Looking sleek and stylish as you tackle your fitness goals is what our S4H Fast and Easy Gym Tote is all about. This bag opens wide to be able to carry a pair of shoes as well as a change of clothes and all the extras you need for your workout routine. The lining is water-resistant ripstop nylon so you can easily toss in damp items. A magnetic snap holds the top closed and you can choose your carrying style: either a shoulder strap or handles – both in tough decorative belting.
It’s always easier to follow through on your goals when you have a pretty new tote to look forward to. Our design is stabilized for stand-up-on-its-own durability with fusible foam and features a classic inset base. It’s S4H, so you know we feature links within our step-by-step instructions for full technique tutorials on this type of base insertion as well as the magnetic snaps, and even the final hand stitching of the facing. If you’re newer to sewing, these tutorials are a great refresher prior to starting the project.
Our eye-catching exterior was fussy cut from a stunning Waverly home décor fabric. This type of substrate is our recommendation, not only because of its heavier weight, but also because home décor fabric is traditionally a wider width and often features big, bold motifs, like the beautiful birds on our sample. We purchased a bit more fabric than absolutely necessary in order to carefully fussy cut all the exterior panels as well as the interior pocket.
As mentioned above, the lining is ripstop nylon so the inside is easy to wipe clean with a damp cloth. As with most commercial bags, for the longest life, this tote is meant to be spot cleaned. Spraying the outside with a stain repellant, such as ScotchGard or similar, is a good protective step. That said, all the elements are machine washable, and on a gentle cycle in cold water, you could like get away with a full wash; it’s just not our top suggestion. And, tumble drying is never recommended. Let the bag air dry after any kind of cleaning.
The panels of the exterior are layered wrong sides together with the lining panels. When sewn, it produces visible interior seam allowances that are then bound for a clean finish. This helps make construction simpler than a traditional lining and produces very smooth sides on the interior of the bag. We felt this was important for a bag designed to hold a lot of items in a variety of shapes and sizes; you don’t want to fight a loose lining when you’re in a hurry, pulling items in and out to get to your workout on time. If a bound edge just isn’t your cup of tea, no worries. You could select your favorite machine sewn seam finish. Don’t have a favorite? We have a four-part series on the subject with lots of great options from which to choose.
Since the bag is nice and wide, it can easily fit a pair of shoes, sitting flat in the base, plus clothing, towels, and more. But, big bags can mean smaller items get lost in the jumble, so we added a deep hanging pocket for keys, ID, jewelry, even a phone. The pocket hangs free from the upper accent band so it’s easy to grab.
Sometimes you want to be hands-free and sometimes you don’t; this tote offers both options. Use the double carry handles – especially good when the bag is full of heavier items, or sling it over the shoulder or crossbody with the long strap. Of course, the final DIY decision is always up to you. Either option can be eliminated within the construction steps if you know you want just one favorite carry option.
Our tote finishes at approximately 14” wide x 12” high with a generous 8” base and sides. The shoulder strap finishes at about 42” and the handles have an approximate 4” drop.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing machine and standard presser foot
- Walking or Even Feed foot; or use your machine’s built-in fabric feeding system, such as the great AcuFeed™ Flex system we use on our Janome models
- Topstitch needle; best for the thick layers of canvas
Fabric and Other Supplies
- 1 yard of 54”+ wide mid-weight décor fabric or similar for the bag exterior; we originally used 54” Mudan Home Décor Fabric in Blush by Waverly Fabrics
NOTE: We used a full yard in order to fussy cut our fabric’s pretty bird motif to best fit all the exterior panels. If you choose a fabric with a smaller or more random motif, you may be able to use less fabric. Take a look at the Getting Started section below to see the actual cuts required.
