Tote Bag Tutorial Part 2: Creating the Pattern

One of the most wonderful parts of this tote bag is that you can create the pattern to fit your personal needs.  In this post we will go through the steps of drafting a full pattern for your bag.  If you have never created a pattern before, you will probably be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to do!

I have taught this technique in person many times, but this is the first time I have ever put it all down in writing.  This is a crazy long post!  I have tried to give the most clear directions possible, but if anything is confusing or you have questions please email me.  I will do my best to help you through this process.

If you are just joining us, this is a 5 part series.  Here are the other segments (links are updated as posts are added):

Drafting Your Own Tote Bag Pattern

For the sake of clarity, the diagrams in this post are computer generated, but I usually create patterns using a roll of brown paper, pencils, a ruler, and a drafting triangle (or tailor’s/framing square, or large square rotary cutting ruler).  There is a complete supply list with descriptions in Part 1.  


You will want to think about what you will use this bag for in order to determine the size you would like to make.

  • Large:  A great size for hauling a few towels, snacks, and some reading material to the pool or beach.  I often use this as a personal item carry-on, especially if my other item is a computer bag.  This easily holds a  change of clothes, my tablet, a couple magazines, and the purse I will carry once I arrive.  The buttoned pockets can keep your cell phone at hand.  This is the size I make the most often, and it is pictured here.  Overall finished measurements are approximately 15″x14″x8″
  • Medium:  Perfect for the grocery store or farmer’s market, this size is perfect for carrying both heavy or bulky items.  I have often used this for carrying library books.  This size makes very efficient use of fabric. Overall finished measurements are approximately 15″x11.5″x6″
  • Small:  A good size for keeping small-ish projects with you, a smaller sized library bag, or a kid’s activity bag.  Overall finished measurements are approximately 12″x12″x4″

Bag Parts

The first pattern piece we will draft is the bag top.  This piece is a rectangle.  Maintaining 90° angles is the most important part of this piece.  Using the largest triangle or square ruler you have, line up one side of the tool with either a straight drawn line or the edge of the paper.  (Only use the edge of the paper if it is clean, smooth, and has not warping or contortions.)  With the ruler or triangle carefully placed, draw a perpendicular line along the other side of the 90º angle.Drawing a Square CornerWith the first angle created, you will make a mark along one line indicating the height of the piece (around 2/3 the overall height of the bag is usually a pleasing proportion).  On the other line mark the line the width of the bag.  You will cut two of this pattern piece (one front and one back), so the width of this piece will be half of the desired circumference of the finished bag.  Use your 90 angle to draw the rest of the rectangle.  For this bag, the rectangle measured 22″ x 10″.  Check the lengths of each side to make sure the measurements of the long sides are equal to each other.  The lengths of the short sides should correspond to each other as well.  To double check the accuracy of your angles, measure diagonally from one corner to the other and make note of the measurement.  Then measure the other set of diagonal corners.  If the measurements are equal, the angles are a true 90º!  Do not add seam allowances to this, or any pattern piece at this point.Tote bag pattern: Bag TopOnce you have the rectangle drawn, you will determine the placement of the bag handles (shown as dashed lines in the diagram above).  How wide do you want the pockets on your bag?  The pockets are placed between the handles, so their size will indicate handle placement.  Subtract the desired pocket width from the width of the rectangle.  Then divide that number in half.  For example:  22″ (rectangle length) – 7″ (pocket width) = 15″.  Half of 15 is 7.5″.  This means that you will measure seven and a half inches from each side of the rectangle and draw a dashed line.  Look at the proportions of what you have drawn.  Adjust as needed, making sure that the pattern remains symmetrical.  When you are happy with the pocket width, draw an additional dashed line 1″ toward the outer edge of the rectangle.  The handles will be placed between the lines.

Draw a grain line parallel to the edge of the rectangle.  You will label each pattern piece as above- but make sure to list yourself as the pattern designer!  Indicate the appropriate size of tote, the pattern piece name, and in a box write how many pieces you will need to cut of each fabric.  NSA means that you have included no seam allowance.  Along the edges of the pattern piece, you will write how much seam allowance you will want to add when laying out and cutting your bag.  In this case I wrote +1/2″.  Note:  Omitting seam allowance in the pattern making process allows you to more easily make sure the pieces of the bag will fit together.  If you would rather include seam allowance in the pattern , you may tape on additional paper after all the pieces are drafted, or you may retrace each piece completely with the added seam allowance.  Commercially available patterns include seam allowance, but many people who sew one of a kind garments add seam allowance when cutting the fabric.

