Monday, July 25, 2016

Sew Your Own Heavy-Duty Shopping Tote (With Pockets!)


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 a pedestrian friendly shopping (or whatever you wish!) tote bag. The contrasting darker bottom helps mask any dirt and grime from laying the bag down in transit, and it does double duty for adding strength.  The long straps are securely fastened and custom sized for my use, so that the bag can be shoulder carried and sits perfectly nipped under my arm whilst walking.  The lining layer is interfaced for a little more structure in the bag than a basic tote and includes pockets helping to wrangle your load in some semblance of order.  Last but not least, there is a detachable padded strap band in case your shoulders need a little extra help carrying all of your heavy shopping home.


To make your own tote, you will need heavy-duty washable fabric, coordinating thread, heavy interfacing, scissors (a cutter is also handy but not required), an iron and ironing board, and basic sewing equipment. 
  • Cut fabric(s) to size. For a bag as shown, you will need:
    • Two large squares/rectangles of fabric for the outer bag at the desired bag width by twice the desired height + seam allowances and extra for the top fold-over.
    • Two large squares/rectangles of fabric for the inner/lining at the desired bag width by twice the desired height + seam allowance.  
    • Two large of interfacing the same size as your lining pieces.
    • Two smaller rectangles of lining fabric at the same width for your bottom accent panels. Depth is discretionary, but should be greater than the boxing square measurement to extend past the finished bottom.  
    • Two smaller rectangles of lining fabric at the same width for your inside pocket panels. Depth and placement is discretionary, but must not extend into the finished bottom.   
    • Two long narrow rectangular strips for straps (thick: quadruple the desired width) + seam allowances at the desired length plus extra to attach down the sides of the bag.  Tip: Ensure that your handles extend below the accent panel hem but not into the (once boxed) bottom using your box square measurement plus a small allowance.
 Making and Attaching Handles:
  • Fold the top of each outer bag panel along the top fold-over allowance and iron to crease.  This provides a visual cue, but you also mark if you wish. When attaching your handles, remember to stop short of this line.
  • Fold each handle strip along the mid-line into half and iron to crease. Fold each the sides in to the center of each strip and iron to crease. The handles shown are quadruple layer, which I find ample for heavy fabric, but you can add interfacing if you wish. 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.
  • Pin the handles into position on the outside (right side) of the bag panels, taking care to ensure that they are equally positioned, straight/square, and that the raw ends will be "hidden" beneath your bottom panels, when attached (see below). Pin to secure.  Tip: Check and double check positioning before you sew. 
  • Sew each handle to the bag following the existing stitch lines. Recommended: Add a crossed-box at the bottom of each strap, below the bottom panel line, and at the top just below the top fold-over line. This will reinforce the strap attachment for added durability. 
Preparing the Outer Bag:
  • Fold and iron an even seam allowance on the top edge of both bottom accent panels. 
  • Position the bottom accent panels each bag panel, with the ironed seam allowance fold under, taking care to ensure that they are equal and even, and pin to secure.
  • Sew the bottom panels into position width-wise along the folded seam allowance.
  • Sew the bag panels together, right-side-in, 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. 
Preparing the Inner Liner:
  • Layer interfacing to the wrong-side of each lining panel.  If you are using iron-on interfacing, you can iron to secure.  If you are using sew-in interfacing, you can pin the corners or temporarily baste to secure until sewing is complete.
  • Fold the fabric for your internal pockets (optional) with a double-fold top seam allowance and a single fold bottom seam allowance. Iron to crease.
  • Sew the top hem to secure. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching near the top fold if you would like to mirror the look of the bottom once attached.
  • Sew the bottom hem to secure, stitching as close as you can to the raw edge. 
  • Position the pocket panels on the liner panels, taking care to ensure that they are equal and even, and pin to secure. Sew along each bottom panel as close as you can to the bottom edge, and then repeat a second row of stitching along bottom hemline.
  • Sewing from the bottom to the top, sew pocket separations into each panel, if/as you wish. I used simple thirds, for a total of six inside pockets in the finished bag. Trim edges if/as needed.
  • Sew the liner panels together, right-side-in, 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. 
Boxing the Bottom Corners to Add Shape: 
  • Double check to ensure your bag layers equal size. Trim any loose threads.
  • 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 for fabric, but you will need to work without ironing for the insulated layer) 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.
Joining the Bag Layers
  • Place the inner/liner (wrong-side-out) inside the outer bag (right-side-out).  Ensure that the side seams are aligned, then double fold the top allowance on the outer bag and pin to secure.
  • Sew together, once row of stitching near the bottom fold and one near the top, to secure.
Optional: Making a Padded Strap Band. You will need scrap fabric (preferably the same as your handles), batting, a small piece of velcro, and coordinating thread.
  • Cut a rectangle of fabric double the desired pad width (+ seam allowances) and roughly 2.5-3 times wider than your straps (+ seam allowances) to wrap around the handles and overlap for attachment.
  • Iron to crease a seam allowance on all sides, a center crease for your width, and creases for your handle wrap-arounds and overlapping attachment.
  • Cut, position, and sew a scrap of velcro for your attachment.Tip: Velcro can be tricky to pin. If you wish, you can use double sided tape to hold in place for stitching.
  • Cut a small scrap of batting to fit inside, half the width of your fabric and without seam allowances.  Place batting inside, fold fabric with the ironed seams folded in, and pin to secure. Sew around all edges. Optional: To help with natural positioning for use, you can also sew a small double seam on the fold-overs.