This month's DIY posts are all about trying to curb waste through swapping reuseable bags into our routine in lieu of plastic. Today's how-to is basic but oh-so-versatile a fully lined (or reversible) sturdy machine-washable fabric tote bag. We'll also share a full how-to for a custom insulated tote for your chilled and frozen foods in hot weather, and a heavy-duty shoulder-friendly carry-bag for pedestrian shopping. Those nifty little mesh produce bags? We'll share that how-to as well, so stay tuned!
Tip: If you are planning to make multiples, make a prototype bag first to ensure you're happy with size, shape, structure, ruggedness, comfort, etc, then you can confidently "assembly line" bulk cut and sew a whole set.
To make your own tote, you will need heavy-duty washable fabric, coordinating thread, scissors (a cutter is also handy but not required), an iron and ironing board, and basic sewing equipment. The steps/photos shown are for a fully lined (and reversible) bag - sturdy, hard-wearing, and attractive too! To make an unlined bag, you can adapt from the same basic process, but will need to finish your exposed seams.
- Cut fabric(s) to size. For a lined bag made from four panels (suitable for directional pattern) you will need:
- Four identical large squares/rectangles (two for the outside, two for the inner/lining) at the desired bag size + seam allowances and extra for the top fold.
- Two long narrow rectangular strips (standard: double the desired width, thick: quadruple the desired width) + seam allowances at the desired length plus extra to attach.
Preparing the layers of the bag:
- Starting with one layer (inside/liner or outside) bag: Place the two panels right-side-in. If your fabric is directional, ensure that both are right-side-up to the same side, which will be your top edge. Sew the sides and bottom edges together at the seam allowance. Do not sew the top. Recommended: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength. Repeat for the other bag layer layer.
- Double check to ensure equal size. Iron flat if needed and trim any loose threads.
Boxing the bottom corners to add shape to the bag:
- Box all of the bottom corners to give the bag added shape. To box a corner, measure an equal distance in both directions from where the side seam meets the bottom seam and draw a square. Repeat on both sides. Pull the corner into a point, seams flat (ironing recommended) so that the lines from your back/front square meet on the diagonal across the corner. Sew along the diagonal line, taking care to ensure seams are held flat. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam and corner for added strength. Trim excess.
Adding handles and assembling the bag:
- Fold an even extra wide seam allowance along the top of each bag and iron to crease.
- Inverse the outer bags to right-side-out. Place the inner bag/liner wrong-side-out inside the outer, and double check that everything is equal and snug. Place aside while you prepare the handles. Tip: Before sewing and attaching handles, safety pin the bag and temporary handles together and check for comfort, etc. If the width right? The length? The spacing? Adjust now and save angst later. For packing and carrying groceries, you may wish to have a nice wide handle spacing, but it is completely user-preference.
- Fold each handle strip along the mid-line into half and iron to crease. Fold a seam allowance along the edge of each handle strip, and iron to crease. The handles shown are basic double layer - you can also go full quadruple or add interfacing. Sew a narrow seam along the open edge, ensuring that you capture the folded edge underneath. Repeat at the same distance from the fold on the closed edge.
- Remove the inner/liner from the outer and pin the handles into position on the outside (wrong side) of the liner. Sew the handle to the bag using a crossed box, just below the raw edge of the folded top. You can skip this step if you wish and just secure when you sew through when joining hem the top, but this method will be stronger - important for heavy groceries.
- Place the inner/liner back inside the outer bag. Ensure that the side seams are aligned and the the folded top edges are flush. Sew together. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength. Tip: If your inner and outer are sewn with different threads - like mine - you may have to compromise on visible stitching. You can experiment with the thread/bobbin trick (different coloured threads on each) or stitch carefully to make it work for you as an accent.