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Time to Travel Tote

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Our extra-large tote is ready for a road trip, and thanks to the great Eclectic Elements fabric by Tim Holtz for Coats, it comes complete with great destinations built right in to the design, like Times Square and Coney Island. Fussy cutting is the name of the game in creating this bag's special look. If you're new to the technique, we offer a great step-by-step tutorial, but the concept is simple: carefully cut each of the fabrics to center and feature a particular motif, such as the subway stop names, clock faces and butterflies we selected from the dozens of interesting options within this wonderfully unique collection from paper-crafting guru, Tim Holtz. The front of the bag features a fabric flower as an optional embellishment, and decorative metal rivets help hold the strap ends in place and add a subtle dash of dimension.

The fabrics we used are from the original Eclectic Elements collection of 23 designs, all of which are still being produced. This spring, Tim Holtz and Coats debuted an additional 13 designs in Phase Two of Eclectic Elements. These started shipping at the beginning of the summer and are in-store and online now.

Our tote is uniquely designed to showcase the "eclectic elements" that make up each of the chosen fabrics. However, you could certainly select from within the original or the new designs to craft your very own look. We found the mixing and matching similar to putting together an interesting display of collectibles: blend similar shapes and tones, then inject something unexpected as a focal point, such as the bold lettering in our tote, which pops off the background prints.

We've included direct-to-buy links to Fabric.com for our fabric selections. Original and new designs are readily available as both yardage and handy pre-cut bundles at your local independent fabric shop as well as at Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores®.

The bag finishes at approximately 14" high x 18" wide, when laid flat, with a 12" strap drop. When standing, the bag has a 6" base and sides.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

NOTE: For the very best look, all your pieces should be carefully fussy cut. The yardage listed below allows extra for this purpose.

Getting Started

  1. From the fabric for the base, straps and flower tails (Subway Signs in Taupe in our sample), fussy cut the following:
    TWO 7" high x 19" wide rectangles for the base
    TWO 4" x 34" strips for the straps 
    ONE 4" x 16" strip for the flower tails
    NOTE: All our cuts were done horizontally to best feature the writing on the fabric; the exact measurements were tweaked a bit as needed to perfectly center the words. 
  2. From the fabric for one of the two alternating center panels (Timepieces in Taupe in our sample) cut THREE 7" wide x 11" high rectangles. 
  3. From the fabric for the second of the two alternating center panels (Butterflight in Taupe in our sample) cut THREE 7" wide x 11" high rectangles.
  4. From the fabric for the lining and lining pockets (Stamps in Neutral in our sample), cut the following: 
    TWO 17" high x 19" wide rectangles
    TWO 9" wide x 11" high rectangles for the pockets
  5. From the fabric for the optional fabric flower embellishment (Dictionary in Neutral in our sample), cut ONE 5" x WOF strip (5" x 44").
  6. From the fusible interfacing, cut the following:
    TWO 4" x 34" strips
    TWO 2" x 2" squares to reinforce the magnetic clasp
  7. From the fusible fleece, cut TWO 17" x 19" rectangles.
  8. Cut the cotton webbing into TWO 7" lengths.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Front and back exterior panels

  1. Find the six 7" x 11" panels and the two 7" lengths of cotton webbing. 
  2. Arrange the panels in two rows of three, alternating the panels as shown in the photo below. 
  3. Pin a length of webbing to the outer-right panel in each row, positioning the webbing ½" up from the bottom raw edge of the panel. Pin the webbing in place. These two panels will become the side panels of the tote.
    NOTE: This webbing is simply meant to be decorative, similar to features found on high-end, off-the-shelf bags. However, it does also add a bit of stability for the tote's sides. 
  4. Place the first two panels of one row right sides together, aligning the inside 11" sides. Pin in place.
  5. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the one 11" seam. Press the seam allowance open and flat. 
  6. Place the final panel (the one with the webbing) right sides together with the sewn unit, aligning the inside 11" sides. Pin in place.
  7. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the one 11" seam. Press the seam allowance open. 
    NOTE: Pressing the seam allowance open will allow the seam to lay flat across the webbing. 
  8. Flip the three-panel sewn unit to the right side. 
  9. Edgestitch along both sides of each seam.
  10. Repeat to create the second three-panel unit.
  11. Find the two 7" x 19" base panels. 
  12. Place one three-panel unit right sides together with one base panel. Align the bottom of the three-panel unit (the bottom had the webbing) with the 19" top of the base panel. Pin in place.
  13. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch across the 19" width. Be very careful to NOT catch the webbing in the seam. You want the bottom of the webbing to lay right along the seam, but it should not be in the seam. 
  14. Press the seam allowance down toward the base panel. Edgestitch along the seam within the base panel only. 
  15. Repeat to attach the remaining base panel to the remaining three-panel unit.
  16. When done, each front and back panel should look like the photo below: two vertical panel seams, both with edgestitching on either side of the seam; and one horizontal base seam with edgestitching just within the base panel. Keep the free end of the webbing pinned in place.
  17. Find the two pieces of fusible fleece. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse one piece to the wrong side of both the front and back.

