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Basket Tote with Invisible Zippered Pocket & Corded Handles

Sew, Jahit's take on the basket tote bag based on the pattern and tutorial by Sew Can She, with added invisible zippered pocket and corded handles.

Colourful basket tote on a wooden chair.

A couple of months ago, when I returned from India with some block print cotton fabrics, I knew I wanted to use them for a variety of projects that included a bag. With Mother’s Day around the corner, I offered to make one for my mother, and she picked this lovely teal peacock print on deep indigo base.

Using that as my main fabric, I chose a (polycotton) pink and white polka-dot, another coordinating teal block print fabric from my India stash, and a plain red cotton to form a vibrant and colourful combination.

Colourful fabric combination

I used the “DIY Basket Tote” pattern and tutorial from Sew Can She, with a few modifications that include:

1. Fusible felt (and hard interfacing) instead of foam stabilizer.

2. Additional 1-inch height to overall bag body.

3. Corded handles instead of padded straps.

4. Additional invisible zippered pocket at the exterior.


MODIFICATION NO. 1: Fusible Felt Instead of Foam Stabilizer

The first thing I did differently from the original tutorial was that I used fusible felt instead of foam stabilizer. This modification was largely due to unavailability of foam stabilizers. Where I reside, foam stabilizers are not common, so they aren’t available in local craft shops. I figured my best bet was Spotlight. Alas, even they ran out of foam stabilizers (the brand they carried was called Legacy), so I decided to just improvise by using a combination of hard interfacing and fusible felt.

As fusible felt are not “stiff” like foam stabilizers, I applied hard interfacing onto the "body piece" (as referred by the original tutorial) before applying fusible felt. The rest of the bag body (the “side pieces”) were applied with only fusible felt. This setup keeps the bag from drooping, especially with those heavy corded handles.

Hard interfacing has zero amount of give (not stretchable) and is very stiff. Therefore, it is imperative that you only apply it on parts that will not be subject to multi-directional curves i.e. curving in more than one direction.

In the case of this basket tote, the body piece only curves from one face of the bag, to the other. Therefore, it is perfect for adding hard interfacing. The side pieces, on the other hand, will ease into the curve of the body piece, so they cannot be applied with hard interfacing (because "easing" requires some amount of stretch and flexibility).


MODIFICATION NO. 2: Extra 1” Height

This one is simple. I laid the original pattern pieces vertically (as they would be oriented in the finished bag), sliced them horizontally in the middle. Then, I added a 2-inch horizontal strip to the body piece (1 inch for each face of the bag, since the body piece runs around the bag exterior from brim to brim), and a 1-inch horizontal strip to the side piece.

Similarly, each piping had to be lengthened by 2 inches (1 inch for each face of the bag, since the piping runs around the bag exterior from brim to brim).

Note: You may also add width to the bag in a similar manner. Only this time, you slice only the body pattern piece vertically in the middle and add vertical strip of whatever width you wish to add. If you do this, you must also add length to your bias binding and zipper at the bag opening.

Then, proceed with the steps as described in the original tutorial using these modified pattern pieces.


MODIFICATION NO. 3: Corded Handles

I’m on the fence with this one. On one hand, I love the roundness of the corded handles, but on the other hand, I feel they are too bulky for this bag. If I redo them, I would definitely use a smaller cord. Whatever the cord size, the steps are the same.

Note: I have seen other methods of making corded handles and they all seem to require a special zipper foot (to get really close to the cord when sewing close the fabric that wraps around the cord). Having no special zipper foot (and frankly, not liking the idea of sewing next to a thick cord with such minuscule seam allowance), I tried my own method and am glad it worked out nicely.

For detailed descriptions, photos and illustrations, I have created another post dedicated to explain how to create corded bag handles. Essentially, I cut two strips of fabric and one strip of fusible felt. Then, I ironed the fusible felt onto the wrong side of one fabric strip, sewed the two fabric strips right sides together to form a tube, and then turned the tube inside out. Then, I folded the tube in half lengthwise and edge-stitched where the edges met. Then, I inserted my cord through the tunnel created between one of the fabric strips and the fusible felt, before sewing close both ends of the handle.


MODIFICATION NO. 4: Invisible Zippered Pocket

My mother’s handbags always had zippered pockets at the exterior. So, that was a must-have feature for this basket tote. The original pattern did not have this feature, so I had to device my own modification.

I was reluctant, though. Not because of the extra work to put in the zipper, but because I was wary the zipper might ruin the overall clean look of the bag, which otherwise had no pockets and what-not on the exterior. It was that clean look that attracted me to this pattern at the first place.

That was when I decided to use invisible zipper. If I could carefully match the fabric prints above and below the zipper, I would have both the clean look I liked and the functionality of an exterior pocket my mother needed. Having never sewed invisible zippers before, I braced myself for all its challenges and am very pleased it turned out well.

Invisible zipper on a bag exterior

Although the actual sewing process is only a few steps more than installing invisible zippers on garments, the descriptions and illustrations are lengthy. So, I have created another post dedicated to explaining how to add invisible zippered pocket to a bag pattern.

Note: With the invisible zipper installed, the body piece is now split into two parts – the part above the pocket opening, and the part below. Similarly, the hard interfacing and fusible felt described in Modification No. 1 should also be split before application. Simply slice them along the zipper opening line, place them above and below the zipper opening respectively (on the wrong side of fabric, with all seam allowances lifted away from the fabric), and iron fuse. The aim is to interface the exterior fabric without any seam allowances sandwiched in between. Trim any extra interfacing or fusible felt that may be protruding out at either ends of the body piece.



Here are more photos of the finished bag modeled by the house cat.

While this post explains how to modify a particular basket tote pattern to incorporate the above features, I imagine that once you have grasped the concepts behind the modifications (especially the one on invisible zipper), they can be similarly adapted to any fabric bag patterns.

Due to the thick materials involved, this project had stretched the limits of my basic electric sewing machine. I had a lot of trouble getting the machine to sew through those thick and bumpy layers , let alone forming neat stitches. A lot of sweat and blood (literally) went into trying to sew without proper tools and equipment. Perhaps, if I had used the softer foam stabilizer instead of fusible felt (which is tougher), it could have been easier on my machine.

Or perhaps, I need to start budgeting for a new machine.

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