Tutorial: large reversible tote bag

Before I went to QuiltCon a couple of weeks ago, I decided I would make a bag to carry my class supplies. I had wanted a new one ever since I made a practice bag out of fabric from an old comforter.

I learned a lot by making that bag, including what not to do. After carrying it for the past 18 months, the first thing I knew I would do with a new bag was to make it bigger and with more pockets. I’m really pleased with the end result and am happy to share it with you.

totebagpinThis is an open-style bag that measures 18x24x6 inches when complete. Here’s how to make it:


  • 3/4 yd. solid fabric for exterior (I used Kona Cotton in School Bus — my favorite!)
  • 3/4 yd. muslin or other lightweight cotton. (This will be underneath the lining, so make sure it’s something that won’t show through, like dark fabric against light.)
  • 3/4 yd. print fabric for outside pockets (mine is from Joel Dewberry’s “Notting Hill”)
  • 1 1/2 yds. print fabric for inside pockets (I used two different fabrics, 3/4 yd. each)
  • 1/3 yd. of contrast fabric for binding on all pockets
  • 3/4 yd. of cotton duck or other plain heavyweight fabric. (Make sure it’s a solid color that won’t show through the quilting cotton.)
  • 1/3 yd. print fabric for straps
  • Two pieces of scrap batting, each one measuring 24×30 inches
  • Basic quilting/sewing supplies: thread, rotary cutter and mat, ruler, washable marker
  • Painter’s tape

1. Begin by cutting two main body pieces, 20×26 inches. This will allow you to quilt as desired, then trim to 19×25 inches. I like this method because I find when I straight-line quilt, the top can shift a bit, and not be as straight as it should when it’s time to square up, leaving you with a smaller finished piece. And yes, straight-line quilting can be a time suck, but on a piece this small it wasn’t too bad.

2. Baste the layers in your preferred method. If you choose to straight-line quilt as I did, instead of marking the fabric, take a piece of painter’s tape and a ruler to set your first line, as well as the subsequent anchor lines. Before placing the tape for an anchor line, make sure you measure a distance that’s divisible by the amount you use for spacing between your stitching lines.

Mine are 1/2 inch apart, so that means my anchor lines will have to be either inches or half inches away. Anchor lines of stitching help prevent shifting, but over-sizing and trimming guarantees accuracy.

DSC_0021DSC_00103. Once you’ve finished quilting, trim the front and back main pieces to 19×25 inches.

DSC_00114. Exterior pockets: Cut two pieces of your print fabric, 13×25 inches each. Cut two pieces of cotton duck, 13×25 inches each. Attach one of the print pieces to one of the duck pieces, stitching them wrong sides together about 1/8-inch from the top edge.

5. Cut a strip the full width of fabric, 2 1/4-inches wide out of a contrast print for binding. Fold it in half and press. Trim to 25 inches and stitch the strip to the front side of your pocket, 1/4-inch from the top edge. Press the strip toward the top, then flip to the other side and press again. Turn piece back over to the front and stitch in the ditch to secure the binding to the other side. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the back front pocket.

This is fabric from the interior pocket. I wasn’t crazy about this print after I ordered it online, so I used it to line the interior pocket (instead of the duck) where it wouldn’t show.

6. Pin the pocket piece to the front and mark a line with painter’s tape 3 inches from the bottom and stitch the pocket piece to the exterior at that line. Next, stitch around the entire perimeter of the pocket, 1/4-inch away from the edge.

7. For the pockets, Measure 8 1/2 inches from the left-side edge and mark with painter’s tape, using a ruler to make sure it’s straight. Stitch along the edge of the tape, making sure to back-stitch and secure at the top of the pocket. Repeat these steps 8 1/2-inches from the right-side edge. Repeat the above steps for the back of the bag.

