Tote Bag Tutorial Part 3: Cutting Out Your Bag

Welcome to Part 3 in out tote bag series!  Today we are cutting out the pieces.  This is another super long post, but I hope that it explains the steps pretty well.  As always, please contact me with any questions.  You may email me or leave a comment, and I will do my best to give you a clear answer!

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

Now that you have drafted a really awesome pattern for your tote bag (see Tote Bag Tutorial Part 2), we are ready to turn our attention to the cutting of the fabric.  I always enjoy choosing pretty cotton fabrics to use for the outer fabric and lining, but you can use almost any non-stretchy fabric for this project.  The canvas used in this project will never be seen, so you can purchase fabric for this from a fabric store or use a good quality canvas drop cloth from a hardware store.  If you use this option, please make sure you read this tutorial on prepping a canvas drop cloth I published recently.  Since you will be carrying this bag a lot, I’m sure you will want it to be very washable.  It is really important to prewash all your fabrics in the warmest water you ever plan to wash the finished product in.

Cutting Out Your TotebagA note on cutting surfaces:  On this type of project, I usually cut on a surface of painted, muslin covered Homasote.  This surface allows me to use pushpins to hold down my pattern pieces.  Since this project is relatively small, a large cork board laid flat on your work surface will serve the same purpose.  (See photo above)  Another alternative is to use your regular table, and instead of pushpins, use pattern weights or straight pins to hold the paper pattern in place.

Let’s start by cutting the canvas flat lining pieces.

If you are using a canvas drop cloth, rip off a piece a few inches larger than double the size of your upper bag and lower bag pieces.  If you drafted your pattern using the same measurements that I did for the large bag, you will need a piece of canvas approximately 48″x25″.  Press this section of Canvas as well as your other fabrics.

Fold your piece of canvas in half lengthwise.  This will allow you to cut the bag bottom on the fold of the fabric and both pieces of the bag top in one go.

We are going to start with the Upper Bag pattern piece.  Place it about 1″ away from the end of the end of the canvas with the longer edge of the pattern piece toward the fold.  The goal in placing this pattern piece is to have the grainline on the pattern piece run parallel to the fold of the fabric.  To make this as accurate as possible, you will want to place one pushpin in one end of the grainline.  Using a ruler measure from the metal shaft of the pushpin to the fold of the fabric.  Remember or write down this measurement.

Grainline

Using the pushpin as a pivot point, gently rotate the paper pattern piece until the other end of the grainline is the same distance to the edge of the fabric as the first.  Then place a pushpin in this end of the grainline.

Grainline 2

Making sure the pattern piece is laying completely flat, use push pins to hold down the edges of the pattern piece.

Upper Bag Layout

Holding your pencil at an angle (see picture below), trace around the edges of your pattern.  This line will be your stitching line.
TracingNow you will trace the handle placement lines onto the canvas.  The easiest way to do this is to bring out your sheet of tracing paper.  Pull the pushpins from one half of the pattern and slide the tracing paper (face down) between the pattern and the canvas.  Use your tracing wheel to transfer the lines to the canvas.  Pin this half of the pattern back down and repeat the process with the handle markings on the other half of the pattern.

Mark Handle PlacementAt this point you are going to add seam allowances.  Using a gridded ruler or quilting ruler, measure 1/2″ away from the pattern edge.

Seam AllowanceA note on seam allowance  

Adding seam allowance during the cutting process allows you to:

  •  Line up pattern edges to check measurements easily during the pattern making process
  • Easily mark precise stitching lines
  • Adjust seam allowance widths (Do you want more SA than 1/2″?  Go ahead and make it bigger!)
  • Know that your finished seams are as accurate as possible, ensuring that your bag will fit together beautifully

The directions for this tutorial are based on the idea that you will be using stitching lines.  Are you more comfortable using the seam gauge lines on your sewing machine?  No problem!  You can add the seam allowance you are most confident using (at least 1/2″) to the paper pattern piece itself to trace around.  You could also add the seam allowance while cutting the fabric, but skip the step of drawing the stitching line.

