Quilted tote bag tutorial

Wherever you go this summer, chances are you’ll need this quilted tote bag to carry things for happy travels. Please note that the “how-to” for some of these techniques in the quilted tote bag tutorial have been shown on the two previous days.

These instructions are a compilation of all the best bag tips that I’ve accumulated over the years. If you have a better way to make the same element – go for it!

Should you wish to change the size or the piecing style of the outer part of the bag – then do it! Get creative with the outside of the bag. Use my concept and create your own tote bag. And I want pictures!!!!!

Carefree beach tote


  • 0.5 meter for outer bag
  • 0.5 meter for lining and pockets
  • 0.5 meter for handles, bag trim and bag bottom insert
  • 1 meter of fusible fleece
  • 1 meter of heavy fusible interfacing such as Craft Fuse or Decor Bond. The widths of these products vary from 20″ to 45″ so you may want to purchase a bit more if the width is only 20″.

Tote bag supplies

Here are some other supplies that I used to make the bag. You may or may not wish to use these. I’ll explain each in detail when I get to the point where I used them.

  • netting and cord (for embellishment)
  • fusible web
  • Velcro (or magnetic snap closure)
  • thread to match (for topstitching and quilting)
  • tote accessories such as bag feet, magnetic snap closure, and swivel ring

Extra supplies to make the tote bag: netting, fusible web, velcro, cording, thread to match (for topstitching and quilting), bag accessories such as bag feet, magnetic snap closure, and swivel ring.

Cutting instructions

From the outer fabric:

  • cut two pieces that measure 13 1/2″ (height) x 21″ (width)

From the lining fabric:

  • cut two pieces that measure 13 1/2″ x 21″  (for the lining)
  • cut two pieces that measure 9″ x 21″  (I made TWO pockets)

From the trim fabric:

  • cut four pieces that measure 3 1/2″ x 21″ (trim at the top of the bag – two for the outer and two for the lining)
  • cut one piece that’s 5 1/2″ x the width of fabric (the handles)

Fusible Fleece

  • cut two pieces that measure 17″ x 21″  (if your product is only 20″ wide – then cut 17″ x 20″)
  • Cut one piece that is 5″ x the width of your handle fabric (yes it’s 1/2″ narrower than the handle fabric)

Heavy weight interfacing

  • cut two pieces that measure 17″ x 21″ for the lining (if your product is only 20″ wide – then cut 17″ x 20″)
  • cut two pieces that measure 8 1/2″ x 10″ for the pockets

Prepping the outer bag and lining pieces

Stitch one piece of trim to the top of each of the two outer bag pieces and each of the two lining pieces.

Trim is sewn to the top of the two outer bag pieces and the two lining pieces

Fuse the fusible fleece to the wrong side of the outer pieces of the bag. You must use a hot iron, steam helps. Depending on the fusible fleece, this step can take a bit of time.

Fuse the heavy weight interfacing to the wrong side of the lining pieces of the bag. Again – a hot iron, often with steam helps.

Make sure the edges are well fused on all sides. Give it a good press from both sides.

Fusible fleece is fused to wrong side of bag front and back. Fusible interfacing is fused to wrong side of bag lining

The fusible fleece and fusible interfacing will likely be hanging over the edges as it can stretch during the fusing process. I like to trim my outer bag and lining pieces so that all four pieces are identical in size. It doesn’t matter what the final size is but you should be in the neighborhood of 16 1/2 x 21″. If you need to trim everything down to 16″ x 20″ or 15 1/2″ x 19″ – it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that all four pieces are the same size.

If you have put trim on your bag – make sure when you trim that the seam is in the same position on both the front and the back of the outer pieces so they will match up when sewn together.

Outer bag and lining pieces need to be trimmed

Normally I would use a larger square ruler to trim, but I don’t have all my rulers with me so I made due with this one.

Trim all four bag pieces to the same size (I did them one at a time)

I like to add some quilting details to the bag cover to give it texture.  Check out yesterday’s post for some tips on quilting the bag cover to the fusible fleece.

Making the pockets

Feel free to change the size of the pockets, make one pocket, or omit the pockets altogether. Fuse the heavy interfacing to one half of the pocket fabric. I made two pockets for my tote.

Fuse the heavy interfacing to one half of the pocket fabric.

Fold the pocket in half right sides together and stitch around three sides. Leave an opening in the bottom of the pocket so you can turn it. Alternatively, you could use two separate pieces of fabric to make the pocket.

