Our trio of travel necessities can be made as a matched set or you can create each one individually. Start off your set with this roomy, hold-everything tote. We chose two coordinating canvas prints in tones of oatmeal and rose – a color combination that works year ‘round. And, why rely on designer logos when you can be your own brand? A subtle bit of gorgeous embroidery is the finishing touch that really makes a project your own.
We combined the Janome Skyline S7 for sewing with the embroidery-only Janome Memory Craft 500E to add the stylish initial to each piece. The MC500E makes it easy to select a built-in design or to bring in, via USB, any outside design your heart desires. We actually “mixed and matched” our machines even further for this project, pulling a built-in design from the new Skyline S9 sewing and embroidery model to stitch out on the MC500E.
We’ve always been fans of Janome stitch precision, from regular sewing to decorative stitching to embroidery. It makes all the difference in the professional finish of a project, and it’s certainly a secret to our beautiful samples.
Our samples use a lightweight canvas: Sevenberry of Japan for Kaufman Fabrics. When selecting fabric for this type of travel set, you want something that’s tough enough to stand-up to heavy use and easy to spot clean, but is still soft to handle and with a bold motif that takes advantage of the larger panels. The fabrics we chose are a canvas and flax blend, which has the perfect feel. And the designs are clean and modern.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with your prints. If you’re a regular Sew4Home visitor, you know we often caution against the “matchy-match.” We brought together a graphic floral with a casual polka dot – an unexpected but charming combination. If you’d like more information about how we pull it all together, check out our article: Top 10 Designer Tips for Blending Colors and Prints.
The tote’s structure is provided by a layer of fusible foam between the exterior canvas and the quilting cotton lining. We give you several options below for how to get the corners to maintain their sharp edges.
This tote is designed with handles sized to carry by hand or over one arm. But you could certainly extend the handles all the way to strap length to give yourself an over-the-shoulder option.
Sewing Tools You Need
Fabric and Other Supplies
- ⅝ yard of 44"+ wide lightweight canvas or similar for the upper exterior of the bag
- ⅝ yard of 44"+ wide lightweight canvas or similar for the lower exterior of the bag, straps, and lining pocket
- 1 yard of 44"+ wide standard weight cotton for the lining
- 1 yard of 20"+ fusible foam; we used Pellon Flex Foam
- ¼ - 1 yard of 20"+ wide lightweight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Shape Flex
NOTE: This interfacing is for the handles. If you purchase a full yard, you can cut the strips at their full 34” length, but you will be left with quite a bit of excess - not really a problem since it’s a very handy weight of interfacing to keep in your stash. If you purchase ¼ yard, you'll have less excess but will need to piece the strips because the interfacing is only 20” wide.
- Stabilizer for the optional embroidery as recommended for your embroidery machine; we used Pellon Stitch ’n’ Tear
- All-purpose thread to match fabric and for topstitching; we used a natural thread color for both construction as well as all the topstitching accents
- Monofilament thread; optional for stitching handles in place; we used Aurifil Monofilament in Clear
- Embroidery thread for monogram; we used Aurifil 50wt #2230 Red Peony
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
- From the fabric for the upper exterior (the Brown Flowers in our sample), cut TWO 16" wide x 13" high rectangles.
NOTE: If embroidering a letter, you may want to cut one panel larger than needed to best fit your hoop. We cut one 20” x 20” square to hoop.
- From the fabric for the lower exterior of the bag, straps, and lining pocket (the Rose Dot in our sample), cut the following:
TWO 16" wide x 6½" high rectangles for the bag base
ONE 9” wide x 7” high rectangle for the pocket
TWO 2½” x 34” strips for the handles
- From the fabric for the lining (the Peach Cotton in our sample), cut the following:
TWO 15¾“ wide x 15¼“ high rectangles for the main lining panels
ONE 9” wide x 7” high rectangle for the pocket lining
- From the fusible foam, cut TWO 15” x 15½” rectangles.
