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Fast Fridays: Rope Handle Summer Box Tote

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A tropical print exterior and natural rope handles give this small box tote its beachy beauty. Perfect for sunny day outings and easy enough to make in a single summer afternoon. It finishes at just 12” x 9” x 5” – not too big, not too tiny, just right to carry over the shoulder, over the arm, or by hand.

Fast Fridays is all about creating something wonderful in no time at all. Buy new fabric or check out your stash for some summertime motifs. Palm tree prints are super popular this season and we found a great Tommy Bahama option. If you can’t head for a tropical clime this year, at least your bag can bring you a little bit of paradise.

You’ll see in the supplies list below that we’ve used several different stabilizers in order to get just the right structure. One thing many people don’t realize is that you can mix different interfacings within one project. You can even layer types; we combined a lightweight fusible woven with a fusible fleece on our exterior panels: smooth and soft.

Our handles are classic twisted jute rope, an excellent texture to go with our palm tree motif. Jute rope is easy to find, inexpensive, and can be unraveled create the rustic tassel effect below each knot.

You’ll set four grommets to hold the knotted rope handles. If you’ve not worked with metal grommets before, no worries. We’ve summarized the steps below and provide a link to our full, step-by-step tutorial on the topic. The good news: a grommet is a cool hardware embellishment that is much easier to insert than you might think. And as an added bonus, you get to hit your project with a hammer. How many times have you wished you could do that?!

If you love the idea of Fast Fridays, enter that phrase into the Search box at the center top of any page to bring up lots of other fast and easy ideas. These are also good beginner friendly projects if you’re new to sewing… or spreading the love by teaching someone to sew.

Our Summer Box Tote finishes at approximately 12” wide x 9” high x 5” deep with two rope handles that have an approximately 10” drop.

Sewing Tools You Need


Fabric and Other Supplies

  • ¾ yard of 44"+ wide décor weight print fabric for the exterior; we used 54” Playa Eterna Monteverde Shoreline from Tommy Bahama Home
    NOTE: This yardage allows a bit extra for fussy cutting; if your fabric is completely random, you could squeeze by with yard. We fussy cut to center the palm fronds on both the front and back panels.
  • ¾ yard of 44"+ wide décor weight solid fabric for the lining; we used 44” Kaufman Essex Linen Blend in Natural
  • ¼ yard of 44"+ wide quilting weight cotton to match the lining for the seam binding; we used 44” Kona Cotton in Natural
    NOTE: If you’d rather not make your own binding to match, you can purchase packaged extra wide double fold bias binding - you need approximately 2 yards, which is usually one package.
  • yard of 20"+ wide lightweight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Shape-Flex
  • ½ yard of 20"+ wide fusible fleece; we used Pellon Thermolam
  • Scrap or ¼ yard of 20"+ wide extra firm fusible interfacing for the base; we used Pellon Deco Fuse
  • Scrap or ¼ yard of 20"+ wide mid-weight fusible interfacing for the lining pocket; we used Pellon Décor-Bond
  • 2 yards of ” jute rope or similar for the knotted handles
  • FOUR large grommets – the center hole must be approximately ½” to accommodate the specified rope – and grommet setting tools; we like Dritz Extra Large Eyelets, which often come with their own setting tools
  • All-purpose thread to match fabric
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Straight pins
  • Hammer to set grommets
  • Heavy metal, stone or wooden block to use as a cutting and hammering surface – you need a very hard surface; we like to use a small granite block

Getting Started

  1. From the exterior fabric, fussy cut the following:
    TWO 13” wide x 12” high rectangles for the front and back panels
    TWO 6” wide x 12” high rectangles for the side panels
    ONE 13” wide x 6” high rectangle for the base
    ONE 6” wide x 7” high rectangle for the exterior side pocket
  2. From the lining fabric, cut the following:
    TWO 13” wide x 12” high rectangles for the front and back panels
    TWO 6” wide x 12” high rectangles for the side panels
    ONE 13” wide x 6” high rectangle for the base
    ONE 6” wide x 7” high rectangle for the exterior side pocket
    ONE 9” wide x 11” high rectangle for the lining pocket
  3. If making your own binding, from the quilting cotton cut enough 2” strips to equal a finished length of 72”. Keep the lengths as long as possible to reduce the number of seams necessary.
  4. From the lightweight fusible interfacing, cut the following:
    TWO 12” x 9” rectangles for the front and back panels
    TWO 5” x 9” rectangles for the side panels
  5. From the fusible fleece, cut the following:
    TWO 12” x 9” rectangles for the front and back panels
    TWO 5” x 9” rectangles for the side panels
  6. From the extra firm fusible interfacing, cut ONE 12” x 5” rectangle for the base.
  7. From the mid-weight fusible interfacing, cut ONE 8” x 5” rectangle for the lining pocket.
  8. Cut the rope into TWO 36” lengths.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Fusing