Assemble front to back and box the corners

  1. Place the front and back right sides together. The webbing panels should be at opposite sides (one to the left and one to the right). 
  2. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both side seams, creating a tall tube. These seams capture the remaining raw ends of the webbing strips. Press both seam allowances open and flat.
  3. Turn the tube right side out. Edgestitch along both sides of each side seam to match the previous vertical seams.
  4. Roll the tube to match the photo below and press flat with your hands. The vertical seams should align front to back and the side panels should now be folded in half.
  5. Mark the bottom of the fold with a pin on each side.
  6. Turn the tube wrong side out. Re-fold, using the pin marks as your guide. The vertical seams should still all align. The outermost seams should be 3" in from the side folds.
  7. Pin across the bottom, keeping the raw edges flush.
  8. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch across the bottom.
  9. Clip into the seam at the folds. Press the seam allowance open.
  10. Our bag is designed to have 6" sides and base. To create this width, we figured our corners at 3". 
  11. Fold the tote bottom to create a point with the seam at the peak.
  12. Measure 3" down from the tip of the peak and draw a horizontal line. If your point is correctly figured, this line will be 6" across. Pin in place.
  13. Double stitch along the drawn line. 
  14. Trim away the excess, leaving just ½" from the double-stitched seam. 
  15. Repeat to create the opposite corner.
    NOTE: If you are new to boxed corners, check out our tutorial for step-by-step instructions.
  16. Turn the tote right side out.

Attach the piping

  1. Find the piping. Starting at a vertical seam, pin the piping in place around the entire top edge of the tote. Align the raw edge of the piping tape with the top raw edge of the tote.
  2. Use a piping or beading foot to keep your seam as close to the piping cord as possible. If you do not have one of these optional feet, a Zipper foot will also work. 
  3. Stitch all the way around the top, finishing the ends with a standard cut-and-wrap method.
  4. If you are new to sewing and finishing piping, we have a tutorial you can review first
  5. Press the seam allowance down towards the inside of the tote so the piping stands up around the edge. Lightly pin the seam allowance in place.
  6. Set the finished exterior aside.


  1. Find the two lining panels, and the two 9" x 11" lining pocket pieces.
  2. Fold each 9" x 11" pocket rectangle in half, right sides together, making them 9" x 5½". Pin along all three sides, leaving an approximate 3" opening along the bottom for turning.
  3. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch around all three sides, pivoting at the corners. Lock your seam on either side of the 3" opening. Clip the corners and press open the seam allowance. 
  4. Turn right side out. 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. Place one lining panel right side up and flat on your work surface. Measure to find the exact center of the panel. 
  7. Pin one pocket in place on the right side of the lining panel. The pocket should be centered side to side and 3½" below the top raw edge of the panel. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom. (The folded edge is the top of the pocket.)
  8. Edgestitch the pocket in place along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners and with a generous backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam, ie. at the pocket top. This is a stress point for the pocket and it's smart to secure the seam well. This edgestitching also closes the opening used for turning.
  9. Repeat to place the remaining pocket on the remaining lining panel. 
  10. Place the two lining pieces right sides together, sandwiching the pockets between the layers. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom
  11. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
  12. Following the same steps as above, measure for 6" boxed corners.
  13. Flatten, double stitch, and trim away the excess.
  14. Press down the top raw edge ½" all around the top of the lining. 
  15. Unfold so the crease line is visible.
  16. Flatten the lining bag to find the exact center front and back. Mark both points with a pin.
  17. Find the two small squares of fusible interfacing. Slip one square into place at each center point against the wrong side of the lining fabric. The square should be centered on the pin mark and the top edge of the square should align with the crease line. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse each square in place.
  18. Find the magnetic clasp. Following manufacturer's instructions, attach one half of each clasp at each center point through the interfacing squares, which act as reinforcement tabs. The top edge of the snap should be approximately ½" below the crease line.
    NOTE: If you are new to this technique, check out our step-by-step tutorial: How to Insert a Magnetic Snap Closure. 
  19. Re-fold the top raw edge along the original crease line.

