Tote Bag Tutorial

So today I finally made myself something. I know, shocking! Actually, I got tired of toting my knitting around in a plastic shopping bag and decided I deserved something a little spiffier. And you can't get spiffier than Heather Bailey's Freshcut fabric. Her designs and colors are sooo addicting. I had some leftover pieces after making Lydia's dress and thought they would make a fun tote. Turns out I was right. The idea came from Better Homes & Gardens at this link . I made a few changes, but the idea was definately theirs and I'm in no way claiming it as my own design. I used my serger quite a bit, but you can certainly finish this project with a regular sewing machine. This is my first tutorial so let me know if it works for you.
4 pieces of fabric cut as 15x18
4 pieces of fabrice 2x18
sewing machine

First, select and cut your fabric pieces. Keep in mind that 2 of the 15x18 pieces will be your exterior and 2 of them will serve as the lining. I chose to mix and match different fabrics for two reasons. One, I didn't have enough of any one fabric to make the entire project and two, it's just more fun!

Second, I used my serger to finish the top edge. I chose to rotate the bag and make it wider rather than longer but either will work. Place 2 of your 15x18 pieces with right sides together and pin in place. Repeat with other two pieces.

Third, stitch both sides and the bottom using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. I serged mine and then reinforced the serging with straight stitching. You can certainly get the job done without serging. Just be sure to press open your seam allowances before moving on to the next step. Repeat this process for the other two 15x18 pieces. You should now have 2 pieces that remind me of pillowcases.
Fourth, turn down the top edege 1/2 inch and press. If you don't own that little ruler, otherwise known as a hem gauge, get one. I use mine constantly and think it's almost as important as straight pins and thread. Incredibly, I've had that one since high school. I can't believe I haven't lost it! Once you are done pressing, turn your exterior fabric right side out and press the entire piece flat. Then, leaving your lining or interior fabric just as it is, tuck it inside the exterior bag. The wrong sides of the fabric for both the interior and exterior pieces should be touching. See the next photo for how it should look. Now would be a good time to line up your side seams and pin them together.
Fifth, it's time to make your straps. Pin 2 of your 2x18 pieces with right sides together. Sew along the both long edges, again using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. DO NOT sew the short ends shut. Leave the edges raw. Repeat this process for the other 2 strap pieces. Then using a safety pin, a dowel rod, a pencil, or my new favorite toy a tube turner, turn the straps right side out. Press them flat as seen in the picture. Then topstich along the long edges about 1/8 inch from the edge.

Sixth, measure about 3 inches from the side seams and pin your strap down. Notice the topstiching along the edges of the strap and how the raw edges of the strap are lined up with the pressed under top edge. The idea is that when you sew the lining and exterior pieces together the strap will be securely caught within the seam.

Once you have pinned all four strap ends into their places then begin pinning the lining and exterior edges together. Carefully work your way around the bag so that when you sew the edges down there will be no displacement.

Next, stitch the top edges together about 1/8 inch down. I started at the side seam and worked my way around. Notice how the edge of the fabric is lined up with the inside of the presser foot? That's about an 1/8 and it's a handy little guide. Be careful to keep the straps in place as you sew. Finally, move down 1/4 inch below the first stitching line and stitch again all the way around.

That's it, you're done!
Now you have your very own tote bag! Perfect for knitting, or libray books, magazines, or whatever strikes your fancy.