/ / Sew Easy Big Tote Bag – free sewing tutorial

Sew Easy Big Tote Bag – free sewing tutorial

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I’m so excited to share with you a super easy, super gorgeous bag that is soooo fast to sew.

I made this bag in just a couple hours, and I was taking pictures along the way!

UPDATE: This blog post has been converted to an optional PDF that’s optimized for printing. Find it here.


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The magic ingredient that gives this bag it’s beautiful shape is flexible foam stabilizer (I love ByAnnie Soft and Stable). It makes my quilted bags look like Vera Bradley designer totes.

If you are really short on time or you would just rather not do the quilting – no problem. It’s totally optional.


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This DIY bag really is big enough to hold all your things. Not including the straps, it is approximately 14’’ tall, 19’’ wide, and 4’’ deep.

I shared an add-on tutorial showing how to add a zipper here.

So let’s get on with my the sewing tutorial. It’s all below…


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How to Sew a Big Easy Tote Bag

You will need:

  • 1 yard of fabric for the bag*

  • 1/2 yard of fabric for the straps

  • 1/2 yard of foam stabilizer (at least 40’’ wide – ByAnnie Soft and Stable is 60’’ wide)

  • 1/2 to 1 yard of fusible interfacing for the straps**

*Please note that if you use directional fabric, your fabric design will be right side up on the bag exterior, but it will be upside down on the inside of the bag. My rose fabric in the pictures (from Anna Griffin) is actually directional with rose bouquets. I purposefully made the exterior right side up, but the bouquets on the inside are not. This doesn’t bother me, but you should keep it in mind.

** Interfacing tip: for these straps, I like the effect of Pellon 809 Decor-Bond because it gives a crisp, firm feel. It requires patience to ensure that it is completely fused to the strap before folding and sewing it. If you prefer, Pellon SF101 woven fusible interfacing is a little bit simpler to work with – I find it fuses faster and folds easier.


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Cutting

1. From the bag fabric, cut a rectangle 33’’ tall and 42’’ wide.

2. From the foam stabilizer, cut a rectangle 16’’ x 40’’. I find it’s easier to cut large foam pieces by marking them with a pen and ruler first before cutting. If you are using light fabric, be sure to cut inside any dark lines so they won’t show through.

3. From the strap fabric, cut:

  • 2 strips 6’’ x 40’’

  • 4 strips 6’’ x 10’’

The straps are cut out and sewn specifically so that the seams in the straps are sewn to the bag – not directly subjected to the weight of the bag and its contents.

4. From the fusible interfacing, cut enough 6’’ strips to cover two 6’’ x 49’’ straps with slight overlap.


Attach the Foam Stabilizer

1. Place the foam stabilizer piece against the wrong side of the bag fabric rectangle with the 40’’ long edge of the foam centered on one of the 42’’ long edges of the fabric and 1/2’’ away from the raw edge.

Pin in place.


2. Baste the foam stabilizer to the fabric, 1/8’’ away from the edge of the foam.


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3. Fold the fabric over the stabilizer, smoothing it flat on both sides. At the top there is a fold and at the bottom, two fabric raw edges with stabilizer in between.


Turn the piece over so you can see the basting stitches from Step 2. Pin the raw edges together along the bottom edge.

It is not very important that the raw edges at the bottom line up. It is more important that the fabric on both sides of the piece is nice and smooth.


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4. Baste again, right on top of the previous line of basting stitches. This time you are catching both layers of fabric.


Topstitching and Optional Quilting

The topstitching on this bag is necessary, but the quilting is optional.

1. Choose one side of the main bag piece to be the exterior. If your fabric is directional, choose the side that has the fabric print right side up.

The other side will be the inside of the tote.

Topstitch along the top (folded) edge of the bag, 1/2’’ away from the fold.


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2. If you wish to quilt your bag – now is your chance! Keep all quilting below the topstitching line across the top.

I used the even feed foot (walking foot) along with a guide and sometimes a ruler to sew diagonal lines in two directions.

Note that my diagonal lines never crossed over the topstitching – I always turned and stitched in a different direction (that’s why I needed both my guide and my ruler).


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If the raw edges of the fabric become uneven during the quilting, don’t worry – I planned a bit of extra fabric on the sides that you will trim away.

Feel free to sew wavy lines, straight lines in a different direction, or free motion quilt your bag. Or no quilting at all. It’s up to you.


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3. We started out with 1” of extra fabric on each side. You only need 1/2” of extra fabric on each side now. So use your ruler to determine where the edge of the foam is and cut off the extra fabric 1/2” past the edge of the foam.

Repeat on the other side.


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4. Measure the width of the piece and use a fabric pen to draw a vertical line down the center (on the exterior side of the bag). I like to use a Frixion pen because the ink disappears with the heat from my iron.

Note: my piece shrunk a bit during quilting. It is now only 40’’ wide and the foam on the inside is only 39’’ wide.


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5. Topstitch along the vertical line, starting at the bottom raw edge and stopping at the line of topstitching along the folded edge.

You can either backstitch neatly at the top, or pivot 180 degrees and sew back down to the bottom edge (that’s what I did).

Note: This vertical line of topstitching will act as one side ‘seam’ on the finished bag. Imagine that each section on either side of this topstitching will become one side of the bag.


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Make the Straps

1. For each strap, sew a 6’’ x 10’’ piece to both ends of a 6’’ x 40’’ strip to make two 6’’ x 49’’ strips (using a 1/4’’ seam allowance). Press the seams open.


