Fabric shopping bags are a green alternative to plastic, and so much prettier! As the second project in the SIY-Sew It Yourself!™ series we’re doing in partnership with Jaftex, we created a set of two fabric totes in a handy shoulder sling style. These large, soft totes fold down into their own matching wrap-and-tie carrying case.
If you’re brand new to sewing or helping someone learn to sew, SIY-Sew It Yourself!™ is a program you’ll want to follow. It’s all about sharing the kind of beginner-friendly projects that can keep new and returning sewers inspired and motivated. There are over 350 Jaftex retailers across the US and Canada who are participating to bring you trendy, easy projects, amazing fabrics, and helpful instructions. Many of these retailers are are offering in-person and/or virtual classes. Click here to find a retailer near you to join in the fun, find your favorite fabrics, and take the next steps toward I Made This Myself! success.
We kicked off our participation in the SIY series with a pretty patchwork pillow, which gave new sewers the chance to learn about piecing, piping, buttons and buttonholes, and more.
Now it’s time to learn something new: how to make a set of go-everywhere shopping totes. Our design is a bold blend of color and motifs. Lined for extra stability and with a convenient exterior pocket, both bags still easily fold down into handy squares that fit in the matching storage case.
If you are new to your sewing journey, this project is a great opportunity to learn how to work with a pattern, place a pocket, sew the smoothest of curves, make darts, and turn skinny ties… just a few of the handy techniques you can use for this project as well as on others you do in the future.
The bags are a very generous 18” x 25” when finished, making them a perfect way to showcase multiple fabrics from within a single collection. Each of the projects we develop for the SIY-Sew It Yourself!™ program is executed in multiple fabric collections from: FreeSpirit Fabrics, The Blank Quilting Corp., Studio E Fabrics, and Henry Glass & Co., Inc.. It’s a great way to see how one project can take on an entirely different vibe depending on the fabric you choose.
Our main sample tote uses five happy prints from the Fruit for Thought collection by Dianna DonFrancisco for The Blank Quilting Corp. and includes a perfectly matched, fussy cut pocket on the front panel. And yes, we do have the extra steps – as well as a link to a full tutorial – to show you how to get that perfect match of a pocket to a background panel.
Rounding things out is a terrific tote in Love Always, AM by Anna Maria Horner for FreeSpirit Fabrics. These fabrics are made for fussy cutting to showcase a dramatic motif! We also incorporated a subtle blender from the Seeds collection by Cori Dantini, also for FreeSpirit.
With two strong layers of quilting cotton, there’s no need for interfacing, so you can easily fold down two bags to fit into the matching case. Just fold, roll, wrap, and tie. It makes a perfect, compact case to store in your purse or glovebox or throw in another tote.
For more interesting information, take a look at our companion article. It goes into more detail about each of our chosen fabric collections as well as the designers behind them. We also include links to some of our favorite tips and techniques for working with a pattern and fussy cutting.
We invite you to visit the SIY-Sew It Yourself!™ website for more details, additional easy-to-learn tutorials. There’s a full list of participating retailers where you can find the fabric as well as options for possible in-store or virtual classes on these totes as well as other beginner-friendly projects.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
Fabric and Other Supplies
Our custom tote design uses up to SIX coordinated prints. We originally executed this design in four different collections from within the Jaftex family of fabrics: FreeSpirit Fabrics, Henry Glass & Co., Inc., The Blank Quilting Corp., and Studio E Fabrics.
For our featured sample, we used FIVE prints from the Fruit for Thought collection by D. DonFrancisco for The Blank Quilting Corp.. Our other three sample totes (shown in the beauty images above as well as the companion article), each feature SIX fabrics, the sixth fabric being a contrasting pocket rather than a fussy cut, matching pocket.
For the most part, the fabrics we chose had random motifs, making it easy to place and cut all the pieces. However, on this Fruit for Thought sample, we did use one directional print – a stripe. In addition, we pattern-matched the front pocket to its background panel. Both of these situations require precision cutting and a bit more fabric. We’ve accounted for these situations in the yardage recommendations below, and we provide links to our full tutorials on both fussy cutting as well as pocket-to-panel matching.
The illustrations below show all the tote and case pieces and their cut sizing. Our yardages are based on the Fruit for Thought sample, but by referencing the size of each of the pieces, you can determine the yardage changes necessary should you wish to include fewer fabrics, more fabrics, and/or more fussing cutting in you own totes and case. Don’t forget, our yardage and cut numbers are based on TWO matching totes and ONE case.
