February is National Embroidery Month, and this big, beautiful tote features one of our favorite embroidery accents. The bag’s design is generous in both size and style thanks to the perfect combination of a bold fabric motif and that striking embroidery. Our Sewing Escape attendees will recognize this project as the basis for the bag made at the events! The teardrop shape, narrower at the top and wider at the bottom, carries a lot and is fast and easy to load with just one hand. We chose a cotton duck from Premier Prints with a slub texture; this means it has intentional striations that give it an interesting knobby look. The cool turquoise and slate color combination is great for any season and a perfect backdrop for the bright pops of color in the mosaic border design embroidered across the top of the tote (front and back). We offer both a free embroidery design download as well as a printable template should you prefer to do hand embroidery or decorative stitching.
The rounded base of the bag gives you plenty of room to load up everything from books to dance gear to everyday necessities. A handy zippered pocket hangs free on the inside to make smaller items easy to find and secure.
The strap accents on the body of the bag are a fun vertical embellishment that gives the illusion of continuous loops. The tops of the straps are designed to be knotted together at the shoulder, allowing you to adjust the length for a custom fit. The straps are two different lengths so the knots will lay slightly off center and won’t rest right on top of your shoulder, which looks better and is more comfortable.
Click HERE to download the Graphic Border Design. This free download is available in the six major embroidery formats. Three sizes are included for each format should your embroidery machine not have an extra-large hoop. Also included on the download page is a .jpg image of the design.
Our thanks to Sew4Home seamstress team member, Michele Mishler for digitizing. Please note that this design is copyright protected and intended for personal use and gifts only.
For more embroidery designs by Michele, visit MM Embroidery Designs at Oregon Patchworks Mall.
Should you wish to create the border design using machine stitching and/or hand embroidery, we also offer a .PDF download of the template below in the Optional Embroidery – Decorative Stitching or Hand Stitching section. This can be used to trace the design onto the panel prior to stitching.
The tote finishes at approximately 19″ wide at the widest point of the base x 14″ wide at the top opening x 18″ high with a strap drop of about 12″.
Sewing Tools You Need
Fabric and Other Supplies
- 1¼ yard of 54″+ wide medium to heavy-weight cotton twill or duck for the bag’s exterior and the interior pocket; we used 54″ Feathers in Spirit from the Slub Duck collection by Premier Prints
NOTE: As mentioned above, a bold motif with proper fussy cutting is important to the design of the bag. Extra yardage is included in the quantity above to accommodate this.
- 1 yard of 54″+ wide medium to heavy-weight linen or similar for the bag’s top accent borders, the body strap accents and the handles; we used 54″ Linen Blend Slub in Charcoal by Robert Allen@Home
- ¾ yard of 44″+ wide standard weight cotton for the bag’s lining; we used 44″ Herringbone in Pond from the Modern Meadow collection by Joel Dewberry for FreeSpirit Fabrics
- ONE 9″ zipper in a coordinating color; we used a Coats Polyester All-Purpose Zipper in Dark Turquoise
- 1 yard of lightweight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon ShirTailor
- 1 yard of tear-away stabilizer for the optional embroidery as recommended for your embroidery machine
NOTE: Your machine may require more or less stabilizer. Refer to your manual for details.
- All purpose thread to match fabrics
- Embroidery thread to coordinate/contrast with your main exterior fabric for the optional embroidery or decorative stitching; we used Madeira Rayon in turquoise and burnt orange
- Cotton embroidery floss and hand embroidery needles if you choose to add hand embroidery accents
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
- From the fabric for the bag’s exterior and the interior pocket (Feathers in our sample), fussy cut the following, carefully centering your fabric’s main motif:
TWO 20″ wide x 15″ high rectangles for the bag body
ONE 11″ wide x 16″ high rectangle for the pocket
- From the fabric for the bag’s lining (Herringbone in our sample), fussy cut TWO 20″ wide x 15″ high rectangles.
- From the fabric for the bag’s top accent borders, the body strap accents, and the handles (Dark Gray Linen Blend in our sample), cut the following:
If doing embroidery, cut TWO rectangles at 18″ wide x 5″ high; cut ANOTHER TWO rectangles big enough to hoop (we cut at 18″ x 12″); they will be cut down after embroidery to 18″ x 5″.
NOTE: Even if you are planning to do the border accent with a decorative stitch or hand embroidery, you also need extra fabric to handle the stitching method. Simply keep in mind (for centering purposes) that you’ll trim the final strips to 18″ x 5″.
