Grads are going places, which means they can always use a cool tote for books and more. Sometimes they need a lot of space… sometimes just a little. This versatile bag will give them the best of both worlds. Opened up to its full 18″ height, you have a full-size tote with riveted carry handles. Fold over the top and use the shoulder strap to create a compact, purse-size carryall. Thanks to our official “grad model,” Lydia, a proud member of the lucky ’13 senior class.
This bag looks complex but is quite easy to construct, however, you will end up with a lot of layers. Be prepared! We used a Walking foot and a #16 Denim needle. Our Janome machines power through tough jobs like these, but even we were extra cautious and hand-cranked over the thickest parts. By ‘hand-crank,’ we mean taking your foot off the pedal and using the handwheel on the side of the machine to walk the machine stitch-by-stitch across the super thick layers at the top band and the corners. Not all machines are up to the task. We suggest testing your machine with a multiple layer ‘mock-up’ first, such as a stack of folded scraps.
If thickness does turn out to be an issue for you or your machine, you could consider leaving out the corner triangle details and/or the pocket.
Although the Simply Color collection came out in 2012, we found it still available at Fat Quarter Shop and Ribbon Retreat + Fabric. If you love Simply Color, be on the lookout in July for Vanessa’s newest collection: Simply Style. We saw it (and the always adorable, Vanessa) at Spring Market —beautiful!
Sewing Tools You Need
Fabric and Other Supplies
- ½ yard of 44-45″ wide cotton fabric for the front of the tote; we used Simply Color Metro Leafy Stripe in Graphite (Moda #10803-13) by Vanessa Christenson for Moda Fabrics
- 1 yard of 44-45″ wide cotton fabric for the tote back, top bands and corner triangle accents; we used Simply Color Metro Ombre in Lime Green (Moda #10800-18) by Vanessa Christenson for Moda Fabrics
- ½ yard of 44-45″ wide cotton fabric for the tote pocket; we used Simply Color Metro Leaves & Sprigs in Graphite (Moda #10801-13) by Vanessa Christenson for Moda Fabrics
- 1 yard of 44-45″ wide cotton twill for the tote lining; we used Eco Twill in Charcoal
- 1 yard of medium-weight fusible interfacing
- 1 yard of heavy-weight fusible interfacing
- 1 yard of ½” regular weight nylon webbing; we used nylon webbing from The RainShed (try to find regular nylon; it is thinner and more flexible than polypropylene webbing)
- Two ¾” D-rings
- Four ⅜” rivets, plus a rivet tool and hole punch
- One ready-made 44″ shoulder strap with swivel hooks; we used a Purse-n-alize-it faux leather strap from Jo-Ann Fabric
- All purpose thread to match fabric
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Tape measure
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
- From the fabric for the front (Simply Color Leafy Stripe in Graphite in our sample), fussy cut ONE 15″ wide x 17½” high rectangle.
- From the fabric for the back, top band and accent corners (Simply Color Ombre in Lime Green in our sample), fussy cut the following (even though this is a solid, it has an ombre color blend from dark to light, we fussy cut to achieve a solid look to for the band and corners and a centered blend for the back pane):
ONE 15″ wide x 17½” high rectangle
TWO 15″ wide x 4″ high rectangles
FOUR 4″ x 4″ squares
- From the fabric for the pocket (Simply Color Leaves & Sprigs in Graphite in our sample), fussy cut ONE 15″ wide x 19″ high rectangle.
- From the fabric for the lining (Eco Twill in Charcoal in our sample), cut TWO 15″ wide x 17½” high rectangles.
- From the medium-weight interfacing, cut TWO 15″ x 17½” rectangles.
- From the heavy-weight interfacing, cut the following:
TWO 15″ x 4″ rectangles
ONE 15″ x 19″ rectangle
- Cut the webbing into TWO 2½” lengths and TWO 12″ lengths
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Match the medium-weight interfacing with the tote front panel and the tote back panel.
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse one piece of interfacing to the wrong side of each panel.
- Match the heavy-weight interfacing with the top band pieces and the pocket panel.
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse one piece of interfacing to the wrong side of each top band and the pocket.
