It’s time for a “can-you-believe-it” moment. Can you believe this fabulous tote is made from faux leather and designer vinyl? Today’s designer vinyls and faux leathers come in an incredible array of realistic textures, and in colors from the natural neutrals of real leathers to vibrant fashion tones, like bubblegum pink crocodile and tooled southwestern turquoise. If you haven’t shopped for or worked with these substrates lately, you’re in for a treat. The variety is amazing, it’s soft, flexible and easy to sew, and that strong smell of the old-school vinyls is gone. 

This tote is designed in a shopper style, which means it’s a generous size that opens wide at the top and can be slung over your shoulder or carried by hand. Although most shoppers have no upper closure at all, we added a simple ribbon-tie for those times when it helps to cinch the top together to reduce bulk or add a bit of security

The top binding on the bag it attached using a traditional quilt binding method, which allows the most precise and narrow topstitching from the front and a “couture style” hand stitch finish on the inside that is equally sleek and neat. We recommend working with clips, such as Wonder Clips or similar, rather than pins to make it easy to fold-and-hold.

We used the same fabric as the binding for a soft accent bow. This is simply tied to the front handle and could be changed out to fit other occasions: use a bit of sparkle or a lush velveteen for a more formal outing

Our bag finishes at approximately 13″ high x 11″ wide at the base and 16″ wide at the top with a 5″ base and sides and a 12″ high handle loop.

Sewing Tools You Need

  • Sewing machine and standard presser foot
  • NEW 100/16 Denim Needle or 80/12 Sharps Needle
  • Zipper foot; best for stitching alongside the clips
  • Ultra Glide foot or similar Teflon® type presser foot; optional, but helpful when working with vinyl
  • Walking or Even Feed footoptional but helpful with the heavier/somewhat slippery fabric – you could also engage your machine’s built-in fabric feeding system, such as the great AcuFeed™ Flex system we use on many of our Janome models

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • ½ yard of 54″+ wide textured faux leather or similar for the top exterior; we originally used a 54″ Faux Ostrich Leather in Mocha by the Mitchell Group
  • ½ yard of 54″+ wide smooth faux leather or similar for the bottom exterior; we originally used 54″ R-Pecos Leather Look in Gold by Regal
  • ½ yard of 54″+ wide smooth fashion-weight faux leather or similar for the binding and bow; we originally used 54″ Perfecto Leather in Bronze
  • 1 yard of 44″+ quilting weight cotton for the lining; we originally used 44″ Kona Cotton Solid in Pale Pink
  • 1 yard of 20″+ wide sew-in or fusible foam
  • ONE PAIR of 12″+ (height of center arc) pre-drilled purse handles
    NOTE: Our handles were long enough to allow the bag to be slipped over the shoulder, but not so long that it couldn’t also be carried as a handbag. 
  • 1 yard of ⅜” – ⅝” ribbon for the top tie closure
  • ONE Dritz Speedy Stitcher to attach handles
  • 1¼ yard of 20″+ medium weight fusible interfacing; we used ShirTailor by Pellon
  • Wonder Clips or similar clips for working with the faux leather and vinyl
  • Heavy thread to match exterior fabrics
  • All-purpose thread to match lining fabric
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Pressing cloth
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. From the exterior top fabric (Faux Ostrich in Mocha in our sample), cut TWO 17″ wide x 5½” high rectangles.
    NOTE: Use a clear ruler and rotary cutter for the cleanest cuts.
  2. From the exterior bottom fabric (R-Pecos Gold in our sample), cut TWO 17″ wide x 11½” high rectangles
  3. From the fabric for the binding and bow (Bronze Perfecto Leather in our sample), cut the following:
    TWO 2″ x 36″ strips for the binding
    ONE 5½” x 36″ strip for the bow
  4. From the lining fabric (Kona Cotton in our sample), cut the following:
    TWO 17″ wide x 16″ high rectangles for the lining panels
    ONE 11″ wide  x 13″ high rectangle for the pocket
  5. From the foam interfacing, cut ONE 15″ x 32½” panel.
  6. From the fusible interfacing, cut the following:
    TWO 17″ wide x 16″ high rectangles for the lining panels
    ONE 11″ wide  x 6½” high rectangle for the pocket
  7. Cut the ribbon into TWO 12″ lengths.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Create the top and bottom sections