Pocket stitched together with an opening in the bottom to turn it inside out

Opening in bottom to turn the pocket inside out

Trim the corners of the seam allowance away to reduce bulk when the pocket is turned inside out

Trim the corner of the seam allowance on the pocket before turning

I like to use a point turner to get a nice sharp point at the corners.

Point trimmer

The pocket is turned right side out and pressed well. See how crisp those corners are once the extra seam allowance is trimmed away and the corners are carefully poked out.

Now it’s time to close the opening. This can be hand-stitched, but that takes time. You could leave it since you’re going to top stitch the pocket to the bag lining, but I like to fuse that opening shut.

Pocket pressed and ready for the opening to be fused shut

Normally I use fusible web that comes in 1/4″ wide format, but not having any with me, I cut a 1/4″ strip off a roll of fusible web and used that. I cut it to the length needed and it worked like a charm.

1/4″ wide strip of fusible web used to fuse the opening closed on the pocket

Now it’s time to install a pocket closure. There are a couple of options. First, you don’t have to put anything on the pockets to close them up, you can use a magnetic snap or you can use Velcro.

I decided to go with Velcro. I like having a pocket closure on a wide pocket otherwise the pocket has a tendency to gape and I don’t want that to happen.

If you do use a magnetic snap, follow the instructions on the package.  I like to cover the metal bits on the inside with a small scrap of fusible interfacing to help prevent wear and tear on the actual bag fabric.

If you use the magnetic snap, use small scraps of fusible interfacing to cover the metal bits on the inside

I cut the Velcro about 1″ long and rounded the corners so they don’t snag.

Round the corners of the velcro as those edges are sharp

Sew the Velcro to the pocket and then line up and sew the Velcro to the lining. Make sure you position the pocket at least 3″ from the bottom and 3″ in from the two sides.

Velcro sewn to the pocket AND the lining. Note – the pocket is NOT stitched to the lining at this point

Place the pocket on the lining so the closures are lined up. Topstitch around the outer edge of the pocket.  Check out this link to see how I reinforce the top of the pocket so it doesn’t easily rip from the lining with use.

Making the key fob

In addition to adding pockets, I’m going to add a swivel ring so I can attach my keys to prevent them from getting buried in the bottom of the bag. I started with a 2″ x 9″ scrap piece of the trim fabric and the swivel ring.

Start with a swivel ring and a 2″ x 9″ piece of fabric

You may also want to place a piece of fusible interfacing inside for added strength

Add a piece of fusible interfacing for added strength

Fold one edge of the fabric strip over the interfacing.

Fold up one edge of the fabric strip over the interfacing

Fold down a hem on the opposite edge of the strip.

Fold down a hem on the opposite edge of the strip

Fold that edge over the interfacing. The edges don’t meet which is my preference, giving me a nice single fold on both sides of the strip. I like symmetry on those outer edges!

Fold that edge over the interfacing. The fold will be on the wrong side of the key fob

Insert the fabric strip through the loop on the end of the swivel hook, match the short ends and top stitch. I didn’t bother stitching that fold in place as it was going to be encased inside the top stitching. No danger of it coming apart so make sure that open seam is on the inside!

Then insert about 1″ of the key fob into a corner of the pocket. Stitch in place – I stitched a square to secure the key fob in place.

Insert the key fob into the pocket and stitch in place

Bring the key fob back down so it is now resting ON TOP of the pocket. I top stitched the edge to keep it in that position.

Top stitch the key fob to keep it in place

Bag accessories – bag bottom feet, magnetic snaps and swivel ring

If you’re going to put a closure on the bag, now is the time to do it. You can use a magnetic snap or Velcro. Since I am using the metal swivel ring, I didn’t want to add too much weight to the tote by using a magnetic snap, so I chose Velcro instead.

Match up the pieces of Velcro and sew one to each side (on the right side) of the lining.

Attach the bag closure – I have used velcro

Making the handles

Fuse the long piece of fusible fleece (or heavy interfacing if you like a stiffer handle) to the wrong side of the handle fabric. Leave 1/2″ along one side.

If you prefer longer handles – then you will have to do this twice.

Fusible fleece fused to the wrong side of the handle strip

Fold up the long edge of the handle that’s not covered by fusible fleece and press.

Fold up the long edge that is not covered by fusible fleece

Then fold the other long edge of the handle in towards the middle. Essentially, I like to fold the handle in thirds. I like to leave the exposed folded edge NOT lined up with one of the edges of the handle – I keep it just slightly inside.

