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Tote Style Handbag Tutorial

 I love handbags but am always struggling to find one I like.  No matter which brand I buy, they fall apart after not nearly long enough for my liking!
So I thought I would make my own!  This one has an optional Internal Pocket.

The verdict…I love it!  It’s just the right size for me, it can fit everything including my cardi when I got too hot.  Perfect!

What you will need,

    Fabric – Measurements in Chart Below!
        Heavy(ish) Fabric like cotton duck or denim is ideal.  I washed mine first to be sure it would wash well later…it’s amazing how dirty handbags get!
        Lining can be lighter weight than the outside but doesn’t need to be.  I used a lightweight denim.
        Internal Pocket Fabric of your choice.

    Zips (Optional)
        35cm (a little less than 14”) Zip for top opening
        18cm (7”) for Internal Pocket

Step 1  - Cut your Fabric

I haven’t created a PDF printable for this pattern as it is all rectangles!  Check out the chart below for the measurements and quantities.  

Step 2 – Sew Main Pieces Together (*Only if using 2 piece pattern for patterned fabric)

This really is as easy as it sounds.  Lay your fabric with the right sides facing and pin the bottom side together.  Match your pattern up if you wish, but the seam will be on the bottom of the bag so won’t really be seen.

Sew with a 1cm (3/8”) seam allowance.

I then overlocked the seam for extra strength, as the bottom will carry a bit of weight.  Zigzag or an overlock stitch on your regular machine will be fine too.

Press the seam over ready to topstitch.

As you can see I haven’t matched my pattern.  It didn’t worry me as it is on the bottom of the bag.

Topstitch the pressed seam, making sure you are sewing on the side the seam is folded under on.  So that the topstitch will hold it nicely flat and again provide extra strength.

Step 3 – Adding Internal Pocket (Optional!)

Take your lining piece, and lay it down flat right side facing up.


You will now need to sew your insert pocket.

 What you will need,

    Fabric – You will need your bag lining piece and a rectangle for the pocket.
    Zip – mine is 18cm (roughly 7”) but you can use any size you like.

Step 1 – Cut your Fabric

Use your bag pattern for the size of your lining piece(s).  My pocket fabric piece 25cm (10”) by 41cm (16”), but this is completely dependant on the size of your bag and the pocket you want to put in it.  As long as the short side of your fabric is about 7cm (2 3/4”) longer than the zip.  I make the pocket piece a rectangle so that it folds over at the bottom, that way you don’t sew the bottom seam and it is less likely to get a hole in it!

Step 2 – Pin Pocket in Place and Draw Zip Opening

Decide where you want the pocket to go and pin onto the lining piece with both right sides facing and laying folded out flat.

Draw your zip opening using a ruler with tailors chalk or wash out marker.  The opening needs to be 1cm (3/8”) wide (wider if you have a wide zip) and 1cm (3/8”) longer than your zip.  Mine is 1cm (3/8”) by 19cm (7 1/2”).  Note the triangles drawn at the ends.

Step 3 – Sew Opening

Use a few extra pins to keep the rest of the pocket out of the way and sew around the outside of your zip opening.  You will need to follow your marked lines carefully.

Step 4 – Cut Opening

Using a rotary cutter (or as I don’t have one I used a paper cutting blade) to make the start.

Then move to your scissors to do the ends and triangles.

Be CAREFUL not to cut over the sewn line!!!

Step 5 – Turn Right Way Around

Feed the pocket piece through this new opening.

This is what the inside will look like, and below is the right side.

Get out the trusty iron  and press so that the internals of the pocket are not visible on the outside.

I did this by pressing on the above side (pocket piece) and pulling on it gently as I pressed.

Here is the right side, pretty neat right!

Step 6 – Pin Zip in Place

A quick tip: Pin your remaining pocket piece flat so you don’t risk it getting caught in the seam, will save unpicking it all and starting over!

Change to your zipper foot and sew all the way around your zipper, nice and close to the edge of the fabric.

Leave the needle in the fabric and lift the presser foot to turn the corners.

There it is all sewn in, you can see I left my thread tails on for now…I’ll get to that in a minute!

And a little closer up.  I could’ve of used matching thread but hey it’s on the inside and I quite like the contrast.  Another upside it’s easier for you to see!

Now those tails, feed them through using a needle to the inside of the bag  and tie off with the bottom threads.  This gives a bit of extra security and neatness too!

Step 7 – Sew Pocket Together

Note: For this step you are only sewing the pocket piece, not right through to the lining!

Fold and pin the pocket into place.  Starting at one bottom corner sew around the top and sides in one go using a 1cm (3/8”) seam allowance.  Remember to reverse a few stitches at the start and end, you don’t want it coming undone.  All those little items will end up in between the lining and outer fabric of your handbag!

