Get a free tote bag pattern in 3 styles. If you are looking for a quick and easy project, look no further. The tote bag is super simple and makes up into a handy gift. Tote bags make great multi-purpose bags in a mixture of fabrics. Use your tote bag for a shopping bag, a book bag, a knitting bag, or a bag for storing bags. A tote bag is a very useful bag to have around the house.
Tote Bag Pattern Tutorial for Beginners
The lovely thing about making a tote bag is you have flexibility. The instructions suit any size bag, and the basic requirements are the same. All you need to do is size it up or down to fit your project and your fabric. (Read more about the types of bags)
This tutorial will show you how to make a lined tote bag pattern with an inside pocket as well as a quicker unlined version with webbing straps. The unlined tote bag pattern has an option for a block color or two-tone color which is great for using up scraps.
- STYLE 1 - Lined with an inside pocket
- STYLE 2A - Unlined tote bag pattern
- STYLE 2B - Two-toned, unlined tote bag pattern
Supplies for the Tote Bag Pattern
- MAIN FABRIC - Medium weight cotton or canvas
- LINING FABRIC - Lightweight cotton.
- (OPTIONAL) FUSIBLE FLEECE - Fusible fleece or interfacing to help strengthen the straps.
- SEWING SUPPLIES - Sewing machine, matching thread, pins.
- CUTTING TOOLS - Scissors or rotary cutter and cutting board.
- STYLE 2 ONLY - 1 inch (2.5cm) wide webbing
What Fabric is Best for Tote Bags?
The best fabric for tote bags is cotton or canvas in a medium weight. Look for decorator fabrics as well as drill or cotton duck. If you choose to jazz up your tote bag, there is no harm in adding a different color at the bottom or the top. A softer lining makes for a neat inside of the bag and reduces some bulk.
How Much Fabric Do I Need for a Tote Bag?
In order to make a tote bag, you will need half a yard (0.45m) for the outside of the bag and half a yard (0.45m) for the lining. An unlined bag just takes a half yard or 2 fat quarters.
Finished Size of the Tote Bag Pattern
- STYLE 1 - 17x17 inches (43x43cm)
- STYLE 2A - 14x13.5 inches (35.5x34cm)
- STYLE 2B (2 tone) - 14x13 inches (35.5x33cm)
As these totes are cut from squares, it is easy to adjust this pattern to any size you wish.
Style 1 - Lined Tote Bag Pattern
Pre-wash your fabric and get all the tools you will need. Here are the step-by-step instructions for making a DIY tote bag.
Step 1 - Cut the Fabric for the Tote Bag Pattern
Cut out two squares for the outside body and two for the lining. Cut two straps from whichever fabric you choose to use. If your strap fabric is thin, cut out interfacing to strengthen the straps.
- CUT 2 BODY - 18x18" (46x46cm)
- CUT 2 LINING - 18x18" (46x46cm)
- CUT 2 STRAPS - 3x25" (7.5x63.5cm)
You can make your squares larger or smaller to suit your ideal tote bag. The seam allowance is ½ inch (12mm) so the finished size of your bag will be 1 inch (2.5cm) smaller than the squares you cut.
Now you will need to modify your squares for the body and lining (4 in total). Cut 2-inch (5cm) squares out of the bottom corners only. This will allow you to box the bottom corners, giving your tote bag pattern some depth to carry more items.
Step 2 - Stitch the Outside
Put the body pieces right sides together and sew up the side and bottom seams. The seam allowance is ½ inch (12mm). Backstitch well at the beginning and end of the seams.
Finishing the seam is not necessary because you are making a lining.
Step 3 - Box the Corners
A triangle-shaped corner is sewn at the bottom of each side of the bag. This creates the fullness of the bag.
Press the seams open. It is a little awkward pressing the bag seams open but it will give you nicer seams when you have finished.
The corners are boxed by matching the bottom and the side seams to form a triangle effect. Stitch across with a ½ inch seam (12mm).
Step 4 - Add a Lining Pocket
If you wish to add a pocket to the bag, cut a piece 9x9 inches (23x23cm).
On the wrong side of the pocket, press over the bottom and side edges by ½ inch (12mm).
Press over the top by ¼ inch (6mm) then ¾ inch (2cm) to form a double fold hem. Stitch across.
Place the pocket centered and 4 inches (10cm) down from the top. Topstitch the sides and bottom.
Step 5 - Sew the Lining
Repeat steps 2 and 3 for the lining except leave a 4-inch (10cm) gap at the bottom of the lining bag.
You will now have two bags - one for the outside and one for the lining.
Step 5 - Sew the Tote Bag Handles
If your fabric is thin, press some fusible interfacing on the wrong side. I used a medium-weight decorator fabric that didn't need interfacing.
Press each side of the strap over by ½ inch (12mm) towards the middle. Now press them in half, so the raw edges are inside the straps.
Sew a top stitch down the side edges.
Position the handles 4 inches (10cm) from the sides of the bag. Baste them in place.
IMPORTANT - Make sure the handles are not twisted.
Step 6 - Assemble the DIY Tote Bag
Put your main bag the right way out and your lining the wrong way out.
Start by slipping the main bag into the lining so the right sides are together. Match the side seams and raw edges at the top.
Stitch around the top edge of the bag with a ½ inch (12mm) seam. I like to go over the strap areas a couple of times for added strength.
Step 7 - Turn Right-Side Out
Turn the bag through the opening you left in the lining.
Stitch the gap in the lining closed either with a hand stitch or by machine.
