During the gray days of winter, bring on the blocks of color! These box totes are sewn up in 100% linen so they have a wonderfully soft slouch. Each bag features three coordinating solid colors set against one another in big, bold blocks both inside and out. Get ready to make a statement for the new year… and the new decade! Because you should never be afraid to show your true colors.
This is the kind of project that goes together in a snap – with just enough cool details to make the finished bag outstanding. There's a dramatic 3½” X-box that secures each side of the strap. Triple stitching makes the tone-on-tone edgestitching and topstitching pop. And, there’s a patch pocket on the lining for an extra splash of hidden color.
We used a linen look fabric, mixing and matching four rich tones. The trios we selected for our two samples are complementary colors, which means they live opposite one another on a designer’s color wheel. Less common than their next door color wheel neighbors, like blue and green, complementary color combinations tend to be more striking and eye-catching. For additional information about blending, take a look at our article: Top 10 Sew4Home Designer Tips for Blending Colors and Prints.
Although heavier than a quilting cotton, linen is still a soft substate and does require some subtle stabilization. We used two different lightweight fusible interfacings to give structure without sacrificing the stylish slouch. There’s a woven layer on the main exterior layers and a crisp layer on the strap and lining pocket.
This tote is actually soft enough to fold flat when empty. It would be perfect to fold up and toss into a suitcase when traveling. You know you always end up with more things to bring back than will fit in your original bag!
Deep 4” box corners give the tote its signature shape. As always, we summarize the steps within the instructions below and give you a link to our full tutorial that shows you two different boxing methods and explains all the math to figure out your own corner sizing down the road.
The wide strap is super comfy to wear. It sits evenly across your shoulder and so is less likely to slip off. The length is figured for a standard over-the-shoulder fit, but you could certainly extend it if you’d prefer a crossbody option.
Our Color Block Tote finishes at approximately 10” tall x 9” wide x 4” deep. The 2½” strap loop has an approximate 13” drop.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing machine and standard presser foot
- Edge Guide foot; optional but helpful for the precise edgestitching and topstitching
Fabric and Other Supplies
NOTE: Supplies below are for ONE Color Block Tote with a similar blocked pattern to ours, which uses THREE coordinating solid colors. You can, of course, mix and match the exterior and interior sections to include additional or fewer colors.
- ⅓ yard of 54”+ wide solid linen or similar for the upper section and fold-over facing; we used 54” Sew Classic Linen Look Fabric from Joann in Honey and Deep Lake for our two samples
- ½ yard of 54”+ wide solid linen or similar for the lower section and the lining; we used 54” Sew Classic Linen Look Fabric from Joann in Purple and Picante for our two samples
- ¼ yard of 54”+ wide solid linen or similar for the strap and lining pocket; we used Sew Classic Linen Look Fabric from Joann in Honey and Deep Lake
- 1 yard of 20”+ wide soft lightweight fusible interfacing for the body of the bag; we used Pellon Shape-Flex
- ½ yard of 20”+ wide crisp lightweight fusible interfacing for the bag handle and the lining pocket; we used Pellon Shir-Tailor
NOTE: We pieced the interfacing for the strap to get the required 40” length; if you’d prefer to cut one solid piece, get 1⅛ yards.
- All-purpose thread to match all fabric colors
- See-through ruler
- Measuring tape
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Rotary cutter and mat
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
NOTE: Remember, because you are using a solid color, you can vary the height and width when cutting for the most efficient use of fabric.
- From the fabric for the upper section and fold-over facing, cut TWO 14” wide x 7½” high rectangles.
