 1/4’’ x 21’’
2 pieces 2 1/4’’ x 6’’
2 pieces 2 1/4’’ x 4 1/2’’ (for binding the zipper panel seams)
If you like, you can use my video tutorial for making 3 yards of bias binding from a fat quarter.
If you are making the plain version, skip the next section and start ‘Make the Zipper Panel’.
Make the Straps and Pockets
Follow these steps only if you are making the fancy version.
1. Fold each of the 4’’ wide fabric strips in half lengthwise and press. Open and fold the long edges to the center, press. Fold in half again and press to make 4 strips, each one 1’’ wide.
2. Topstitch along the long edges, 1/8’’ from the edge.
Set the 20’’ long strips aside for making handles.
3. Push one end of one of the 15’’ long strips through a d-ring and fold the end over by 1’’. Sew in a small rectangle to secure the end.
Repeat to sew d-rings to both ends of both 15’’ long strips.
4. Bind the top edge of the 4’’ x 4 1/2’’ pocket pieces as follows:
Fold the 2 1/4’’ x 4 1/2’’ fabric strips in half lengthwise and press.
Pin or clip a strip to top edge of the back (lining) side on a pocket piece.
Stitch with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.
Flip the binding over to the front (right) side and stitch close to the fold.
Repeat to bind the top edge of both pocket pieces.
5. Use the fabric pen to draw 4 lines on the quilted body piece with curved corners.
Measuring from one short end, draw a line 6’’ away from the end and another line 5 3/4’’ away from the end.
Measure from the opposite side and draw two similar lines on the other end of the body piece.
6. Place one of the pocket pieces in the center of the body piece with the right sides together. Place the 4 1/2’’ raw edge (the bottom of the pocket) along one of the lines that is 5 3/4’’ from the end as seen above.
Pin the pocket in place.
The line that is 6’’ away from the edge will run under the pocket and will act as a guide for stitching the bottom of the pocket next.
7. Stitch across the bottom of the pocket 1/4’’ away from the edge. Imagine that you are sewing on top of the line that is 6’’ away from the end.
8. Remove the pins and fold the pocket up. Now the wrong side of the pocket will be against the right side of the bag body.
Topstitch across the bottom of the pocket 1/4’’ away from the bottom edge. This will enclose the raw edge of the previous seam.
Repeat to sew the remaining pocket on the other side of the body piece.
Pin the pockets down against the bag body.
9. Pin one of the d-ring straps across the bag body, covering one side of each pocket. Make sure to center it so that the d-rings extend past the pockets the same amount on both sides.
10. Stitch all the way around the strap, sewing on top of the topstitching on the strap.
Sew across each end of the strap, making sure that you enclose the top edge of the pockets. Switch to a heavy duty needle (size 100/16) if needed).
Repeat to sew the remaining d-ring strap to cover the opposite side of the pockets.
Make the Zipper Panel
1. Center the 15’’ long zipper across one long edge of a 2 1/4’’ x 14’’ zipper panel piece, with the top of the zipper face down against the right side of the zipper panel piece.
Pin or clip in place.
2. Switch to the zipper foot on your sewing machine and sew the zipper to the zipper panel piece with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.
3. Flip the piece over. Carefully trim 1/8’’ away from the seam allowance, cutting the fabric and foam only, not the zipper tape.
Then fold the zipper away from the panel and finger press the zipper tape against the back of the panel, covering the trimmed seam allowance.
4. Topstitch on the right side, 1/8’’ away from the zipper. Make sure the zipper tape underneath is flat against the back so the trimmed seam will be enclosed for a neat finish.
5. Pin or clip the other zipper tape to a long edge of the remaining zipper panel piece, right sides together.
Stitch with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.
Trim the seam allowance and topstitch as before.
Trim away the ends of the zipper even with the short edges of the zipper panels.
6. Fold the two 3’’ x 4’’ zipper tab pieces in half (wrong sides together) with the 3’’ edges matching. Open and fold the 3’’ edges to the center. Press. Fold in half again and press to make 2 strips 1’’ x 3’’.
Topstitch along the long edges, 1/8’’ from the edge.
7. Fold each tab in half and pin or clip to one end of the zipper panel, right on top of the zipper with the raw edges together.
Sew across the ends of the zipper tabs to attach them within the 1/4’’ seam allowance.
