Free Design: Celebrate Summer with a New DIY Tote Bag

-Brother Sews Blogger

Ever find yourself with fabric remnants consisting of a few strips of this, a chunk of that, and a half yard of something else? Well, if you can gather together a few pieces that coordinate, and tie the color scheme together with decorative stitches and a bit of machine embroidery, you can make a great tote bag! Totes are fun to make, take little more than a few hours to sew, and make great gifts for any occasion. The design for this tote is pretty basic, with a few tricks and tips for making the construction easy and efficient. Use the Brother free design of the month to make an embroidered buttonhole on the flap, add colorful fabric for the straps, and stitch some decorative patterns on the plain fabric to fancy it up. Add a neat facing from the same front and back fabric and the result is a super fun tote with lots of pizazz and personality! Are you ready? Let’s go sew!

Materials and Supplies:

Fabric and other materials:

  • Two pieces of plain medium weight fabric measuring 17-inches wide X 17-inches long for tote bag front and back.
  • Two pieces of thin fusible craft fleece measuring 17-inches wide X 17-inches long for backing on tote bag front and back.
  • Two strips of coordinating fabric measuring 3 ½-inch wide X 27-inches long for tote bag straps.
  • Two strips of thin fusible craft fleece measuring 1-inch wide X 27-inches long for padding straps.
  • Two pieces of plain medium weight fabric measuring 17-inches wide X 6-inches long for facing on lining inside tote bag front and back.
  • Two pieces of coordinating fabric measuring 17-inches wide X 12-inches long for lining inside tote bag front and back.
  • One piece of plain medium weight fabric measuring 6 ½-inches wide X 13-inches long for patch pocket piece.
  • One piece of medium weight fusible interfacing measuring 6 ½-inches wide X 6 ½-inches long for stabilizing patch pocket piece.
  • One piece of plain medium weight fabric measuring 6 ½-inches wide X 8-inches long for pocket flap.
  • One piece of medium weight fusible interfacing measuring 6 ½-inches wide X 8-inches long for stabilizing pocket flap.

Note: ½-inch seam allowance used throughout project.

Figure 1.

Basic steps for creating embroidered tote:

  • Cut fabrics and apply fleece and interfacing
  • Construct pocket, flap, and straps, then embroider flaps.
  • Add decorative stitching to bag front and back.
  • Prepare bag front and back, lining, and straps.Sew lining and bag together to finish.

All steps to create tote

Step 1. Gather fabrics that coordinate and are large enough for pieces required. I had a chunk of floral fabric, some leftover yardage of a solid, and a couple large strips of a coordinating print to use for cutting pieces described in the materials list.  

Figure 2.
Step 2. Prepare straps as follows: Press under ½-inch on one long edge of each strap piece. Fuse strip of batting to opposite long edge. Next, fold strip and press along inside edge of fusible fleece. Press opposite long edge to the center. Set up machine for sewing. Topstitch each strap, stitching along the center and then stitching close to each outer edge. This method was shared by a friend and I find myself using it over and over again to create neat, padded straps. Set straps aside temporarily.

Figure 3.
Step 4. Prepare pocket pieces as follows: Fuse interfacing as shown in Figure #4.

Figure 4.
Select patch pocket piece and place right sides together. Sew side and bottom edges, leaving a 2-inch opening along the bottom to turn pocket right side out. Turn and press, pressing under open edges. Note: You’ll close this edge when anchoring pocket in place.  Select pocket flap. Place right sides together and sew sides, leaving remaining seam open for turning. Note: This edge becomes the top of the flap and is inserted between tote and tote lining.

Figure 5.
Step 5. Set up for embroidery. Hoop adhesive backed stabilizer and position flap as shown. Embroider pocket flap, centering embroidery 1-inch from folded edge of flap. Tip: You can get the flap positioned close to the center and then use the arrow keys to adjust position so that the needle points directly to the center marking before stitching.

