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One Hour Wonder: The Placemat Tote

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Eat breakfast on it this morning, turn it into a handbag this afternoon. Well... maybe skip the eating breakfast part to avoid orange juice stains. This terrific tote started its life as a pretty placemat! Construction is fast, easy... and inexpensive. All you need are a placemat with an eye-catching design, four plastic grommets, and a little bit of fabric for the handle. You might even have a few placemats in your linen cabinet that would fit the bill. Definitely a candidate for the 'this-would-make-a-great-gift' list. 

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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  • 1 placemat with a pretty Fall design: we used a 19" x 14" placemat from Crate & Barrel in 100% cotton with cotton cord embroidery
    NOTE: We found ours a while back at Crate & Barrel and no longer see this exact style on their website, but I'm sure you can find something just as pretty!
  • ½ yard of 60" faux suede in a color to coordinate with your placemat for the handles: we used a chocolate brown
    : You can substitute another fabric for the faux suede; it was a great coordinating option for our placemat choice and the soft texture made the handle knots easy to tie.
  • 1 package of 1" curtain grommets to coordinate with fabric: we used Dritz®Home Curtain Grommets (they're snap-on!) in Bronze
  • All purpose thread
  • See-through ruler
  • Seam gauge
  • Fabric pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Small sharp scissors
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. From the faux suede, cut TWO strips 4½" x the width of the fabric.
  2. Remove any manufacturer tags from the back of the placemat.
  3. Press well.
  4. Determine the position for your grommets. I placed mine ½" from the top edges (the 14" sides) with the center point of the grommet 2½" from each side.
    NOTE: Make sure you test the position of your grommets using both the plastic template and the grommet itself.
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  5. Mark the position for all four grommets. Fold the placemat in half and make sure the grommets will line up exactly on both sides. Otherwise your handle will be all wacky.
  6. Install the grommets. If you are new to this technique, see our tutorial. The Dritz®Home grommets snap-on and are very easy to install. I've summarized my steps below.
  7. Zig-zag around the marked circles, which we recommend in our tutorial, but which I felt was particularly important on this project because of the loose weave of the fabric and the fact I was cutting through embroidery.
  8. Cut out the holes with a pair of small, sharp scissors.
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  9. Insert the front half of the grommet from front to back, then snap on the back. Repeat to insert all four grommets
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At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board


  1. Fold the placemat in half, WRONG sides together. Align the grommets.
  2. Increase the length of your machine's standard straight stitch.
  3. Stitch both sides of the placemat together, approximately ¼" from the edge. Stitch from the bottom to the top. When you get to the top, stitch back and forth several times to reinforce the opening corners.
    NOTE: The actual distance will depend on the placemat you chose. You should get as close to the edge as possible, but you do have to account for the bulk of the placemat's seamed edges. On my placemat, 1/4" was about as close as I could get and have the machine stitch smoothly.


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The handles

  1. Find the 4½" x WOF suede strips.
  2. Place a strip over your shoulder and determine where you want your tote to hang. Add about 10-12" to this measurement to account for the part of the strap that goes through the grommet and knots. I cut my strips to 57", which was 46" to allow the tote to hang about waist level plus 11" for the knot.
  3. Fold each strip in half lengthwise and pin, leaving an 2-3" opening in the middle of the long side.
  4. Mark a point on each end.
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  5. Stitch each strip, using a ¼" seam. Follow your drawn point on one end, pivot at the corner, stitch down the long side, back tack at the opening, clip your thread, move to the opposite side of the opening, complete your seam down the rest of the long side and around the opposite drawn point.
  6. Trim around the end points to ¼"
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  7. Turn each strip right side out through the opening. 
    NOTE: See ourtube turning with a hemostat; it's so easy!
  8. Press each strip, turning in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
  9. Slip stitch the opening closed. Press again.
  10. One handle threads through the front grommets and the other handle threads through the back grommets.
  11. Thread each end through the grommet from back to front, making sure the top of the strap is flat and smooth; you don't want a twist in the strap as it goes up and over your shoulder.
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  12. Make a simple double knot, leaving about a 2" tail hanging against the outside of the bag.
    NOTE: A double knot is necessary with the thin faux suede to insure the handle won't pull through the grommet. If you use a heavier fabric, you might be able to get away with a single knot.
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  13. We hand-stitched a Sew4Home label to the inside of our bag.
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Project Design: Alicia Thommas  
Sample Creation and Instructions: Liz Johnson

Other machines suitable for this project include the Elna SewFun and the Baby Lock Grace.


Comments (11)

Mazin said:
Mazin's picture

This is a really cute idea! I love it! Well, I did until I bought a placemat and tried to make one. And then bought a couple more. I found that most placemats are not true corners and not cut or sewn very straight. I'm not sure how to allow for that but it sure didn't work for me. Any ideas?

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

@Mazin - We didn't have any problems finding placemats that would work. Since we can't really control the quality of what you find at the store, maybe your best bet would be to do a test fold in the store before you buy anything to make sure you get a well made placemat with square corners and straight edges. Beyond that... I guess you could make your own placemat to start... but then that kind of eliminates the quickness of the design and being able to take advantage of a pre-embellished mat. You could also attempt to take apart your purchase mat and trim it yourself to create better corners and sides - this would, of course, make the entire thing smaller and might get too close to the grommets if you've already put those in place. 

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

I'm sorry, but I do not have any additional information to send. Everything about the project is posted on the webpage. 

Analia said:
Analia's picture

Qué bueno que alguien hable español! Es precioso!! Todo lo que hay en esta página es interesante y muy fácil de hacer siguiendo los consejos!

Karen Payzant said:
Karen Payzant's picture
I have seen this idea used and still haven't given it a try! How fun this project would be and could go along with each season/holiday. Thanks for reminding me of how cute they are and fun to make.
Nellie said:
Nellie's picture
Many times stores have discounted odd and ends placemats that would be great for this project. If you find two the same size, they may even be different patterns! That way you could have a unique tote with one pattern in the front and another in the back!
elsa3 said:
elsa3's picture
Very cute ~ I've done a few like this only the long way and lined them. Like the idea of using grommets too.