- From the fabric for the lower section and the lining, cut the following:
TWO 14” x 8” rectangles for the exterior
TWO 14” wide x 12½” high rectangles for the lining
- From the fabric for the strap and lining pocket, cut the following:
ONE 40” x 6” strip for the strap
ONE 6” wide x 13” high rectangle for the lining pocket
- From the soft lightweight fusible interfacing (Shape-Flex), cut the following:
TWO 13” x 6½” rectangles for the upper exterior
TWO 13” x 7” rectangles for the lower exterior
- From the crisp lightweight fusible interfacing (Shir-Tailor), cut the following:
TWO 20” x 2½” strips for the strap - or if you purchased extra interfacing, you can cut ONE 40” x 2½” strip
ONE 5” x 6” rectangle for the lining pocket
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
NOTE: We took the time to switch out the thread in the needle and the bobbin to the color(s) that best matched the linen throughout.
Create the strap
- Find the 40” strap strip and the one or two 2½ “ strips of interfacing. Place the fabric strip wrong side up on your work surface. Center the interfacing on the fabric. The interfacing should run the length of the strap with the ends flush and 1¾” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing to either side.
- If using one continuous length of interfacing, simply center the strip and, following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place. If using two 20” lengths, find the middle of the strap (20” in from either end). Butt together the two lengths of interfacing at this mid-point. Center 1¾” from either long side as above, and fuse in place.
- Fold the strip right sides together and pin along the 40” side.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along the 40” side.
- Carefully turn the strap right side out through one of the open ends.
- Roll the seam to the center back and press flat. Your strap is now 2½” wide with a clean front and the seam at the back.
- Set aside the strap.
Create and place the pocket
- Find the 6” x 13” lining pocket fabric panel and 5” x 6” interfacing panel.
- Fold the fabric panel in half so it is now 6” x 6½”. Press to set a center crease line. Unfold wrong side up. Align the top edge of the interfacing panel along the center crease line. There should be ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on the remaining three side. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Fold the panel in half right sides together. Pin along both sides and across the bottom, leaving a 2-3” opening along the bottom for turning.
- 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 bottom opening.
- Clip the corners and press open the seam allowance.
- Turn right side out through the bottom opening. Use a long, blunt tool to gently push out the corners so they are nice and sharp. A long knitting needle, chopstick or point turner works well for this. Press flat, pressing in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
- Find one of the two lining panels. Place it right side up and flat on your work surface. Place the pocket on the lining panel. Remember the folded edge is the top of the pocket. The pocket should be centered side to side and the bottom of the pocket should sit 3” up from the bottom raw edge of the fabric panel. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom.
- Edgestitch the pocket in place along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. This secures the pocket and closes the opening used for turning. If possible, for the the cleanest look, use a lock stitch to start and end your seam at the top of the pocket. If you don’t have this feature, leave the thread tails long, pull them through to the back and hand knot to secure.
- Set aside the lining panels.
Create the upper section and place the strap
- Find the two upper exterior panels and their matching interfacing panels. Center an interfacing panel on the wrong side of each exterior panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Place the two upper exterior panels right sides together so all raw edges are flush.
- Pin along both short sides.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch each side seam, forming a loop.
- Press each seam allowance open and super flat.
- Turn the upper exterior loop right side out.
- Find the strap.
- Center one end of the strap over a side seam, carefully aligning the center back seam of the strap with the side seam of the loop.
- Pin in place through all the layers. Repeat the process for the opposite end of the strap on the opposite side seam.
- Machine baste the bottom ends of the strap in position through all the layers.
Create the lower section
- Find the two lower exterior panels and their matching interfacing panels. As above, center an interfacing panel on the wrong side of each exterior panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Place the two lower exterior panels right sides together so all raw edges are flush.
- Pin along both short sides.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch each side seam, forming a loop.
- Press each seam allowance open and super flat.
Assemble the upper and lower exterior sections, securing the strap
- Place the upper and lower exterior sections right sides together. Carefully align the side seams of the two sections. Pin in place all around.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch all the way around the loops through all the layers. If your machine has a free arm, now is a good time to use it.
- Press the seam allowance open and super flat.
- Turn the assembled exterior loop right side out and flatten it under the needle so you can achieve a smooth edgestitch.