If not doing embroidery, cut FOUR 18″ wide x 5″ high rectangles
FOUR 15″ x 1½” strips for the body strap accents
TWO 3″ x 20″ strips for the long handles
TWO 3″ x 17″ strips for the short handles
- From the interfacing, cut FOUR 16″ x 5″ rectangles.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Download the design in the proper format and size for your machine and your largest hoop. We chose the largest size, which finishes at approximately 11½” wide x 2½” high.
- Hoop one of the border accent panels with two layers of tear-away stabilizer, making sure the fabric in centered in the hoop and the grain of the fabric is parallel with the sides of the hoop.
- When the embroidery is complete, remove the fabric from the hoop and tear away the excess stabilizer. Press from the wrong side.
- Repeat to embroider the remaining border accent panel.
Optional embroidery – decorative stitching or hand stitching
- Download the PDF design template: Border Left Side and Border Right Side on standard printer paper OR onto a printable stabilizer, following manufacturer’s directions. If you choose the printable stabilizer option, you can skip the tracing step below; jump to step #6.
IMPORTANT: The pattern is ONE 8½” x 11″ sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page.
- Cut apart the two sections. Then, cut along the solid line at just the two center points – the two straight edges with an arrow pointing at them.
- Butt together (do not overlap) the two halves of the design at this center line, following the arrows on the templates. Tape together.
- If you printed on standard paper, you’ll use a transfer pen or pencil to trace the design. If this is your first time using a transfer pen or pencil, try a sample first on a similar weight of fabric.
- Place a sheet of regular paper (like copy or printer paper) over the design printout. Carefully trace the design onto the paper with an iron-on transfer pen or pencil. This design is now an iron-on transfer.
- Transfer the design to the two border accent panels, remembering to center it as described above.
- Follow the drawn lines with narrow decorative stitching on your machine (such as a tight satin stitch) or use floss and the hand-embroidery stitches of your choice.
Trim and fuse the border panels
- Trim the finished panels to 18″ wide x 5″ high, positioning the embroidery so it is centered side to side and top to bottom.
- You should now have FOUR 18″ x 5″ border accent panels: two embroidered and two plain. If you decide not to do embroidery, you simply have four plain panels.
- Place one panel on your cutting mat. Align the panel with the mat’s grid lines to insure everything stays straight. You can tape the panel in place for extra security.
- Using your clear ruler and a rotary cutter, cut both ends of the panel at a slight angle. Position the ruler so you are cutting off 1″ at the bottom and 1½” at the top. This means the bottom edge of the panel should now measure 16″ and the top edge should measure 15″.
NOTE: If you don’t have a rotary cutter, draw a line first along the ruler and then cut along the drawn line.
- Repeat to trim the remaining three panels in the same manner.
- Trim the four interfacing rectangles to match.
- Following manufacturer’s directions, fuse an interfacing panel to the wrong side of each border accent panel.
- Set the fused panels aside.
- Find the FOUR 1½” x 15″ body strap accent strips.
- On each strip, press in the 15″ sides ⅜”, which means the raw edges will just meet at the middle of the strip. The strips should now be ¾” wide. Both ends are raw. Set them aside.
- Find the FOUR handle straps, the two long and the two short.
- Fold each handle strip in half lengthwise, right sides together, and press to set a center crease.
- Unfold wrong side up so the crease line is visible and fold back one end of each strip ½” and press.
- Fold in the long raw sides of each strip so they meet in the center.
- Fold the strip in half along the original crease line, aligning the folded edges.
- Thread the machine with thread to match the strap fabric in the top and bobbin.
- Edgestitch along the finished end and both long sides of all four straps. You should now have two long straps and two short straps; each are finished on three sides with one raw end.
Exterior bag body
- Find the two exterior 20″ x 15″ panels.
- Find the exact center along the top 20″ raw edge of each panel. Place a pin at this point.
- Measure 5″ to the right of center and mark with a pin. Measure 5″ to the left of center and mark with a pin.
- Using a fabric pen or pencil draw a vertical line from the top of the bag panel to the bottom at each 5″ mark.
NOTE: You are working on the right side of the fabric, so make sure you use a marking tool that will easily wipe away or will fade with exposure to the air or the heat of an iron. The line will be covered with the strip, but better safe than sorry; you don’t want any bleed through!
- Find the four ¾” body accent strips.
- Place one accent strip at each 5″ point, centering the strip over the drawn line from top to bottom. Pin the strips in place. Measure the width between the strips to insure the distance stays at a perfectly even 10″ along the entire length. It is critical the strips are straight and parallel with one another.