Assemble lining and exterior and add the straps 

  1. Find the exterior bag. It should be right side out.
  2. Find the lining bag. It should be wrong side out.
  3. Slip the lining bag inside the exterior bag so the two bags are now wrong sides together. Align all the seams and the bottom corners. 
  4. The top folded edge of the lining should sit just below the exterior bag's piping. If it does not align perfectly, re-fold the lining to fit all around. 
  5. Pin the lining to the exterior all around the top.
  6. Edgestitch all around top, through all the layers. Your seam should run just below the piping within the fabric.
  7. Find the straps and the matching strips of fusible interfacing.
  8. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse one interfacing strip to the wrong side of each strap.
  9. Fold each strap in half lengthwise and press to form a center crease. 
  10. Open the strip wrong side up so the crease line is visible. Fold in each raw edge so they meet one another at the center crease line. Press well. 
  11. Fold in each end ½". Fold the strip in half along the original crease line, aligning the folded-in edges along both ends and the long side. 
  12. Edge stitch around all four sides.
  13. Repeat to create the second strap. 
  14. Find the exterior bag. Position one strap on the front and one on the back. The ends of each strap should be ½" in from each side panel seam and 2" down from the top piped edge.
  15. Pin each end in place, then stitch in place with an approximate 1½" "X-box" through all the layers.
    NOTE: We have a good tutorial on how to Sew A Perfect X Box.
  16. Further secure with two rivets. Apply the rivets following the manufacturer's directions (or review our rivet tutorial) at the top corners of the "X-box."

Fabric flower embellishment

  1. Find the 4" x 16" strip for the flower tails. Prepare it following the same steps you used to create the straps. When the strip is finished, tie a knot at each end.
  2. Find the 5" x 44" flower strip. Complete using our Fabric Flower tutorial. The only change we made was to eliminate the dowel as a "stem." Instead, we simply rolled the flower on itself rather than around the dowel.
  3. Fold the flower tails strip in half so the ends offset. 
  4. Hand sew the tails to the back of the flower, covering the glue and the raw edges. 
  5. Hand sew the flower to the tote at the base of one end of the front strap.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas      
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Michele Mishler



Comments (6)

HoneyBee said:
HoneyBee's picture

I just found this Site & I am very excited! I am a quilter mostly but do make other projects. You offer so many new and revamped ideas. I am going to sew a Mug Rug and a Zipper Bag as gifts to take to a barbecue party tomorrow. Thank You for tutorials. Next week I plan to make curtains.

Kathy Smith said:
Kathy Smith's picture

I am one of those new to join and new to sewing, and am very pleased to see this tutorial.  I really like the Eclectic Elements line and look forward to trying this bag.  Thanks for publishing it again.

D.Schmidt said:
D.Schmidt's picture

thanks Liz, I understand! as I said, the tutorial is wonderfull and I like the Tim Holtz fabrics.

I was just so disappointed :(

D.Schmidt said:
D.Schmidt's picture

good tutorial.. but I was expecting a new idea. this tutorial, however, was first published month ago.

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

@ D Schmidt - this tutorial was actually first posted over a year ago. Because we have so many NEW visitors joining us every week, we like to bring older projects forward (often updating the fabrics or, as we did today, alerting folks to the expansion of the original collection). This way, we make sure our newer fans see these great projects, and we remind our older fans about a classic project they may have missed. 

Calliope Beach said:
Calliope Beach's picture

Well, I'm glad you brought this pattern back because I didn't see it the first time.  This bag is just FUN! and I can't wait to make it.  thank you