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2. Apply 6’’ wide fusible interfacing strips to the back of both strap pieces. Leave 1/2’’ without interfacing at both short ends and if you don’t have 6’’ x 58’’ pieces of interfacing, let the interfacing strips overlap by 1/4’’ to ensure smooth coverage.


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3. Fold each strap in half lengthwise and press. Open and fold the long edges to the center and press. Fold in half again, press, and secure the folded edges together with Wonderclips.


4. Topstitch along both long edges of each strap, 1/8’’ from the edge.


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5. Now we’ll use a fabric pen to draw 4 more vertical lines on the exterior side of the bag to help with strap placement.

Draw 2 vertical lines that are 7’’ away from the raw outer edges.

Then measuring from the center line, draw 2 vertical lines that are 6 1/2’’ from the center.


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6. Pin each strap to the sides of the bag as seen above.

Notice that the straps are not centered on the lines, but the inside edge of each strap is lined up against the lines.


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The raw edges of each strap should line up with the bottom raw edges of the bag.


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7. Attach the two long ends of each strap to the bag by sewing on top of the previous topstitching on the straps. Sew from the bottom raw edges up to within 1/2’’ of the top. Topstitch across the strap even with the topstitching on the bag. Then pivot and sew down the other edge of the strap back to the bottom edge.

Repeat this step a total of 4 times to secure both straps.


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Sew the Seams

1. Fold the bag in half, wrong sides together, lining up the short edges. The straps will be on the outside. Pin the side seam.

It is important that the top edges line up nicely. Don’t worry too much about the bottom raw edges right now.


2. Sew the side seam with a 3/8’’ seam allowance.


3. Trim the seam allowance to just 1/8’’.


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4. Turn the bag inside out. Sew across the side seam again with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.

You’ve just sewn a French seam! There are no raw edges showing and you didn’t have to make any binding. 🙂


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5. Sew another French seam along the bottom of the bag by pinning the raw edges together (with the bag right side out).


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This time sew 1/8’’ to the right of the basting stitches on the bottom of the bag.



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6. Trim the seam allowance to 1/8’’ and turn the bag inside out.

Stitch along the bottom edge with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.


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Box the Corners

1. Flatten each corner of the bag by making the bottom seam line up with the side seam (on one side the ‘side seam’ is only topstitching).

2. Use a fabric pen to draw a 4’’ long line across the corner. Pin the corner flat.


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3. Sew across the line, backstitching securely.


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Do you love your bag? I hope so! Post a picture to instagram and tag me @sewcanshe or #sewcanshe so I can see.

This free bag pattern will definitely go on my list of 14+ Tote Bags You Can Sew in an Afternoon. Check it out!

xoxo,


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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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19 Comments

  1. I do not understand Step 3 under Topstitching. I think there may be a typo. Please check, otherwise I am anxious to try this and thank you for the great directions and photos.

    1. No problem Geri.
      We started out with 1” of extra fabric on the sides. You only need 1/2” of extra now fabric on each side now. So use your ruler to determine where the edge of the foam is and cut off the extra fabric 1/2” past the edge of the foam.
      Does that help?

  2. I have a question about folding the fabric over the foam stabilizer… does that end up doubling the foam so the 17” tall becomes 8.5”?? Or was I to cut the 17×42 on a fold so I have foam stabilizer on half and have another 17×42 to fold over??? Thanks, I’m excited to make this!

    1. I’m so sorry – there was a typo in that cutting measurement. The fabric should be 33” tall x 42” wide. Thanks for letting me know!

  3. Thank you, Caroline. I’m borrowing New Orleans’ nickname, The Big Easy, for this bag. Great job!

  4. I love the fabric you used for your bag. Can you tell me where you purchased it from.

    1. The rose print is from Anna Griffin and the pink Calligraphy print is from QT Fabrics. I don’t know if either are still available. 🙂

  5. I think I read on your blog you were planning on sewing a zipper to the top of the bag…or you could have meant a different style of bag…all your bags are beautiful and so functional. If I am correct about the blog…how would the zipper be sewn in?

  6. What about pockets? Inside would be nice. Maybe 1 on the outside.

  7. Kathy Hart says:

    When cutting the fabric for the straps don’t you mean you need four 6×10 pieces and not four 6×20?

  8. Malinda J. says:

    I am so in love with that rose print fabric!! :O My sister has always talked about wanting to be able to design her own bags and purses– now that I’m (FINALLY) learning to sew, I think that I’ll make her one of these, with a nice sunflower print! Then she can let me know what changes she’d like to see…

    I definitely want to know how to add a zipper to the top. I love the security of a zipper– if my bag falls over or something, I want to know that the contents won’t just dump all over the place.

  9. Question— I am about to make 6 of these for a wedding party. When do you iron on the fusible foam stabilizer?

      1. This is where I got confused…see asterisks

        Cutting

        1. From the bag fabric, cut a rectangle 33’’ tall and 42’’ wide.

        2. From the fusible foam stabilizer, cut a rectangle 16’’ x 40’’.

  10. Wendy Hay says:

    I don’t have foam stablizer could I use heavy iron on interfacing as I am looking to make this as a grocery shopping tote, so it does not need to be firm (if you get what I am trying to say – lol).

  11. Hello, I made this beautiful tote bag, the instructions were very easy to follow. Love the result. I do have one question. What if I would rather have lining on the inside to avoid using the pretty (more expensive) fabric. Is there a way to do that with this method ? Thank you.

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