As aways, our goal is to recommend more than enough fabric. With a project designed specifically for beginners, we want to make sure there’s extra, in case there’s a mistake as someone gets used to precise cutting. This means we usually round up to the next nearest standard yardage cut. For the “super sewers” out there, you can simply look at the size of each of the pieces and plan your most efficient yardages.
- Fabric A (pieces 1and 7): 1 yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we used Tossed Pineapples #1885-99
- Fabric B (pieces 2 and 5): 1 yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we used Fruit Wreaths #1889-41
- Fabric C (piece 3): ¾ – 1 yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we used Tossed Bananas #1890-01
NOTE: If cutting horizontally, you can get away with ¾ yard; if cutting vertically 1 yard is better.
- Fabric D (piece 4): ¾ – 1 yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we used Fruit Stripes #1888-66
NOTE: Again, if cutting horizontally, you can get away with ¾ yard; if cutting vertically 1 yard is better
- Fabric E (pieces 6, 8 and 9): 2¼ yards of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we used Citrus Slices #1880-01
- All-purpose thread to match fabric
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors and/or rotary cutter and mat
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle
Getting Started and Pattern Downloads
- Download and print the THREE pattern pieces: main body, pocket, and case; which are made up of pieces to assemble and have been bundled into TWO PDFs to make the download easier.
- The first PDF is a single 8½” x 11″ sheet for the case pattern. PRINT FOUR copies.
- The second PDF consists of FIVE 8½” x 11″ sheets. PRINT TWO copies. There will be some waste, but printing TWO allows you to create a half body piece for the exterior sections as well as a second half body piece, which will be trimmed and cut on the fold for the lining. You can then save both assembled patterns for future use.
NOTE: Of course, you also have the ability within your PDF print settings to select individual pages for multiple copies in order to further conserve paper.
IMPORTANT: You must print our PDF files at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There are guide rules on each page to confirm your print out is to size.
- Cut out each of the pattern pieces along the solid lines.
- For the case pattern, aligning the printed arrows, assemble the FOUR pieces into the complete case pattern, which looks a bit like a four leaf clover.
- For the front pocket pattern, aligning the printed arrows, assemble Pocket Part A and Pocket Part B into the complete pocket pattern.
- For the half body pattern, aligning the printed arrows, assemble Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 into the complete half body pattern.
- For the half body pattern to be cut on the fold for the lining, assemble a half body pattern as you did above in step 7. Then, trim away the center seam allowance, cutting along the dotted line.
- For all the patterns, always butt together the pieces; do NOT overlap. Then tape in place.
- From Fabric A (Tossed Pineapples in our sample), cut the following:
Using the assembled half body pattern, cut TWO for the front left sections (piece 1)
Using the assembled case pattern, cut ONE for the exterior (piece 7)
- From Fabric B (Fruit Wreaths in our sample), cut the following:
Using the assembled half body pattern, cut TWO for the front right sections (piece 2)
Using the assembled pocket pattern, cut FOUR for the exterior pockets (piece 5)**
- ** To match a pocket to a panel, first cut your main background panel (piece 2).
- Place the remaining un-cut fabric right side up on your cutting surface.
- Place the assembled pocket pattern underneath the background panel you just cut (piece 2), aligning the bottom curved edge of the fabric with the bottom curved edge of the paper pattern.
- Move this layered piece around on the remaining fabric until the fabric motifs line up.
- Carefully lift up the background panel and lightly pin the paper pattern in place to hold its position. Then, remove the background panel completely and fully pin the pocket pattern in place.
- Cut out the pocket. Now, when you lay the pocket on the main panel, you have a perfect match.
NOTE: For more details about and options for matching pockets to a background panel, check out our full tutorial on this technique.
- Repeat these steps to create a matching pocket for the second tote.
- The two additional pocket pieces are the pocket lining panels and do not have to be fussy cut since they are inside the pocket. Instead, simply use the assembled pocket pattern to cut the two lining pieces. BUT – you must cut these lining pieces with the paper pattern facing right side down (printed side down) so when you are ready to place the lining pieces right sides together with your fussy-cut exterior pieces, all the edges line up properly. Otherwise you’ll end up with “two left feet.”
**NOTE: You can certainly choose to not fussy cut and match your pocket. And, if you choose to add a sixth fabric for your exterior pocket as we did on some samples shown above, simply use the assembled pocket pattern to cut FOUR (exterior and lining for both totes), cut two with the paper pattern facing right side up and two with the pattern facing right side down.