- From the lightweight interfacing, cut the following:
ONE 8” x 6” rectangle for the pocket
TWO ¾” x 34" strips
NOTE: As mentioned above, these can be cut as full strips or can be pieced from four WOF strips.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Select the embroidery of your choice, adjusting it as needed to best fit the front of the tote. We suggest a letter approximately 2¼ - 2½” in height. Our “A” was approximately 2¼”.
- The options for embroidery designs are endless; you can use a machine’s built-in designs or bring in a design from an outside source. Thanks to the easy-to-use USB port on our Janome Memory Craft 500E, we actually brought-in a letter from another Janome model. The Hana Alphabet is one of the built-in designs on the Janome Skyline S9 sewing and embroidery model.
- Find the one larger front panel (ours was approximately 20” x 20”). This is known as “hooping wild,” meaning you hoop plenty of fabric to embroider so you can cut the piece down to size when done. Layer with stabilizer as directed by your machine’s instructions.
- When finished, the letter should be centered side to side within the cut panel, and the top edge of the letter should sit approximately 4” down from the top raw edge of the panel. Therefore, you want to hoop the larger panel so it is centered side to side and with plenty of room from the top raw edge.
- Thread the machine with your chosen embroidery thread in the top and bobbin.
- Attach the hoop to the machine.
- Set-up the machine for embroidery and embroider the one letter.
- When the embroidery is complete, cut your panel down to 16" wide x 13” high with the embroidered letter appropriately positioned (centered side to side and with the top point of the letter 4” down from the top raw edge).
Create and place the handles
- Find the two 2½” handle strips and the two ¾” interfacing strips.
NOTE: Our interfacing was cut as continuous strips. If you’ve chosen to cut shorter strips, trim two down to size (17” each) so you can butt them together end to end to create the required 34” length.
- Fold one fabric strip in half wrong sides together and press to set a center crease.
- Unfold wrong side up so the crease line is visible.
- Place an interfacing strip on the wrong side so one edge of the interfacing aligns with the center crease line
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place. Press again along the original center crease.
- Open up again and fold in each raw edge to meet in the middle at the center crease line. Both ends are left raw. Finally, fold once again along the original center crease so the long folded edges are flush. Press well.
- If desired, thread the machine with contrasting thread for topstitching. We used a natural color thread for all construction and topstitching. Slightly lengthen the stitch.
- Edgestitch along both long sides. Again, the ends remain raw.
- Repeat to create the second handle.
- The handles are placed on the front and back upper exterior panels at a slight angle. Place one panel (we started with the embroidered panel) right side up and flat on your work surface. Place one handle so the bottom raw edges of the handle are flush with the bottom raw edge of the exterior panel. The outer edge of each side of the handle should sit 3½” in from the raw side edge of the exterior panel. Pin in place.
- The handles then angle slightly in at the top. That top point (where the strap ends on the finished tote) should be 3½” down from the top raw edge and 4½” in from the raw side edge. Place a pin at this point as it will be the stop point for the stitching that secures the handles to the fabric panel.
- Repeat to pin the remaining handle to the remaining upper exterior panel in the same manner.
- Re-thread the machine with monofilament thread in the top and bobbin. This is optional, but the invisible stitching does look better than a double thickness of the topstitching on just a portion of the strap.
- Stitch each handle in place. Go up one side, pivot and stitch across at the mark 3½” from the top, then go down the opposite side. Stitch directly on top of the handle’s existing edgestitching.
Prepare the lining
- Find both lining panels, the front and lining pocket panels, and the pocket interfacing.
- Center the interfacing on the wrong side of the front pocket panel. The interfacing should be centered so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Place the pocket front and lining right sides together. Pin the layers in place, leaving a 2-3” opening along the bottom for turning.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch around all four sides. Remember to pivot at each corner and to lock your seam at either side of the 2-3” opening.
- Clip the corners and press open the seam allowance.
- Turn right side out through the opening. Using a long, blunt tool, gently push out all the corners so they are sharp. A chopstick, knitting needle 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 lining panels. Place it right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Place the pocket right side up on the lining panel. The pocket will sit against the back of the bag, so this will become the back lining panel.
- The pocket should be centered side to side and approximately 4” down from the top raw edge of the lining panel. Pin the pocket in place along both sides and across the bottom.
