I can't get enough of canvas tote bags. I use one most days to carry my lunch to work, and love that when they're empty, they fold up nice and small in my bag. I have a few cute bags (this one from my friend Nicola Rowlands is my favourite!), but after I picked up this fabric cheap at Hobby Lobby when I was in the USA a couple of weeks ago, I knew I had the perfect amount to make a pretty tote to add to my arsenal.
Totes are easy to sew- if you can sew a (relatively!) straight line, you're good to go. This one has some fancy touches, but while sewing a button hole might be a little challenging if you haven't tried it before, it's totally worth it, and the French seams means there's no loose threads to fray on the inside. It's all in the finishing touches with this bag!
Supplies used: light to medium weight fabric (I used a little under 70" of interior decoration weight fabric, but you could get away with quilting cotton if you don't mind the end product being a little floppier); coordinating thread; button; sewing machine; iron & ironing board; rotary cutter & cutting mat (or just use scissors); scissors; hand sewing needle; pins & tailor's chalk (not shown).
1. Start by cutting your fabric.
Cut the following on the fold:
Main piece: 1 piece 15.5" x 19" (short edge on fold, 15.5" x 38" unfolded)
Handles: 2 pieces 5" x 16" (short edge on fold, 15.5" x 32" unfolded). This makes nice long handles, you could easily shorten this a few inches if you prefer shorter handles.
Cut the following off the fold:
Button flap: 2 pieces 3.5" x 10"
Now, you're ready to start sewing (numbers relate to those in the pictures above).
2. Fold the handles in half length ways, right side out, and press. Open the handles out, fold each of the edges into the folded centre, and press again. Finally, fold the handle in half length ways again and press. You should have 2 long handles, 4 layers of fabric thick. Pin to ensure the folds stay together neatly, then set aside for now.
3. Place the button flap pieces right sides together. Fold in half, and trim one end to a gentle curve. Stitch using a 1/4" seam around the long sides and curved bottom of button flaps. Clip triangles from the seam allowance of the curve, taking care not to clip the seam itself. Turn right side out, ensuring that the curve is smooth (the clipped seam allowance will help), and press. Top stitch around the long edge and curve.
4. Using the tailor's chalk, lightly mark where you'd like your button hole. Your button hole should be marginally longer than your button's diameter. Using this line as a guide, stitch your button hole using your preferred method. There's lots of ways of sewing button holes, here's a decent tutorial if you're unsure.
5. Open up your button hole, and check that your button fits through.
6 & 7. Take the handles you prepared earlier, and top stitch around the handles, taking care to ensure the open edge remains lined up as you stitch. You only need to stitch the long edges, the raw short edges will be covered. You should now have 2 completed handles and 1 completed button flap.
8. Take your main bag piece, fold WRONG sides together, and lightly press (you should have a double layer of fabric, 15.5" x 19"). Using a 1/4" seam, stitch each long edge, back stitching at the edges. If this is the first time you've stitched French seams, it will feel a little weird to have the seam allowance on the outside of the bag- don't worry, we'll fix that in the next step.
9. Clip the corners of the seam allowance to make it a little easier to achieve a crisp corner. Take care not to clip the seam. Turn the bag inside out, and press the seams.
10. With right sides together, stitch the long edges again, using a wider seam than you used the first time- I used 3/8" for the second seam. Take care to ensure the seam you're stitching is wider than the first seam- otherwise the seam allowance will peek through your new seam. Congratulations, you've just made a pretty French seam!
11. Fold the top edge of the bag over 1/2" towards the inside of the bag, and press. Fold over again, around 1.5", and press, folding the side seams to one side of the bag- this will form the top hem of the bag. Using a tape measure or quilting ruler, mark each side of the open end of the bag 3" from the seam. This is your placement for the handles. On one side, mark the central point between the two edge seams. This is your placement for the button flaps.
12. Position the handles, using the 3" marks as a guide- place the outside edge of the handle against the mark, inserting the short edge of the handle just over 1/2" under the folded hem of the bag, and pin in place. Take care not to twist the handles! Match the middle of the button flap with the central mark on the bag, insert the open edge just over 1/2" under the folded edge, and pin in place. Top stitch around the bottom edge of the hem, close to the edge.
13 & 14. Fold the handles and button flap up towards the top of the bag and pin. Reinforce the handles & button flap by stitching around the rectangle where they align with the hem, adding diagonal lines of stitching across the rectangles for added strength. This step is best completed from the outside of the bag, to ensure the finish is neat. Turn the bag right side out, pushing the corners out to achieve a crisp finish.
Finally, fold the button flap to the front of the bag, work out where you want your button placed, and hand stitch the button on.
I really hope you give this a go! I think it makes both a great beginner project, and a great relaxing project for those with a little more experience under their belts- and would make great gifts, too. After all, you can never have too many totes, right?
Any easy, fun projects you'd like to recommend? Any questions, drop them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.
P.S. If you've been looking through some old posts, and found broken Flickr images, I'm working on fixing them. It's a slow job though- I'll let you know when it's all done. Thanks so much to Olivia for emailing to let me know they were broken!