Simple Japanese Style Square Bag: Free Sewing Pattern in 2 Sizes

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Learn to sew an easy tote bag with a boxy shape. This Japanese-inspired design is perfect for a beginner – the shape is made with some easy darts sewn into the side of the bag. This free sewing pattern includes instructions for making two different sizes so you’ll have the perfect size bags for yourself or to give as a gift.

These bags were inspired by some beautiful Japanese bags that I saw at Houston Quilt Market this year. You might call it a bucket bag, but that doesn’t sound elegant enough. The large size requires one yard of fabric for the exterior and one yard for the lining. It’s perfect for carrying groceries, packages, an extra set of clothes, or sewing supplies for your next quilt retreat.

The small size is fat quarter friendly – you only need two fat quarters for each bag. It’s so sweet and handy. I think I’ll use the darker one above as a casual purse for just my wallet, phone, and a few other items. It would also make the perfect simple lunch bag.

This blog post has been converted to an optional PDF that’s optimized for printing. Find it here. The free Simple Japanese Style Square 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 pattern 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? Check it out.

Finished Dimensions for the Large and Small Tote Bags

The large bag is approximately 10” x 11” on the bottom and 15” tall at the high points where the straps are attached.

The small bag is approximately 5” x 6” on the bottom and 9” tall at the high points where the straps are sewn on.

Tips for Choosing Fabric and Thread

This is a simple bag pattern with no stabilizer or interfacing. As such, the bags will lay flat and fold up easily for storage. They are ideal for keeping in the car for any need that may arise.

I used regular quilting cotton for all of my bags. If you want a sturdier result, you could use linen, linen-cotton blend, cotton canvas, or other upholstery-weight fabric. If you want to sew sturdier bags using quilting cotton, I suggest fusing Pellon SF101 interfacing to your exterior fabric before sewing the pieces together.

For bags and pouches, I always use polyester thread because it has a tiny bit of stretch, unlike cotton thread. This prevents the thread from breaking with heavy use.

So let’s get started making beautiful Japanese style square bags!

For the Large Bag, You Will Need:

  • 1 yard of fabric for the bag exterior
  • 1 yard of fabric for the bag lining

For the Small Bag, You Will Need

  • 1 fat quarter (18” x 21” piece of fabric) for the bag exterior
  • 1 fat quarter (18” x 21” piece of fabric) for the bag lining

You may also use 1/2 yard of fabric for the entire small bag, cutting the exterior and lining from the same fabric.

You Will Also Need:

  • Thread
  • Cutting tools: scissors, rotary cutter, acrylic ruler, and cutting mat
  • Iron and ironing board
  • A sewing machine
  • A fabric marking pen or pencil
  • Sewing pins
  • Chopstick or turning tool
  • A safety pin for turning the small straps

Cutting Instructions

To Make the Large Bag, Cut:

  • 1 square of fabric 31” x 31” for the bag exterior
  • 1 square of fabric 31” x 31” for the bag lining
  • 2 rectangles 4” x 30” for the bag straps

The strap pieces may be cut from either fabric, depending on whether you want them to match the outside of the bag or the inside.

To Make The Small Bag, cut:

  • 1 square of fabric 18” x 18” for the bag exterior
  • 1 square of fabric 18” x 18” for the bag lining
  • 2 rectangles 1 1/2” x 18” from the exterior fabric
  • 2 rectangles 1 1/2” x 18” from the lining fabric

Because we have less fabric to work with, the straps for the smaller bag are made using a different technique than the larger bag’s straps. The smaller straps are two-sided and use both fabrics.

How to Sew The Large Japanese Style Square Bag

Use a 3/8” seam allowance, except where noted.

Make the Bag Straps

1. Fold the 4” x 30” fabric strips in half lengthwise (wrong sides together) and press. Then open and fold the long edges to the center and press. Fold in half again and press to make two 1” x 30” strips.

2. Topstitch along both long edges, close to the edge.

Make the Bag Body

1. Place the two 31” squares right sides together and pin them together around all sides. Sew around the square with a 3/8” seam allowance, leaving a 6” opening for turning.

2. Trim away the extra fabric at the corners.

3. Turn the square right side out through the opening. Gently push the corners out using the chopstick or turning tool. Press it flat. Fold the raw edges at the opening to the inside and press.

4. Topstitch around the square 1/8” from the edge, closing the opening at the same time.

Fold, Mark, and Sew Darts to Shape the Bag

1. Fold the square bag in half with the lining fabric on the outside. Press the folded edge. Use the pencil or fabric marker to make marks on the folded edge and sides 7” away from the corners of the folded edge. Connect the marks with drawn lines, as shown.

2. Open the square and fold it in half again, as if to press it in quarters. Press the folded edge once more. The previous fold should be apparent as a horizontal line and one of the previously marked lines should be visible as a downward angle toward the previous fold line.

Use the pencil or fabric marker to make marks the same marks on the folded edge and sides 7” away from the corners of the folded edge. Connect the marks with drawn lines, as shown.

3. Place pins along the lines that you just drew. Don’t worry about the other two lines right now.

4. Sew along the drawn lines to make wide darts, neatly backstitching at the beginning and end of each dart.

5. Open the bag and re-fold it along the fold line first pressed in Step 1 of ‘Fold, Mark, and Sew Darts to Shape the Bag.’