- Your machine should still be threaded with thread to match the strap fabric in the top and bobbin.
- Edgestitch each strip in place along both sides on both the front and back exterior panels.
- With the accent strips in place, again find the center point along the top edge of each panel. Measure 2″ to the right of center and mark with a pin. Measure 2″ to the left of center and mark with a pin.
- Fold in the outer pins to meet in the middle at the center pin, creating a box pleat. This pleat takes up 4″, bringing down the top edge to 16″, which will now match perfectly with the bottom edge of the border accent panel. Make sure you pleat both the front and back panels.
NOTE: If you are new to this technique, we have a great Box Pleating Tutorial.
- Find a common household object to use as a template to round the bottom corners of the bag panels. We used a 6″ cereal bowl.
- Find the two embroidered border accent panels. Place one panel right sides together with each bag body panel, aligning the bottom 16″ edge of the accent panel with the top 16″ edge of the bag body. Pin in place.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch across. Press the seam allowance up towards the accent band.
- Place the bag front and back right sides together, aligning all the raw edges. Be particularly careful to align the accent panel seams.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and around the bottom.
- Clip the curves and turn the bag right side out. Set aside.
- Find the 11″ x 16″ pocket panel. Measure 3″ down from the top raw edge and cut across horizontally, dividing the panel into two sections. The zipper will go between the two sections.
- Place the small top section right sides together with the top edge of the zipper tape. Pin in place.
- Make sure the machine is threaded with thread to match the exterior fabric in the top and bobbin.
- Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch across. You can use a Zipper foot if you have trouble getting in close enough with a Standard foot. We used a Standard foot.
- Press the fabric up and away from the zipper. Edgestitch along the zipper through all the layers.
- Repeat to stitch the top edge of the large bottom section to the bottom edge of the zipper tape.
- And, repeat the edgestitching.
- Fold up the bottom edge of the pocket panel to align with the top edge, sandwiching the zipper between the layers. Pin along both sides.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch the sides.
- Trim the seam allowances back to just under ¼”.
- Turn the pocket right sides out and press. Using a ¼” seam allowance, topstitch along each side. This will enclose the unfinished edges of the pocket so there are no exposed edges inside the pocket. A bit like a French seam, but in reverse.
- Find the two 20″ x 15″ lining panels. Following the same steps as above, pleat the top edge of both panels.
- And, round the bottom corners, using the same template you used for the exterior panels.
- On one panel, follow the same steps as above to stitch a plain accent border in place.
- On the remaining lining panel, first place the finished pocket along the top edge. Center pocket over the panel’s pleat, aligning the raw edges of the panel with the raw edges of the pocket. Pin or hand baste the pocket in place.
- Attach the remaining plain accent border, using a ½” seam allowance to stitch through all the layers. As above, press the seam allowance up towards the border.
- Place the lining front and back right sides together, aligning all the raw edges. Be particularly careful to align the accent panel seams. Pin in place, leaving a 6″ opening along the bottom edge.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and around the bottom. Remember to lock your seam at either side of the 6″ opening along the bottom.
- Clip the curves. Press open the seam allowance so the opening is flush with the sewn seam.
- Keep the lining wrong side out.
Final assembly with handle straps
- Find the exterior bag, which should be right side out.
- Find all four handle straps.
- Pin the straps to the upper edge of the bag with 6″ between the straps, which means they should be exactly in line with the accent strips on the body of the bag. Align the raw end of each strap with the top raw edge of the bag.
- MAKE SURE the shorter strap is on left side of the bag and the longer strap is on the right side of the bag on one side, then reverse this on the opposite side of the bag: shorter strap is on the right and the longer strap is on the left. Double check, then check again, because if they don’t align, it will make tying them at the shoulder very weird.
- With the exterior bag right side out and the lining wrong side out, slip the exterior bag inside the lining so the two bags are right sides together. Match the upper edges and the side seams. Pin in place around the entire top opening.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch around the entire top opening.
- Turn the bag right side out through the bottom opening in the lining.
- Press the upper edge so it is nice and flat.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to match the border/strap fabric.
- Topstitch ¼” in from the top finished edge all around.
- Flatten again, make sure all your seams still match, then topstitch through all the layers ¼” up from the border/body seam within the border strip.
- Hand or machine stitch to close the opening at the bottom of the lining. And, push the lining back down into place.
- Pull up the handles into position and knot the short and long straps together on both the front and back. The result allows the knots to lay slightly off center so they don’t rest right on top of your shoulder, which looks better and is more comfortable.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Michele Mishler