Box Style Tote with Yarn Wrapped Handles
Often, the best way to showcase an interesting embellishment is to keep your fabric muted so the featured technique shines. We used a variegated cotton yarn to create custom wrapped handles on this classic box tote – then added yarn whip stitching along the pocket top and an eye-catching crosshatch to hold the unique reverse box corners in place. Dimension, color, and style all in one.
For the proper stability, look for a duck canvas or similar for the exterior and a home décor/sateen weight for the lining. Fusible fleece provides just the right amount of soft structure.
We recommend keeping your exterior and lining solid colors a close match. Again, you don’t want to distract from the yarn accents, so having the exterior blend right into the lining is a great choice.
Full step-by-step instructions are shown below for the handle wrapping. The trick is to go slowly so your strands wrap tightly and evenly around the piping cord core.
If you’re loving this look, you may also like the similar technique we used to create our Tassel Time floss wrapped broomstick tassels.
Box corners give the tote its generous 4½” depth. The exterior’s corners are done in reverse, adding a stylish layered look with a bold “X” in the variegated yarn to secure the exposed fold.
The handle loops are just the right size for a casual, hand-carry tote. And with the greater side depth, the top can be fully opened for easy load-in-load-out access or collapsed, a little like a paper bag, so the top draws closed.
We chose autumn colors for our sample and include links within the supply list if you want to get this exact look. But, the alternatives are wide open when it comes to solid color basics! We suggest first finding a variegated yarn you love, then coordinating the solid fabrics to the yarn to create the best background palette.
Our Tote finishes at about 9” high x 12½” wide x 4½” deep. The handle loops finish with an approximate 3” drop.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing machine and standard presser foot
- Jeans/Denim needle; we always recommend starting with a new needle for most projects, but especially when working with heavier layers
Fabric and Other Supplies
- ¾ yard of 54”+ wide cotton duck canvas or similar in a solid color for the bag exterior; we used Duck Canvas in Olive
- ¾ yard of 45”+ wide mid-weight cotton sateen or similar in a closely matching color for the bag lining; we used a Home Essentials Decor Solid in Green from JoAnn Fabrics
- ½ yard of 45”+ wide fusible fleece; we used Pellon Thermolam Fusible Fleece
- 1 yard of ⅜” cotton piping cord
- ONE ball/skein/cone of variegated cotton yarn; we used Sugar ’n’ Cream Cone Yarn by Lily in Autumn Leaves Variegated
- FOUR ½” metal grommets with tools; we used a Dritz® Extra Large Eyelet Kit in Brass
- ONE yarn needle
- All-purpose thread to match fabric
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Rotary cutter and mat
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
- Small hammer to set grommets; we recommend a soft leather mallet or a ball peen hammer
- Heavy metal, stone or wooden block to use as a cutting and hammering surface; we use a small granite block
- From the exterior fabric (olive canvas in our sample), cut the following:
TWO 18½” wide x 14½” high rectangles for the main exterior panels
ONE 13½” wide x 6½” high rectangle for the exterior pocket
- From the exterior fabric (home dec green in our sample), cut the following:
TWO 18½” wide x 11½” high rectangles for the main lining panels
ONE 13½” wide x 6½” high rectangle for the lining of the exterior pocket
ONE 9” x 11” rectangle for the lining pocket
- From the fusible fleece, cut TWO 17½” wide x 11½” high rectangles for the main lining panels
- From the cording, cut TWO 18” lengths
- Do not cut the yarn at this point.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Find the two exterior panels and the two panels of fusible fleece. Place the fleece against the wrong side of the fabric, centering it so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the fleece along the sides and across the bottom, and 3” showing along the top. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
Create and place the exterior pocket
- Find the 13½” x 6½” exterior and lining pocket panels. Place them right sides together so all the raw edges of both layers are flush. Pin along both sides and across the bottom, leaving an approximate 4” opening along the bottom for turning.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom. Remember to pivot at the corners and to lock the seam at either side of the 4” opening.
