Free Tote Bag Tutorial

A tote bag is an incredibly versatile accessory- use it as a reusable shopping bag, for carrying school or work items, as a book bag, for travel…. The uses are endless! Totes are simple to make, and also make amazing gifts. Today I am bringing you a totally free tote bag tutorial! Complete with multiple pockets, a boxed bottom for a roomier bag, and lots of options for customization, this tote bag is sure to become a favorite. 

This tutorial includes a loop-and-button closure, but you can easily customize the closure. Feel free to use any closure you’d like- snaps, magnet, toggle, etc. You can also keep it simple and have no closure at all! All pockets are also optional. 

This free tote bag tutorial leaves you with a bag finishing at approximately 14″ long, with a top width of 17.25″, tapering to approximately 13.5″ at the bottom. with a bottom base depth of approximately 4″. You can customize the size of this bag as you wish, but make sure to keep the proportions equal for the pockets, etc. For example, the main outer pocket needs to be cut at the same width as the bag main, regardless of what size you make. If you are newer to sewing bags, I recommend that you sew the bag as written in the tutorial, before attempting to customize the size. 

Let’s Sew a Tote Bag!

Mid to heavy weight main fabric: cotton, canvas, linen, vinyl, faux leather, etc.

Light to mid weight lining fabric: cotton, poly cotton, etc.

Interfacing for straps and bag main (optional, depending on fabric weight)

9” zipper (for optional inner zipper pocket)

Elastic cord and button (or alternative closure)

free tote bag sewing tutorial

Tip: Save the cut chart as an image to keep handy when shopping for and cutting materials!

All seam allowances are ⅜” (1cm) unless otherwise noted. 

You can at this point optionally interface your main bag fabric and strap fabric. If your fabric is mid or heavy weight you won’t need to, but if you are using lightweight fabric for the main and straps, you may want to apply interfacing. Additionally, if you are using very lightweight lining fabric (lighter than standard cotton, such as challis, etc.) you may also choose to apply interfacing to your zipper pocket pieces. 

Fold the long sides of a strap wrong sides together ⅜” and press. 
Fold the strap in half, matching the folded edges, and press. 
Top stitch with a ⅛” seam allowance. 

Find the halfway point of the strap and mark with a pin.
Measure 6” to the side of the pin and mark with a pin or heat erasable marker.
Repeat to the other side of center. Remove the center pin.

Fold the strap in half lengthwise at one marked point and pin/clip. Repeat at the other marked point. 
Fill in between these two points with pins/clips.
Topstitch, sewing directly on top of the previous stitch line. Make sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam. 

free tote bag sewing tutorial

Repeat with second strap. Set completed straps aside.

free tote bag sewing tutorial

Place the pocket main and pocket lining right sides together. Pin/clip along the top edge. Sew using a ¼” seam allowance. 

free tote bag sewing tutorial

Open the main and lining away from each other. Press the seam allowance toward the lining fabric. 

free tote bag sewing tutorial
View from right side, the seam allowance is still pressed up, with the lining fabric over it.

Fold the lining fabric to meet the main, wrong sides together, keeping the seam allowance pressed away from the main. This will cause the lining fabric to be shorter than the main. From the right side, this will give the appearance of binding. Press well. 

free tote bag sewing tutorial
View from lining side, with main trimmed to match.

Trim the bottom of the main fabric so it matches the length of the lining.

free tote bag sewing tutorial

Top stitch along the edge of the main fabric. 

free tote bag sewing tutorial

Lay the pocket on top of one of the bag main pieces. The pocket lining will face the bag main. Baste along the sides and bottom to hold in place. Set aside.

Note: This will give you a single layer pocket. If you prefer a double layer pocket (especially if your fabric is very light) simply cut two pieces and follow the instructions for the outer pocket for this inner pocket. 

Fold the top edge of the pocket piece wrong sides together ¼” and press.
Fold an additional ½” and press again. Edge stitch to secure. 

Lay the pocket on top of one bag lining piece. Baste the sides and bottom to hold in place and set aside.
Optionally, sew a vertical line down the center of the pocket piece to make it into a divided pocket.

