Fast and Fabulous Bags

Calendar Patchwork Tote, designed by Susan Wasinger.

Mudcloth Tote, designed by Zelda Grant.

Top: Calendar Patchwork Tote, designed by Susan Wasinger. Bottom: Mudcloth Tote, designed by Zelda Grant.


I love sewing a pretty tote for the summer. A basic tote pattern is so quick and simple to make, and the embellishment becomes part of the fun. I went back into the Sew Daily archives to dig out a favorite post from the past by former Stitch Editor Tricia Waddell on customizing totes. See all the great ideas in Tricia's post below:

While it's true that I sew all year-round, let's face it, my summertime sewing time drops off a bit. It's hard to stay inside when it's so nice outside! So I tend to sew more quick and easy projects in the summer–the type of projects you can finish in an afternoon or two. My favorite fast and fabulous project is BAGS! Tote bags to be exact. How is it possible that no matter how many tote bags you have, you can always use more? They are so quick and easy to sew, making them a great weekend project, or the perfect last-minute gift.

Since the basic construction of a tote bag is pretty simple, it leaves lots of room for customization. So you can make one as simple or as fancy as you like. We always get lots of fun bag project submissions for Stitch, and I'm amazed at all the creative ways designers come up with for elevating a simple tote to something really cool by approaching it as a blank canvas. Here are a few ideas for turning an ordinary tote into a one-of-a-kind accessory.

Combine old with new – Mix and match fabric from vintage linens, handles, and hardware from a classic handbag or appliqué cutout motifs from vintage clothes and home décor fabrics to add a unique accent to your new tote.

Focus on the fabric – Make a simple tote special by using an unusual fabric. Take that small amount of specialty fabric you picked up during your travels or at a remnant sale and make it into an outstanding bag. The fabric will be all the decoration you need.

Creative contrasts – Play with contrasts by using a different fabric for the lining, the handles (both sides), and pockets.

Playful piecing – Patchwork and fabric piecing are great ways to add a graphic element to your bag, plus you use up some of your stash as well!

Appliqué your way – Add motifs from your favorite fabrics with appliqué or get fancy with reverse appliqué for a fun embellishment.

Stitch it up – Machine and hand embroidery can add interesting texture and line on a simple bag in no time. Use contrasting thread for greater effect. And don't forget the handles!

Two bags in one – Our cover bag from the summer issue of Stitch featured different fabrics and a unique design on either side. Plus, the sides featured handstitching. Remember you have many sides to play with on your bag so have fun and make each one unique.

Strong and beautiful – To minimize wear and tear on seams plus add a decorative element, topstitch seams with contrasting thread. When attaching exposed straps or handles, topstitch a square on the strap/handle; then topstitch an X shape through the middle of the square.

Organize in style – Consider creating multiple inside and outside pockets to keep all your stuff from falling to the bottom of the bag. To keep keys close at hand, in the side seam near the top edge of the bag, sew a length of sturdy cord or trim to create a small loop. Use a key-chain clip to attach your keys to the loop for quick access.

Odekake Tote by Ayumi Takahashi.  Odekake Tote by Ayumi Takahashi.


Practical meets pretty – If your bag will be used for carrying food and drink or other liquids such as sunscreen or makeup, use a water-resistant or waterproof lining fabric such as rip-stop nylon or laminated cotton.

The possibilities for personalizing bag sewing patterns are endless, so have fun and experiment. And if you are looking for more ideas, check out the bags in our e-pattern store. You'll find lots of projects to keep you sewing on those summer afternoons with plenty of time left over to get outside and play.

For plenty of bag and tote patterns to work your customizing magic on, check out the Sew Daily Shop.

What are your favorite summer sewing projects? Tell us about it on the Sew Daily blog.  

Happy stitching!


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About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.