Tote Bag Pattern

Several people have asked what pattern we use to make the toiletries tote bags for the women’s shelter. I created the pattern myself, using a gallon-size zipper bag for an estimate of the size. Here is how we make them:
  • Use a brown paper grocery sack, cut open, to make the pattern. Measure out a square 13″ tall and 12″ wide. You will be placing one 12″ side on the fabric fold, so write “place on fold” along a 12″ side. This is the bag body and the lining pattern. Next draw a rectangle 4″ wide and 22″ long on the brown paper. This is the handle pattern.
  • You need about 1/2 yard of two different, complimentary fabrics. The fabrics can be quilting cottons, twill, denim, corduroy, drapery cottons, or similar fabrics. Don’t use slippery lining fabrics for the lining of this bag!
  • Cut one bag body (on fold) from your outside fabric. Cut another bag body (on fold) from your inside fabric. Cut two handles from either fabric. We usually use the outside fabric, but using the lining fabric makes a nice contrast.
  • Fold one handle piece in half, wrong sides together, along the length; press the folded edge. Open up, then fold the long cut edges in to meet the center crease. Press the two folded edges. Fold piece in half again along the first crease; press well. Repeat for second handle piece. Stitch both handle pieces, down both long ends, close to the folds. Stitch the open side first, then the folded side.
  • Fold outer bag piece in half right sides together. Stitch the two side seams using a ¼” seam allowance. Snip the fold at the bottom of the bag, in as far as the stitching. Repeat for lining piece.
  • Press the two side seams open. Press in the fold at the bottom of the bag. Using the fold as a guideline, bring the side seam to match up with the fold mark. This forms a triangle or “ear”. Put two pins in the triangle area to hold it in place. Hold a ruler perpendicular to the seamline. Adjust the ruler up or down until you have exactly 3” across the top of the triangle. Trace this line along the ruler as a stitching guide. Repeat on other side seam. Repeat on lining piece.
  • Stitch marked lines on outer bag and lining piece, forming triangles. This forms the box bottom.
  • Measure over 3” from side seam, along top edge of outer bag. Put pin at this mark. Repeat from other side seam. Pin one handle end, centered at this mark, with raw edge of handle at raw edge of bag. Repeat with other end of handle, making sure handle isn’t twisted. Repeat with second handle on other side of bag. The handle loops will be going down, toward the bottom of the bag.
  • Stitch handle ends in place using a ¼” seam. Turn lining piece right side out. Slide lining into bag. Line up side seams and top edges of the two bag pieces. Pin along upper edge. Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch the upper edge, leaving a section open to turn bag right side out. Double stitch over handles.
  • Turn bag right side out through opening. Stuff lining into bag. Press seam at top edge of bag, pulling handles up and rolling edge to expose the stitching line. Fold in the raw edges of the opening, pressing to make a smooth, continuous line.
  • Top stitch very close to upper edge.
  • Place toiletries in one-gallon zip bag and put unit inside tote bag.
  • These are the full size toiletries we put in bags: wash cloth, bar soap OR bottle of body wash, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant.

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