Tracing of Bag Upper

With the bag top all traced out, you are ready to trace the bag bottom.  This time, instead of placing the pattern piece using a grain line, you will place the pattern piece with the bottom edge placed on the fold of the fabric.  Make sure it lines up really neatly!  Stick in enough push pins to hold the pattern piece really flat.

Bag Bottom Layout

Trace the stitching lines and add the seam allowances to give yourself a cutting line.

Bag Bottom Seam AllowanceGo ahead and remove the push pins and the pattern pieces for both the bag top and bag bottom.  Use straight pins to pin the two layers of fabric together- we don’t want anything to move around as we cut!  Using your nice, sharp, fabric shears cut along the cutting line (outermost line) of each pattern piece.

Cutting CanvasTo transfer the stitching and handle placement lines onto the reverse side, place your tracing paper right side up and lay your fabric pieces on top of it.  Use your tracing wheel to transfer the lines.  You can use a ruler if you want help keeping your lines straight.

Transfer Stitching Lines

Yeah!  All of the canvas is cut!  Go ahead and remove all those straight pins.

Cut Canvas Pieces

The canvas adds structure to the main part of the bag.  Interfacing will add structure to the pockets.  I usually use Pellon Shape Flex woven interfacing.  This is an iron-on interfacing, so pressing before cutting is out of the question.  Lay out these pattern pieces using the grain lines to indicate placement.  You will cut one piece for the curved pocket, and one piece of the house-shaped pocket with flap.  Once the pocket with flap is traced, remove the pattern piece, fold the flap down to get it out of the way, and trace the rectangle that remains.

Interfacing LayoutAdd 1/4″ seam allowance to the interfacing pieces.  The main fabric pocket pieces will have the larger half inch seam allowances, but smaller seam allowances in the interfacing allow us to reduce bulk.

Cut Interfacing

Now we get to cut out our pretty fabrics!  You will probably notice several different fabrics in these steps.  I seem to have forgotten to take all of my process photos for one bag, so you will get a peak at several different totes!  If you have directional prints, make sure you have them in their correct orientation as you begin the cutting process.  You don’t want to have anything upside down- unless that is a design decision!

Lay out the outer fabric for the upper bag in a single layer with the wrong side up.  Now place the cut canvas pieces on the fabric.  I usually eyeball the grainline for the outer fabric, but you can measure to the edge of the fabric using a stitching line as a grainline if you would like.  Use straight pins to pin the canvas pieces to the outer fabric.  Cut the outer fabric along the cut edges of the canvas.

Bag Upper Fabric Layout

Now do the same thing for the outer fabric of the bag bottom.  Make sure you unfold the canvas piece first!

Bag Lower Fabric Layout

For the pockets we will use a slightly different process.  Take your chosen fabric to the ironing board and lay it out flat with the wrong side up.  Place the interfacing pocket pieces you cut earlier on the fabric with the rough glue-y side down toward the wrong side of the fabric.  Try to smooth out any wrinkles in the interfacing as best you can without ironing (yet).  Try to place the pieces with the grain of the interfacing and fabric aligned.  Make sure you leave a small gap between pieces to allow for additional seam allowance.  Now press the interfacing to the fabric using the iron and following the manufacture’s directions.  When using an iron-on interfacing you want to be sure you are raising the iron up and placing it down again as you work your way around the piece.  Don’t try to glide the iron around- that is just asking for problems!  Take your time with this step.  As tempting as it is to rush the through this part, make sure you get every bit of the interfacing glue hot enough to really bond with your fabric.

Ironing Interfacing

Once you have the interfacing in place, add 1/2″ of seam allowance to the fabric.  Measure the 1/2″ from the stitching line (not the interfacing cut line).  Now cut on lines you drew.

Note on curves:  When adding seam allowance to a curve, make a series of short lines as you work around the curve.  You can then smooth out the line either by drawing it it, or while cutting the piece out.

