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Designer Handle Tote: Luxe Style For Less

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If you're a lover of all things sewing, you've probably heard all the clever quotes: Measure Twice, Cut Once; Keep Calm and Quilt On, Sewing Mends the Soul, and our favorite for today's project: It's All About The Fabric. The fashionable, upscale boutiques in our area seem to be filled with the latest purses and bags. One trend we noticed is what we dubbed, the signature fabric tote: a bag whose fabric is so unique and striking, it is the focal point of the entire design. These special handbags carried price tags for $75, $100, and up! With the amazing fabric options available to you, both in-store an online, you can create your own signature style for a fraction of boutique prices. We turned to our friends at Fabric Depot, selecting an eye-catching geometric in a high-end charcoal and citrine color combination with an amazing chenille texture.

We combined our key fabric with a solid faux suede for the inset panels. The solid doesn't draw away the focus but does introduce another wonderful texture. 

These inset panels also anchor the handles, which can become another point of interest in the design. The tone of bag can swing from casual to elegant depending on the type of handle you choose. We wanted a professional, downtown feel and so opted for a sleek bamboo-look set in a simple black plastic.

Our thanks to Fabric Depot for providing the wonderful fabric. They have an amazing selection of colors in the Passion Suede we chose for our complimentary solid. The designer fabric is from their huge home décor selection. We are lucky to have Fabric Depot's HUGE retail store in our backyard, one of the biggest fabric stores in the country! But their online selection is just as fabulous. If you and your sewing pals are planning to be in the Portland, Oregon area, a visit to Fabric Depot is a must. If you have a big group (10 or more), you can even call or email ahead and they can arrange special discounts for your party. 

Although true home dec fabrics are traditionally more expensive than their cotton cousins, they are usually much wider – so you need less yardage. We used just ½ yard and had a nice chunk leftover, which we're saving for a great ScrapBusters project... maybe a clutch or a mini pillow or an accent pocket on another tote, or....?

The tote finishes at approximately 10" high x 14" wide x 4" deep with the center insert panel designed for an approximate 5" - 5½" handle set.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • ½ yard of 44"+ heavy-weight fabric with a dramatic motif in an interesting texture for the main exterior panels; we used the chenille style 54" Theseus in Citrine by Swavelle Mill Creek from Fabric Depot
    NOTE: The yardage recommendation above is based on our fabric selection and includes extra for the panel matching. There will be leftover fabric with a 54"+ fabric. We recommend using it for a cool zippered pouch, like our Rustic Clutch or Companion Pouches.
  • ⅓ yard of 44"+ solid fabric in a coordinating color and interesting texture for the inset panels and handle loops; we used 54" Passion Suede (a 100% polyester faux suede) in Charcoal Gray from Fabric Depot
    NOTE: Because we are recommending a solid without a specific directional pattern or grain, you can get away with ⅓ yard. If you select a fabric with a directional component, you should get ½ yard. 
  • ⅔ yard of 44"+ wide quilting-weight cotton for the lining; we used 45" Etchings Slate from the Bella Solids collection by Moda from Fabric Depot
  • ½ yard of 45"+ wide medium weight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Decor Bond
  • ½ yard of 20" wide lightweight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon ShirTailor
  • ONE magnetic purse snap
  • ONE set of decorative purses handles
    NOTE: As mentioned above, our purse instructions include cut sizes and panel positioning to match the handles we used, which had an interior bar length of approximately 5¼", an exterior arc of approximately 6¼" and a base of 7" total. You could certainly adjust your center inset panel slightly larger or smaller to best fit your handle choice. 
  • All purpose thread to match fabric
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. From the fabric for the exterior (Theseus Citrine in our sample), precisely fussy cut TWO 14½" wide x 13" high rectangles
    NOTE: Remember, not all fabric motifs are perfectly square. As shown in the illustration below, we recommend cutting the two main exterior panels individually to insure the fabric's motif will be an exact match to either side of each inset panel. 
  2. From the fabric for the inset panels and handle loops (Charcoal Passion Suede in our sample), cut the following:
    TWO 6" wide x 13" high rectangles
    TWO 11" x 4" rectangles for the handle loops
  3. From the fabric for the lining (Bella Solids in Etchings Slate in our sample), cut the following:
    TWO 19" wide x 12½" high rectangles for the main lining
    TWO 9" wide x 6" high rectangles for the lining pocket
  4. From the medium-weight fusible interfacing, cut the following
    TWO 14½" x 13" rectangles
    TWO 6" x 13" rectangles
    TWO 11" x 4" rectangles
  5. From the lightweight fusible, cut TWO 19" x 12½" rectangles

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Fusing

  1. Match up all the interfacing cuts with their corresponding fabric cuts. All the exterior elements get the medium-weight fusible; the lining gets the lightweight. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of each fabric piece.

