A handmade tote is the perfect gift for any occasion, not to mention a stylish way to help the environment by skipping the plastic grocery bags on your next trip to the supermarket. Jamie Lau, Brooklyn-based writer and designer, shares how to create a lined and reversible tote that’s perfect for transporting gym clothes, your farmers market haul or everyday bits and bobs!
Jamie: One of the early sewing projects I worked on when I was first learning to sew was a lined, reversible tote bag. This is a great beginner project for those still getting familiar with their machine, or looking to perfect those straight stitches and backstitching. Or, if you are brainstorming handmade projects for the upcoming holiday season, this is a great opportunity to personalize your gifts using your own textile designs printed on Spoonflower fabric. For the exterior of the bag in this example, I selected the Eco Canvas using my Electric Cranes print. For the lining, I chose Cotton Poplin printed in the vermilion colorway of my Silver Ribbons Star print (for additional colorways, click here).
Step 1: Using an 18˝ or 24˝ clear gridded ruler, measure two 18˝ x 20˝ (L x W) rectangles of both the exterior fabric and lining fabric. Mark the dimensions on your fabric with a water soluble fabric pen or fabric chalk and cut using fabric scissors. You should have a total of four 18˝ x 20˝ rectangles. (Note: This measurement includes a ½˝ seam allowance for the perimeter of the bag.)
Step 2: At the bottom corners of each rectangular piece, mark and cut out a 2˝ x 2˝ square. This will be used to form the gusset of your tote bag, which provides the bag with a flat bottom and more depth when it is fully expanded.
Step 3: Sew across the bottom of the bag. Pin the exterior fabric right sides together and sew at a ½˝ seam allowance. Press the seam allowances open. Next, with right sides together sew the side seams of the bag at a ½˝ seam allowance. Press the seam allowances open. Repeat for the lining fabric. (Note: With the seam allowances sewn, the original 2˝ x 2˝ square area should now measure at 1½˝ x 1½˝. The top of the bag and gusset corners remain unsewn.)
Step 4: Sew the gusset. With right sides facing, pinch together the bottom corners of the exterior fabric, lining up the bottom seam with each side seam, and form a trapezoid-like shape. Pin in place and sew together at a ½˝ seam allowance. Repeat for the lining fabric. (Note: I chose to finish my raw edges with a serger, or overlock sewing machine. These fabrics do not seem prone to fraying, and the side seams will not be visible, so this finish is optional.)
Step 5: For your straps, you can use cotton webbing or create your own using the exterior fabric. I created my own straps, cutting out 36˝ x 4˝ (L x W) fabric strips, folding them in half lengthwise right sides together, and sewing at a ½˝ seam allowance. I then reversed the straps right side out and topstitched along the length of the straps. If you plan on using your lining fabric, I recommend using fusible interfacing to provide more structure.
Step 6: Attach the straps to the exterior and lining fabrics. First, insert the lining fabric into the exterior fabric so that they are right sides facing, making sure to line up the side seams.
Pin in place at the side seams.
Next, sandwich your straps between the exterior and lining fabrics, forming a U-shape in between the layers. Starting with one side of the bag, pin the ends of each strap 4˝ away from the side seam, making sure not to twist the strap in between the fabric layers. (Note: The only visible parts of the straps should be the 1˝ raw ends that measure 4˝ away from the side seams. The straps should not appear as worn in an upright position like when wearing a tote bag. You will reverse them out later on.) Repeat for the strap on the other side of the bag. Continue to pin the raw edges of the exterior and lining fabrics together along the perimeter of the bag opening.
Step 7: Starting at one side seam, sew along the perimeter of the bag opening at a ½˝ seam allowance, making sure to sew down the straps on one side of the tote bag.
Once you reach the next side seam and sew over the first end of the strap, backstitch to finish the seam as you prepare to leave a 3˝-4˝ unsewn gap between the straps. Snip your loose threads and reposition the bag to begin sewing again past the gap, beginning with a backstitch and sewing over the second end of the strap until you return to your starting point at the originating side seam. (Note: The purpose of the gap is for reversing the straps and exterior and lining fabrics right side out.)
Step 8: Pull the straps and exterior and lining fabrics right side out through the gap, reversing the entire bag right side out.
Poke out the corners of the gusset on both the exterior and lining fabrics.
Step 9: Position the lining fabric inside of the exterior fabric. Press around the perimeter of the bag opening, including the 3˝-4˝ gap, and pin in place so that the lining fabric will not be visible on the exterior of the bag.
Topstitch along the perimeter of the bag opening to reinforce the tote bag straps and close the 3˝-4˝ gap. Press once more. (Note: Since the Eco Canvas fabric is 100% polyester, remember to set your iron to the synthetic setting with steam off.)
Reverse the bag as you please. This is a fun project to work on with contrasting or complementary colors. Mix solids with prints, play with different textures, or pair a subdued exterior fabric with a pop of color on the inside!
Jamie Lau is a designer, sewing instructor, and fashion writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She received a sewing machine for her twenty-fifth birthday and hasn’t put it down since. For her line Jamie Lau Designs, Jamie transforms simple silhouettes into fashion-forward looks cut and sewn from Japanese prints, luxurious brocades, handwoven ikats, and her signature textile designs. In addition to doing custom work (including bridal), she teaches sewing, draping, and pattern making courses at Textile Arts Center and across the country. Follow her blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages for the latest updates and inspirations.