Tote Bag Instructions

tote bag

Purpose of the tote bags

Advocates for Women make tote bags twice each year for refugee women who have suffered domestic abuse. We fill the bags with personal care items and give them to women who have completed a series of classes at Refugee Womens' Alliance.

Members of Advocates for Women also sew water-resistant tote bags for homeless women at Mary's Place in Seattle.

Download the instructions

Download a PDF document with these instructions.

Dimensions

Fabric and other pieces

  • outer-bag: 35 by 18 inches
  • pocket: 23 by 18 inches
  • lining: 35 by 18 inches
  • 2 straps: 33 or 48 inches each (The longer straps go over the head and shoulder.)
  • 16” Velcro

Seam allowances

  • top edges of all three pieces: 3/4 inch
  • other seams: 1/2 inch

fabric dimensions

Plan the bag

  • Bags for homeless people: use water resistant fabric for the pocket piece.
  • For a bag that almost stands up when empty, use stiff fabric for the outer-bag piece.
  • For heavy loads, add a stiff, strong inner pocket.
  • For a bag that rolls into a small space, choose cotton, thin nylon, or poly-cotton.
  • Cut out the three pieces and the straps.

pocket piece with lines drawn for bottom edges and pocket delineators
Here the pocket piece is sewn
to the outer-bag piece with the
bottom edges and pocket
delineators drawn. Both of the
top edges of the pocket piece
are hemmed.

Pockets

Hem

  1. Iron Ύ” down on the top edges of the pocket piece.
  2. Fold and pin half of that Ύ” inside so the rough edge is hidden.
  3. Sew Ό” from the top edges of the pocket.

Mark sewing lines and sew

  1. Along the side edges of the pocket mark 2.5” on either side of the middle mark.
  2. Draw lines from side to side connecting the corresponding 2.5”. These lines are the bottom edges of the bag.
  3. Along the top edges of the pocket piece, make a mark 7” from each side.
  4. Using an erasable fabric marker, draw a line between the corresponding 7” marks from one top edge to the other top edge on the pocket piece. These are the pocket delineators.

 

 

 

Sew pocket to outer-bag

pocket seams
The seams are highlighted.
 

  1. Mark the middle of all 35” edges (outer-bag and lining pieces).
  2. Pin the pocket piece on top of the outer-bag piece with the middles marks together on each side.
  3. Sew pocket and outer-bag side edges together at 3/8”
  4. Sew along the bottom edges.
  5. Beginning at the bottom edge, sew up toward the top edge along each of the pocket delineator lines.

 

 

Make the corners of the bag

corner marks
The short red lines just above the
bottom edge line are the marks for two
of the bottom corners.

  1. Fold the outer-bag in half with top edges aligned. Pin the edges.
  2. Sew the side seams at ½”.
  3. Along the bottom edge stitching, mark 3” in from the right and left sides. Turn the bag over and repeat on the flip side. These are the bottom corners.
  1. Near one edge of the bag pinch a bottom corner with each hand, so the bottom edge stitching makes a straight line between the marks. Flatten the triangle as shown below.

corner

  1. Sew along the bottom stitching from one bottom corner mark to the other.
  2. outer-bag with corners sewnSew another seam 1/4” from the last stitches and closer to the extending point of the triangle.
  3. Repeat for the bottom corners on the other side. Now the bag looks like the one at the right.
  4. Cut off the triangle ¼” from the second row of stitches and closer to the point as shown below.

cut off the corners

Begin the lining

lining with marks for the bottom edge and corners
You can see the line for the bottom
edge and the corner marks. You can
also see the stitching for an inside
pocket sewn into the side seam.

  1. Fold the lining in half with top edges aligned. Pin edges.
  2. Sew side seams at ½”.
  3. On each side of the bag mark the bottom edges by drawing a line 2.5” away from the bottom fold of the bag.
  4. Mark each of the four bottom corners by marking the point that is on the bottom edge and 3” in from the side seam.
  5. Near one side pinch a bottom corner with each hand, so the bottom edge lines form a straight line between the corner marks. Flatten the triangle.
  6. Sew from point to point along the bottom stitching.
  7. Repeat for the bottom corners on the other side.