- Trim the corners and press open the seam allowance.
- Turn right side out. Use a long, blunt tool to gently push out all four corners so they are as sharp as possible. A knitting needle, chopstick or point turner works well for this. Press flat, pressing in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
- Use a fabric pen or pencil to draw a line along the upper edge of the pocket ¼” down from the top. Remember, you are working on the right side of the fabric; make sure your marking tool is one that will easily wipe away or will vanish with exposure to the air or the heat of an iron.
- Thread a yarn needle with a long length of cotton variegated yarn. Our sample used a 36” length of yarn.
- Using the marked line for reference, start with a knot hidden inside the seam/inside the pocket. The opening you used for turning is still there; you can carefully reach through it to hide the knot inside.
- Continue using the line as your guide to whip stitch along the top edge of the pocket, spacing the stitches about ¼” apart. The pretty variegated thread will subtly change colors as you move across the pocket top. End the hand sewing with a knot again hidden inside the seam.
NOTE: With the seam allowance, there are a lot of layers right along the top edge of the pocket. If you struggle pulling the needle through, try using a pair of pliers for extra grip-and-pull.
- Position the pocket on one exterior panel. The pocket should be centered side to side and the bottom seamed edge should sit 3″ up from the bottom raw edge of the fabric panel. Pin the pocket in place along the sides and across the bottom.
- Find the center of the pocket side to side and use the fabric pen or pencil to draw a vertical center guide line, dividing the pocket into two sections.
- Slightly lengthen the stitch.
- Edgestitch the pocket in place along the sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. This seam seals the opening used for turning.
- Topstitch along the vertical center guideline through all the layers.
Create the exterior with its reverse boxed corners
- Place the front and back panels right sides together, sandwiching the pocket between the layers. Pin along both sides and across the bottom.
- Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom.
- Clip the bottom corners and press open the seam allowances.
- Turn the bag right side out. Push out the corners firmly so they are as flat as possible.
- Press the corners, further flattening them.
- Along the top raw edge, press in the folds for the facing. To do this, first fold back and press ½”. Press well in order to set a visible crease line.
- Fold back and press an additional 2”. Again, press well to set a visible crease line.
- Unfold both folds so the crease lines can be seen.
- Along the bottom you will create two reverse box corners. To do this, first flatten the corner as for a traditional boxed corner, pinching the corner out and carefully matching the side and bottom seams. Pin to hold the corner flat. Using a ruler, slide it up from the point of the corner until you reach a width of 4½”. Using a fabric pen or pencil, draw a 4½” line across the corner. The gridlines of the ruler will help keep the line perpendicular to the seam.
- Slightly lengthen the stitch. Stitch across the marked line.
- Repeat for the second corner.
- Fold up each corner along the seam line so the point of the corner is centered on the side seam. Pin in place.
- Thread the yarn needle with a short length of yarn (18” is about right) to sew a decorative cross stitch through all the layers, which will hold the reverse box in place. Start the stitch in the middle at the seam. Return the needle to the inside creating a ½” stitch at a 45° angle. Return to the center and make a second stitch in the opposite direction. Create two more ½” stitches to create a cross.
- Repeat for the second side. As mentioned above, you can use a pair of pliers to help pull the needle through the thick layers.
NOTE: As an option to further hold the corner flat, we hand stitched along the edges of the boxed corner, hiding the stitches between the layers.
Create the lining with traditional boxed corners
- Find the 13½” x 6½” lining pocket panel. Fold it in half so it is now 6¾” x 6½. Pin along both sides and across the bottom, leaving an approximate 3” opening along the bottom for turning.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom. Remember to pivot at the corners and to lock the seam at either side of the 3” opening.
- Trim the corners and press open the seam allowance.