  1. Find the four exterior panels that make up the exterior body of the bag (front, back, and two sides) and the matching panels of lightweight fusible interfacing and fusible fleece.
  2. Place a fusible interfacing panel on the wrong side of the four main exterior panels. On each panel, center the interfacing so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing along the sides and across the bottom. Along the top there should be 2½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
  3. Once the lightweight interfacing is fused in place on all four panels, layer a fusible fleece panel directly on top of each interfacing panel and fuse in place, following manufacturer's instructions. The interfacing and fleece layers should be flush on all four sides on each fabric panel. 
  4. Find the exterior base panel and the extra firm fusible interfacing panel. Center the interfacing on the wrong side of the exterior panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all four sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.

Create and place the exterior pocket

  1. Find the 6” x 7” exterior and lining panels. Place them right sides together and pin along the top edge only.
  2. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch across the top edge only.
  3. Bring the lining around to the back so the two layers are wrong sides together and press flat. The seam should be perfectly straight across the top as this will be the top edge of the pocket. Pin the layers if necessary to make sure they stay flat.
  4. Find one of the exterior side panels. Place it right side up and flat on your work surface. Place the pocket right side up on the side panel. The side and bottom raw edges of the pocket should be flush with the side and bottom raw edges of the side panel. Lightly pin the pocket in place on the exterior panel.

Create the lining pocket

  1. Find the 9” x 11” lining pocket panel. Fold it in half, wrong sides together, so it is 9” x 5½”. Press to set a center crease.
  2. Unfold, wrong side up, so the crease line is visible. Find the 8” x 5” panel of mid-weight interfacing. Place the interfacing panel on one half of the fabric panel. One edge of the interfacing should be flush with the center crease line and there should be ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on the sides and across the bottom. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
  3. Re-fold the panel along the center crease line, but this time it should be right sides together. Pin along both sides and across the bottom. Leave an approximate 3” opening along the bottom for turning.
  4. If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the lining in the top and bobbin.
  5. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. Remember to lock the seam at either side of the 3” opening.
  6. Clip the corners and press open the seam allowance.
  7. Turn right side out through the bottom opening. Push out the corners with a long, blunt tool so they are nice and sharp. A chopstick, knitting needle or point turner works well for this. Press well, pressing in the seam allowance at the opening so it is flush with the sewn seam.
  8. Find one of the main lining panels. Place it right side up and flat on your work surface. Place the finished pocket right side up on the lining panel. The pocket should sit 1” up from the bottom raw edge of the lining panel and be centered side to side on the panel. Pin the pocket in place along the sides and across the bottom. The folded edge is the top of the pocket.
  9. Slightly lengthen the stitch. Edgestitch the pocket in place, along the sides and across the bottom, pivoting sharply at the corners. Make a substantial back stitch to lock the seam at the beginning and end (at the top pocket corners). These are stress points for the pocket and it’s best to have a strong seam in both corners. This edgestitching also closes the opening at the bottom used for turning.

Layer and baste all five main panels

  1. Each of the five panels that make up the tote (front, back, sides, and base) is layered wrong sides together, with the interfacing and fleece sandwiched between. When assembled, the visible seam allowances will be bound to finish. This is our preferred method when working with many tote linings. By layering each panel, the interior of the tote is smooth and flat – a better interior look, especially for a small bag like this one.
  2. Simply layer each fused exterior panel wrong sides together with each matching lining panel, pin in place.
  3. Machine baste around all four sides of each panel to hold them together throughout the rest of the construction process. Our chosen fabrics were prone to raveling, so instead of a standard straight stitch for this machine basting step, we used a zig zag stitch around all four sides of each layered pair. This helps finish the edges to prevent raveling as well as holds the panels together.

Create the binding for the inner seam allowances

  1. Find the multiple 2” strips cut from the quilting weight cotton to create the 72” strip needed for the lining seam allowance binding. Seam together the strips to create the finished length.
  2. Fold the strip in half and press to set a center crease line.
  3. Unfold wrong side up so the crease line is visible. Fold in each side to the center line.
  4. Re-fold along the center fold and press well once again to form the finished binding.