Draw a 9” line on the wrong side of a pocket piece, 1.5” below the top edge. 
Draw a second line, 1/4” below the first.
Connect the lines, forming a rectangle. 
Draw a line down the center of the rectangle, with a “Y” into the corners on the end. 

Place the bag lining piece without the pouch pocket right side up. Measure down 2” from the center top edge, and place a pin. 
Place the pocket piece right sides together on the bag lining. The center of the pocket top edge should be aligned with the mark you made on the bag lining. Pin in place. 

Sew directly on the rectangle you drew (not the line with the Y, just the outer rectangle lines).
Cut down the center line and the Y marks. Cut as close into the corners as you can without cutting through the stitches. 

Turn the pocket through the hole. The wrong side of the pocket should now face the wrong side of the bag lining. Press well. 
Place a couple pins on the pocket to anchor it in place.
Lay the closed zipper right side down on the opening. Pin in place.
Flip the lining over so you can see the zipper and make sure that it is lined up how you want it. If not, take time to adjust it. 
From the right side of the lining, stitch around the rectangle, sewing the zipper to the lining and pocket, using a zipper foot.

free tote bag sewing tutorial

With the lining wrong side up, place the second pocket piece right sides together with the first. Pin/clip. Pin the two pocket pieces to each other, not to the bag lining. Sew the two pocket pieces together. Do not sew the bag lining, move it out of the way as you sew. 

The closure written in this tutorial is a button and loop. If you would like to use an alternative closure, create it now, then skip to the next section.

free tote bag sewing tutorial

Decide which side of the bag you would like your button on. Sew your button onto the bag main, centered horizontally, 1-1.5” below the top edge of the bag, depending on the size of your button.

Cut a piece of elastic cord big enough to get around your button, plus 1”. Bring the ends together and either hand wrap with a piece of thread or sew a zigzag stitch back and forth over several times to secure. If you use a machine, putting a piece of stabilizer under it makes it much easier.

Baste the loop to the right side center top of the bag main without a button. 

free tote bag sewing tutorial

Mark 3” from the each side edge at the top of one bag main. Lay a strap right sides together on the bag so that the outer edge of the strap meets the mark you made. Make sure the rolled edge of the strap is touching the bag and the seam is facing up. Baste in place. Repeat with other strap and bag main piece. 

free tote bag sewing tutorial

On the wrong side of one bag main, mark 2.5” up from the bottom corner on the side edge, and 2.5” in from the bottom corner on the bottom edge. Repeat with other bottom corner. Repeat with other bag main and both bag lining pieces. 

Place the two bag main pieces right sides together. Sew both side seams and the bottom seam. Clip the seam allowance at the bottom corners. Press all seams flat. Repeat with bag lining pieces. 

Pinch the side seam and bottom seam toward each other forming a triangular point so that side seam lays exactly on top of the bottom seam. Put a pin through the mark you made on the side seam, coming out through the mark you made on the bottom seam. This is important so you know they exactly overlap.

Draw a line forming a triangle, with the line going exactly through your markings. Sew on the line with a straight stitch and make sure to back stitch at the beginning and end.

Cut off the excess point of fabric after sewing.Repeat with opposite side. Repeat with bag lining.

free tote bag sewing tutorial

Turn the bag lining right side out and insert into bag main right sides together. Pin/clip around the top of the bag, leaving a gap to turn it right side out. Sew. Each time you reach a strap, sew back and forth several times to strengthen it.

Turn right side out through opening you left.
Press the seam, and top stitch all the way around the bag to close. For a faux-piping look, pull the lining up above the main very slightly when pressing. 

You’re done! 

I hope you enjoyed this free tote bag tutorial! Whether you sew it for yourself or as a gift, the options with this bag are endless! Want to sew it as a gift and take it to the next level? Sew up a set of matching zipper pouches using our free snack bag tutorial and include them inside the bag!

If you decide to sew this free tote bag we would love to see! Share it with us by tagging @booandlupatterns on Instagram, or share with us in our Facebook group! Have questions? The Facebook group is also a great spot to get all the sewing support you may need!

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