- We switched to our Janome Edge Guide foot and set the machine for a Triple Stitch in order to give our edgestitching a nice, “beefy” look.
- Edgestitch all the way around within the lower section in a matching thread.
NOTE: This edgestitching forms the bottom of the X Box that will secure the handle to the side of the bag.
- With the exterior loop still right side out, smooth the strap up into position, making sure there are no twists or turns anywhere along the length of the strap. Pin lightly in this upright position.
- Measure 3⅝” up from the upper/lower seam along the strap. Mark this upper measurement with a row of pins as we did or draw in a line with a fabric pen or pencil.
- Starting from this upper line, edgestitch down along each side of the strap.
NOTE: Remember, we took the time to switch out the thread in the needle and the bobbin to color match the linen throughout.
- We continued to use our Janome Edge Guide foot and a Triple Stitch.
- With the sides complete, stitch diagonally corner to corner to form the center X.
- As with the pocket edgestitching above, we recommend using a lock stitch to start and stop all your seams. If this isn’t possible, keep your thread tails long at the start and finish of each seam, pull them through to the back, and hand knot to secure.
Create the box corners
- Turn the exterior loop wrong side out.
- Flatten the loop and align the bottom raw edges. Pin across the bottom.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch across the bottom. Press the seam allowance open and flat.
- With the sewn fabric still right sides together, use both hands to pinch and pull apart the corner. As you pull, the fabric will begin to form a little peak with the corner point at the top and the seam lines running down the middle of the front and the back. Align these side and bottom seams.
- Mark the depth of the boxed corner with a fabric marking pen or pencil and a straight ruler, positioning your ruler so the desired depth is measured from side to side at the base of the "peak." Our desired boxed corner depth is 4”. Slide the ruler down from the peak until you reach the point at which your "triangle" is the appropriate width. Draw a horizontal line at this measurement.
- Sew across the peak on the drawn line. Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam.
- We recommend stitching across a second time for added reinforcement in the corner.
- Trim away the peak to ¼" - ½" from the line of stitching.
- Turn the exterior bag right side out.
- Create the fold-over facing, which is simply a 2” hem. To do this, fold down the top raw edge ½" all around and press well. Fold an additional 1½" and press well again. Lightly pin in place.
Create the lining
- Place the lining panels right sides together, sandwiching the pocket between the layers.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along the sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. Press the seam allowance open and flat.
- Create 4” box corners in the lining in the same manner as above for the exterior.
NOTE: If you are brand new to making box corners, we have a full tutorial that shows you both this standard method as well as a cut-out method. Click to the full tutorial. In addition, we recently did a webinar with our friends at Sulky on the same topic. You can still watch this free webinar from the Sulky site. Click here for the webinar.
Insert the lining into the exterior and secure the facing
- Find the exterior bag, which should be right side with the facing lightly pinned in position.
- Find the lining, which should be wrong side out.
- Slip the lining inside the exterior bag so the two are now wrong sides together. Push the lining all the way down into position so the bottom boxed corners align.
- The upper raw edge of the lining should fit just underneath the lower fold of the exterior fold-over facing/hem.
- Re-fold the facing/hem into position all around and pin in place.
- Working from the right side of the bag, topstitch 1¼” down from the top folded edge all the way around.
- As above, we are using a Triple Stitch to insure our topstitching has a “beefy” look. Slow down and make sure you have a clear guide line to follow on your machine’s throat plate. It’s very important that this topstitching is super duper straight.
NOTE: This is the one point where your thread color will stand out. Use a thread to best match the fabric for the upper section of the bag in the top and bobbin. Where the topstitching crosses over the strap at each side, you’ll see the topstitching. We felt this was a-okay, but if you wanted to, you could take the time to stop at either side of the strap and re-thread with thread to best match the strap just for the topstitching across the strap. Wow — I just said “strap” about 50 times… but you get the idea.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild