Crafts for Authors: Making a Tote Bag

This is the first in a series of blogs I hope to write about crafts for authors.  This is not to be confused with writing craft, that’s an entirely different subject.  So take your hands off the keyboard — this blog is about sewing a tote bag.

Image 1 - finished toteAuthor’s note:  the tote I’ve used as an example in this blog is the one I’m giving away as part of my Merry Christmas Giveaway, which you can enter hereA winner will be announced on December 23, 2015.

This project requires a sewing machine and some basic sewing skills.  Once you have a working pattern, you can make a lined tote bag in about an hour.  If you’re planning to make a bunch of them — for example, as table giveaways at a luncheon or signing event — you can cut several bags and put them together like an assembly line and the sewing time goes way down.

What you’ll need:

  1.  About half a yard of cotton fabric in two different, but complimentary colors. 
  2. Heavy-duty fusible interfacing
  3. Some newsprint or other wide paper, a ruler, and a square to make your pattern.
  4. A sewing machine, thread, scissors, etc.

Step One — Making your pattern

  1. Using newsprint or wide paper, lay out a rectangle with the dimensions of your tote.  The tote in the project I used for this blog was 17 inches wide and 13 inches tall.  Once you’ve laid out a rectangle in the finished dimensions, add 5/8 or 1/2 inch all the way around for your seam allowances.
  2. Cut two 2 inch by 2 inch squares from the bottom corners of your rectangle.  When you’re finished, you should have a paper pattern that looks like this.Image 2 - paper pattern
  3. Take a moment to mark the position for the straps on the top of the pattern.  The straps should be attached about 2 or 3 inches from the center line of the pattern if you folded it in half.
  4. Cut a second rectangle that’s 4 inches wide and 14 inches long.  This is the pattern for your strap, and when cutting out strap pieces you will place this pattern on a fold, so the final dimension of the strap piece will be 4 inches wide and 26 inches long.image 3 - strap pattern


Step Two — Cutting out the tote

  1. Using the paper pattern for the tote bag, cut 2 pieces for the outside of the tote, 2 pieces for the tote’s lining, and two pieces in the fusible interfacing.
  2. Transfer the markings for the position of the tote straps onto your main fabric. 
  3. Using the pattern for the strap and remembering to place one end on folded fabric, cut two straps in your main fabric, and two straps in the fusible interfacing.

Step 3 — Making the Tote

  1. Following the manufacturer’s directions, fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of the tote bag pieces (not the lining), and to the wrong side of straps.   image 4 - interfacing
  2. Pin the tote’s pieces right sides together and sew the side seams and the bottom seams together.  Press the seams open.image 5 - side and bottom seams
  3. Pin the tote’s lining right sides together and sew the bottom and one side.  On the second side, leave a gap of several inches that is not sewn together.  You will use this gap to turn the tote bag in step 10.  This is important, you must leave a gap in this seam.  Press the seams open.  Here’s a photo of the lining with the seams pressed open, and the gap that’s needed for turning the tote in step 10.image 6 - hole in side seam lining
  4. The next step is making the bottom corners of the tote.  Pinch together the cut corner so that the seams on the bottom and side match up in the center.  Pin, and sew.  Do this for the bottom of the tote and the lining.image 7 - corner seam
  5. Making the straps:  Fold up 5/8 inch on both edges of the strap pieces and press.  Then fold the strap pieces in half lengthwise and press again.  Pin, and sew a narrow 1/4 inch seam along the open edge, then top stitch the folded side.image 8 - press seam allowance straps image 9 strap detail
  6. Pin the finished straps to the tote, one strap on each side.  The ends of the straps should be even with the top of the bag, and the loop of the strap should hang down, as shown. image 10 - pin the straps
  7. Make sure the tote is outside out, and the lining is inside out.  Then place the tote inside the lining and match up side seams.  The right sides of both the lining and the tote should be together, and the straps should be hanging down into the fabric from the un-sewn top edge.image 11 -- joining lining and bag
  8. Sew the bags together along the top edge.
  9. Turn the bag right side out.  This is where you’ll need to use the gap in the lining that you created in step 4.  If you forgot to leave one you’ll have to rip the seam. 
  10. Top stitch around the top of the tote, near the edge.image 12 topstitching top
  11. Pull out the lining and stitch the gap in the lining created in step 4, close to the folded edge of the seam allowance.image 13 - stitch gap in lining

Voila, you now have a tote bag worthy of filling with books for deserving readers. 

image 14 - finished tote bag

Questions? Please feel free to post a comment.  Also, I’m looking for other authors who make things for readers.  I’d like to make this craft blog a regular feature here at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood.  So if you have any ideas, this is the time to share them.

12 responses to “Crafts for Authors: Making a Tote Bag”

  1. So cute, and such a great idea! I’m not that handy when it comes to sewing, but I do enjoy crafts. I’m sure a handmade craft would be welcome by any reader!

  2. Diana Layne says:

    This is amazing! I can’t sew at all and I’ve managed to break every sewing machine I’ve ever owned. I admire those who can. Such talent!

    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Not talent, just lots of practice. I grew up at a time where everyone sewed. I can remember being handed “sewing cards” when I was no more than about four or five. I learned to sew a straight seam on a sewing machine when I was about six or seven — I made a patchwork quilt for a doll (with a lot of help from my Aunt Annie.) So sewing is just something I’ve been doing all my life. 🙂

  3. Rita Henuber says:

    Wonderful! You are so talented. The bag is beautiful and great job on the instructions. So clear even I can understand. Thanks

    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Thanks, Rita, but really there isn’t much talent involved. This is a pretty easy sewing project. And as I said above, I learned to sew on a sewing machine when I was about six or seven. I remember making tote bags as Christmas gifts for people when I was in grade school. 🙂

  4. Kay Pflueger says:

    I love this.. thanks for sharing the pattern. I am going to start making tote bags from vintage linen table cloths so this will be very helpful!

  5. Wow, what a fabulous reader gift!! Bookmarking for later use!

    I have a friend who has a business making and selling all sorts of fabric items, and one new thing she’s doing is gift bags. I think it’s a super-cute idea to give someone a gift in a hand-made, reusable fabric bag, rather than wrapping paper or a plastic or paper gift bag. This tote is a wonderful present-holder!

  6. Liz Talley says:

    I’m so hopeless when it comes to sewing, but I loved this blog post and seeing all the steps you took. Finished product is precious. What lucky readers you have!

  7. Tamara Hogan says:

    Cute bag, Hope! I’m a quilter, and love making bags and purses. I can never have enough. 😉

  8. Gwyn says:

    So pretty. My sewing machine has gathered dust since I made Stinker’s princess dress for the Ren Faire a couple of years ago. These look easy and durable. Great combination. Love the fabric, too. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I love it! But definitely beyond my remedial sewing skills. I can handle sewing buttons onto shirts, but that’s about it. When I got the bright idea to make a vest as part of my son’s Halloween costume a few years back my mom had to step in to prevent disaster.


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