- From Fabric C (Tossed Bananas in our sample), using the assembled half body pattern, cut TWO for the back left sections (piece 3).
- From Fabric D (Fruit Stripes in our sample), using the assembled half body pattern, cut TWO for the back right sections (piece 4).
NOTE: As mentioned, this was a directional print in our chosen collection, so we carefully cut to make sure the stripes were running horizontally across the pattern piece and that a large stripe was centered within the panel.
- From Fabric E (Citrus Slices in our sample), prepare and cut the following:
First fold the fabric right sides together.
NOTE: An easy way to fold for the four cuts-on-the-fold is to place the entire panel of fabric right side up on your cutting surface: 44” wide x 81” high (2¼ yards). Fold in each side 11” to meet in the middle. You can then cut two panels along each of the two folded edges and still have plenty left over for your case and tie cuts.
Using the assembled half body pattern from which you trimmed away the inner seam allowance, position the trimmed edge along the fold and pin in place. Cut out the lining panel around the perimeter; do not cut along the fold.
Repeat to cut THREE additional lining panels.
Using the assembled case pattern, cut ONE for the lining (piece 8)
ONE 2” x 36” strip for the case tie (piece 9)
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, your machine should be threaded and re-threaded as necessary with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin. Set length and width for a standard straight stitch and attach a basic presser foot.
Make all the darts
- Before you set aside all your assembled paper patterns, you need to mark the position for the bottom darts. There is a dart at the bottom of each half section, each pocket, and at the bottom left and right of the front and back lining panels. This means each tote has nine darts. You’ll get lots of practice!
- Lay the paper pattern over the top of each fabric piece.
- Make small snips within the seam allowance to mark each side of the bottom of the dart.
- Or, simply make two marks with your fabric pen or pencil if you’d prefer not to cut.
- At the point of each dart, insert a pin through the paper into the fabric.
- Gently lift up the paper and transfer the pin point to the fabric with your fabric pen or pencil.
- Fold, right sides together, aligning the dart’s two bottom marks. Lightly pin.
- Repeat for each of the EIGHT darts within the half exterior panels and the full lining panels.
- Stitch at a diagonal from the bottom of the dart, in other words from the aligned bottom marks, up to the point. Run right off the fabric at the point; do not backstitch. Leave the thread tails long and hand knot to secure.
NOTE: If you are brand new to making a dart and need additional help, take a look at our full tutorial.
Assemble the exterior pocket and add its dart
- Find the exterior fussy cut pocket panel and the lining pocket panel.
- Place the two panels right sides together. All raw edges should be flush and should align perfectly because, as mentioned and shown above, you cut the exterior with the pattern facing right side up and the lining with the pattern facing right side down.
- Pin along the top curve only.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along the top curve only.
- Clip the curve. You are clipping right up to but not through the seam line to allow ease along the curve.
- Turn the pocket right side out so the two panels are now wrong sides together and the curved seam is running right along the top.
- Using the same steps as above, mark and make a dart in the bottom curve of the pocket. The main difference is you are folding both layers together and the “wrong side” of the pocket is the lining. The back of the dart will be inside the pocket, fully finished and pressed flat.
Place the exterior pocket
- Find the right front exterior half panel and the finished pocket with its dart in place.
- Place the panel right side up and flat.
- Place the pocket right side up on top of the main panel. The bottom curves should be flush and the darts should be aligned. If you fussy cut, the pocket should also be a perfect match to the background panel.
- Pin in place along the outside perimeter through all the layers.
- Machine baste through all the layers along the outside perimeter. This will hold the pocket in place throughout the remainder of the construction. Keep your basting within the ½” seam allowance.
Assemble the front and back exterior panels
- Collect the right front panel (with its pocket basted in place) and the left front panel.
- Place the two panels right sides together. All raw edges should be flush.
- Pin along just the straight inner edge.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch this straight inner edge only.
- Press the seam allowance toward the left panel.
- Topstitch along the seam within the left panel. This secures the seam allowance in its left position and adds stability along the seam. Remember to re-thread your machine with matching thread if necessary.
- Repeat to seam and topstitch the two back exterior halves.
Pin front and back to lining and pre-stitch straps
- Find the two full lining panels. Place them right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Place the assembled front panel right side down on one lining panel and the assembled back panel right side down on the other lining panel. Make sure the darts line up on both panel pairs.