Now you are ready to draw the bag bottom.  Begin by drawing a rectangle that is the same length as the bag top pattern piece.  This pattern piece includes shaping seams which will create the bottom of the tote bag.  To determine the height of the rectangle you are drawing you will want to consider how much depth you would like to create for the bottom of the bag and add that to the amount of the bag bottom piece you would like to see on the front/back of the bag.  Draw this rectangle using the same process you used for the bag top.  For this bag I started with a rectangle measuring 22″x9″

Bag Top and BottomOnce you have created the bag bottom rectangle, you are ready to add the shaping seams.  If you have a square rotary cutting ruler, this is a good time to pull it out.  The shaping seams are squares removed from the bottom of the rectangle. The vertical and horizontal lines must be of equal length, and the squares should be the same size on both sides of the bag.Drawing the Shaping SeamsIn the photo above I have drafted the bag top and bottom so that the bottom line of the bag top is the top line of the bag bottom.  This guarantees that the length of theses seams will match up perfectly when you are sewing the bag together.  The shaping seams in this photo form a 4″ square.
Tote Bag Pattern: Bag BottomThe Bag bottom piece will be cut on the fold of the fabric in order to eliminate the need for a seam at the bottom of the bag.  Label the pattern piece as shown above, making sure to indicate the location of the fold line at the bottom of the pattern piece.

The lining pattern is the next to draw.  If you were able to draft the top and bottom pieces so that they shared a line (as shown above), you can create the lining pattern by cutting the exterior lines of the pieces while leaving the line connecting the pieces intact.  (Do you see how I used push pins in the homasote topped table?  You can also lay down foam core or a piece of foam core to pin into.  Don’t have any of that?  Try using pattern weights-or even a couple books to hold down your pattern pieces on your regular table)  Carefully trace this piece onto another section of paper.  Now you have the lining piece- easy right?
Drawing the Lining PatternThe lining pattern should be equal to the bag top and bag bottom pattern pieces combined.Bag Lining pattern is a combination of the bag top and bag bottom piecesAdd a grainline parallel to the edge of the pattern piece and label the pattern as shown below.

Tote Bag Pattern: LiningGo ahead and cut out the pattern pieces you have made so far.  Take out the bag top pattern piece, place the center of the pattern piece over another section of paper that is big enough to create a pocket pattern, and use push pins to hold it in place.  Trace the bottom of the pattern using a pencil.  Then pull out your tracing wheel to mark the interior dashed lines.  This will guarantee that the pocket width will correspond with the width between the bag handles.  You may use a ruler to help ensure the line you trace is straight.

Transferring LinesDo you see how the pocket pattern will fit between the handles?Pocket Widtch DiagramThe height of the pocket is up to you.  A lot of people like to use this pocket for a cell phone, so you may want to use that as a starting point.  The flap on the pocket makes it even more secure, so design something with proportions that are pleasing to you.

Tote Bag Pattern: Pocket with FlapLabel the pattern as indicated in the diagram above.  Don’t forget a grain line!

The pocket for the other side of the bag is open with a curved top.  Create this pocket using the directions for the above pocket, but instead of designing a flap you will create a concave curve.  Tracing around the edge of a plate or round container is a good way to make the curve of the pattern piece.Pocket Width Diagram CurvedAdd a grain line and label the final pattern piece.
Tote Bag Pattern:  Curved PocketCut out all of your pattern pieces, and you have finished your tote bag pattern!  Happy Dance!Pattern PiecesThis post is linked up to Let’s Bee Social at Sew Fresh Quilts and WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced.  Please stop by to check out all of the awesome work being created!

 

Tote Bag Tutorial Part 1: Gathering Supplies

I love this tote bag!  I have made many of them over the years for myself and others.  The best part about this particular bag is that anyone who can sew a straight line with a sewing machine can make this tote!  This is often the first project I have students (most of whom have never sewn anything) take on while learning to sew.

Tote Bag A


This is going to be a five part tutorial, with one section coming out each week.  I am putting in a lot of pictures and directions, so some of these posts will be lengthy- but hopefully in a good way!

Who is this tutorial intended for?