I like to overlock the pocket for extra lost item protection.  You can just as easily zigzag it.  This will also help prevent fraying, which is quite important for me as it will probably need washing regularly.

Step 8 – Carry On!

Carry on with the rest of the handbag that is!


 Step 4 – Sewing Up the sides

Fold fabric piece in half right sides facing and pin side seams together.  Sew both sides, I again like to overlock for added security.

You can repeat this step for the lining piece too!  Whether you chose to do the internal pocket or not the steps are the same.

Step 5 – Boxing Out the Bottom

Now we need to box out the bottom corners.  Get your ruler (or measuring tape is fine too) ready!

Measure 5cm (2”) up the side seam and mark with a pin (or washable marker/pencil).

Measure 5cm (2”) in from the SIDE SEAM (not from the edge of the overlocking) and mark again.

After I have pinned I like to add a pencil (washable marker) mark.  You can do this straight away instead of pinning, but it was easier to show the measurements with the pin over the ruler!

Fold the fabric so that the two marks (pins) line up.  I use my pin to ensure the marks line up.  Pin in place.

Being careful to stay square pin out to the edge of the fold.  I’m sure there is a fancy way to make sure you stay straight but I just eye ball it, as long as it looks right it will be fine!

Sew along the pinned line.  Then overlock just next to the seam.  You can also zigzag and trim away the excess.

Now that you’ve got it sorted, you get to practice it three more times on the the other corners!  By that I mean the bottom corners of the main fabric and the bottom corners of the lining.

Step 6 – Making the Straps

I made my straps using the same fabric as the bag, but you can  mix it up with different fabric or even webbing straps.  To make the fabric straps you will need to have cut out the two strap pieces on the chart.

Fold in half lengthwise with the right sides facing (Use a small seam allowance here – see photo!)

Turn the straps around the right way.  I have created some photo steps to show you how I do it.

Then feed the safety pin down through the tube, you may need to help it turn at the end it is gathering at by pulling the outside layer over top of the inside one.

Now you will need to press it flat.  You may need to wiggle it to make sure it is not folded in at the seam.

Now the last thing for the straps is to topstitch both sides to give the strap some strength and rigidity.

Woo hoo!  Another step closer to the finish line!

Step 7 – Attach Straps

With your main fabric the right side facing out

Lay the straps on top of the bag in this rough layout.  Then better grab that ruler again!

Measure 10cm (4”) in from the side seam, and leave 2.5cm (1”) of the strap over hanging the edge.  Pin in place.  Repeat for the other half of the same strap.

To do the other side turn the bag over and lay flat making sure the side seams are at the folds.  That way you can match the straps up with those on the opposite side, without having to measure again!

Sew all four straps in place, I like to go over them a few times to be sure.  I used the edge of my presser foot for the seam allowance, so as long as your seam allowance is less than 1cm (3/8”) that way the stitching won’t be visible later on.

Step 8 – Join the Outer Fabric and Lining Together

Tuck the outer part of the bag inside the lining.

Line up the raw edges.

Pin at the two seams first.  I like to fold one seam in each direction so that it sews nicely and will fold over neatly.  I use two pins to keep it in place.

You can pin all the way around the top of the bag, but you do need to leave a 10cm (4”) gap to turn the bag around the right way.  If your fabric is very thick you may like to leave a little more.  I use different coloured pins to mark the opening, double pinning also works well!

Sew starting from the edge of the gap and sew all the way right round to the other gap marker.  Reverse a few stitches at each end (or lockstitch).

Time to turn the bag around the right way.  Push it all through the gap you left.  Here is another set of photo steps!

Once you have it around the right way press the seam with your iron.  Fold the opening pieces to match the rest of the edge.

Pin the opening closed and topstitch the whole top edge to secure the seam.  This will also close the opening.

If you are not adding a top zip then you are finished!

Step 9 – Add Top Zip (Optional)

Change to your zipper foot if you have one!

Pin the zip in place on one side of the bag, I folded the tabs at the ends of the zips back in underneath the zip.  It’s OK to have a little gap at either end.

Starting sewing down your topstitching seam at the open end of the zip, with the zipper head moved out of the way.  Sew up to the zipper head and stop with the needle in the fabric.  Lift the presser foot and move the zip head past the presser foot.  Lower the foot and carry on sewing till the end.  And guess what? …Yep another set of photo steps!

Once you have sewn all the way down the one side of the zip it should look like this.

With the zip closed pin the two strap areas in place.  This is so that the straps line up when the zip is closed.

Then open the zip to make it easier to pin the rest in place.

Again sew from the open end, you may need to swap sides with your zipper foot (or needle position settings).

You will get to this point where it gets hard to reach.  Again leaving the needle in the fabric lift the presser foot and move the zipper head past the foot.

Once you have done that you should be able to wriggle it around to get to the end.

Speaking of getting to the end…YOU MADE IT!!! 

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