8. Pin or clip one of the 3’’ x 4 1/2’’ zipper panel end pieces to an end of the zipper panel, right sides together with the tab sandwiched in between.
Stitch with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.
9. Fold one of the 2 1/4’’ x 4 1/2’’ binding pieces in half, wrong sides together and press.
Turn the zipper panel over and pin or clip the binding to the short edge with the raw edges aligned.
Stitch with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.
10. Open the zipper end panel and fold the binding against it. The binding does not wrap around the raw edges here, but will simply lay flat and cover it up. Stitch the binding down against the zipper end panel.
Repeat to sew an end piece to the other side of the zipper panel and use the 2 1/4’’ x 4 1/2’’ binding piece to cover the raw edges.
Attach the Piping to the Zipper Panel
1. Remove the maxi piping from the package and press it to remove the folds.
I don’t usually pin or clip it all the way around the zipper panel, but I like to clip the first 6’’ or so to help me get started.
Pin or clip the binding along one long edge of the zipper panel, with about 1/2’’ extra extending past the short end.
Use a zipper foot (or piping foot) to sew right on top of the stitches that are on the piping. This will make a 3/8’’ seam allowance.
When you approach a corner, cut a clip in the piping 3/8’’ away from the corner to help the piping turn the corner.
Overlap the piping at the starting corner to finish and backstitch. Trim away the extra piping.
Assemble the Clamshell Zipper Bag
1. Mark the center of each side of the zipper panel. Mark the center of each side of the bag body piece also.
2. Pin or clip the zipper panel to the bag body piece, right sides together.
To start, match the center of one long edge of the zipper panel with the center of one shorter edge of the bag body piece. Pin or clip in a few places.
Continue pinning or clipping the zipper panel to the body. Cut 1/4’’ clips into the zipper panel to help it curve around the corners of the body.
Match the center marks at the short ends of the zipper panel to the center marks on the long edges of the body piece and pin or clip the edges together.
Cut 1/4’’ clips into the body piece to help it turn the corners.
Clip all the way around the bag before you start sewing.
3. The main seam in the bag is sewn all the way around in a circle. You can start anywhere, but I find it easier to start at the top.
Begin sewing on the zipper panel, on top of the stitching that was used to attach the piping. Follow the stitching for the piping (sewing right on top of it) so that your piping will look great when you finish. Since the piping was attached with a 3/8’’ seam allowance, this seam allowance will be the same.
When you approach a corner, stop with the needle down 3/8’’ before the corner and pivot.
Then sew across the short end and pivot at the next corner.
Continue sewing around the bag with a 3/8’’ seam allowance (sewing on top of the piping stitches) until you reach the place where you started. Backstitch and cut threads.
Turn the bag right side out and check your seams. Almost done!
Bind the Raw Edges
1. Turn the bag inside out again. Fold a 2 1/4’’ x 21’’ piece of bias binding in half lengthwise, wrong sides together and press.
Pin or clip it to the top of the bag along the raw edge on one side with about 1/2’’ – 1’’ hanging off the bottom at either end.
2. Sew the binding on with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.
3. Flip the binding around the seam to the other side. Stitch it down close to the fold.
Sew the other 2 1/4’’ x 21’’ bias binding piece to the seam on the other side of the bag.
Trim away the extra binding at the ends.
4. Sew a 2 1/4’’ x 6’’ binding piece to one end of the bag in the same way.
When you wrap this piece of binding over to the other side, tuck the ends in to hide them for a neat finish. Stitch in place.
Repeat to bind the other end of the bag.
If you’ve made the plain version of the clamshell zipper bag, you’re done!
If you still need to make handles, keep reading…
Make the Handles
1. You should still have 2 bag handle straps left that are 1’’ x 20’’ and 4 swivel snap clips.
Push the end of one strap through a clip by about 1 1/2’’. Fold over and then turn the raw edge under by about 1/2’’. Sew in a small rectangle to secure the clip.
Repeat 3 more times so there is a swivel snap clip at both ends of the handles.
2. Fold each handle in half lengthwise and sew right on top of the topstitching, starting and ending about 1 1/2’’ from each clip.
Read more about this handle technique here.
Clip the handles to your bag and enjoy.
If you make this sewing pattern or any of my other ones, I hope you show me by posting a picture to Instagram and tagging me @sewcanshe or #sewcanshe.
Make sure you check out my other free bag patterns too.
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. 🙂