  • A beginning sewist who would like to improve their skills. (For the purposes of this tutorial I am assuming that you can thread your sewing machine, sew a straight stitch and zig-zag using the machine, read a ruler, and cut a straight line)
  • A quilter who has little or no experience sewing bags or garments.  (This project is designed to incorporate a lot of techniques and terminology used in garment construction, so reading other patterns should be easier after working through this project)
  • Anyone who wants to try making their own pattern- That’s right you will be making this bag from a custom pattern that you will create to fit your needs!

What will each section of the tutorial cover? (Links will be provided as posts become available)

Are you on board?  If so, you will want to start gathering the following supplies.  I often list what I use, and then follow up with one or two other options.  Just choose the material you are the most comfortable using.  If you have questions please leave a comment or email me, and I will do try to help you figure out what you need.

Tote Bag Supplies

For Drafting your pattern you will need:

  • Large paper-  I keep a roll of brown paper on hand to make patterns.  It was purchased in the paint area of a big-box hardware store.  You can also use something like freezer paper or tape together several sheets of printer/notebook paper if you don’t want to purchase a roll of brown paper.
  • A ruler with clear and accurate measurements.  I usually use a 2″x18″ gridded ruler found in most art, drafting, or sewing stores.  You can also use a good rotary cutting ruler or metal ruler.
  • A 90º Angle-  I usually use a large drafting triangle.  Other possible options are a tailor’s or framing square or a square rotary cutter ruler (the larger the better).
  • A couple sharp pencils
  • A good eraser
  • Tape- transluscent is best, but masking could work in a pinch.  I like a matte finish because it is easier to write over should the need arise
  • Tracing wheel / Pounce wheel / Perk wheel / Spiky-Wheel-of-Death.  I’ve heard this called a few things, but make sure you have one with pokey edges (the smooth wheel won’t work for this project)
  • A surface with a bit of give.  My table is covered with a painted, muslin covered piece of homasote.  Homasote is a construction material originally intended to function as a sound barrier, but it can act as a low cost bulletin board since it is firm and still easy to push a thumb tack into.  A cork board placed flat on the table or a piece of foam core are also plausible options.
  • Scissors suitable for use on paper
  • push pins

For cutting and constructing your bag you will need:

  • Ruler, pencils (or other marking device that will show up on your fabric), perk wheel, surface with a bit of give, and push pins from the list above.
  • Straight pins- whatever size and type you prefer.  I use size 21 with glass ball heads.
  • Container or pin cushion for straight pins
  • Fabric Shears
  • Tracing Paper (the type with a colored chalk or waxy coating on one side and plain paper on the other)  I like using large sheets of tracing paper in light blue that I get from Richard the Thread.  (Not a sponsored post- I just really like this tracing paper for bag and garment projects!)  For this project you don’t necessarily need to make that kind of investment, the small sheets from most large sewing stores are ok.
  • 1 yard quilting cotton for upper section for the bag exterior (this is an ample amount- the actual amount may be less depending on the bag size you choose and type of print)
  • 1 yard quilting cotton for lower section of the bag exterior (this is an ample amount- the actual amount may be less depending on the bag size you choose and type of print)
  • 1 yard quilting cotton for bag lining (this is an ample amount- the actual amount may be less depending on the bag size you choose and type of print)
  • 1 yard cotton canvas or cotton duck:  You will never see this fabric in the finished bag, but it add structural integrity to the bag.  If you would like a less expensive option, I have had success using a canvas drop cloth from the paint section of a hardware store. (I will be posting a tutorial for preparing a canvas drop cloth for sewing projects)
  • 1/3 yard of fusible interfacing, woven if possible.  I typically use Pellon Shape Flex Woven Fusible Interfacing that is generally available at big box sewing stores.
  • About 3 yards of webbing for your bag handles.  I usually use cotton webbing 1″ in width.
  • 2 Buttons
  • Thread to match (or coordinate with) bag exterior and bag lining.
  • Hand sewing needles and beeswax or Thread Heaven (as desired)
  • Sewing machine with bobbins, needles, etc.

I am really excited to share the process of creating this bag, and I hope you will enjoy making this skill building tote!

This post is linked up with WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced, and Tip and Tutorial Tuesday at Late Night Quilter.  Please stop by to see all of the beautiful projects being created.