The bag will no longer lay flat because of the darts. That’s okay. Place the upper corners together and pin along the dart lines you drew first. Sew along the lines as before to make the last two darts.

6. With the bag inside out, open each dart and press it flat, making a triangle shape. Pin the open edge of the dart closed through all layers. I used two pins, as shown above.

7. Sew a single straight line across the open edge of the dart to close it and sew the dart to the sides of the bag so it won’t get in the way.

This line of stitching will be visible from the outside of the bag, so be sure to use matching thread in your bobbin.

Tip: Pull the bobbin thread to the top before starting to attach each dart. This will prevent a ‘nest’ of thread on the outside of the bag.

Repeat to secure all 4 darts to the inside of the bag.

Add the Bag Straps

1. Fold both ends of each strap over by about 1/2” and press.

2. Turn the bag right side out. Pin the ends of one strap to adjacent upper corners, with the folded edges of each strap against the lining side of the bag.

The folded end of each strap should be placed about 1” below the corner point so that the raw edges of the folded-under edges do not show.

3. Neatly sew in a square to secure the strap to the bag. Sew an X in the middle of the square for extra strength, if desired.

Attach the two ends of each strap to the top corners of the bag.

How to Sew The Small Japanese Style Square Bag

Use a 1/4” seam allowance, except where noted.

Make the Bag Straps

1. Place an exterior fabric and a lining fabric 1 1/2” x 18” strip right sides together and sew along both long edges. Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of the seams.

Repeat for the second strap.

2. Use the safety pin to turn each strap right side out. Press the straps flat. Topstitch along both long edges, 1/8” away from the side edges.

Make the Bag Body

This part of the step-by-step photo tutorial does not have as many photos as were shown for the large bag. Refer to the large bag instructions for more photos.

1. Place the two 18” squares right sides together and pin them together around all sides. Sew around the square with a 1/4” seam allowance, leaving a 4-5” opening for turning.

2. Trim away the extra fabric at the corners.

3. Turn the square right side out through the opening. Gently push the corners out using the chopstick or turning tool. Press it flat. Fold the raw edges at the opening to the inside and press.

4. Topstitch around the square 1/8” from the edge, closing the opening at the same time.

Fold, Mark, and Sew Darts to Shape the Bag

1. Fold the square bag in half with the lining fabric on the outside. Press the folded edge. Use the pencil or fabric marker to make marks on the folded edge and sides 4 1/2” away from the corners of the folded edge. Connect the marks with drawn lines, as shown.

2. Open the square and fold it in half again, as if to press it in quarters. Press the folded edge once more. The previous fold should be apparent as a horizontal line and one of the previously marked lines should be visible as a downward angle toward the previous fold line.

Use the pencil or fabric marker to make marks the same marks on the folded edge and sides 4 1/2” away from the corners of the folded edge. Connect the marks with drawn lines, as shown.

3. Place pins along the lines that you just drew. Don’t worry about the other two lines right now.

4. Sew along the drawn lines to make wide darts, neatly backstitching at the beginning and end of each dart.

5. Open the bag and re-fold it along the fold line first pressed in Step 1 of ‘Fold, Mark, and Sew Darts to Shape the Bag.’

The bag will no longer lay flat because of the darts. That’s okay. Place the upper corners together and pin along the dart lines you drew first. Sew along the lines as before to make the last two darts.

6. With the bag inside out, open each dart and press it flat, making a triangle shape. Pin the open edge of the dart closed through all layers.

7. Sew a single straight line across the open edge of the dart to close it and sew the dart to the sides of the bag so it won’t get in the way.

This line of stitching will be visible from the outside of the bag, so be sure to use matching thread in your bobbin.

Tip: Pull the bobbin thread to the top before starting to attach each dart. This will prevent a ‘nest’ of thread on the outside of the bag.

Repeat to secure all 4 darts to the inside of the bag.

Add the Bag Straps

1. With a strap exterior side up, fold both ends of each strap over to the front about 1/2” and press. The lining side of the strap should be showing on the ends where it is folded.

2. Turn the bag right side out. Pin the ends of one strap to adjacent upper corners, with the folded edges of each strap against the lining side of the bag.

The folded end of each strap should be placed about 1” below the corner point so that the raw edges of the folded-under edges do not show.

3. Neatly sew in a square to secure the strap to the bag. Sew an X in the middle of the square for extra strength, if desired.

Attach the two ends of each strap to the top corners of the bag.

Aren’t these Japanese tote bags the most beautiful and easy bags you ever made?

As always, I love to see what you make with my tutorials. Please post a picture to Instagram and tag me @sewcanshe or #sewcanshe so I can see!

Are you looking for more fast and easy sewing projects for just a yard of fabric? Check out:

  • Every friend and family member loves a new apron. This free apron pattern takes only a yard of fabric.
  • I designed this easy tote bag for Halloween, but it’s great for all year and requires less than one yard of fabric for the entire bag.
  • Learn how to sew a pillowcase with exactly one yard of fabric and no waste! This super easy pillowcase tutorial is perfect for beginners or for charity sewing.

Or see my collection of over 50 stash busting sewing patterns for 1 yard of fabric or less.

Happy sewing,

Caroline

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. 🙂