- ⅓ yard of 45”+ wide mid-weight canvas, twill or similar in a coordinating solid for the accent trim; we used 54” Bentley Twill in Gray
- ½ yard of 54”+ wide lightweight ripstop or similar lightweight, water resistant fabric in a coordinating solid for the lining; we used a standard 59” ripstop nylon in gray
- 1⅛ yard of 20”+ wide fusible foam; we used one-sided fusible Pellon Flex Foam
- ¼ yard of 20”+ wide mid-weight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Decor Bond
- 2¼ yards of 1½” wide flexible belting for the shoulder strap and handles; we used Dritz 1½” Belting in a Brown/Tan Stripe — the carded belting comes 2 yards to a card, so we purchased two packages; some outlets offer it by the yard
- ONE package (3 yards) of standard extra wide, double fold bias tape for binding the interior seams; we used Wright’s binding in gray
- ONE magnetic snap; we used a Dritz ¾” snap in nickel
- All-purpose thread to match fabric, bias binding tape, and belting
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Rotary cutter and mat
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle
- From the exterior fabric, fussy cut the following:
TWO 23” wide x 12½” high rectangles for the exterior
ONE 15” wide x 9” high rectangle for the exterior base
TWO 7” wide x 14½” high rectangles for the interior hanging pocket
- From the trim fabric, cut TWO 45” wide x 4” high strips.
- From the lining fabric, cut the following:
TWO 23” wide x 12½” high rectangles for the exterior
ONE 15” wide x 9” high rectangle for the exterior base
- From the fusible foam, cut the following:
TWO 14” x 12” panels
FOUR 4” x 12 panels
ONE 14” x 8” panel for the base
NOTE: Along the cut edges of all seven pieces, trim back the edge at a slight diagonal. During construction, this slight diagonal cut allows the panels to come together with a sharper edge.
- From the mid-weight interfacing, cut the following:
ONE 6” x 13½” rectangle for the pocket
TWO 3” x 3” squares to reinforce the magnetic snap
- From the belting, cut ONE 43” length and TWO 18” lengths.
- The bias binding tape will be cut to length during construction.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Fuse the foam and interfacing in place
- Place each exterior panel wrong side up and flat on your work surface.
- Center three foam panels on each exterior fabric panel. The large 14” x 12” panel sits in the center with a 4” x 12” panel to either side. The top of the foam panels should be flush with the top raw edge of the fabric panel. The sides and bottom edges of the foam panels should sit ½” in from the raw edge of the fabric panel. And, the diagonally cut edges of the center panel and two side panels should come together with just a tiny sliver between. Lightly pin the panels in place to eliminate shifting.
- Flip over the panel and, following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Find the exterior base panel and the remaining foam panel. Center the foam panel on the wrong side of the exterior base panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the foam on all four sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Find one of the two pocket panels and the mid-weight interfacing panel. Center the interfacing on the wrong side of the fabric panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all four sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
Layer the lining and create the main tube
- Find the lining panels, two for the main front and back panels and one for the base.
- Layer each lining panel wrong sides together with its corresponding exterior panel, sandwiching the foam between the layers. All raw edges of both layers should be flush. Lightly pin the layers together around the perimeter. It is very important that your lining layer is flat and smooth. Do this for the base panel…
- … as well as the front and back panels.
- Attach a Walking or Even Feed foot or engage your machine’s built-in fabric feeding system. We used the AcuFeed™ Flex system on our Janome machine.
NOTE: As with all our presser foot recommendations, this is optional, but we do highly recommend it in order to keep these thicker layers moving together smoothly under the needle.
- Baste the layered panels in place – the front, back, and base. You can use a traditional basting stitch, or as we did, use a finishing stitch instead. Both the exterior fabric we chose as well as the ripstop had a tendency to fray, so we basted together the layers with a zig zag stitch, keeping the right swing of the needle right along the raw edges of the layers.
- Set the base panel aside.
- Place the front and back panels right sides together. Pin along both sides.
- Thread the machine with thread to best match the lining in the top and bobbin.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch both side seams. You should be stitching right along, but not on, the edge of the foam panels.
- Find the bias binding tape. Cut a length to match the length of the sewn seam.
- Open up the tape and simply slip it over the seam allowance to conceal the raw edges. Pin the tape in place.
- If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the binding tape in the top and bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch.
- Edgestitch along the inner fold of the binding tape through all the layers. Go slowly and carefully to insure you are catching both sides of the tape in this one seam. If your machine has the ability to adjust the needle position, use that feature to move your needle all the way to left to allow you to get as close as possible to the seam line.
Insert the base panel
- Find the layered and basted base panel.
- Find the center on each side of the panel and mark these points with a pin.
- Then, mark ½” from each corner, or in other words, at the corners of the foam panel.
- Find the exterior tube. Gently turn it wrong side out.
- Mark the center points of the bottom raw-edged opening of the tube in the same manner. The two side seams are two of the center points. Flatten the tube so the side seams allow to find the front and back center points.
