Functional and Fabulous
This DIY bag is super strong and durable to carry books and large enough for an overnight getaway. It's also easy to sew with our free tutorial! The outside of the bag features a colorful section that creates outside pockets all the way around the bag. Bold bright fabrics give this a retro vibe, but you can also swap in some of your favorite florals for a softer feeling.
Updated by Mollie Johanson
Supplies and Cutting Guide
Supplies and Tools
- 1-1/3 yard of 60" wide linen - canvas, denim or another heavy-duty fabric also works
- 1-1/4 yard of midweight fusible interfacing
- 1/8 yard each of four colorful cotton fabrics
- 2/3 yard of lining fabric - quilting cotton or linen to match the outside
- 3 2/3 yards of 1-1/2" wide cotton webbing
- Optional: 3 2/3 yards of ribbon to embellish the straps
- Optional: 4" by 14-1/2" piece of lightweight chipboard, corrugated plastic or similar sturdy material for the base of the bag
- Rotary cutter, ruler, and cutting mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Sewing machine
Main Fabric (linen):
- Cut one 40" by 20"
- Cut two 20" by 9.5"
- Cut one 40" by 20" (alternately, you can iron this to the linen before you cut the 40" by 20" piece)
Pocket Fabrics (colorful cotton):
- Cut two 20" by 2.75" from each of four fabrics
Lining Fabric (quilting cotton or linen):
- Cut one 39" by 20"
Note: During the construction of this bag, it is important to remain accurate with seam allowances and placement measurements so that the outside pocket sections line up properly as the bag comes together. As long as you are accurate and consistent, the outside pockets will appear to be one continuous strip around the bag.
Sew four of the strips of fabric to make a striped panel. Use 1/4" seam allowances. Repeat with the other four strips. Press the seam allowances toward the darker fabric.
Sew the Pocket Pieces
Pin the pocket backing to the front of the striped panel and, using a 1/4" seam allowance, sew the fabrics together along the 20" edges. Repeat for the second set of pieces.
Press the seams to set them.
Turn the joined fabric sections right side out and press well, making sure that the seams are open and at the very edges of the sections.
Topstitch the Striped Pocket Pieces
Topstitch 1/8" from the top edge of the pocket, then topstitch 1/8" on each side of the stripe seams. You may want to pin the layers together while sewing to prevent the layers from shifting.
Leave the bottom edge plain and without topstitching.
Place and Sew the Outside Pockets
If you didn't attach the interfacing to the main piece of the bag before cutting, do that now.
Lay the main part of the bag flat with the interfacing side down. If there are any wrinkles press the piece before proceeding.
Measure and mark 5 1/2" from each 20" end of the strip of fabric. Place the top-stitched edge of each pocket along the markings and pin the pocket sections in place.
Double check your measurements to be sure the pockets are straight and that they line up when you fold the body of the bag in half.
Sew the bottom each pocket section to the main part of the bag piece, stitching 1/8" from the edge so it matches the other topstitching.
Baste the side edges of the pockets to the main part of the bag, sewing about 1/8" from the edge. You can also sew around the entire main bag piece to finish prevent fraying.
Fold the bag in half and gently press the center fold line. The pressed line will be used for lining up pieces but is not a part of the finished bag.
Attach the Handles
Fold the length of the webbing in half and mark the halfway point.
Measure 5" inches in from each long edge of the bag.
Place the halfway mark on the strap on the center fold line with the edge of the strap on the 5" markings.
Without twisting the cotton webbing, bring the two ends of the strap to the center fold line on the opposite side of the bag, again on the 5" markings. You can either butt the ends of the strap together or overlap them by about 1".
Pin the strap in place, making sure it remains straight.
Sew along the edge of the straps, stopping and pivoting 2 1/2" from each end. At the ends, you may want to backstitch across the strap for added strength.
Repeat on the remaining strap.
Sew the Outside of the Bag
Fold the right sides of the bag together matching the pockets at the side edges.
Pin and sew the side seams using a 1/2" seam allowance. Press the seams, then iron inside the bag to press the seam to one side or the other.
Fold the bag so the side seam is directly over the bottom fold line on the bottom of the bag.
Measure and mark 2" in from the corner. Stitch a perpendicular line across the side seam at the 2" mark, backstitching at both ends of the seam.
Trim off the triangle, leaving a 1/2" seam allowance.
Make the Lining
Sew 1/8" around the 20" by 39" lining piece to prevent fraying (or apply a seam finish after assembling the lining).
Fold the 39" edges in half with right sides together. Align the edges and pin the two sides.
Sew the side seams using a 1/2" seam allowance, leaving a gap on one side for turning. Be sure to backstitch on each side of the opening
Sew the squared bottom corners the same way you did for the outside of the bag.
Sew the Lining Into the Bag
With the outside of the bag right side out and the lining inside out, insert the main bag inside the right side of the lining.
Match the side seams and the edges of the lining to the edges of the bag.
Pin and sew the lining and bag together.
Turn and Finish the Tote Bag
Turn the bag right side out, pulling it through the gap in the lining.
Fold the seam allowance on the gap so it matches the side seam, then sew it closed. You can do this by hand for a more invisible seam or by machine, sewing close to the folded seam allowance.
Push the lining into the bag.
Press the top edge of the bag, then topstitch 1/8" from the top seam.
If you'd like the bottom of the bag to sit flat, place a 4" by 14 1/2" piece of chipboard or corrugated plastic inside of the bag.