- Find the center point of the pocket and draw in a vertical guideline for the pocket division seam.
- Edgestitch the pocket in place along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. This seam closes the opening used for turning. Following the drawn center line, stitch up the middle of the pocket to divide it into two sections.
- The illustration below shows how the pocket sits inside the finished bag. As shown on the drawing, you can also add a line of topstitching horizontally across the top, approximately 1” down from the edge. This is optional and gives the pocket a simulated top hem.
- Pin the front and back lining pieces right sides together along both sides and across the bottom, sandwiching the pocket between the layers.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
- With the lining still wrong side out, the next step is to box the corners.
- Using both hands, pinch and pull apart one bottom corner of the lining. Precisely match the side seam and the bottom seam, forming a peak at the corner.
- Mark the depth of the boxed corner with a fabric marking pen or pencil and a straight ruler, positioning your ruler so the depth is measured from side to side at the base of the "peak." As mentioned, our boxed corner depth is 4”. Slide the ruler down from the peak until you reach the point at which your "triangle" is at the appropriate width: 4” across. Draw a horizontal line at this measurement.
- Another measuring option is to measure vertically from the corner point of your seam (the actual end point of the seam – not the tip of the fabric) down along the seam line. In this case, you measure HALF the width of your finished corner – or 2" in our sample.
- Stitch across the corner along the drawn line. It's a good idea to double or triple stitch the seam for extra strength.
- Trim away the peak to ¼" - ½" from the line of stitching.
NOTE: If you are brand new to boxed corners, take a look at our full, step-by-step tutorial on the technique.
Assemble exterior panels, add foam, box corners
- The illustrations below will help you visualize the finished shape of your tote.
- Find the bottom exterior panels. Place a bottom panel right sides together with each top exterior panel, sandwiching the sewn straps between the layers. If you are working with a directional print for either panel, make sure you are stitching the bottom of the upper exterior panel to the top of the lower exterior panel.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch top to bottom.
- Press the seam allowance down towards the lower panel.
- Flip the panel right side up. Re-set for a slightly lengthened stitch. Edgestitch along the seam within the lower panel.
- Flip the assembled exterior so it is wrong side up and flat on your work surface.
- Find the foam panels. Place one foam panel against the wrong side of each exterior panel. The foam should be positioned so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the foam along both sides and across the bottom. Along the top, there will be 2½” of fabric extending beyond the foam.
- Using the clear ruler, measure 2” in from each side of the foam and 2” up from the bottom of the foam. Draw guidelines at these measurements.
- Using your scissors, a rotary cutter or an X-Acto knife, score the foam along these 2” drawn lines along each side and across the bottom. This scoring of the foam allows a sharper line to form along the finished side edges of the bag. You could also cut all the way through and fuse the three 2” strips as separate pieces. A third option is to stitch through just the foam along the lines to form a hinge. The choice is yours, but do choose one alternative in order to give your finished bag the correct shape.
- Cut a 2” square from both bottom corners of the foam to keep it out of the exterior’s boxed corners.
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the foam in place on each panel.
- Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Place the front and back exterior panels right sides together and stitch along both sides and across the bottom, using a ½” seam allowance.
- Create 4” box corners in the same manner as you did above for the lining.
Fold down top to finish
- Turn the bag exterior right side out. Keep the bag lining wrong side out.
- Slip the lining inside the bag exterior so the two are now wrong sides together. Align all the seams and the bottom boxed corners. The top raw edge of the lining will sit below the top raw edge of the exterior.
- Fold the handles down and out of the way.
- Fold back the top raw edge of the exterior ½” and press. Fold an additional 1½” and press again. This second fold should cover the top raw edge of the lining. Pin in place around the entire top of the bag.
- Bring the handles back up into position. The final topstitching will go across the handles, which helps them stay upright.
- Slightly lengthen the stitch. Topstitch around the entire top of the bag, through all the layers, to secure the hem.
- We topstitched approximately ¼” from the inner fold of the top hem in the regular thread. Then we re-threaded with the monofilament and edgestitched around again. This second line of invisible stitching is optional.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Kathy Andrews, What Sew Ever