- Place the first side of the base panel right sides together with one side of the tube, aligning the center pin points on the base panel with the center pin points on the tube. It’s a little like you’re setting a lid upside down into the opening of a box. Pin in place. Align these three main pin points first.
- Then fill in across the base panel.
- If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the lining in the top and bobbin. Re-set the stitch length to normal. We are still using our AcuFeed™ Flex fabric feeding system.
- With the outer pin point as your guide, start your seam ½” in. You are using a ½” seam allowance.
- Stitch across to the opposite outer pin, which is ½” in from the opposite base panel corner.
- Remove the project from under the needle.
- In order to create the flattest base possible, clip into each corner of the tube. Snip into the corner at a diagonal at a depth of about ⅜“. You are clipping right up to but not through your stitching line.
- Re-set, re-pin and then stitch the next side of the base panel in the same manner.
- Continue in the same manner to stitch the remaining two sides of the base panel, stitching one side at a time, starting and stopping ½” in at the marked corners.
NOTE: If you are brand new to inserting a flat base panel, we have a full step-by-step tutorial you can review prior to starting this project: How to Insert a Rectangular Base into a Tube.
- Keep the bag wrong side out.
- Find the remaining bias binding tape. Keep it as one continuous length.
- As you did above when finishing the center back seam, open and wrap the bias tape around the seam allowance.
- Pin in place around all four sections of the base panel seam allowance. You can fold in each corner at a diagonal, similarly to how you’d handle a blanket corner.
- If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the bias binding tape in the top and bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch. If possible move your needle position to the left.
- Edgestitch around all four sides through all the layers, going slowly and carefully to insure you are catching both sides of the tape wrapping the seam allowance.
- Stitch all the way into each corner, stop, raise the presser foot with the needle in the down position, pivot 90˚, drop the presser foot and continue along the next side.
NOTE: You can even completely stop and lock the stitch at the corner, remove the project from the machine, make the corner diagonal fold, re-set under the needle, drop the needle down at the exact corner point, and stitch to the next corner.
- When you get back to your starting point, turn under the raw end of the binding and create a simple overlap and stitch across to secure.
- Your inner seam allowances are now all neatly finished and your water resistant lining sits nice and flat against the inner walls of the bag.
Create the pocket
- Find the two pocket panels, one with interfacing and one without. Place the two panels right sides together. All four sides of both layers should be flush. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom. The top remains raw.
NOTE: A pocket like this, that folds up into position, can be a bit of a brain teaser if you are working with directional motifs. We fussy cut our pocket to center a pretty bird’s nest on its front. Remember that what eventually folds up to form the front of the pocket needs to start upside down and at the back. When stitched, turned and folded up into position, the back becomes the front and the motif will be right side up.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the exterior fabric. Re-set the stitch length to normal. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. Remember, the top edge remains unsewn.
- Clip the two bottom corners and press open the seam allowance.
- Turn right side out through the open top. Gently push out the bottom corners so they are as sharp as possible. A long, blunt tool works well for this, such as a knitting needle, chopstick or point turner. Press flat.
- Fold up the bottom 6” to form the pocket. Pin along each 6” side.
- Slightly lengthen the stitch. Edgestitch along each side to secure the pocket. If possible use a lock stitch to start and end your seam. If you do not have this feature, for the neatest look, leave the thread tails long and knot at the back to secure.
- Set aside the pocket.
Create the upper accent band with the magnetic snap, shoulder strap and pocket
- Find the two 45” x 4” trim pieces.
- Fold each piece in half, aligning the 4” ends. Pin in place.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the accent band in the top and bobbin. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch together, forming two loops.
- Set one loop aside, and working with the remaining loop, insert the two halves of the magnetic snap.
- Press open the loop’s seam allowance then center that seam. This seam is the center back of the bag and is where one half of the magnetic snap will be inserted.
- Press again, flattening the loop and allowing you to find the exact opposite point from the back center seam – this is the front center point of the bag and is where the other half of the magnetic snap will be inserted. Mark this point.
- Find the two small squares of interfacing. Center one square on the wrong side of the loop directly over the seam and center the other square, also on the wrong side of the loop, directly over the front center point. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Using the magnetic snap’s washer as a template, draw in cut lines for the snap’s prongs. The magnetic snap should bridge the seam and be centered top to bottom within the accent band.