- Turn right side out. As above with the exterior pocket, use a long, blunt tool to gently push out all four corners so they are as sharp as possible. Press flat, pressing in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
- Position the pocket on one lining panel. The pocket should be centered side to side and the bottom seamed edge should sit 3¾“ up from the bottom raw edge of the fabric panel. Pin the pocket in place along the sides and across the bottom.
- Slightly lengthen the stitch and edgestitch the pocket in place along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
- Place the front and back lining panels right sides together, sandwiching the pocket between the layers. Pin along both sides and across the bottom.
- Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
- Flatten the bottom corner to create 4½” traditional box corners. To do this, slide your ruler up from the point of the corner until you reach a width of 4½”. Using a fabric pen or pencil, draw a 4½” line across the corner. You can also measure half the box width (2¼”) up from the point of the seam and draw a line.
- Stitch across the drawn line.
- Trim away the excess triangle, leaving an approximate ½”” seam allowance.
NOTE: If you are new to this technique, check out our tutorial: How To Box Corners for more details.
Assemble the exterior and lining and add the grommets
- Find the exterior, which should be right side out. Turn the lining wrong side out. Slip the lining inside the exterior so the two layers are now wrong sides together. Push the lining all the way down into the exterior, aligning the side seams and the bottom box corners. The upper edge of the lining should come up to the pressed fold line.
- Using the pressed crease lines as your guide, re-fold the facing in place (½” then an additional 2”) over the lining and pin in place.
- Lengthen the stitch. Edgestitch the facing in place around the top of the bag, stitching through all layers. Start and end your seam at a side seam.
- Mark for the position of the four grommets. As shown in the drawing below, each grommet is centered top to bottom with the facing (between the top of the bag and the seam) and the outer edge of the grommet sits 3” in from the corner of the bag (5¼” from the side seam).
- Use a grommet ring to trace an enlarged circular opening at each of your marked points. Carefully cut out the circular opening.
- Insert the grommet stud from the inside through to the outside.
- Place the grommet cap into position and use the Dritz Setting Post and Anvil to hammer the two halves together. Set all four grommets in the same manner.
NOTE: If you are brand new to working with metal grommets, check out our full tutorial.
Create and attach the yarn wrapped handles
- Find the two 18” lengths of cording.
- Thread the end of the yarn through the yard needle, but keep it on the cone. Start approximately ¾” from the end of one length of cording.
- Wrap the yarn around the cord smoothly and evenly. Go slowly in order to keep your wrap as even as possible. You want the strands tight against one another. Stop your wrap approximately ¾” from the opposite end.
- Secure the ends by inserting the yarn needle back through the end of the wrap, pulling the ends through approximately 1” back from your end point. Cut the ends free from the cone so they extend about ¾” from the wrapped handle.
- Trim both exposed ends of the cording at an angle.
- Insert one end through a grommet on one side of the tote. You are inserting from front to back. Bring the handle through far enough so the angled end sits against the yarn-wrapped portion of the handle as shown in the photo below. In this photo, you can also see those original cut ends extending from the handle. You can trim these ends flush once the cut end is anchored.
- Cut an approximate 4′ length of yarn. Thread it through the needle so it is a doubled length; in other words, you are now working with an approximate 2′ length. Secure this doubled length of yarn through the cord and begin to wrap the angled end to the main handle.
- Continue to wrap tightly and smoothly until the end is completely covered.
- As above with your main wrapping, going slowly and evenly is the key to the best look.
- Secure the yarn by sending the needle back through the wrap. Pull taut and trim the excess close to the handle.
- Insert the opposite end of the handle into the grommet on the same side of the tote. Fold the end and wrap in the same manner.
- Repeat all the steps for the second handle.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Michele Mishler
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Great, easy to follow
Great, easy to follow tutorial with some creative twists on finishing touches. Thanks!
@sallmred – Thank you so much
@sallmred – Thank you so much. It’s a fun project and the yarn embellishments really do add that just right spark.