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The basic tote bag is an ideal project for beginners. This one is just the right size to fold up and take out when you're going to the shops, once you've made one you'll be able to make another one super-fast and before you know it you'll have made a collection with no need to ever buy a plastic shopping bag again! It's also the ideal way to learn your way around a sewing machine!

I like to make mine in a medium to heavyweight 100% cotton printed fabric, heavy-duty linen, velvet, denim or an upholstery fabric. To be truly sustainable you could make yours using furnishing fabric off-cuts or pre-loved curtains. 


The bag is unlined but has a deep facing around the top edge; you might like to make the facings in an alternative contrasting print or fabric of a similar weight in a contrasting colour. There is a handy patch pocket stitched to the front; you might consider sewing a pocket to the inside as well (or instead) of the outside of the bag. The straps are made from the same main fabric of the bag; you could supplement these with ready made sturdy webbing straps. 


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and Back


Pocket x1

Straps  x2



43cm x 38cm

56cm x


38cm x 10cm

23cm x 18cm



Sewing Machine,


Tape measure,


Paper and fabric scissors,

Matching thread,

Pattern paper




1. Make a pattern by drafting out the measurements shown above onto paper and cut out the templates. 


2. Start by folding your fabric lengthwise so that the two selvedge edges are together and lay your pattern pieces out as shown so that the bag follows the fabric's grain line (the grain line of the fabric runs parallel to the selvedge edges). Don't forget that if preferred you can cut the facing pieces in an alternative fabric for added interest.

3. Pin the paper pattern onto the fabric and cut out all of the pieces carefully. Remove pins but, to make things a little easier, leave each pattern piece labelled until you are ready to use it.


4. Working on the pocket first, stitch a zig-zag stitch (or overlock) all around the pocket's raw edges to prevent it from fraying. Turn the top of the pocket over towards the right side and press a 2.5 cm hem with your iron. Pin and stitch the side seams of this turning with a 1.5 cm seam. Trim the corners and seam allowance (shown) and turn the hem back right-side out so that it folds over toward the wrong side of the  pocket. Press under the sides and lower edge of the pocket by 1.5 cm. Pin and stitch the top pocket hem 2cm from the folded edge as shown. Side and lower pockets remain un-stitched.

5. Place your pocket centrally on the bag front, measuring down 13cm from the top edge and pin into place. Starting at the top right hand corner, stitch the sides and lower edge close to the fold (leave the top of the pocket open) pivoting at the lower corners and reinforcing your stitching at the top corners by reverse stitching.


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6. To make the straps fold each of the strap pieces lengthwise, right-sides together, pin and stitch a seam 1cm from the raw edge, reversing at the beginning and end (shown above).  Attach a safety pin near to the open end of one strap and insert this into the channel, pushing the strap through until it is visible at the other end (shown above right), grab the emerging strap by the safety pin and pull it through to the right-side out. Press with the seam laying on the edge. Repeat with the other strap.




7. Pin one of the straps to the front of the bag by laying each end of the strap in line with the upper edge of the bag (be careful not to twist the strap) and 10cm from the side edge of the bag. Machine baste 1cm from the raw edge. Repeat with the remaining strap and the bag back.




8. Lay the front and back bag pieces on top of one another with right sides facing and straps at the top edge. Line up the raw edges, pin and stitch the sides and lower edge of the bag using a 1.5 cm seam allowance, pivoting at each corner and reverse-stitching at beginning and end of the seam. N.B.: to pivot: sew to the corner then, with the needle down in the fabric; lift the presser foot, rotate fabric and lower the presser foot before continuing to stitch in the new direction. Tidy up the lower corners by cutting diagonally across them both. Zig-zag stitch (or overlock) the seam's raw hems.



9. To mitre the corners, which will give the bag a great boxy shape,  work from the inside of the bag, pin the side and lower seams together creating a 90 degree angle (ensure that the lower edge seam doesn't twist in the opposite direction whilst you do this) and stitch across the corner 3.5cm from the point, reversing at beginning and end as shown here. Turn through to right side and admire!


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10. Lay the two facings on top of one another with right-sides facing each other. Pin and stitch the side seams (the shorter lengths) together with a 1.5 cm seam allowance and press this seam open. Turn up the lower edge by  0.5cm, press, pin and stitch close to the folded edge.


11. Attach the upper edge of the facing to the upper edge of the bag, fabric right-sides facing, side-seams aligning and the straps facing down between the two layers. Pin and stitch a 1.5 seam all around the top of the bag (as shown) with the machine's free arm separating the bag's front and back. 




12. Working from the outside of the bag align the facing seam to the bag side seam, pinning and stitching a concealed stitch line through both seams  from the bag's top edge down  approximately 8cm from the top edge, this is known as 'stitching in the ditch.  Reverse stitch at the end to secure. 

13. Give the bag a gentle press on the outside and enjoy for a very long time!




11. Press the facing and seam allowance upwards. Still with the machine's arm-extension removed, place the free arm inside the bag to be able to work around the bag's upper edge.  Working from the right-side of the bag, edge stitch through the facing and the seam allowance (at Fashionskool we call this 'neat stitching' because it helps to give a nice crispness to a turned edge and ensures a professional finish). Stitch close to the seam all the way around as shown. Turn the facing to the inside and press.



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