 

Make the bottom corners of the lining

  1. Near one side pinch a bottom corner with each hand, so the bottom edge lines form a straight line between the corner marks. Flatten the triangle.
  2. Sew along the bottom edge line from one corner mark to the other.
  3. Repeat for the bottom corners on the other side.
  4. Cut off the triangle ¼” from the stitches.

Attach the lining to the bag

  1. Turn the lining right side out and the outer-bag inside out.
  2. Put the lining inside the outer-bag.
  3. Use your fingers to press the bottom corners of the lining into the bottom corners of the outer-bag.
  4. Align the two pieces by matching the side seams and pin the top edges.
  5. Mark 5” in from the side seams.
  6. Pinch both ends of a strap, and make sure the loop is not twisted.
  7. Insert the strap loop between the lining and outer-bag leaving the ends even with the top edge.
  8. Slide one strap end so that it begins at the 5” mark. Repeat for the other end of the strap. Pin the ends. Now your bag will look something like the one shown below.
top edge with straps pinned in place
  1. Sew the top seam at ½” except for one section between one side seam and it’s adjacent strap end. This hole will enable you to turn the bag right side out.
  2. Sew the top seam again at Ύ” while leaving the hole for turning.

Finish the bag

  1. Turn the bag right side out by carefully pulling it through the hole.
  2. Straighten the lining inside the bag.
  3. Iron the top edge so the lining is barely recessed below the fabric of the outer-bag.
  4. Cut the hook (scratchy) Velcro piece ½” shorter.
  5. Pin the Velcro to each inside top edge so it is centered between the side seams and ¼” down from the top edge.
  6. Sew 3/8” from the top edge all the way around the bag. Sew a parallel line all the way around the bag to fasten the bottom edge of the Velcro.

Options

Using fabric samples

We found that fabric samples (Sunbrella, and other brands of outdoor fabric) come in pieces shorter than 35”, so we cut it 18” wide and sew the cut off strip to one end of the larger piece. Iron the seam flat.

pieced outer-bag piece
Here you can see the seam where the outer-bag fabric was pieced. The seam will be hidden behind the pocket fabric.

Inner patch pocket

Begin making an inner patch pocket just after cutting the lining fabric. Cut the patch pocket from a stiff fabric. Hem three edges. After hemming, pin it to the lining fabric so that

  • the top of the pocket is 4” down from the top edge of the bag
  • the unhemmed pocket edge is lined up with the side of the lining
  • the pocket fabric and lining fabric are face up

Top stitch down one side, across the bottom, and up the other side of the pocket.

inside pocket

Multiple inside pockets

To make 6 inside pockets,

  • Cut another piece of fabric the same size (23 by 18”) as the pocket piece. This is the inner pocket piece.
  • Hem the top edges of the inner pocket piece.
  • Sew the inner pocket piece to the lining as you did for the pocket piece on the outside of the bag, by sewing the side seams and the pocket delineators.

inner pocket piece
This illustration shows
the sewing lines along
the side seams, the
bottom of the pockets,
and the pocket
delineators for 3
inner pockets.

To make 3 inside pockets,

  • Cut a piece of fabric that is 10 by 18 inches. This is the inner pocket piece.
  • Hem the top and bottom edges (the 10” sides) as you did for the outer pocket piece.
  • Find the middle of the 35” sides of the lining and pin the inner pocket piece with the bottom edge at 3” away from the middle.
  • Sew the side seams at ¼”.
  • Sew just inside the bottom edge of the inside pocket piece to form the bottom of the pockets.
  • Draw sewing lines to delineate the pockets.
  • From the bottom edge of the inner pocket piece sew up to the top edge to separate the pockets.

Bags for homeless people

The homeless women at Mary’s Place helped us refine these instructions to make the bags more useful for the homeless. Here are the features they would like to have:

  • Some bags with 33” strap pieces for shoulder bags
  • Some bags with 48” strap pieces for straps that go over the head and shoulder
  • A closure, such as Velcro
  • Inside pockets
  • 6 pockets on the outside of the bag
  • Heavy fabric for the outer bag
  • Water-resistant fabric for the outer pocket piece

Questions?

Contact: Nancy Samuels

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