Practical Patchwork Tote tutorial

This month I entered a Solids Only Tote Challenge.  The idea was to make a tote using either patchwork, applique or  reverse applique or any combination of those.

I chose to make a tote that really represents me and what I do!
I love recycling and using what I have on hand to sew with - and so decided to use my very large bag of scraps - perfect for a patchwork project!
I also appliqued some words onto the tote - not just to demonstrate that skill for the challenge - but to represent my philosophy of sewing and indeed life!

Here's the bag:

 Fully lined - also with patchwork - and a couple of pockets added:

So here's how to make one - if you have your own bag of scraps that you'd like to turn into something practical and useful!
No amazing sewing skills are involved! If you have a sewing machine and are willing to have a go - then you can do this!
I used lots of different types of fabric in this bag - some stretchy, some silky and some plain.  This means that when you patch the pieces together it may not look flat or straight!  But the aim is to make a practical bag - with character!!! So don't worry about this!  Anything goes!

First get your scraps - choose which ones you want to use (I'm not great with colour co-ordination so just picked out all the solid colours !) and iron them flat.

Then cut them into rectangles, squares, strips or triangles - whatever you can out of the shape of your scraps!

If you do have long strips - then use those for the straps/handles - but if not - don't worry, you can always piece bits together for those too!

The next step is to start sewing.
I just picked the fabric up piece by piece and stitched them right sides together along edges that were approximately the same size.  You can stitch triangles together to make squares, and just trim off any edges that stick out!

Stitch pieces together to form several larger blocks:

Then rearrange these to form 2 large rectangles for the inside and outside of your tote bag. You can make these whatever size you choose depending on what size bag you want - or how many scraps you have!
Mine were approx 35 x 57 cm (14 x 22.5")

Now sew the blocks together to secure those larger rectangles.
Don't worry about the edges being straight - or both rectangles being the same size - by nature of the random patches you cut - they probably will be different!

Now trim the edges of each rectangle to make them even and the same sizes:

Then turn the rectangles over and press to flatten the seams.

Now to the straps.
I was lucky enough to have long strips in my scrap bag - so I cut 4 strips approx 58 x 6cm (23 x 2.5")
If you don't have long strips - you can sew together smaller pieces until you have the required length!

Then take 2 strips and sew them right sides together down both long edges:

Trim the edges,

Then using a large safety pin or nappy pin - turn this tube right sides out:

Then press and top stitch down both sides.

Repeat this with your other two long strips to make your second handle.

If you want to have pockets inside your tote - cut 2 scraps (for 2 pockets) into rectangles of the size you'd like your pockets.
To prevent fraying - double turn all four edges and stitch:

Then pin the pockets onto the large patchwork rectangle you have made that you'd like to be the inside of your bag:

Then stitch around 3 edges of each pocket - remember the pocket openings will be at the top and bottom of the large rectangle.

I stitch a small triangle at the top corners of each pocket for added strength.

Now if you want to add some applique to the front of your bag here's how.

You need some fusible webbing - here in Australia I use a brand called Vliesoflix, and I know in the UK there is Bondaweb.  Basically you iron this onto the back of the fabric you want to use for the applique - then cut the shape you want, peel off the backing paper and iron onto the fabric where you want it! 

Whenever I use this - I keep the scraps (yes, I do keep everything!)
So I looked in my scrap bag - for some plain white pieces of fabric which already had the fusible webbing ironed onto one side:

Once your fusible webbing is ironed onto the back of your fabric, then on the front (right side) draw the shape you want to have.  In my case it was the lettering "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE".

Cut out the letters or shapes you have drawn - and peel off the backing paper before placing onto the front rectangle of your bag and ironing into place using a damp cloth
 (follow the manufacturers instructions for this).

Then either use a tight zig-zag stitch, or the applique setting on your machine - and stitch around the edges of your applique pieces:

Now it's time to put your bag together.

Take your lining rectangle and fold in half right sides together like this:

Then stitch down both sides.
Repeat with your outer rectangle.
Then turn the outer rectangle right sides out - and pin the straps to the top opening - evenly spaced:

Make sure you match them up on the front and back of the bag:

Then stitch the handles into place.

Now push the lining of your bag into the outer part:

Then fold the top edges in on each other to hide the messy raw edges - and pin together:

Then top stitch around the top of the bag: I did two rows of stitching for extra strength:

You're done!!

If you would like the PDF version of this tutorial - click here!

If you enjoyed this tutorial - I have over 100 more available here on my blog - on My Tutorials page.

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  1. Well explained, Jill. Your scrap bag must be enormous. I'm impressed that you even keep the offcuts from appliqué work.

  2. So cute - I esp. love the patchwork lining, it adds so much!

  3. You always come up with clever ways to use up your scraps Jill. It looks great and I bet has come in handy, one can never have too many bags;) x

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your tutorial! I've just shared it with all my readers on my directory at


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