DIY Bags & Totes — One-Tone Tote

Big picture

Young designers will understand 2D to 3D pattern shapes and learn construction skills.

What’s the goal?

Young designers practice using a sewing machine, understand layout diagrams and interpret pattern markings. They use straight and zigzag stitching, back tacks and 1/2” seam allowances. They learn to make and turn tubes for handles and to create square corners.


Prepare the patterns (make multiple out of regular paper or newspaper).

  1. Pattern (includes ½“ seam allowance):
    • Tote fabric pattern – 17” x 19” rectangle
    • Handle pattern – 26” x 4” rectangle

Seam/seam line: a line of stitching that joins two or more layers of fabric.

Seam allowance: the distance between the edge of your fabric and the stitching line.


  1. Finished bag is 16” wide x 16” tall.
  2. Use upholstery fabrics, denim, or canvas (i.e. heavyweight fabrics).
  3. Heavyweight fabrics may be difficult for young people to cut. Provide extra sharp shears or pre-cut the fabric.
    1. Tote Fabric – Cut 2 using lower fabric pattern
    2. Handles – Cut 2 using handle pattern, or cut 2 lengths 26” long from 1” webbing
  4. A size 16 needle or one labeled “for denim” works well on heavyweight fabrics
  5. If you do not have a zigzag stitch on your sewing machine, cut each bag piece with pinking shears or straight stitch the seam allowance so the fabric does not fray.
  6. Making the handles can be difficult, so consider substituting webbing or a study ribbon.

Right side of fabric: the side of the fabric that you want the world to see (outside of your tote). Sew with right sides together so the stitching will be on the inside of the finished project.

Wrong side of fabric: the side of the fabric that you do not want seen (inside of your tote). The wrong side of the fabric may have a different appearance than the right side.

Backstitching/back tack: stitch in reverse for a few stitches at the beginning and end of the seam.

Let's get started!

In this activity, we’re going to learn how to make a tote to understand how flat pieces of fabric can be sewn together to make a fashion accessory.

Prepare bag pieces

If not done already, make pattern pieces and cut the fabric.

  1. Cut fabric:
    1. Tote Fabric – Cut 2 using lower fabric pattern (17” X 19” rectangle)
    2. Handles – Cut 2 using handle pattern (26” X 4” rectangle)

Assemble Bag

  1. Make the bag:
    1. Join both 17” X 19” tote pieces by pinning right sides together along each side. Stitch using a ½” seam allowance; backstitch ends of the seam.onetone1
    2. Zigzag stitch or run a single line of straight stitching through both layers of the seam allowance, close to the edge to finish the seam allowance. Zigzag or straight stitch the seam allowance. Iron side seams.onetone2
    3. You now have attached the front and back of our bag.
  2. Make the Handles: (ignore if using webbing)
    1. Fold one handle piece in half along the long edge, right sides together. Pin and stitch using a ½” seam allowance. Backstitch both ends of the seam. Leave both ends of the handle open.
    2. Repeat step 2a for the other handle.
    3. Turn each handle right side out by attaching a safety pin to one end and pulling it through the tube.onetone3
    4. Press handles flat.
  3. Attach the Handles: (or webbing)
    1. Place one handle on the outside (right side of fabric) of a bag panel. Align the handle ends with the top raw edge, 4” from each side. Be certain that the handle is not twisted and that it faces downward. Pin both ends of the handle in place.onetone4
    2. Sew a zigzag or straight stitch across the entire top edge, using a ½” seam allowance and backstitching. This secures the handle ends to the bag panel.
    3. Turn the panel so the wrong side of the fabric is facing up. Fold over the top edge 1.5”, being careful that the handle is upright and straight. Pin and sew with a straight stitch 1/4” from the top edge. Finally, zigzag or straight stitch the bottom edge of the fold.onetone5
    4. Repeat steps 3a-3c using the other handle and the other bag panel. Iron seams.
  4. Finish with Square Corners:
    1. Grab one of the bottom corners, pull the front fabric away from the back fabric, and fold it flat. Make the tip nice and pointy while centering the seamlines.
    2. Move a ruler up the point until it measures 3” (readjust if the seamline is not on the 1.5” mark). Mark with a pencil or pen. Sew a straight line with back tacks on the line.onetone6
    3. Cut the extra fabric away, leaving a ½” seam allowance. Zigzag stitch or straight stitch the seam allowance.
    4. Repeat steps 5a-5c with the other corner.
  5. Turn and Press:
    1. Turn the bag right side out and iron.


You’re done!

Wrap it up

  1. What was the most challenging part of making this clutch?
  2. Can you imagine making this bag without using a pattern? How would you do that?

Take it further

  1. Make a patch pocket for the inside or outside.
  2. Sew rick-rack or cute ribbon along the seamline on the outside.
  3. Make a lining for the bag.
  4. Decorate the bag using glitter glue, fabric paint, buttons, sequins, etc.

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