Back pocket and front and back corner accents
- Fold the interfaced pocket in half, wrong sides together, and press.
NOTE: If using are using a directional fabric, make sure you are folding so the folded edge is the top of your design motif.
- Place the interfaced back panel right side up on your work surface.
- Place the folded pocket on the back panel, matching the sides and lower edges.
- Pin in place.
- Find the four 4″ x 4″ squares.
- Place one square in the lower right corner of the pocket. Pin in place.
- Using a clear ruler and marking pen or pencil, draw a diagonal line across the square, from the side of the tote to the bottom of the tote.
- Stitch along the marked line.
- Using a clear ruler and rotary cutter, trim away the lower corner of the square, approximately ¼” from the seam. Don’t cut into the pocket, just trim away the square. You can fold the pocket out of the way or place a small cutting surface under the square to cut against.
- Press the upper corner of the square down into place to create the triangle at the corner. Match all the edges.
- Repeat to create the triangle in the lower left corner.
- Repeat to create triangle corners in the lower corners of the plain (non-pocket) interfaced front panel.
- Mark the sides of the tote bag back for the ¾” D-rings. The mark should be 11″ from the lower edge on each side, or approximately 1½” above the top edge of the pocket
- Find the two 2½” lengths of webbing.
- Slip a length of webbing through a D-ring and fold the webbing in half, matching the raw ends.
- Position one webbing/ring at each side mark. The bottom edge of the webbing should be flush with the mark and the raw ends of the webbing should be flush with the raw side of the panel. Pin in place.
Attach the lining to the front and back and add the top bands
- Find the two lining panels, the two interfaced top bands, and the two 12″ lengths of webbing.
- Place one lining panel right sides together with the tote bag back, sandwiching the D-rings in between the layers. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, remembering to pivot at the corners.
- Trim the corners, and turn the finished back panel right side out. Press well.
- On one band, mark the placement for the handles. Place one mark 4½” in from each outside edge.
- Curve one 12″ length of webbing into a “U” and place one end of the webbing at each placement mark. The raw end of the webbing should be flush with the bottom raw edge of the band. Pin in place.
- Repeat to mark and place the handle loop on the second band.
- Place the bottom edge of the band (the edge with the handles pinned in place) right sides together with the top raw edge of the tote back panel, sandwiching the handle loop between the layers. There should be ½” extending past each side of the bag.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch the band to the tote.
- Press the band up. The handle loop will be hanging down.
- Flip the panel over to the lining side. Along the top edge of the band, press down the raw edge ½”.
- Flip the panel back over to the exterior side.
- Fold the band in half, right sides together. Pin both ends.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch both ends. This ½” seam should be exactly flush with the finished edge of the panel.
- Trim the seam allowance to approximately ¼” and turn the band right side out.
- On the lining side, the folded band should now nicely cover the seam. Press the band in place.
- Flip the panel to the exterior side. Topstitch approximately ⅛” from the seamline, securing the band. Notice that the handle is still hanging down.
- Edgestitch along the upper edge of the band.
- Fold each handle loop up into position and secure with two rivets on each side.
NOTE: If you are new to using rivets, we have a riveting tutorial. They are really quite easy, and you get to use a hammer… always a plus in sewing! Also, the second photo below is the inside the completed bag. At this stage in the instructions, you have not yet completed the bag, however, I wanted you to see the rivets from both sides.
- Follow all these steps to complete the front panel. The only difference is after you have stitched the exterior to the lining and turned the panel right side out, run five evenly spaced lines of vertical topstitching across the panel, like quilting lines. Stop your seam at the corners; don’t stitch across the corners.
Completing the tote
- Place the front panel and the back panel lining sides together. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom.
- Edgestitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
- The tote is now many layers thick. As we mentioned above, we recommend you use a Walking foot and switch to a #16 Denim needle for this final seam. If necessary, ‘hand walk’ the machine (take your foot off the pedal and manually turn the wheel to advance the needle) through the heaviest layers at the top band and the corners.
- Clip the purse strap to the D-rings.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Michele Mishler with special riveting assistance by Michael Mishler