- Pin along the outer curve and inner curve of the straps. The sides and bottom of the main tote section remain unpinned. Do this on both panel pairs. Remember, at this time, you are working with the front as one unit (exterior and lining) and the back as another unit (exterior and lining).
- When pinning, mark a stopping point 2” down from the top raw end of each strap. This mark cues you when to stop your seam. You can mark a horizontal line with a fabric pen or pencil, use double pins as an “alert mark,” or simply stop your pins at this 2” point.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch the pinned inner and outer curves on both the front and back units. Remember to stop each seam at your marked point, 2” down from the top raw end of each strap.
- Clip all the curves in order to allow the fabric some ease and stretch when turned right side out.
NOTE: Check out our full tutorial for more about cutting and stitching Smooth Curves Every Time.
Stitch the strap ends and finish with hand stitching
- Your next steps will turn the open ends of each strap pair into a loop.
- First, we show you an easy way to finish the sides of the sewn loop with a simple hand stitch. Below is an alternative option to finish the sides with machine stitching. This option is slightly more difficult, but only because you are pulling things inside out to finish.
- Our photos are showing the back half of the tote. The front half would be completed in the same manner. Of course, you could choose to do the front first and then the back; it doesn’t matter.
- Turn the back of the tote right side out through the open sides and bottom. Make sure the straps are pushed completely out. Your exterior and lining panels are now wrong sides together.
NOTE: As shown in the photo above, if you have a pair of hemostats, this can make turning the straps easier. We have a full tutorial on turning skinny ties and straps with this method.
- Press the layers flat, being careful to make sure the sewn seams are straight and even along the curves. Press all the way to the open ends of the straps, pressing in the raw edges so they are flush with the sewn seam.
- Bring the exterior strap ends right sides together. Their straight ends should be flush, which means you’ll unfold the pressed raw edges so you have full straight ends with which to work. Pin in place.
- Stitch across these ends, using a ½” seam allowance.
- Next, bring the lining strap ends right sides together in the same manner. Pin and then stitch across the lining ends.
- Hold on to the strap to either side of the seams, give a little tug, and the seam allowances will flip to the inside and everything will snap into place.
- Of course, you still have slight openings along either side.
- Thread a hand sewing needle, and using a ladder stitch (aka slip stitch), close up both openings. Check out our full tutorial on this kind of invisible hand stitching.
Stitch the strap ends and finish with machine stitching
- For this alternative method, your first steps are the same as above. Stitch the exterior ends together and then stitch the lining ends together.
- Pull apart the lining from the exterior so you can find the little tunnel up through the strap.
- Reach in with your fingers or a tool (we again turned to our trusty hemostats) and grab the sewn ends. Carefully pull the little sewn ends, turning the strap inside out. You are pulling one side of the strap through the other.
- Keep pulling until you have fully revealed the section with the unsewn edges. You need to pull through enough to fit under the machine.
- Pin across each of the side openings.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch across each opening, carefully matching the new seam to the end points of the existing seam.
- With both sides sewn, gently pull the strap right side out.
- And, ta-da, a machine-sewn finish to your loop.
- Either finishing option works great and looks great.
- With one side of the tote done, complete the second side in the same manner.
Assemble front to back
- Place the tote front right side up on your work surface, pulling apart the lining from the exterior so the tote lays as flat as possible.
- Separate the lining from the exterior in the same manner for the tote back, then place the back face down on the tote front. The two sections are now right sides together.
- Focus first on aligning the exterior layers; the lining layers can be a bit “crumpled” for now. The raw side and bottom edges of the exterior layers should be flush.
- Make sure the center seams line up.
- Also take the time to insure the darts line up. For the flattest finish, pin the darts in opposite directions. For example, if the folded edge of the dart on the top layer is pinned to the right, the folded edge of the the dart on the bottom layer should be pinned to the left. This allows the darts to “nest” against one other, similarly to how seams nest in patchwork piecing.
- With the raw edges, seams, and darts aligned, pin together the exterior layers along both sides and across the bottom. As shown in the photo below, you start and end the pinning at the existing exterior/lining seam.
- Spin the project around to now work with the lining layers. You’ll need to gather up the straps to the center of the bottom layer so they will be out of the way of the perimeter seam.
- Align the raw edges and darts on the lining layers and pin along the sides and across the bottom in the same manner as you did above with the exterior layers, starting and stopping at the existing exterior/lining seam. At the bottom of the lining layers, leave an opening of about 5” for turning.