Assemble the front, back, and side panels, and finish with seam binding

  1. Find all your main panels, which should be layered and basted in place.
  2. Pin the sides to the front panel. 
  3. Repeat to pin sides to the back panel, creating a tube open at the top and bottom.
  4. If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the exterior and lining in the top and bobbin. Re-set the stitch length to normal. Stitch each of these four seams with a ½" seam allowance.
  5. Cut a length of binding to match each side seam.
  6. Open up the binding and slip it over the seam allowance to conceal the raw edges.
  7. Pin in place. You are just wrapping the seam allowance. If you are working with an especially thick exterior and/or lining fabric, you can opt to grade and trim each seam allowance prior to wrapping for the best fit.
  8. If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the binding in the top and bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch.
  9. Edgestitch along the inner fold of the binding through all the layers. Go slowly and carefully to insure you are catching both sides of the binding in this one seam. Remember, you are just stitching the binding around the seam allowance; you should not be stitching onto the main panels at all. If your machine has the ability to adjust the needle position, you can use that feature to move your needle to the left to allow you to get as close as possible to the seam line.

Insert the base and finish with seam binding

  1. Find the layered base panel. On each side, find the center point and mark this point with a pin.
  2. Then, mark ½” in from each corner. Finally, fill in with pins in between.
  3. Find the exterior tube. Gently turn it wrong side out.
  4. Mark the center points of the bottom raw-edged opening of the tube in the same manner, finding the center points of the front, back, and both side sections.
  5. Place the base panel right sides together with the tube. It’s a little like you’re setting a lid upside down into the opening of a box. First align all the center pin points, then the corner points, then fill in between as needed.
  6. Re-set the stitch length to normal. The machine should still be threaded with thread to best match the binding in the top and bobbin, which should also be a close match to your lining.
  7. We like to start with one short side, but the order of sides is completely up to you. Using the corner pin point as your guide, start your seam ½” in and stitch across to the opposite outer pin. You are using a ½” seam allowance.
  8. Remove the project from under the needle.
  9. In order to create the flattest base possible, clip into each corner. Snip into the corner at diagonal at a depth of about ". You are clipping right up to but not through your stitching line. 
  10. Re-set and stitch the remaining three sides of the base panel in the same manner, stitching one side at a time, starting and stopping ½” in at the marked corners.
    NOTE: We have summarized the steps here for this standard technique. 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 the project: How to Insert a Rectangular Base into a Tube.
  11. Wrap the base seam allowance in the same manner as you did for the side seam allowances.  For this seam allowance, you will be working around the bulk of the side seam binding at each corner so you may need to futz a bit to fold and wrap. As you did when inserting the base panel itself, it’s best to stitch each side independently rather than trying to pivot at the bulk of the corner.
  12. Turn the bag right side and push the base down into position. It can help to use a long blunt tool to help push out the corners. As mentioned above, there is likely to be some extra bulk in these corners. A chopstick, knitting needle or point turner works well for this.

Fold down the upper facing to finish the top of the tote

  1. Around the top raw edge of the bag, fold down the raw edge ½” and press well.
  2. With the extra thickness of most décor weight fabrics, we suggest machine basting this fold in place.
  3. Fold down an additional 2” and press again.
  4. If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the exterior fabric in the top and bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch. Topstitch around the entire top of the bag to secure the facing. You should be able to “feel” the bottom fold as a reference for your topstitching, but for extra precision, use the markings on your machine’s throat plate or draw in a line to follow with a fabric pen or pencil. The topstitching should be approximately 1” from the top folded edge. If your machine has a free arm, now is a good time to use it.

Add the grommets and thread the rope

  1. Mark for the grommets; there are two at the front and two at the back. Each grommet should be centered 1¼” down from the top folded edge of the tote and 3” in from each side seam.
  2. Cut a hole through all the layers at each marked point.
  3. Insert the stud half of the grommet through the hole from front to back.
  4. Place the cap half of the grommet over the stud at the back.
  5. Using the proper setting tools, hammer to seal the halves together.

    NOTE: Grommets are quite easy, and it’s always fun to be able to hit stuff with a hammer when sewing! If you are brand new to the technique, take a look at our full Metal Grommet Tutorial prior to starting.
  6. Find the two 36” lengths of rope. Feed one end of each length through each grommet from back to front.
  7. Make a simple knot about 2” up from each raw end. With the recommended ” rope, a single knot should be large enough to cinch up against the grommet.
  8. Untwist each end to create a pretty frayed tassel effect. Trim to even up the ends as necessary.

Contributors

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

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