Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

Learn how to make a great-looking unlined tote bag in about an hour.

Yes, you can! If you’ve been wanting to start sewing, but not sure where to start, here you go. This tote bag project is for you – we promise! Our beginner sewing tutorial is easy-to-understand, and offers some fantastic design options that you can utilize to give your first tote some real flair. Got an hour and 1/2 yard of fabric? 

Beginner Sewing Project: My First Tote Bag

Dritz® supplies:

Omnigrid® supplies:

Other supplies:

  • ½ yard of canvas fabric (this is enough to make 2 bags)
  • Iron and pressing surface
  • Lighter or candle
  • Thread
  • Basic sewing supplies
  • Sewing machine

Cotton Canvas Fabrics from Art Gallery Fabrics for Making a Tote Bag

It’s really important to choose the right fabric for your tote so that your bag has body and structure. We absolutely love the cotton canvas collection from Art Gallery Fabrics. The premium canvas is the perfect weight for totes, and their designs are beautiful and packed with personality. We used Art Gallery Fabrics for all of the totes we made for this tutorial.


Cotton Canvas Fabrics & Belting for Making Tote Bags

There are two things to consider when it comes to straps: color and length. The Dritz® belting we used comes in many fashion colors – have fun choosing yours!

Next, you need to decide on the length of your straps. Read all of the steps below before getting started to see what your options are.


Beginner Sewing Project: My First Tote Bag. Learn how to make a tote bag in about an hour with 1/2 yard of fabric and basic Dritz and Omnigrid sewing supplies.

1) First, prepare your fabric. Regardless of which strap length you choose, your fabric size will be the same.

Use your Omnigrid® mat, rotary cutter and ruler to cut two 14” wide x 16” long pieces of canvas fabric.


Use a Dritz Hem Gauge for Perfect Hems Every Time

2) Press top hem on each fabric piece. Press ½” to wrong side first. Fold a second time and press a 1” hem. The Ezy-Hem® gauge makes this step quick and easy.


Sewing Tip: Seal Ends of Belting by Passing Through Flame

3) To make a basic tote with standard length handles, cut two 18” lengths of polypro belting. (This is the blue floral bag shown.) Seal ends with a quick pass through flame. This will prevent the ends from raveling. Don’t melt the belting too much or it will form a thick bead.


Beginner Sewing Project in Progress (Tote Bag)

4) On each fabric piece, open top hem. Position belting ends even with hem edge and 3 ½” in from each side. Use an Omnigrid® ruler to help position belting. Make sure the belting is not twisted and pin in place. Baste belting ends at ½” crease.


Beginner Sewing Project in Progress (Tote Bag)

5) For this step, you have a choice of construction methods. Decide which method is right for you!

Beginner method (for serger or zigzag seam finishing):

Pin pieces, right sides together, making sure 1” creases are matched up. (Mark crease with marking pen to help line them up.)


Beginner Sewing Project in Progress (Tote Bag)

Stitch along sides and bottom with ½” seam allowance. Pivot at corners.

TIP: To help pivot at the right spot, mark ½” from sides and bottom at corners. Pivot stitching where the marks intersect.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

Trim corners. Zigzag stitch or serge raw edges of seam allowances together. Turn tote right side out and press. A point turner will help to push out the corners.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

Advanced method (for french seams):

Place pieces, wrong sides together and stitch with a scant ¼” seam. Trim corners and seams to 1/8”.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

Turn tote wrong side out. Roll edges to help push stitching all the way to the edge of the seam and press.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

Stitch again at ¼”. To remove bulk at bottom corners, trim and seal cut edges with Fray Check™ liquid seam sealant. Turn tote right side out and press.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

6) Regardless of which method you chose for step 5, you now want to eliminate bulk in the top hem. To do so, clip seam allowances at 1” crease. Fold seam allowances in opposite directions when closing hem.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

7) Fold top hem along creases with handles down and inside of tote. Stitch hem without catching loose handles. You can use a Jean-a-ma-jig™ to help stitch over the seam bumps.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

8) Fold handles up and pin in place. Stitch along top edge of tote catching handles in stitching.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

TIP: Here’s something that’s good to know: for extra security, you can stitch an “X” over the handles in the top hem.

You’re now done with your basic tote! If you follow these instructions, your bag will look like the blue floral bag we made.

If you want to make a bag with shoulder straps or exterior belting detail, read on …


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

Basic tote with shoulder straps:

For shoulder straps, cut belting 30” long for each strap. This will give you some extra length to carry your tote comfortably over your shoulder.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

Basic tote with exterior belting detail:

For added detail, the handles can be positioned along the full length of the tote. Cut belting pieces 44” long (or 56” for shoulder straps).


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

On step 4, place belting ends at bottom edge and position them 3 ½” in from each side of fabric. Pin in place. Make sure handles are not twisted.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote Bag

On belting, mark at 3” from top edge. Starting at the bottom, stitch along edge of belting, across at 3” mark and back down other edge of belting. Repeat for other side of handle.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote

Stitch an “X” box just below 3” mark for extra security.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote

Continue to construct tote without catching handles in any seams or top hem. Fold up as in step 8 and catch in top edge stitching. Be careful not to press directly on Polypro belting.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote

Basic tote with mid-length exterior belting detail:

Handles can also extend down to the middle of the tote. Cut belting to 30” (42” for shoulder straps).


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote

On step 4, position handles ends 7 ½” down from top edge and 3 ½” in from each side.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote

Mark and stitch as in full length handles adding a “X” box stitch to bottom of handle and below the 3” mark. (We used a contrasting thread to show stitching.) End of handle does not need to be turned under because ends were sealed with flame.


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote

Making your first tote is easy! Even as a beginner, if you choose fantastic fabrics and utilize some simple design options, you really can make some great-looking bags. 


Beginner Sewing: My First Tote

Come on, it’s time to make your first tote!

We sincerely hope that you found this sewing tutorial to be easy-to-understand, and inspiring. We’d love to hear from you – questions, comments, ideas  – please send them our way! 

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