Press the top seam and push the lining into the bag.
Topstitch around the top of the bag. The topstitching will neaten the top edge and make the lining top sit flat. The straps or handles should be sticking out at the top and be the same distance apart.
Style 2 - Unlined Tote Bag Pattern
Here I will show you how to sew an unlined tote bag with webbing straps. For fabric straps instead, just follow the instruction step 3 of the lined tote above. Using webbing will cut down on the amount of time you spend sewing your tote bag pattern.
Step 1 - Cut the Fabric for the Unlined Tote Bag Pattern
STYLE A (All One Color)
- CUT 2 PIECES - 15x15 inches (38x38cm)
STYLE B (Two-Tone)
- CUT 2 PIECES (COLOR FOR TOP) - 15x10 inches (38x25cm)
- AND CUT 1 PIECE (COLOR FOR BOTTOM)- 15x10 inches (38x25cm)
STRAPS (Choose short or shoulder length)
- SHORT STRAPS - Cut 2 at 17 inches (43cm)
- OR SHOULDER STRAPS - Cut 2 at 26 inches (66cm)
Step 2 - For Style B Two-Tone Bag Only
With right sides together, join the bottom in between the top pieces with a ½ inch (12mm) seam.
Finish the seams with a serger or zig-zag stitch and press.
Step 3 - Sew the Seams
STYLE 2A - Put the font and back with right sides together and stitch the sides and bottom with a ½ inch (12mm) seam. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of this one :).
STYLE 2B - Fold the tote bag pattern with the right sides together and stitch the side seams with a ½ inch (12mm) seam.
Note: 2A you will sew 3 edges and for 2B you will just sew the 2 edges. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of 2A.
Step 4 - Press the Top
With the tote bag the wrong way out, press over the top raw edge by ¼ inch (6mm) then ¾ inch (2cm) again.
Step 5 - Insert Handles
Insert the handles under the folded top 3 inches (7.5cm) from the edges. Make sure the handles are not twisted.
Step 6 - Sew the Top
Flip the handles up and sew across the top and bottom of the casing. You will be sewing over the straps. I usually go backward for a few stitches on the edge of the straps. If you are using a matching bobbin to the fabric, you won't notice this on the outside.
Here are the finished bags. Decorate them with flowers, pom poms or tassels.
Tote Bag Pattern Variations
Here are some other ideas to try with your fabric tote bag. They may be practical or decorative.
Topstitch around the bottom of the bag on the outside. It makes the bag stand upright if you put it on the floor. Topstitch down the sides for another detail and added strength.
The length of the straps can be varied to suit the bag. Shorten or lengthen make broader or narrower straps. Twisted straps, embellished straps, and padded straps all make good options. A pair of leather straps added to a canvas tote makes a smart tote bag.
Add pockets either to the inside or outside of your tote bag pattern. Inside pockets need to be attached before the lining is sewn into the bag. A pocket on the outside could have a button or a popper to secure the opening. Outside pockets look fantastic in a contrasting fabric.
Adding Tassels to Tote Bags
If you want to add a bit of fun and pizzaz to your tote bag, tassels are a colorful way of embellishing your bag.
Try a few tassels on the handle or sew some tassels into the bottom of the bag. You can buy your tassels from a haberdashery store or use some brightly colored embroidery cotton or yarn to make your own.
Making Your Bag Reversible
A reversible bag is always useful. You get two for the price of one! If you make the lined tote bag in this tutorial you can make it reversible by carefully hand sewing the gap in the lining closed. When the bag is complete it will not matter which way the bag is turned.
Using Webbing Instead of Making Handles
Webbing makes great handles for bags that need some extra strength. Manmade webbing handles come in a wide variety of colors and will cut down on your sewing time considerably.
Tote Bag Pattern FAQs
How Long Should Tote Bag Straps Be?
The most common length of the straps is 20-22 inches (51 to 56cm) with a drop of 9 to 11 inches (23 to 28cm). The length is the measurement from top to bottom of the strap. The drop is the measurement from the top of the handheld handle to the top of the bag. This will be the portion of the bag giving space for the bag to be carried.
Crossbody bags may need to be measured against your own body and adjusted according to the length that is comfortable.
Is it Easy to Make Tote Bags?
Yes, tote bags are easy to make and a good size to hold lots of things. They can be made out of fabric scraps or pieces from the bargain bin at your local fabric shop. The pattern pieces for tote bags are all rectangles or squares so they are quick to cut and sew even for beginners.
Tote Bag Pattern - In Conclusion
Tote bags tick all the boxes for a handy bag that is useful and easy to make. In this day and age, when plastic is frowned upon, a handy tote bag pattern or two will get you through many different situations, including shopping, where you have to carry on and carry all!
More Purse Patterns
- Sewing Basics Sewing machine, thread, pins, iron
- ½ yard Fabric for Outside
- ½ yard Fabric for Lining
- Cut 2-inch (5cm) squares out of the bottom corners only. Put the front and back right sides together and stitch the sides and bottom (½" for all seams). Press open the seams.
- Match the bottom corners and stitch.
- On the wrong side, press the sides of the straps by ½". Press in half and topstitch both sides.
- Baste the straps 4" from the edges.
- Sew the lining the same way as the outside but leave a 4" gap at the bottom.
- The outside should be right way out and the lining wrong way out. Put the outside and lining right sides together and stitch around the top.
- Turn the right way out through the gap in the lining. Press the top and stitch the lining gap closed.
- Topstitch around the top of the tote bag.