- Insert this first half of the snap from front to back.
- Repeat to mark for the second half of the snap at the front center point.
- Insert this second half. With this hardware step, you can follow the snap’s package directions, or if you’re brand new, take a look at our full step-by-step tutorial on installing magnetic snaps.
- With the loop right side out, flatten it so the magnetic snap is aligned back-to-back. Press the outer edges of the loop, creating crease lines that indicate the exact side points – the points that will align with the side seams of the bag itself.
- Find the 43” length of webbing that is the shoulder strap. Center one raw end of the webbing over each side crease.
- Pin in place with the raw end of the webbing flush with the raw edge of the band. Check to make sure there are no twists in the loop of the shoulder strap. Machine baste each end in place.
- Find the remaining “plain” loop and place the two loops right sides together, aligning their back seams. Pin all around way around the top edge, sandwiching the shoulder strap between the layers.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch around the top edge through all the layers. For extra security, double-stitch across the ends of the shoulder strap.
- Turn the sewn loop right side out. You’ve created the accent “trim binding” that will slip over the top of the bag. Yay you!
- Fold back and press the raw edges of both the front and back of the band ½”.
- Find the pocket. Along the top raw edge of the pocket, measure to find the exact center and mark this point with a pin.
- Unfold that ½” finished edge along the inner layer (which is the layer with the magnetic snap). You don’t need to unfold the whole edge, just about 7” across the back seam.
- Align the top raw edge of the pocket with the bottom raw edge of the unfolded band. The pocket and the band are right sides together.
- Align the center pin point of the pocket top with the seam of the band. Then pin in place across the pocket.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch across through both layers to secure, which means you are stitching along that original crease line on the band.
- When stitched, and with the finished edge refolded, the hanging pocket will drop down facing right side out, and the top of the pocket will be 1½” from the finished edge of the band.
Make and insert the handles and attach the trim
- Find the two 18” lengths of webbing. Find the exact center point of each length and mark this point with a pin, then measure 2½” to the left of center and 2½” to the right of center, adding marking pins at both of these points.
- Fold the binding in half between the two outer pin points. Pin to secure. This forms the center of the handle with a double fold that makes it both stronger and easier to hold.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the webbing in the top and bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch. Edgestitch the fold to secure. We are still using our AcuFeed™ Flex fabric feeding system and this – or a Walking or Even Feed foot is strongly recommended throughout construction.
- Find the accent band “binding” again. For these steps you are working with the front of the band – the side that will show on the bag exterior.
- Unfold the bottom finished edge of this layer of the band along the center back and the center front. The seam is your center back point. If need be, re-measure and mark to find the front center point; you can also use the magnetic snap as a center reference point.
- Place the ends of one webbing length right sides together with the unfolded edge, curving the webbing to form the handle loop. Each webbing end should be 3” out from the center point, which gives you 6” from outer edge to outer edge as shown below.
- Baste the webbing ends in place.
- Find the main bag. Slip the accent band over the top of the bag. Center the original side crease lines on the band, which is also where the should strap comes up, over the side seams of the bag. Pin the band in place.
- Pull the handles up into position against the front of the accent band and pin well to secure, making sure the handles are straight up and down.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the accent band in the top and bobbin. Keep the slightly lengthened stitch. If you have a free arm on your machine, now it a good time to use it as it will make sewing around the top easier.
- Edgestitch around the top of the band through all the layers. Remember to make sure the handles are up in position as this is the seam that secures them in their upright position. Also make sure the shoulder strap is pulled up and away from the seam.
- Un-pin the band along the interior of the bag; leave it pinned in place along the exterior of the bag. Unfold the band so the inner layer (think of it as a facing) is laying out and away from the top of the bag.
- Edgestitch along the bottom of the band through the remaining layers: front of the band, exterior, lining.
- Remove the bag from the machine and make sure the bottom edge of the inner layer of the band (the facing layer) is still evenly folded back ½” all around.
- Fold the inner layer down into position against the lining and pin in place. The folded edge of the band should cover the visible seam you just made when stitching the front of the band in place.
- Thread the hand sewing needle with thread to best match the accent band and carefully slip stitch the band in place all around. Again, the best way to think of this is as a facing. Make your stitches tiny and precise as they are running along the inside of the bag and might be slightly visible.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild