How to Sew a Tote Bag With a Recessed Zipper

tote bag with zipper

The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove 

Overview
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $20

Tote bags are always handy to have around. You can use them to haul groceries, carry items on a day trip or weekend excursion, and more. And when you add a zipper to a standard tote, it makes the bag even more functional to keep your items safe and clean. Rather than purchasing a pre-made bag, you can learn how to sew a tote bag with lining and a zipper yourself. Making it yourself allows you to pick fabric that fits your style. These totes even make great personalized gifts. The project requires intermediate sewing skills and a couple hours of your time.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Measuring tape
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron and ironing board

Materials

  • 1 1/4 yard 60-inch-wide fabric
  • 1 yard lining fabric
  • 22 inch purse zipper
  • 60 inch 1- to 2-inch webbing (for the straps)
  • Interfacing (optional to stiffen fabric)
  • Matching thread

Instructions

  1. Cut the Material and Place the Zipper

    From the main fabric, cut the following:

    • Two 21 inch-by-24 inch rectangles for the front and back of the bag
    • Two 3 inch-by-24 inch pieces for the zipper section
    • Two 6 inch-by-32 1/2 inch pieces for the sides and bottom of the bag

    From the lining fabric, cut the following:

    • Two 18 inch-by-24 inch pieces for the front and back lining
    • Two 3 inch-by-24 inch pieces for the zipper section lining
    • Two 6 inch-by-30 1/2 pieces for the sides and bottom lining

    Place the zipper right side down on a 24-inch edge of one of the 3 inch-by-24 inch pieces, aligning the edge of the zipper with the edge of the fabric. Using a 1/4-inch seam allowance, sew the zipper tape to the fabric. Repeat using the other 3 inch-by-24 inch piece on the opposite zipper tape.

    Place the right side of a 3 inch-by-24 inch lining piece on the zipper, sandwiching the zipper between the fabrics. Sew the lining to the fabric with a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Repeat for the other 3 inch-by-24 inch lining piece on the second side of the zipper.

    Sew a seam finish to the sewn edges. Then, press the zipper tape flat, pressing both layers of fabric away from the zipper.

    Topstitch the pressed edge to hold the fabric in place away from the zipper. And baste the edges of the fabric and lining together.

    Sewn zipper section
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove
  2. Join the Side and Bottom Pieces

    Take the two 6 inch-by-32 1/2 inch pieces, and place the wrong sides together, matching one set of the 6-inch ends. Sew this 6-inch end using a 1/2-inch seam allowance, and apply a seam finish.

    Press the seam to one side. Then, topstitch the seam to the body of the fabric.

    side and bottom section
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove
  3. Attach the Sides/Bottom to the Front and Back

    Placing the right sides together, match the seam you just made on the sides/bottom piece to the center of the bottom of one 21 inch-by-24 inch piece. Pin the bottom in place.

    Clip the sides/bottom piece at the corners, and align the edges to the top edge of the 21 inch-by-24 inch piece. Pin in place.

    Sew the sides/bottom piece to the 21 inch-by-24 inch piece using a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Apply a seam finish.

    Repeat for the other 21 inch-by-24 inch piece to attach both the front and back of the bag.

    attaching the bottom and sides
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove
  4. Cut the Tote Bag Top

    Pin the top of the bag together. Measure and mark 3 inches from the top of the bag. Cut the top of the bag at the 3-inch mark.

    cutting the top
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove
  5. Prepare the Bag Top

    Match the seams of the top piece that you cut off with the corners of the zipper section. Sew them together using a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Clip at the corners where necessary to turn the corners. Apply a seam finish.

    tote bag top
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove
  6. Assemble the Bag Lining

    Assemble the bag lining the same way you assembled the main fabric.

    Then, place the lining in the body of the bag with the wrong sides of the fabrics together. Match the seams, and baste the top edges together.

    lining in the tote bag
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove
  7. Attach the Straps

    On the front and back of the bag, measure in 5 inches from the side seams. Pin the straps at the 5-inch mark. Then, sew the straps to the body of the bag inside of the 1/2-inch seam allowance.

    tote bag with straps
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove
  8. Reattach the Top Section

    Open the zipper on the zipper section. Place the bag through the zipper, keeping the right sides of the fabric together.

    Align the seams, and reattach the fabric that was cut off the top that now has the zipper attached.

    reattaching the top
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove
  9. Topstitch the Top

    Turn the top right side out, folding the top of the bag into the bag on the seam line. Press so the seam line is the top edge of the bag. Then, topstitch the top of the bag 1/2 inch from the folded seam line.

    top of tote bag
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove