Updated: Feb 7, 2020
A fun, straight-forward and easy-to-sew design; perfect for beginners who want to immerse themselves into longer projects after that zipper pouch, or as a first-time bag making project.
While I was sorting the fabric squares I bought online a few months ago, I asked my man what he wanted made out of them for him.
"A tote bag".
I have made a drawstring back-pack before (post on that another time), so I was confident I can make a nice tote bag.
The husband chose a dark blue and grey theme.
Here is my setup for the tote bag:
Patchworks are structurally weak because of the many seams that join the small squares together. Therefore, patchworks must be reinforced before using them to make functional pieces of items.
For this tote bag, I used hard interfacing for the front and back of the bag, two layers of the same hard interfacing for the base of the bag, and intermediate interfacing for the sides of the bag. All these interfacings are ironed onto the wrong side of the outer layer, and will be hidden beneath the lining.
Definition: "S.A." stands for "Seam Allowance". This can be any measurement that you are comfortable with.
Overview: Here's an overview of what I was going to make:
Step 1: Make 2 patchworks and cut out base piece.
Step 2: Sew patchworks and base, right sides together, to form the complete outer layer of the bag (red lines below).
Step 3: Visualise how the outer layer will ultimately form the bag.
Step 4: Apply iron-on interfacing on the wrong side of the outer layer as follows:
Medium interfacings for the sides.
One continuous sheet of hard interfacing for the base, front and back.
One additional layer of hard interfacing for the base only.
Then, mark your S.A. on the interfacings, and set the outer layer aside until Step 8.
Step 5: Cut the lining fabric to the exact same dimensions as the outer layer. Then, visualise how the lining layer will ultimately form the inside of the bag. Then, mark your S.A. on the wrong side of the lining.
Step 6 (Optional): Install magnetic snaps on the lining layer (yellow circles with red outlines below), about 1cm away from the S.A. at the bag opening edge. Here's a good video tutorial for installing magnetic snaps by Lindsay Connor of On the Go Bags.
Step 7: Sew the handle straps onto the right side of the lining fabric, with the strap ends flushed with the bag opening edge (red boxes with "X" below). Make sure to sew within the S.A. line and sew over a few times to reinforce the attachment of the straps (usually, a rectangle with an "X" inside provides good strength). Also, make sure the straps are not twisted.
Step 8: Place the outer layer (from Step 4) on top of the lining layer, right sides together.
Step 9: Sew the two layers together at the bag opening seam (red lines below). Sew over the handle straps within the S.A. to further reinforce the attachment (red boxes with "X" below).
Step 10: Create a gentle crease line in the middle of the base (red dashed lines below). Do the same for the lining layer beneath. Then fold the outer layer and the lining layer along the crease lines such that both layers separate from each other.
Step 11: Sew the side seams in a continuous run on each side of the bag (red lines below). Leave opening on one of the sides of the lining for turning the bag inside out later (white dashed line below). Due to the size of the bag I was making and the amount of interfacing I used, I had to leave a sizable opening - almost the entire height of the bag.
Then, create boxed corners on each corner (red checkered squares below). Here's a good video tutorial by So Sew Easy. Use Method 1 in the video.
Step 12: Turn the bag inside out to reveal the right sides of the fabrics. Then, sew close the opening. Some people like to slip-stitch by hand to close this opening (so the stitches become invisible), but since the lining fabric will not be seen from outside of the bag and considering the length of the opening, I chose to simply overstitch as close to the edge as possible with the sewing machine.
Step 13: To make the bag look more boxy, overstitch along the 4 side edges of the bag (red lines below) WHILE THE LINING LAYER IS STILL OUTSIDE OF THE BAG. Use matching thread. The overstitching need not reach the base, just go as close as you can.
Step 14: Stuff all that lining fabrics into the outer layer. Then give the brim of the bag opening a good press of the iron.
Step 15 (Optional): Overstitch all around the bag opening very close to the brim to keep the lining from peeking out.
The patchwork tote bag is now complete!
The End Product
Although I used hard interfacings, the bag was not stiff enough to stand on its own. However, the hard interfacings gave it a neat straight-line look that makes it a little bit more formal, in addition to giving it strength. This was exactly my intention because the husband said he was going to bring this bag to the office to carry "miscellaneous" things.
I did not mention this in the sewing process above, but I did add an elastic pocket on the lining of the bag - per the husband's wish. This is entirely optional for anyone else making this bag, of course. Here's a good tutorial on how to add elastic pockets by Craftstorming.
A lot of this tote bag making process was trial-and-error and adjust-as-I-sew. There were mistakes that I had to overcome by compromising on things like dimensions (I strayed up to 5cm from the initially planned dimensions). Some mistakes, I decided to just live with them. If I were to make another patchwork tote bag, I would definitely pay more attention on the measurements and cutting.