How to Make a DIY Tote Bag

Whether you are looking to make a fashion statement or simply want something easy and environment-friendly to carry, a DIY tote bag can go a long way in helping you do just that and more. Despite what you may think, you don’t have to be a sewing guru to make your tote bag – you just need to know how to needle a thread.f

The project is relatively simple, especially for beginners. Of course, the more skilled you are at sewing, the more sophisticated your bag will be – and perhaps have some artistic elements to it. Regardless, in this article, we will look at how you can make your DIY tote bag and make it fashionable while at it.

What Is a Tote Bag?

Tote bags can be traced back to the 17th century and have since been used as shopping bags. Initially, they would be plain white and were more prevalent in the US, but manufacturers soon started printing logos on them by the 1940s. Tote bags were as standard as today’s plastic bags by this time.

These bags are also known as ice bags, boat bags, or a ‘shopper’ at the time. Now, as plastic bags have become more common (and a nuisance for the environment), tote bags express luxury and your focus on saving the environment. They are wide and deep, not to mention much more robust than most plastic bags.

This makes tote bags much more reliable, and the fact that they are reusable and fashionable can make them a fun collection for your wardrobe.

How to Make a DIY Tote Bag

When making a DIY tote bag, you can either use manual tools or go with a sewing machine. Of course, the machine is much faster than a needle and thread, but if you don’t have the time or expertise for a machine sewing class, you can easily make it with a needle and thread as well.

A simple loop sewing technique should be enough to give you a robust and sturdy tote bag, but if you are looking to make designs on your bag, the needle and thread may not be as quick or accurate as a sewing machine.

Tools You’ll Need

You will need the following essential tools:

  1. A sewing machine or needle and thread. Any machine will do, even the handheld sewing machines. Similarly, any needle will work, but a size 12 to 16 would fair best (especially if you are a beginner).
  2. Iron
  3. Pair of scissors
  4. Thread snippers.
  5. Seam ripper
  6. Magnetic pin holder or a safety pin
  7. Measuring tape
  8. Ruler

Material You’ll Need

  1. All-purpose thread, colored as per your preference. The thread you use will also need to reflect the type and thickness of the fabric you choose.
  2. 1-yard fabric. If you are using heavy-duty, waterproof fabric, you will need heavy-duty needles and threads as well. We recommend cotton if you aren’t a sewing expert or it’s your first time making a DIY tote bag.
  3. ½ yard fabric for the pocket. You can either choose the same fabric or find one contrasting the body fabric.
  4. Three yards of wide leather or cotton belt. Again, you can either use a contrasting or a similar color.
  5. Bias tape or ‘lace’ for the borders and piping.

The material should reflect your design and the color scheme you choose. Even though this is your first DIY tote bag, we recommend keeping a design in mind. A minimalist or straightforward design would fare best for beginners.

Building Your DIY Tote Bag

  1. Create a design. Take a pencil and a piece of paper and start drawing. It would be best if you create a design based on scale, i.e., write the measurements on each corner as well.
    1. A medium-sized tote bag is 31cm in height, 32 cm in width, and 19 cm broad.
    2. The front pocket usually is 20-22 cm wide and 16-18 cm in height.
    3. The webbing (handles) vary based on your requirements. Supermarket tote bags’ webbing length is 76cm in total.
  2. Test your fabric out. Cut an extra piece and try to sew it shut. This trial will give you a good idea of the thickness you are working with and the amount of effort you will need to put in. The thicker your fabric is, the more we recommend you use a sewing machine. Try sewing three layers together to better understand the needle and thread width you need.
  3. Time to start cutting. The bag will need to cut a 100 cm long by 34 cm wide piece. The last two cm on both edges is essential if you make a mistake or want to give the ends a more finished look.
  4. Cut a 24 cm by 20 cm piece of fabric. If you want pockets on both sides, you can cut two pieces. You can skip this step entirely if you don’t want a pocket.
  5. Now that the cutting is complete, take the pocket pieces and double-fold the edges; this will give it a more professional look. Fold and press the edges first and then sew them together. Use a ruler to make sure the line is straight.
  6. Repeat the process for all four sides of each pocket fabric.
  7. Place a pin on the bottom-center point of the pocket fabric. Place the pocket on one larger piece and insert the pin in it. Measure from both sides to ensure that the pocket is in the center. Leave at least 10-15cm from the bottom. Iron the pocket here and pin it in place for good measure.
  8. Once the pocket is secured to the body, start sewing. Remember, sew only three sides of the pocket – both sides and only the inward-facing side. The vertical ends of your longer fabric will mark where the tote bag’s handles will be. If you are confused, you can leave the top and bottom of the pocket pinned for now.
  9. Now, pin your webbing or leather strap in place. Take the 3-yard webbing and fold it in half. Make sure there aren’t any twists in it. Create a handle on both sides of the longer fabric, ensuring that they are equal in length. Fold the ends of the webbing to create a loop and sew everything in place. Remove the pins as you go along.
  10. Now, to sew the bag. Fold the hold thing from the middle point. Joint the straps to each other, making sure that they are equal. Match the corners of the body and pin them in place.
  11. Now, start sewing the folded pieces together.
  12. Once the entire body has been sown, it is time to give it some finishing touches. Take another piece of fabric and iron it on top of the raw edges you just sowed. Make sure it is wide enough to cover the thread marks properly.
  13. Sew the covering fabric neatly, and you have yourself a DIY tote bag with two pockets!

Would you try making a DIY tote bag? The process is quite easy; you just need to believe in yourself while working on it. Remember, it doesn’t look ugly; it is a design!