Pocket Seam Allowances

You are almost there!  The last piece to cut is the lining.  Since the lining does not need additional structure, you will lay out your pattern pieces and draw both stitching and cutting lines directly on the wrong side of the lining fabric.  Depending on the size of the pattern piece and the width of your fabric, you may be able to cut the lining with the fabric on the fold.  As you can see in the picture below, I had a larger bag lining that I had to nest the lining pieces to make them fit.  I also had a directional print, so I had to make sure that all of these cute little critters landed right side up!  Once the large pieces are cut, cut out lining for the pocket pieces.

Lining LayoutCongratulations!  The bag is cut out, and you are well on your way!  Next week we will put this bag together!

I am linking this post up to WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced.  Please stop by to see the beautiful projects being created!


Preparing a Canvas Drop Cloth for Use in a Sewing Project

Confession:  I thoroughly enjoy the hardware store- especially when I can find materials to use in a non-traditional manner.  One of the items I like to re-invent is the canvas drop cloth.  Canvas is really useful in sewing and craft projects, but tends to be sort of expensive (for what it is) in the big-box craft stores.  In the tote bag series I am currently writing, canvas is used to add strength to the project.  I thought I would share how I prepare a drop cloth for this type of project.

Preparing a DropclothYou will find canvas drop cloths in the paint section of most major hardware stores.  I selected the 6’x9′ size because this size fits easily into a standard home washing machine and has no internal seams.  The amount of canvas in this drop cloth is roughly equivalent to purchasing 5 to 5 and a half yards of canvas off of a bolt at the fabric store.  My experience has been that a drop cloth costs about the same as 1 to 2 yards of plain canvas from the fabric store.  This is a good deal, especially for projects that you will never see this fabric.Dropcloth PackageTake a look at the fiber content.  You want something that is mostly cotton, but polyester is fine too.  The thing you want to watch for in non-traditional sources is spandex- canvas is a no stretch zone! (Unless I change my mind for a specific project that I haven’t dreamed up yet)  The good news is that a drop cloth should never have spandex, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much!

Care LabelLay your drop cloth out flat on the floor (or a table if you are lucky enough to have a surface the cloth can lay completely flat without hanging over the edges).  Now get out a measuring tape or two.  The metal construction kind is great for this type of thing.Tape MeasuresNext, we are going to measure the cloth to determine a starting measurement.  I put a permanent marker “X” in the corner, so I will know which corner my measurements are based from.  You can see that this drop cloth is about 107″ x 70.25″ to start with.  Make note of this measurement- you will need it later!Mark Drop Cloth CornerWash and dry the drop cloth.  Use hot water.  MAKE IT SHRINK!  This is the time you want the cloth to shrink- not when it is inside your super cute tote bag!  Lay the cloth out flat and measure it again.Drop Cloth ShrinksWow!  Now the same cloth measures 102.5″ x 67.25″.  That is a big difference.  Now wash and dry it again.  Use hot water, again.  Try to make it shrink again.  Measure once more.  Did it shrink by more than about a quarter inch?  If so repeat the washing/drying process.  You want to have two consecutive washings with the measurements not changing.  I usually end up doing 2-3 passes through the wash.  (Note:  Canvas purchased off a bolt at the fabric store will also shrink a lot, so make sure that you prewash that really well, too.)

Cat HelpsOptional Step:  Ask your cat to move off of the drop cloth.  This may take awhile.

Once you have shrunk your drop cloth you are ready to get rid of those wonky hems on the edges.  We are going to rip the edges to make sure that the final piece of fabric is on the grainline.  Clip about 3/4″ into the drop cloth.  Make sure you cut through the hem perpendicular to the clip.  The cut itself should be about 1 inch.Clip FabricNow rip the fabric, starting with the clip you just made.  If the rip runs back into the hem, make another clip 1/2″ to 1″ further in on the edge of the cloth and rip again.Rip FabricRepeat the clipping and ripping process on all four sides.  Prepared DropclothNow you are ready to go!  I’m excited- Are you?

 


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!