Holiday Gifts 2014

I hope you are all having a wonderful and joyous end of 2014!  Now that the gift giving portion of the holidays is winding down, I thought I would take a moment to share a few of the gifts I created for family members this year.

I love these tote bags!  I originally created the pattern for these a few years ago when I was teaching a class to college students involving beginning sewing techniques.  I have done some revisions, and I will offer a series of tutorials for developing your own version of this bag in January.  We will start with drafting your own pattern, and move through the entire construction process.  I hope some of you may want to join in the fun!

Tote Bag A

Tote Bags


 

I posted about these cord/coin pouches last week, but I love to see all six lined up and ready for my older nieces, nephews, and their significant others!

Cord Pouches

Cord/Coin Pouches

 

I gave my parents a joint gift, but I rounded it out with these potholders for my Mom.  They are improvisationally pieced and quilted, so each one is unique.  I quilted them with Insul-Bright and a layer of cotton batting, and chose fabrics that won’t stain very easily, so I hope she will be able to use them for years to come.

Oven Mitts - Front View

Oven Mitts – Front View

Oven Mitts - Back View

Oven Mitts – Back View

In retirement, my Dad has taken on a lot of the grocery shopping, and he is really good about taking reusable bags with him to the store.  Some of the store bags have seen better days, so I made a new one using the tote bag pattern I used for my sister’s gifts.  I used a double layer of denim for this bag and omitted the exterior pockets.  It seems really sturdy.  If this works well, I’ll have to make a few more!

Grocery Bag

Denim Grocery Tote

 

I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday season and are looking forward to a fabulous 2015!

 

I am linking this post to Santa’s Sweatshop Linky Party at Porch Swing Quilts and TGIFF hosted this week by Sew Fresh Quilts.  I hope you all take a few minutes to stop by and look at all of the lovely work being done!

Last Minute Gifts: Cord/Coin Pouch

As my nieces and nephews have gotten older, cash or gift cards have become the favored gifts for the holidays because money always fits!  I try to get a little creative in the presentation of this not-particularly-original gift, so this year I am making cord pouches that hook onto a keyring.  These pouches finish at a little under 4″ from side to side, so they can easily hold a thumb drive, USB cord, some change, or even most phone chargers.  Come to think of it, I may need to make a couple for myself!

Finished Cord Pouches

Finished Cord Pouches


I knew that I wanted to put a grommet in each pouch to attach a key ring. (If you don’t have grommets laying about, a ribbon loop inserted into a seam would also do the trick.)  I thought that the grommet would look nice in a corner, so I experimented with a couple different shapes before settling on an octagon.  This project will work with most shapes, but if you would like to play along using the octagon, I have included a pattern here.  This Octagon Pattern  is a PDF File you are welcome to download.

I made six pouches, choosing an outer fabric and a lining fabric for each.  Orange tends to be pretty popular among my nephews, so I used a lot of it this year!  I cut one octagon out of each fabric, but for the front side I cut rectangles to set the zipper into before cutting it into shape.  I like to give myself some wiggle room when dealing with zippers, so I cut the rectangles to about 3″x5″.  For each pouch you should have 2 outer fabric rectangles, 2 lining fabric rectangles, 1 outer fabric octagon, and 1 lining fabric octagon.  You will also need a zipper and either a grommet or a small loop of ribbon.

Pieces cut for cord pouches

Pieces cut for cord pouches

For an exposed zipper I like to sandwich each side of the zipper between the outer and lining fabrics along the long edge of the rectangle.  I like to pin the layers in place so nothing moves out of place while I’m stitching.  The navy floral fabric will become the outside of this pouch, so it is laying with the right side of the fabric facing the top of the zipper.  The right side of the lining fabric faces the back of the zipper.  This leaves the wrong side of the fabric exposed on each side of your zipper sandwich.  I like my fabric edges to line up with the edge of the zipper.  I also place the fabric in the center of the zipper so I can sew it in place without the pull getting in the way.

A "Zipper Sandwich"

A “Zipper Sandwich”

Now you are ready to start stitching!  You will want to use your zipper foot and stitch a consistent distance from the teeth of the zipper.  I like to line up the right side of the zipper foot with the edge of the zipper, but machines can vary, so choose a means of measuring that works for you.

Using the zipper foot to stitch a zipper in place

Using the zipper foot to stitch a zipper in place

Now you are ready to press the fabric out to expose the zipper.  I like to press the outer fabric into place first.