- This opening is also where your seam will start and end, so you want your marks to be distinct. Some people like to place double pins at the start/stop points. We like to switch the direction of our pins to alert us to start/stop.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, and starting at your marked “opening” at the center bottom of the lining layers, stitch around the entire perimeter of the tote (exterior layers and lining layers). Go slowly and carefully, maintaining an even seam allowance all around. Stop at your opposite marked point at the bottom of the lining layers.
- Clip the curves.
- Turn the tote right side out through the opening in the lining.
- Thread a hand sewing needle, and using a ladder stitch (aka slip stitch), close up the opening. As above, check out our full tutorial on this kind of invisible hand stitching. Push the lining back down inside the exterior and press well.
- With your first tote finished, make the second tote in the same manner. Two is better than one :-)!
Create the tie for the case
- Find the 2” x 36” tie strip. As you can see in the photo below, we cut our strip using the pinking blade on our rotary cutter. This is optional, but does help to keep thin strips like this from fraying while you are working with them.
- Fold the strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press well to set a center crease line.
- Unfold wrong side up so the crease line is visible. Press in each long raw edge to meet in the middle at the crease line.
- Unfold each end and fold back the short raw edge ¼”. Press this tiny fold at each end.
- Refold along all the original crease lines and press once more. The width of the strip is now ½” and all the raw edges are tucked inside within the folds so the tie is finished all around.
- If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin. Re-set for a slightly lengthened straight stitch.
- Edgestitch across each end and down the folded side to complete the tie, pivoting at the corners.
Create the case and attach the tie
- Find the exterior and lining case pieces. Place them right sides together, then find the original assembled paper pattern and place it on top of the fabric layers. You’ll see four red dots, one at each inside corner. Insert a pin through the paper pattern at each point, going all the way through the paper and the two layers of fabric.
- Similarly to how you marked the dart points above, lift up the paper pattern and transfer the pin points to the fabric. These marks will give you an easy-to-spot pivot point when you are stitching the case’s perimeter seam.
- Pin together the layers, leaving an approximate 3” opening along the straight side of one of the case “wings.” As above with the perimeter seam of the tote itself, this opening also marks the starting and stopping points for your seam.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch around the entire perimeter of the case. Remember to stop, with your needle in the down position, lift the presser foot, and pivot at each marked corner dot. And, remember to lock your seam at either side of the 3″ opening left for turning.
- At each pivot point, clip into the corner. Clip right up to, but not through, the seam. This “releases” the corner and allows it to form a sharp 90˚ angle when turned right side out.
NOTE: For more information on the best practices for cutting and stitching corners, take a look at our full tutorial.
- Trim back the seam allowance around each of the curved ends of the “wings” to about ¼”. You can see we again used the pinking blade on our rotary cutter. A standard straight cut would also work. In the photo below, you can also see the start and stop points of our seam and the opening left for turning in the lower left of the case.
- Turn the case right side out through the opening. Use a long, blunt tool to gently push out the corners and smooth the curves. A long knitting needle, chopstick or point turner all work well.
- Press the case flat, pressing in the raw edges along the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
- Re-thread if necessary with thread to best match the exterior fabric in the top and to best match the lining fabric in the bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch. Edgestitch all around the perimeter of the case, sharply pivoting at each corner. This seam stabilizes the edge and closes the opening used for turning.
- Find the finished tie. Fold it in half to find its exact center point end-to-end. Mark this point with a pin.
- Place the case exterior side up and flat on your work surface. You can use the marked center red square on the paper pattern to find the center of the case or you can simply measure side to side and top to bottom within the center square of the case to find its center.
- Place the center of the tie at the center of the case. Pin in place.
- Re-thread to make sure you have thread to match the tie in the top and thread to matching the lining in the bobbin. Keep the slightly lengthened stitch.
- Attach the tie to the case, stitching through all the layers, with a simple box about ½” square.
Folding the totes and using the wrap-and-tie case
- The totes use no interfacing and so are easy to fold to fit into the case, which can hold either one or two totes.
- First fold the tote in half.
- Then, fold in half again.
- Fold down the straps.
- Finally, roll-fold in thirds to make a little square bundle and set the bundle into the center of the case.
- Wrap the wings in from the sides…
- … and then down from the top and up from bottom.
- Wrap around the tie and secure with a bow.
- The steps above show you the wrap with just one tote. Below is how the overlapping of the wings can expand to fit two totes stacked one on top of the other.
Project Design: Anne Adams
Sample Creation: Kathy Andrews, What Sew Ever