Create the exterior body 

  1. Find the two fused exterior panels and the two fused inset panels. 
  2. Place one inset panel right sides together, along one 13" side, with one exterior panel. Pin in place.
  3. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch together. 
  4. Press open the seam allowance, then grade the allowance to reduce bulk. To do this, trim back the exterior panel portion of the seam allowance to ¼". 
  5. Press the seam allowance together and towards the exterior panel. 
  6. Flip over and topstitch along the seam within the exterior panel. Your topstitching should  be super straight and just ⅛" - ¼" from the seam. As with most topstitching, lengthen your stitch for the best look. 
  7. Place the remaining raw edge of the inset panel right sides together with the second inset panel. Double check that your motif is aligned as fussy cut. If you made any adjustments for what would be the front panel and what would be the back panel, make sure you are aligning the correct 13" edge to the remaining raw edge of the inset panel. 
  8. As above, pin in place then stitch, grade the seam, and topstitch. 
  9. Repeat to seam the remaining inset panel in place between the remaining raw edges of the exterior panels, creating a loop. 
  10. Along the top, press back the raw edge ½" and machine baste in place.
  11. Turn the exterior loop wrong side out and flatten, carefully aligning the inset panel seams. Pin across the bottom.
  12. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch across the bottom.
  13. Create 4" box corners.Traditionally this would mean your "box" would be half that size or 2". However, because our main fabric is super thick, we recommend a slightly smaller box to account for the extra bulk of the seam. We used a 1¾" box.

    NOTE: If you are new to this technique, check out our tutorial: How To Box Corners.
  14. Double stitch both corner seams for extra strength.
  15. Turn the exterior bag right side out, push out the corners and press well.

Handles

  1. Find the 11" x 4" handle loop panels and the handles themselves. 
  2. For each panel in half widthwise so it is now 5½" x 4". Pin along the 4" sides.
  3. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the ends together. 
  4. Press open the seam allowance and turn each little loop right side out. 
  5. Roll the seam to the center back, creating a clean front panel, and press flat. 
  6. Place the pressed handle loop wrong side up (seam side up). Center the handle across the middle of the loop.
  7. Fold the loop in half, aligning the raw edges and encasing the handle's bar within the loop. Pin in place.
  8. Run one line of machine basting close to the raw edges to secure the alignment. 
  9. With these edges secure, run a second line of machine basting across the center, as close to the handle bar as possible. A Zipper foot will help you get in nice and close. 
  10. Repeat to create the second handle.
  11. Find the exterior bag. Align one handle with each inset panel, centering the handle behind the top folded edge of the bag. The handle itself should be very close to the top of the bag, about ⅛" from the top folded edge. Pin in place and then machine or hand baste in place. 
  12. There are alot of basting stitches, but not to worry. You'll remove them all and the faux suede it quite forgiving so those little holes will disappear with a light press.
  13. Set aside the exterior bag. 

Lining

  1. Find the two pocket panels. 
  2. Place the pocket panels right sides together, aligning all the raw edges. Pin in place along all four sides, leaving an approximate 3" - 4" opening along the bottom for turning.
  3. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch around all sides, pivoting at the corners. Lock your seam on either side of the opening. Clip the corners.
  4. Turn right side out through the opening. Push out the corners so they are nice and sharp. A chopstick or long knitting needle works well for this.
  5. Fold in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam. Press well.
  6. Find the two lining panels.
  7. Place one panel right side up and flat on your work surface. 
  8. Place the lining pocket on the right side of the lining panel. The pocket should be centered side to side and 2½" down from the top raw edge. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom. 
  9. Using the see-through ruler and a marking pen or pencil, measure to find the exact center of the pocket and mark a vertical line to divide the pocket into two equal halves. Place a few pins along this drawn line as well. 
  10. If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to match the lining fabric in the top and bobbin. 
  11. Edgestitch the pocket in place along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners and with a generous backstitch at the pocket top. This closes the opening in the pocket used for turning right side out. 
  12. Stitch along the drawn line to divide the pocket into two sections.