DSC_00197. For the lining, cut two pieces of print fabric, 20×25 inches. You want this piece to be taller than the quilted piece in order to make the bag reversible. Make the pockets in the same way as you did for the exterior pieces. including stitching 3 inches from the bottom. If you would like to customize your pockets, e.g., make one smaller for sunglasses, now is the time to do so. Sunglasses generally need a 4-4 1/2-inch wide pocket.

Here are my interior pieces. Do you see a stitched line 3 inches from the bottom? No, you don’t. Learn from my mistakes, people.

8. Take the exterior pieces and pin them right sides together. Wonder clips work really well for this and are much easier to use than pins. Sew around the perimeter, leaving the top open, with a 1/2-inch seam, back-stitching at the ends and using a smaller stitch length. Do the same thing with the lining pieces.

DSC_00229. Fold the corner, lining up the seams as close as possible. Since the exterior is bulky, it will help to have the seams go in opposite directions. Using a ruler with a 45-degree line, line the edge of the bag against that line, leaving 3 inches exposed.

Draw a line with a water-soluble marker at the 3-inch mark as shown below (3 inches is the distance between the arrows); pin in place. Stitch across the line, back-stitching several stitches to reinforce the ends and using a shorter stitch length. Trim 1/2-inch from the seam line.

dsc_0017 copyDSC_001810. Turn the bag right side out and using a blunt object like a chop stick, push the corners of the bottom sides out. Do the preceding steps on the lining pieces, except don’t bother to turn the lining inside out.

11.Take the lining piece and fold a little less than 1/2-in from the right-side of the top over to the wrong side; press in place. Make a second fold 1/2-inch wide and press in place again. Put the lining inside the exterior of the bag and pin or clip the fold over the top of the exterior bag as shown below. Top stitch along bottom edge to secure lining to bag.

DSC_002412. Make handles: Cut the print fabric you’ve chosen for the handles into two strips, each one should be 5 inches by the width of fabric, approx. 5×44 inches. I trimmed my handles to 5×42-inches. Cut two pieces of the cotton duck the same size. Attach the duck to the wrong side of the printed fabric and stitch along each edge with a 1/4-inch seam.

Fold and press 1/2-inch on both sides as shown below, the fold the strip in half and press again. Open the strap and fold in 1/2-inch on the top and bottom. Re-fold in half, making sure your edges are all nicely tucked in. Pin and stitch 1/4-inch around the entire strip. Repeat these steps for the second strap.

Or you could be lazy like me and only stitch on side, but this is what it will look like when you go to press it.

13. One at a time, line up the strap ends so the middle point of each one is at the same place as the stitching line of your pocket, which should be at the 8-inch line. Place the bottom of the strap 2 inches below the top of the bag and pin in place.

Do the same thing for the remaining three strap ends. Stitch them securely in place with a shorter stitch length all around the 2-inch portion that’s on the exterior bag.

DSC_004414. Now, go out and use your bag and marvel at all the compliments you will receive!

If something doesn’t make sense, or you’d like some help making your bag, either leave a comment below or email me at onemillionstitches@gmail.com.

Linking up to Link a Finish Friday, Whoop Whoop Friday, Thank Goodness Its Finished Friday, Fabric Frenzy Friday and Show Off Saturday.



12 thoughts on “Tutorial: large reversible tote bag

  1. Thank you for writing this up!!! You know I can’t wait to make one of these for each of my kids. It’s perfect as a sleep-over bag! You should submit it to Sew She Can for a highlighted tutorial. Xoxo

    1. Aww – thanks! You could be my pattern tester and tell me if there’s anything incorrect or missing. What I really can’t believe is how comfortable it was carrying all my junk around the convention center for hours! XOXO

  2. Thank you so much for the tutorial!!! I loved this bag when I saw it at the convention. It looks even better in person and the perfect size. I can’t wait to test it out once I get home from Florida!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! I had such a blast with you, Stephanie and Kitty at QuiltCon. If you make this, I’d love to see how it turns out.

    1. Thanks, Sheena. I’m so glad you liked it. And you’re right – who can’t use another tote, especially a large one.

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