Figure 6A.
Figure 6B.
Figure 6C.
Remove stabilizer and markings. Cut buttonhole open. Set pocket pieces aside temporarily.

Step 6. Set up machine for sewing with dynamic walking foot or monogramming foot “N” if SA101 is not available. See additional info on the dynamic walking foot at the end of these instructions. Decorate bag front and back as follows: Fuse fleece to wrong side of bag front and back. Mark diagonal lines across front and back bag pieces forming an X for your first two lines of stitching.

Figure 7.
Sew lines of serpentine stitch along the X marks. Use the quilt guide and the dynamic walking foot to sew additional lines spaced 1 ½-inches apart, then add rows of star stitches to accent space between.

Figure 8A.

Serpentine stitch

Figure 8B

Star Stitch

Note: Depending on the accessory you use, you can select from a variety of stitches on your machine. The serpentine stitch looks extra nice when done in rows. For even rows on this project, it’s best to use stitches that are 7mm or less.

Figure 9.
Step 7. Center patch pocket 2 ½-inches from upper edge of bag front piece. Pin temporarily.

Figure 10A.
Center pocket flap along top raw edge of bag front piece and pin in place. Mark position for sewing button under flap.  

Figure 10B.
Remove patch pocket from tote. Sew button by hand or use button foot “M” and special button sewing stitch to attach.

Figure 10C.
Tip: To create a shank under the button making it easier to open and close, I like to insert an old sewing machine needle under the button and stitch over it.

Step 8. Place pocket back on tote front and stitch close to side and bottom edges, anchoring pocket in place. Position straps 1-inch from flap on each side. Pin straps in corresponding position on opposite bag piece.

Figure 11.
Machine baste straps and flap and remove pins. 

Step 9. Gather pieces for lining. Sew bag lining piece to bag facing, sewing 17-inch edges with fabrics right sides together.

Figure 12.
Next, press seam toward lining and topstitch to anchor seam in place. Layer the two lining pieces with right sides together and sew side seams. Sew bottom seam, leaving a 5-inch opening near the center for turning bag right side out. Layer bag front and back with right sides together. Sew sides and entire bottom seam. Box corners on lining and tote as follows: Fold so that side seams and bottom seam match up, forming a point. Measure 3-inches from point marking a straight line across. Stitch along line, then trim excess fabric to remove bulk. See boxed corner on lining and tote in

Figure 13A.

Figure 13B.

Figure 13C

Turn tote right side out. Slip tote inside lining with right sides together and side seams matching. Pin edges together, making sure straps are tucked inside. 

Figure 14.
Tip: Press side seams so they go in opposite directions on the tote and the lining, staggering side seams to eliminate bulk.

Step 10. Set up machine for free arm sewing. Sew all around top edge.

Figure 15.
Turn tote right side out by pulling tote through bottom opening.

Figure 16.

Close opening by machine sewing close to edge.  Carefully tuck lining into tote. Topstitch close to upper edge of tote.

Figure 17.
Tip: Flip pocket flap up for easier topstitching along top edge, as edge stitching through both flap and tote layers can be challenging.

You are finished! Enjoy!

Options, ideas and additional tips:

  • If you choose to use SA101, the Dynamic Walking foot for decorative stitching, be sure to read instructions included with the foot for set up and stitch suggestions. The recommended stitches shown below are directly from the manual.

  • While the serpentine stitch used in this project is not pictured, it is very similar to the triple zig zag stitch except that it forms in waves. See example below:

  • It’s important to sew at a slow to medium speed when using this foot or any walking foot. Make sure the foot is correctly attached before you begin.
  • Fusible fleece is great for projects like this. If desired, you can trim the piece so it is not included in the seam allowance. However, craft fleece fuses pretty flat and I usually opt to leave it in the seam allowance.
  • Always lengthen your stitch when topstitching through multiple layers. I usually use a length of 3-5 to 4.0 for topstitching on multiple layers.