Teacher Tote Bags to Sew in a Flash! {free sewing pattern}

how to sew a canvas tote bag.jpg

Your kids’ teachers are the best! Show them that by sewing fast and easy teacher tote bags using canvas and cotton fabrics.

Use this free pattern to sew a fast and easy canvas tote bag complete with a zipper top and pretty quilting cotton straps  – it’s the best of both fabrics! Since the body of this tote bag is made with medium weight canvas or duckcloth, no lining is required. You could use more canvas for the zipper panel and straps if you choose, instead of quilting cotton. This bag makes the perfect machine embroidery project because the front and back of the bag are ready for a beautiful embroidery design! Oh, and it’s also fat quarter friendly – what more could you want???

{Hey! This free pattern is included in my Ultimate List of Fast and Easy Tote Bags to Sew. Check it out.}

As you can see, my favorite feature of this teacher tote bag is probably the inset zipper panel. But don’t let the word ‘zipper’ scare you off – I will show you sewing tips that make it the easiest zipper to install ever.




Once again I was inspired by fabric! The straps and zipper panels for my beautiful DIY tote bags were sewn from this collection – Colebrook from QT Fabrics. These fabrics are subtle enough to use as blenders, but beautiful on their own too. I love the classic colors of red, white and black.


free teacher superpower embroidery design


The sides of this bag are approximately 16” x 17” – a nice large embroidery field. Grab my free Teacher Superhero Machine Embroidery Design here (3 different sizes are included). Of course the embroidery is optional.

Then, let’s sew some canvas tote bags!

Teacher Tote Bag Free Sewing Pattern

You will need:

  • 1/2 yard canvas or duck cloth fabric (recommended 8-10 oz weight)
  • 1/3 yard (or 2 coordinating fat quarters) of pretty quilting cotton fabric
  • 1 zipper, 18” or longer (see notes below)
  • cotton batting or fusible fleece scraps for the straps
  • fabric marking pen
  • wash away Wonder Tape for attaching the zipper (optional but very handy!)
  • sewing machine (with walking foot if available)
  • cutting tools
  • thread, pins, etc.

zippers for canvas tote bag


Zipper tips:

I used handbag zippers for this sewing project because the tapes are wider and they have a nice big zipper pull. I also find them easier to work with when sewing tote bags. You could also use regular 18” or longer zippers.


Teacher Tote Bag Cutting Instructions:

From the canvas or duck cloth fabric, cut:

  • 2 squares 18” x 18” (optional – embroider your design now, centered within the 18” square)

From the quilting cotton fabric, cut:

  • 2 strips 5” x 22” for the straps
  • 2 strips 5” x 18” for the zipper panel
  • 2 strips 2 1/2” x 4” for the tabs

From the cotton batting or fusible fleece scraps, cut:

  • 2 long narrow strips 1” x 22”

How to make the bag straps and tab:

1. Press the long strap rectangles in half lengthwise, then press the long edges to the center.

2. Insert one of the long batting or fusible fleece strips under one of the folded edges.

3. Fold the strip up to make a strap approximately 1 1/4” wide and 22” long. Clip the edges together, if desired.


4. Topstitch close to both long edges.

Sewing tip: Use a walking foot if your sewing machine has one – it helps to keep the layers even.


5. Even though I won’t need them until later, I like to save time and make my tabs now too. Fold and press the 2 1/2” x 4” rectangles in the same way that you pressed the straps, except you won’t need batting strips.

Tip: Put the 2 1/2” ends together for the first fold (not the 4” edges). Your finished tab pieces should measure approximately 1 1/4” x 2 1/2”.

Topstitch the tabs in the same way too and set them aside for now.


How to Sew the Canvas Bag Body:

1/2” seam allowance allowed.

1. Pin the two 18” x 18” canvas pieces right sides together. Sew around the sides and bottom edge. Finish the seams with a serger or zig zag stitch.

2. To box the corners, draw a 1 1/2” square at the two bottom corners of the bag. Cut the square away at both corners.


3. Flatten a corner, folding the seams along the bottom and side of the bag in opposite directions. Stitch across the raw edge.

Finish this seam with a serger or zig zag stitch.

4. Repeat these steps to box both corners.

How to Attach the Straps:

1. Turn the canvas bag body right sides out. Using the fabric marking pen, make marks at the top 4” away from each side edge.


2. Pin a strap to the bag exterior with the strap ends centered over the marks and the raw edges lined up with the top of the bag. Stitch across the top, 1/4” away from the edge to secure the strap. Repeat steps 1-2 with the remaining strap on the other side of the bag.


How to Sew the Inset Zipper Panel:

1. Press the two 5” x 18” panel rectangles in half lengthwise (wrong sides together) to make 2 1/2” x 18” pieces.

2. Mark the folded edge of each piece 1 1/4” from the ends (both ends – 4 markings total).

3. Cut two 16” long pieces of Wonder Tape and adhere them close to the edges of the zipper as shown above.

Wonder Tape really makes sewing zipper so easy!


4. Remove the paper from one side of the zipper and place a fabric piece with the folded edge right on top of the sticky Wonder Tape. Press with your fingers so that the fabric adheres well to the zipper.


5. Repeat to adhere the second fabric strip to the other side of the zipper. Take care so that the fabric strips are lined up across from each other. Note the markings on the fabric that are 1 1/4” from each end.


6. Topstitch along folded edge of the fabric to attach it to the zipper, starting and stopping at the marks that you made 1 1/4” from the ends of the fabric.

If you are using a wide handbag zipper, you might not need to use a zipper foot on your sewing machine. But, of course, switch to you zipper foot if you have trouble getting close to the folded edge of the fabric.

Topstitch a second time 1/4” away from the folded edge. Then repeat this step on the other side of the zipper.


This is what the back of the zipper panel should look like. 🙂


7. Open up the folded ends of the zipper panel pieces and pin them right sides together. This bit is fiddly, but not difficult. Stitch across with a 1/2” seam allowance.


Finger-press the seam open, and fold it together. This is pretty easy because you are simply re-folding along the pressed lines, but it makes a triangle corner on the underside of the zipper as you see above right.


8. With the zipper panel right side up, fold the end so that the seam is lying on top of the zipper teeth. Use the fabric marking pen to draw a line across the end of the zipper panel 1” above the bottom of the corner. Stitch across this line.

Repeat at the other end of the zipper panel. Notice that at the end where the zipper is open, you should hold the tapes together.


9. Trim away the extra zipper tapes past the corner of the panel. You may also trim this seam 1/2” away from the stitching and finish the raw edges together, if desired. This corner does not bother me and I didn’t want to add more work, so I skipped it.


10. Fold a tab piece in half with the raw edges together and pin it to a side seam on the top of the zipper panel. Stitch across the top 1/4” from the edge. Repeat with the remaining tab piece on the other side of the zipper panel.


How to Attach the Zipper Panel to the Teacher Tote Bag Body:

1. Open the zipper at least half way and turn the bag body wrong side out.

Pin the zipper panel to the top of the bag, right sides together, matching the side seams (the tabs will be sandwiched in between the side seams).


2. Sew all the way around the top of the bag with a 1/2” seam allowance. Finish the raw edges together with a serger or zig zag stitch.

3. Turn the bag right side out through the open zipper. Press the zipper panel toward the inside of the bag, making a nice crisp top edge.


4. Topstitch around the top edge, using the edge of your presser foot as a guide.


Done! Now make lots more teacher tote bags using beautiful canvas fabric and fat quarters!

Don’t forget to check out the other amazing bags on my Ultimate List of Fast and Easy Tote Bags to Sew and the beautiful fabrics at QT Fabrics


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. 🙂