Pressing the outer fabric into place around the zipper

Pressing the outer fabric into place around the zipper

Then you will press the lining fabric toward the back.

Fabric Pressed in place once the zipper is sewn

Fabric Pressed in place once the zipper is sewn

Next you will perform the same steps to sew the remaining rectangles to the other side of the zipper.

For added stability, I like to topstitch the fabric about 1/16″ from the seams we just sewed.  If you have an edge stitching foot, it will make this step easier, but it can also be done with a regular foot (and a little patience!)

Top Stitching the zipper

Top Stitching the zipper

Once you have the topstitching done on both sides of the zipper, take a moment to admire your work!  Now trace your octagon pattern onto the fabric, paying carful attention to where you want the zipper placed.  I decided to center the zipper across the octagon for this set of pouches.  Do NOT cut yet!

Tracing the octagon onto the front of the pouch

Tracing the octagon onto the front of the pouch

We are going to use a very small seam allowance for these pouches, so I decided it would be easier to sew first, cut later.  Move the zipper pull tab into the center of the octagon!  (If you are going to insert a ribbon loop, now is the time.  Place the loop toward the center of the octagon, with the ends sticking into the seam allowance.  Pin or Baste into place.)  Take the octagons you cut out at the beginning of this process and place the outer fabric piece right side down onto the zippered section.  Carefully line up the cut shape with the traced shape.  Layer the lining fabric octagon, right side up, on top of the outer fabric octagon.  With the zipper pull in the center of the octagon, the cut pieces may not naturally line up with all corners.  This is an instance where you should make the fabric line up the way you want.  (If you don’t, the zipper may gap in an unpleasant manner.)  I pin in each corner, but add as many pins as you need to feel comfortable.

Pinning the front and back together

Pinning the front and back together

Stitch all the way around the octagon using a seam allowance of a generous 1/8″

Stitch around the shape using a seam allowance of 1/8"

Stitch around the shape using a seam allowance of 1/8″

Check around the edges of your shape to make sure that all layers have been stitched properly.  Now cut away the excess material in the zipper layer leaving the 1/8″ seam allowance.

Pouch with Edges Trimmed

Pouch with Edges Trimmed

Carefully clip the corners in order to achieve nice points when the shape is turned.

Pouch with clipped corners

Pouch with clipped corners

Turn the shape right side out using the zipper opening.  Press to flatten the shape.  Make sure you have pretty corners!

Pouch turned right side out

Pouch turned right side out

To enclose the raw edges of the seam allowance, you will now want to top stitch 1/4″ from all edges of the octagon.  I started and ended the stitching in the corner I was planning to place the grommet since the stitching won’t be visible at that point.  When stitching over the zipper, I chose to turn the machine side wheel by hand, taking a large stitch over the zipper teeth, lifting the presser foot, moving back, and taking another large stitch over the zipper teeth.  I repeat this several times to secure the zipper.  (This should act as the equivalent of several zig zag stitches in a single spot often used to shorten a zipper.)

Top Stitching the Pouch

Top Stitching the Pouch

Since we used such a small seam allowance, I like to add another row of top stitching just under 1/8″ from the edge of the octagon.

Now that everything is sewn, it is time to add the grommet.  A grommet has two pieces: a grommet, and a washer.  You will also need a hammer, punch, and a setter to install a grommet.  I used the 00 size for this project.

Once you have decided where to place the grommet, lay the pouch on a piece of scrap wood, position the punch, and give it a couple whacks with the hammer.  You should now have a nice clean opening to insert the grommet.

Top Stitched Pouch with hole punched and grommet ready to install

Top Stitched Pouch with hole punched and grommet ready to install

Place the grommet through the hole you punched in the pouch, then place the washer over the center of grommet.  The grommet will be placed in the anvil portion of the setter.  The setter will fit into the center opening of the grommet (on the washer side), and it should then be tapped firmly several times to set the grommet.  You want to hit the setter hard enough to set the grommet, but not so hard that the grommet splits.  When in doubt, start with moderate force and increase as necessary.

Grommet

Grommet

Grommet with Washer

Grommet with Washer

Pouch in Grommet Setter

Pouch in Grommet Setter

There you have it- A useful little gift that practically everyone will find a use for.  I added some candy to sweeten the deal!

Finished Pouch, All wrapped up!

Finished Pouch, All wrapped up!