  1. Find the two 17″ x 11½” bottom panels. Place the panels right sides together, aligning all four sides.
  2. Using the Wonder Clips (or similar), clip the panels together along the two 11½” sides. We used the handy ½” guides on the Jumbo Wonder Clips to set our seam allowance.
  3. Using a ½” seam allowance and a Zipper foot, stitch the panels together along both sides.
  4. Repeat with the two 17″ x 5½” top panels. First clipping along each 5½” side.
  5. Then, using a ½” seam allowance and a Zipper foot to stitch each side.
  6. Our exterior seams feature topstitching to one or both sides, a traditional look on genuine leather bags and an important detail to give your faux leather version a realistic look.
  7. Finger press the seam allowances open.
  8. Turn each “loop” right side out. Clip the top and bottom of the seam allowance to help hold it open.
  9. Lengthen your stitch; we used 3.5mm.
  10. If possible, switch to an Ultra Glide foot or similar Teflon® type foot.
  11. Topstitch to either side of the side seams on the top loop. You want the stitching to be very close to the seam and equal on each side. We used approximately 3/16.”
  12. Repeat to topstitch with a matching seam length and seam allowance on the seams of the bottom loop.

    NOTE: If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match each panel prior to topstitching.

Attach top to bottom, off-setting seams

  1. The seams of the bottom section are centered front and back. The seams of the top section are centered at each side. To create this off-set pattern, you need to mark each loop in quarter segments.
  2. Two of the segment markings are the seams of each loop. To find the opposite segment, align the seams, clip in place, and flatten the loop.
  3. Folds will form at the outer sides of the loop. Using a fabric pen or pencil, mark the center point of each fold. Place this mark at both the top and bottom edge of the fold.
  4. When both the top and bottom loops are marked into quarter segments, place the two loops right sides together. We worked with the bottom loop right side out, turning the top loop wrong side out and slipping it over the bottom.
    NOTE: If you have any type of directional texture, make sure you are aligning the bottom raw edge op the top loop with the top raw edge of the bottom loop. We actual wrote, “BOTTOM” on the correct raw edge of our loop to make sure we were always working right side up.
  5. Off-set the two loops. This means you will align the seams of the bottom loop with the side pen marks of the top loop.
  6. And, the seams of the top loop will align with the side pen marks of the bottom loop. Clip the two loops together.
  7. Using a ½” seam allowance and a Zipper foot, stitch the top and bottom layers together. If you have a free arm option on your machine, this is a good time to use it.
  8. Trim back the bottom side of the seam allowance to ¼” to reduce bulk. Using a pressing cloth, press the seam allowance up towards the top panel.

    NOTE: For the next steps, we worked with the exterior loop around the end of the ironing board. 
  9. Turn the exterior loop wrong side out.
  10. Find the 15″ x 32½” foam interfacing panel.
  11. Starting at what will become the center back of the tote, center the foam against the wrong side of the exterior loop. The foam should sit ½” in from both the top and bottom raw edges of the exterior loop. Clip and rotate the loop until the foam is secured in place all around along both the top and the bottom. Fuse in place if using fusible foam.
  12. Carefully turn the interfaced loop right side out.
  13. If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the bottom panel.
  14. Lengthen the stitch to match your previous topstitching. We also moved our needle position slightly to the left.
  15. Topstitch along the top/bottom seam within the bottom panel. Again, if you have a free arm, this is good time to use it.

Box the bottom corners

  1. Flatten the exterior loop, matching the front and back center seams of the bottom panel and making sure the side seams of the top panel are indeed at each side. To best hold the layers in place, clip along the top…
  2. … and along the bottom.
  3. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch straight across the bottom. This means you will be stitching right along, but not on, the edge of the foam interfacing. We switched to our Walking foot.
  4. If you feel your foam is not laying as flat at you’d like, you can hand tack it together at the top.
  5. Our bag is designed to have a 5″ base and sides. To create this width, we figured our corners at 2½”. Because we do not have a side seam on the bottom portion of the bag, you do not cut a square. Instead measure 2½” up from the bottom edge but only 2″ in from the outside edge. Cut this small rectangle from each corner.
  6. Flatten and double stitch the corners.

    NOTE: If you are new to this technique, check out our tutorial: How To Box Corners.
  7. Turn the bag right side out, push out the corners.

Attach the handles

  1. The bottom center point of each handle medallion is positioned 2¼” up from the top/bottom horizontal seam and 4½” in from the side seam of the top panel. The space in between the medallions is approximately 6″.
    NOTE: Depending on your handle, your attachment point may vary slightly. The important thing is to center the loop of the handle over the front and back center seams of the bag. 
  2. We used a Jumbo Wonder Clip to hold each side of each handle in place. We also left our Standard Wonder Clips in place along the top edge of the bag to hold the foam interfacing nice and flat against the fabric.
  3. Wrap the bobbin of The Speedy Stitcher sewing awl with extra strong thread to best match the handles.
  4. Using The Speedy Stitcher, stitch each end of each handle in place.
    NOTE: Don’t forget to check out our how-to-tutorial on this nifty notion
  5. You are stitching through all the layers of the bag.

