Let’s do something about those plain tote bag straps! I really love my handmade grocery sacks, with the strong and wide straps. We take them to the library and fill them with books, pack them full of extra clothes for outings, and take them to the grocery store to fill with food. I leave some hanging by the door at all times for that last minute kid stuff that we decide to bring with us.
I’ll show you how to make pretty, reversible tote bag with strong straps. Not only are the handles sturdier, they also provide an opportunity to add some color and pattern. You can use matching fabric for a streamlined, two-tone bag or mix some coordinating prints to match your style. Just like the other tote bag upgrades, this update doesn’t require a lot of fabric. You can use up what you have, or grab a couple of fat quarters at the fabric shop.
• 1 canvas tote bag
• 1/2 yd. or 2 fat quarters of quilting cotton
• 1/2 yd. mid-weight interfacing (I recommend Pellon 931.)
• 1/2 yd. lining fabric (optional)
• matching thread
• tote bag handles template download (or draft your own pattern – instructions below…)
I drafted the template for a 15″ tote bag, but if your bag is larger or smaller you can lengthen or shorten the curves on my template or draw your own.
To make your own pattern, measure the width of your tote bag and add 1″ for seam allowance. 1. Draw a horizontal line that is 1/2 of the width+seam allowance. That is the base line. 2. Draw a 4″ vertical line on the left and a 3″ vertical line on the right side of the baseline. 3. Measure 11″ above the center of the baseline and make a mark. 4. Draw a 3″ horizontal line centered across that mark. 5. Draw curves to connect the lines. The curves do not need to be exactly the same as mine. Use french curves or a large bowl to get a smooth curve. 6. Mark the fold.
Reversible Tote Bag with Grocery Handles:
1. Cut out 2 exterior and 2 lining pieces from the template. Apply interfacing to the exterior for stronger straps. Place one exterior and one lining piece right sides together and stitch along the curved sections with 1/4″ seam allowance. Clip the seam allowance along the curve. Repeat for the other exterior and lining pieces. Turn the pieces right side out and press.
2. Turn one side of the handle inside out again. Insert the right side out handle into the inside out handle, being careful not to twist the fabric. I photographed this in several steps to help clarify the process.
3. Stitch along the top of the handles with a 1/4″ seam allowance. Pull the handle inside handle to turn the piece right side out. Repeat steps 3-4 for the other side.
4. Place one strap piece right side up and open out the lining from underneath.
Place the other strap piece on top of the first with the right sides together and the lining opened up. Align the side edges or both the lining and exterior, matching the seams.
The finished seam should look like this.
Sew both sides, so that you have a complete circle. Topstitch around all of the curved edges.
5. Cut the straps off your tote bag. Match the lower edge of the exterior strap piece to the right side of the tote bag. You will be sewing below the hemmed edge of the bag (usually about 1″ below the top edge), so align the straps about 1/2″ below the top edge of the tote bag. Stitch on the inside of the tote bag, just next to the folded edge of the pre-made hem. Open and press.
6. To make the lining, measure the width of the bag and the height from the bottom of the bag to the strap fabric. Add 1″ to each dimension and cut 2 rectangles. Sew along 3 of the sides with a 1/2″ seam allowance, leaving a 3-4″ opening in the bottom. Turn it right side out.
7. Turn the tote bag inside out. Match the lower edge of the strap lining to the open side of the lining. Stitch with a 1/2″ seam allowance. Turn the bag right side out through the opening in the lining. Hand stitch the lining closed using a ladder stitch.
Another finishing option: If you don’t care that the bag is reversible, skip steps 6 & 7. Press the lower edge of the strap lining under 1/2″. Align the edge about 1/8″ below the fold of the tote bag hem. Topstitch in place.
And that’s it!
If you missed the previous Tote Bag Upgrades, check out these posts:
• Two Ways to Line a Tote Bag
• Add a Cargo Pocket to a Tote Bag
This is such a great series, Sara! I look forward to what you will be doing each time. I can envision this as a great class because each element can build on another for a custom look!
I’m curious to know–do you have a suggestion (or caution) for how small a bag size to use? Hobby Lobby has some 5″ x 6″ mini canvas totes which would be cute with some upgrading. Adding a lining would probably work, but maybe not an exterior pocket? I thought maybe you would know! 🙂
Sara Curtis says
Thank you! I think little tote bags would be a cute idea, especially for little girls. You’ll just have to do a bit of measuring to get the sizes of the lining right. I’m not sure the cargo pocket would work at the size I made mine, but you could definitely do a patch pocket. I think the tricky part with small bags is getting in under the presser foot. If you have trouble, you can always cut the side seams open and sew them back when you are finished.