shopping bag tutorial.

my writing seems to wander through themes and apparently the current theme is "go green." it only makes sense that i decided to make some reusable grocery bags. the mister and i already have gads of reusable grocery bags, but i have been thinking about making these for other people. i thought that for gifts it would be best to create a set of bags with a little carrying pouch. since i am not only a fan of reusable commodities, but also a HUGE fan of free sewing tutorials, i decided to write a tutorial for sewing a shopping bag (the pouch is not included in this tutorial). now this is my first try at tutorial composition, so please be patient and definitely let me know if something does not make sense. ready or not, here we go.
materials: 1.5 yards medium-weight fabric, thread, and safety pin.

note: click on images to see them larger.

step 1. choose a medium-weight fabric. these instructions will create two tote bags that are approximately 19"x13.5". if you want to make your bag a different size, decide what size you want to make your bag and use the template to calculate the dimensions you need to cut. the example calculations shown in the template are the calculations for the bag i made.
step 2. cut out a 35.5"x20" rectangle for the bag. cut out two 3.5"x24.5" rectangles to make the straps.
[steps 3-7 will guide you through creating a french seam, which is delectable because it is a seam that leaves no raw edges of fabric. if you are struggling with my directions, then check out this lovely tutorial at colette patterns.]

step 3. fold the large rectangle in half with wrong sides together. sew down the sides using a 1/4" seam allowance.
step 4. cut off 1/8" of the seam allowance, so you are left with a 1/8" edge.

step 5. iron the seam to one side. DO NOT iron the seams open.

step 6. turn the bag inside out. wiggle the corners so they completely turn inside out. iron the side seams flat.

step 7. sew a 1/4" seam (french seam tutorials will tell you to do a 3/8" seam on this step, which i am sure is great. i just chose to do a smaller seam and you can also choose to do what you like. fancy.) the inside of your bag should now have a seam with a finished edge that will not fray.
step 8. turn the bag right-side out. now we need to square the bottom. we need to square each corner by pulling the front and back layers of the bag apart and flattening the side of the bag to the bottom of the bag. line up the side seam with the crease running down the center of the bottom.
step 9. measure 2.5" from the corner of the triangle (i use the diagonal on my square ruler to make sure this triangle is properly squared, but you can use a ruler and eyeball it.) draw a line with tailor's chalk. this line should be perpendicular to the side seam/bottom crease. pin along the line to make sure the fabric does not shift. repeat this process with the other corner.
step 10. sew along the chalk line. cut 1/8" from the sewing line. repeat with the other corner. turn the bag inside-out. wiggle the edge until the corners are completely turned inside-out. sew 1/4" seam. repeat with the other corner. (we are once again creating french seams.)
step 11. fold the straps the long ways, with right sides together. sew down the length with a 1/4" seam allowance. turn the straps inside out. the easiest way to do this is to attach a safety pin to one end and then feed it through the tube and pull until the tube turns right-side out. i am a high-falutin lass, so i use a bodkin to do my turning (that's the adorable doohickey in the picture).
step 12. press the straps flat. tuck the ends inside and sew down the edge, so the edges will stay tucked in.
step 13. turn the bag inside out. make a hem along the top of the bag by folding the top edge of the bag down and pressing. this should be about 1/4" to 1/2". in the picture, my hem is about 3/8".
step 14. turn the bag right-side out. flatten out the bag. find the center of the bag and mark it with a pin. measure 3.25" to either side of the center and mark with pins. do this on both sides of the bag. then to avoid confusion in the next step, take out the center pin (see picture with step 15).
step 15. line up the top edge of your strap with the top edge of the bag, and the inside edge of your strap with one of the pins. secure the strap with pins. then let the loop of the strap hang down towards the bottom of the bag (this seems strange, but the straps will be "flipped up" into their final position in the next step -- in the picture the bottom of the bag is at the top of the picture, sorry for the confusion), and pin the other end of the strap next to the other pin. if you have completed this step correctly, there will be about 6.5" between the two ends of your strap. repeat this process with the second strap on the other side of the bag.
step 16. carefully turn the bag inside-out again. fold the top edge down 1.25". MAKE SURE the 1/4" hem you turned down in step 13 is still tucked under. press and pin. the straps should now be "flipped up" so that they are they will be ready for hanging on your shoulder.
step 17. sew the large hem at the top of the bag by sewing twice around the bag. once 1/8" from the bottom edge of the hem and once 1/8" from the top edge of the hem. as you are sewing this hem, MAKE SURE the loops of the straps are out of the way. otherwise you will end up with the middle of your strap attached to the side of the bag.
step 18. reinforce the straps. mark an X where the strap meets the bag. sew a box and an X inside of it to reinforce the attached strap. [tip: when you need to turn sharp corners, such as sewing the box or the X, sew down one edge. when you reach the corner, leave the needle securely embedded in the fabric, raise the presser foot, spin the fabric, drop the presser foot, and sew the next edge.
congratulations!! you have made a lovely shopping bag. you can add a personal touch by sewing your own tags into the bag. i got my tags at namemaker.com. french seams. personalized tags. it does not get much more fancy than this! now that you know how to make the bag, you can use the remainder of your fabric to make a second bag.
gift idea: sew a set of bags and create a little pouch to hold the bags.
i created my pouch using this tutorial from mairuru. so cute. since i did not want the inner pocket, i used the same size rectangle for the lining as i did for the outside fabric. i also attached my button and tie closure before assembling the bag. i guess i just discovered that my next tutorial.

happy sewing!!!


  1. I'm spending $40 for the large fabric buckets that Marija blogged on awhile back from Etsy. 11x11. Well, it might be more, I think $40 was the medium bucket cost. Could you make a side business out of this loveliness?

  2. i am seriously considering it. especially since i am having such a ball with sewing. gotta tie up the loose end of my master's degree and then i might just turn into a one-woman factory. :) you will be the first to know!!