    NOTE: For the cleanest look on all pocket stitching, use a lock stitch at the beginning and end or leave your thread tails long and knot to secure.
  13. Place the two lining panels right sides together, sandwiching the pocket between the layers. Pin along both sides and across the bottom.
  14. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
  15. As you did for the exterior bag, create 4" box corners, which means your "box" will be half that size or 2". Unlike for the exterior bag above, we used the full measurement for our lining box since it is a standard quilting weight cotton. 

    NOTE: As mentioned above, if you are new to this technique, check out our tutorial: How To Box Corners.
  16. Turn the lining right side out, push out the corners and press.
  17. Fold down the top raw edge of the lining ½" all around. Press in place.

Insert the magnetic snap

  1. First measure and mark the position for the magnetic snap on the pocket side of the lining. The position should be centered side to side, which will place it directly above the center dividing seam of the pocket. 
  2. Unfold the top edge of the lining and position the depth of the snap 1½" down from the top raw edge.
  3. Make small slits and insert the one half of the magnetic snap. We added a 2" x 2" reinforcing square of the medium weight interfacing.
  4. Repeat to insert the remaining half of the snap directly opposite the first half. 
    NOTE: If you are new to inserting magnetic snaps, check out our full step-by-step tutorial: How to Insert a Magnetic Snap Closure

Finishing

  1. Find the lining bag. Turn it wrong side out. 
  2. Find the exterior bag. It should be right side out. 
  3. Slip the lining inside the exterior so the two are now wrong sides together. Align the side seams and bottom boxed corners. 
  4. Along the top, the folded edge of the lining should be flush with the folded edge of the exterior. If it does not align, adjust the lining fold all around as needed for a perfect fit. 
  5. Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best blend with both the exterior and inset fabrics. We used charcoal gray.
  6. Topstitch all the way around the top of the tote. To keep our stitching straight, we used our Zipper foot to get in as close as possible to the handles. Go slowly, even hand-walking (using your hand to move the needle rather than the foot controller) the needle along the handle. Because the handle depth, the screw that holds the needle in place may bump into the handle, which will prevent the needle from fully descending. This is why it is important to check your available seam distance (from both the bottom of the handles and the top of the magnetic snap halves), and to go slowly and carefully. 
  7. Remove all the basting stitches and press.

Contributors

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

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Comments (10)

Nancyjc said:
Nancyjc's picture

 Love this pattern- I'm waiting for the handles (had to order them from Amazon) but I've sewn it up to that point - this pattern is so easy and yet looks really hard.  I'm making a bunch for Christmas gifts.  Your instructions are so easy to follow.  The only problem I have is that we have limited fabric stores in the town I live in (ie. none) and nothing within a short drive.  I wish some of the beautiful fabric stores from U.S. would come up to Canada.  We are stuck with Fabricland, they don't have the quality fabrics I'm seeing from your U.S. stores and they keep closing the stores that are within a reasonable driving distance to me.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Nancyjc - glad you are having fun with the tutorial The online fabric retailers we work with, such as Fabric.com, Fabric Depot, Fat Quarter Shop and Hawthorne Threads among others all ship into Canada. Perhaps you can give that a try next time.

Nancyjc said:
Nancyjc's picture

Thanks Liz - I've actually looked into buying from some of the online stores but, my goodness, the cost of shipping ends up being more than the fabric!  Anyway - I wanted to give you an update - got my lovely bags done and my son's girlfriend and my brother's girlfriend absolutely loved them AND were extremely impressed with me!  Just gave myself a MC9900 as my Christmas present to me and my first project will be to make a bag for myself! I love this site and I love the projects you give us!  Thanks so much for sharing them!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Nancyjc - Glad to hear it all worked out so well.

ckussart said:
ckussart's picture

I love that tote and will have to make one! Sounds like a visit to Portland is in order! Thanks!

dstitchgal said:
dstitchgal's picture

I am lucky enough to live 1/2 hr drive from Fabric Depot.  Quality fabrics and selection beyond description.  If you ever travel to Portland area, it's a must see. Love this purse also.  This site had such wonderful projects.

TimelessKreations said:

Very nice design. Checked out the vendor for the fabric, they have alot of nice fabrics there. I am always use to buying from fabric.com, I will have to give them a try. Thank you for sharing your fabricdepot link.

Desertlen said:
Desertlen's picture

Hey, tell me what you have in clubs ? Came just a few days.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Desertlen - Could you explain a bit more what you are looking for regarding "clubs."

Julia D said:
Julia D's picture

What a wonderful way to use some of these beautiful fabrics.

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