Fold about 1/3 of the top edge of the handle towards the bottom edge of the handle

Bring the other edge in so you now have three layers of fabric. You can see in the picture below that the edge with the fold is just about, but not on the outside of the handle. Secure with binding clips or wonder clips and top stitch.  Make sure whatever top stitching you do secures that folded edge.

For more information on topstitching or quilting the handles, check out this post.

Handle is ready to be top stitched

Once the top stitching was complete, I trimmed off the selvedges from both ends and cut the long handle strip into two equal pieces that measured about 21 inches each.  This is the perfect length for myself, but you should try and find a bag with handles that you like and use that measurement. Be mindful of the HEIGHT of the bag. You don’t want your bag to be dragging on the ground if the handles are too long.

Final bag assembly

Mark a 2 1/2″ square using a pen and a ruler on the bottom two corners of each piece of lining and outer bag. Using SCISSORS – cut out the corners.

Cut out corner notch on the bottom of all four bag pieces

If you’re going to insert bag bottom feet, now is the time. The space between the two corner notches on the outer bag is the bottom of the bag. The feet will get positioned on that section. Remember to put a piece of fusible interfacing over the metal tabs inside the bag to help prevent wear and tear. Given the carefree nature of my bag – I chose not to use these feet.

Metal feet to protect the bag bottom

Space the handles evenly on the right side of the outer bag. I believe my handles were 6″ in from either side of the bag. I secured with TWO pins to keep the handles straight. Baste across the top edge.

Notice that I also have the ends of my handles extended about 1/2″ beyond the top of the bag. This gives the handles a bit more support once the handles are flipped up. They don’t flop quite as much as if only 1/4″ was inside the seam.

Attach handles to the bag

Stitch one lining to one outer bag piece taking care to keep the handles straight as you stitch over them. Line up the outer edges to make sure they are straight. Stitch and press to the lining.

Attach one lining to one outer bag along the top edge

The handles are sticking out in the seam

Lay the two pieces on top of each other with the two linings on top of each and the two outer bag pieces on top of each other.

Stitch along the two long sides (matching seams), across the bottom of the outer bag part and the lining.

NOTE: DO NOT stitch in the corner notches and LEAVE an opening in the bag lining so you can turn the bag inside out.

The handles are sticking out in the seam

Leave an opening in the lining so you can turn the bag inside out

In one of the notched corners, bring the two seams together and stitch across the opening to make the corner. Repeat on all four corners.

Matching up the seams, stitch the corners shut

Turn the bag inside out – this can be tricky especially if you have used a heavy interfacing

Beautiful bag bottom corner

Stitch the opening closed in the lining or use the fusible web. Stuff the lining inside the bag. Top stitch the edge of the bag.

Making the bag bottom insert

I like to put a bottom insert in my tote bags. It gives the bottom a firm appearance and looks more professional and less homemade.

I used corrugated plastic. You can buy corrugated plastic or you can be resourceful and find it in various places. I ran into the local real estate office here and got a scrap that I cut using an Exacto knife. Trim the corners round, tape the edges as the plastic is sharp and make a sleeve to insert the bag bottom into.

Bag bottom insert

Without the bag bottom insert – notice the sagging

With the bag bottom insert – no more sagging

For my embellishment, I used a small square of tulle to make a bag into which I inserted some sea shells that I picked up on the beach. I sewed a length of cord to each of the two bags and tied it to the handles. Inexpensive embellishment – good memories!

With the bag bottom insert – no more sagging

The carefree beach tote bag

Whatever you’re going to do this summer, and wherever you’re going to roam, nothing beats a great tote bag! I hope you enjoyed this quilted tote bag tutorial!

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Amber Lyons May 4, 2016 - 11:44 am
Thank you for this. I make tote bags too and I, personally don't like for the lining to be loose. My problem has been that I don't care for the seems to show either. This tutorial has been a life changer for me. Thanks again.
Carla A. Canonico May 5, 2016 - 1:35 pm
So glad to be of service! Thank you for visiting QUILTsocial.com!
Jennifer April 5, 2016 - 6:10 pm
What a great tutorial and such an adorable beach tote!
Carolyn June 20, 2015 - 8:36 am
What a wonderful bag. Thank you for all the pictures showing each step. That will really help people in making the bag. The fabrics are great as well as seeing the pictures of the beach.
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