How to Make a Simple Tote Bag
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How to Make a Simple Tote Bag

This free easy guide shows how to make a simple tote bag with pictures, instructions and a quick video at the end.  This bag can be folded up then kept in your handbag for whenever you are out shopping or use for storing your favourite things.


Upholstery, canvas, curtain or hard-wearing cotton materials are best making a tote bag that will last.  Save money by using leftover curtain material or use scrap materials to make a simple patchwork design to get the required length and width for your bag.

Patchwork Tote Bag
Simple patchwork tote bag with two straps.

Some fabrics will need a cooler iron or the material will burn. It is best to try a corner first before pressing.

Tools and Materials Needed

Material – The size will depend on the size of the bag you want. For this bag you will need one piece 16 x 32 inches (40 x 80cm) for the bag and one piece 4 x 34 inches (10 x 85cm) for the strap.

Matching Thread – This set of 25 colors from Amazon is handy to have on hand. (Paid link)

Sewing Machine – This can be hand stitched but it is much easier on a machine. This top rated machine from Amazon is great value. (Paid link)


Time needed: 1 hour and 30 minutes.

How to Make a Simple Tote Bag

  1. Cut Out the Material

    Use a ¼ inch (5mm) Seam.  First measure then cut out the two pieces of material you will need.  A rectangle 16 x 32 inches (40 x 80cm) for the bag and a long narrow strip 4 x 34 inches (10 x 85cm) for the strap.

    Cutting out the material for a simple tote bag.

  2. Pin the Sides

    Next fold the bag material in half with right sides together then pin the sides.

    Pinning the side seams of the tote bag.

  3. Sew the Sides

    Sew down each side twice then use a zig zag stitch to bind the edges so they don’t fray. This will create a stronger seam which is important if you are planning on carrying groceries in the bag.
    Some sewing machines will have a combination straight and zig zag stitch which can save time.

    The tote bag side seams sewn.

  4. Bind the Top Edge

    Next use a straight and zig zag stitch to bind the edge around the top opening of the bag.

  5. Press the Seams

    Fold the top of the bag back by an inch then pin. Press the seam then remove the pins. Turn the bag inside out then press the side seams.

    The top seam of the tote bag folded back and pinned.

  6. Sew the Top Seam

    Use either a straight or attractive stitch around the top of the bag sewing from the right side as this stitch will be seen.

    Sewing the top hem of the tote bag with decorative stitching.

  7. Pin the Strap Material

    Next make the strap by folding the strap material in half lengthways with the right sides together then pin.

  8. Sew the Strap Side

    Sew down the length of the strap and across one end.

    Strap for the tote bag folded in half lengthways and sewn.

  9. Turn Inside Out

    Turn the strap inside out then press.

  10. Optional Attractive Details

    Sew attractive stitching down the middle of the strap if desired otherwise leave it plain. Turn the open-end inwards then sew across.

  11. Pin Strap to Side Seam

    The strap can be attached either to the inside or outside of the bag. It should be attached at the side seams. Pin the strap to the side seam so it is centred and straight.

  12. Sew on the Strap

    Sew the strap from the outside of the bag as the stitching will be seen. For more strength sew a square keeping the strap straight as you turn it at each corner.  It is easiest to wind the needle down into the fabric before you turn to keep everything in place.

    Sewing the strap onto the tote bag.

  13. Finish

    Sew the strap onto the other side. All Done!

    The strap sewn onto the tote bag.

Folding Your New Tote Bag

This bag can be folded then kept in your handbag for whenever you will need it. Start folding from the bottom of the bag then wrap the strap around the middle.

The thicker the material you use the harder it will be to fold. If you are looking for a more compact bag choose cotton materials without any backings.

Simple tote bag folded for storing in a handbag.

To Save or Print this guide on how to make a simple tote bag, click the button below for the PDF File.

Are you looking for more home sewing projects? Try these Craft Ideas or these patterns for a Rice Heat Pack, Fabric Christmas Tree Bird or turn Old Jeans into Long Jeans Shorts.

Are you a homebody? You might be interested in this Homesteading guide.

How to make a simple tote bag.

If you are on a budget and would like to have a sewing machine, this basic machine from Amazon will do most sewing projects. (Paid link)

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