Create the lining

  1. Find the two lining panels and the pocket panel along with the matching pieces of lightweight fusible interfacing.
  2. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of the main lining panels and to one half of the pocket panel.
  3. Fold the pocket panel in half right sides together so it is now 11″ x 6½”. Pin along both sides and across the bottom.
  4. Re-thread the machine with all-purpose thread to best match the lining.
  5. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. Leave an approximate 2″-3″ opening along the bottom for turning.
  6. Clip corners. Press open the seam allowance.
  7. Turn right side out. Push out the corners so they are nice and sharp. A chopstick or long knitting needle works well for this.
  8. Fold in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam. Press flat.
  9. Find one of the two interfaced lining panels.
  10. Place the pocket right side up on the right side of the lining panel. The folded edge is the top of the pocket; the seam edge is the bottom. The pocket should be centered side to side and 3½” down from the top raw edge. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom.
  11. Edgestitch the pocket in place along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners and with a generous backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam, ie. at the pocket top. This is a stress point for the pocket and it’s smart to secure the seam well.
  12. Measure to find the exact center of the pocket panel. Draw a vertical line with a fabric pen or pencil at this point or mark with pins. Then measure 1″ in from the right side of the pocket. Draw a second vertical line here with a fabric pen or pencil or mark with pins.
  13. Place the two interfaced lining rectangles right sides together, sandwiching the pocket between the layers, and clip along both sides and across the bottom.
  14. Using a ½” seam allowance and a Zipper foot, stitch both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
  15. Box the bottom corners, measuring a true 2½” square for a 5″ finished box (since we have both a side seam and a bottom seam on the lining).
  16. As above, flatten the corner and clip in place.
  17. Double stitch the corner and trim back to ¼”.
  18. With the lining still wrong side out, find the exterior bag, which should be right side out. Slip the lining inside the exterior so the two are now wrong sides together. Line up the top raw edges and the side seams. Clip in place all around the top. Clip a length of ribbon at the top center of both the front and back. You can make a tiny hem in the opposite end of the ribbon or simply apply a line of seam sealant, such as Fray Check.

Binding and bow to finish

  1. Find the two 2″ x 36″ binding strips. Place the strips right sides together at a right angle. Clip in place and stitch through the layers on the diagonal. This is the traditional method of attaching lengths of binding strips. We used our Walking foot for all steps with this thinner and stretchier fashion faux leather. You could also engage your machine’s built in fabric feeding system.

    NOTE: You’ll notice in the photo above that there is quite a bit of extra fabric extending beyond our right angle. This is because we were working with our prototype to get just the right length. You should place your strips at a true right angle, edge to edge, to create an “L.” If you are new to creating or working with binding, check out our detailed tutorial
  2. We attached our top binding like a traditional quilt binding, rather than the more common slip-over-and-stitch binding of most totes. With the faux leather, we found this gave us the nicest look from both sides. The topstitching viewed from the exterior of the bag is tight to the binding’s edge and very straight. Then from the inside, the hand stitching accommodates all the layers and provides a couture style finish.
  3. Place the top raw edge of the binding strip right sides together with the top raw edges of the bag. Clip in place all around.
  4. Starting at a side seam and using a ½” seam allowance, stitch in place all around through all the layers.
  5. Finish the ends, using your favorite method. We seamed on the diagonal, trimming away the excess. Again, if you are new to binding, including options for finishing, we invite you to take a look at our full Binding Tutorial.
  6. Fold the binding up and away from the top panel of the bag, and press the seam allowance up towards the binding.
  7. If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the binding. Using the same lengthened stitch as above, edgestitch all around on the binding. This seam should be the same approximate 3/16″ width of the other topstitching.
  8. Bring the binding over and around to the inside of the bag. Fold in the raw edge so the fold just covers the stitching line.
  9. Clip in place all around.
  10. Thread a hand sewing needle with thread to best match the binding and hand stitch the binding in place all around, catching just the lining – you do not want any stitches to go all the way through to the front of the bag. Keep your stitches tiny and neat.
  11. Find the remaining 5½” x 36″ strip for the bow. Fold it in half lengthwise. Cut each end at matching diagonal. Clip in place along the side and both ends, leaving a 4″ opening for turning.
  12. Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch along the side and across both ends, pivoting at the corners. Remember to lock your seam at either side of the opening in the center for turning. Clip the corners.
  13. Turn right side out. Gently push out the corners and points. Using a pressing cloth, press flat, pressing in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
  14. Edgestitch around all four sides. This closes the opening used for turning and helps the bow stay nice and flat. We’re still using our Walking foot.
  15. Tie the bow around one side of the front handle.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild

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