Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Draft Your Own Tote Bag Pattern, a Tutorial

You may or may not know that I am currently enrolled in a Handbag Design course at Mass Art. It's a Summer class so it's twice a week, condensed and sort of a pain in the butt... It's a Summer class so undergrads are permitted to mix with us continuing ed peeps, and I have to say that between the ages of 20 and 30, you certainly do a lot of maturing. I mean it. When our very "matter of fact" instructor is giving you instructions, he means for you to listen, so he doesn't have to repeat himself 4 different times, but unfortunately that isn't how this class is trending... oh and also, one of them wore a bikini to class the other day, ugh, but I digress (thanks for letting me vent!)... all that being said, I am learning a lot and enjoying it for the most part. On our 3rd class, we finished our first bag, the classic tote handbag... since it was so simple to draft the patter and to actually make it, I thought I would whip up a tutorial. Be advised that this post is a lengthy one so don't get overwhelmed. Just stick with it and you'll have a new tote pattern in no time!

What you need to draft the pattern? A piece of poster board (the larger the size, the larger the tote you can make), a long ruler, a cutting blade and a pencil

This pattern is a lot of measuring but once you get the hang of it, you can make all sorts of patterns and do changes to create different designs.... but let's stick with the basics first. Do you want a big bag? A medium sized bag? A super small tote? It all starts with the initial measurments that you want to use. For this tutorial, I am going to make a 14 inch across, 14 inch depth, 4 inch gusset (width of the bag) and a 4 inch bottom. This make what I would consider a medium sized tote bag.

Step 1. Fold your poster board in half or measure where the center is. Your center line can be drawn in or scored (cutting with your small blade lightly- do not cut all the way through). This center line is your starting point and your "checks/balances". 

Step 2. You remember that we said this bag would be 14 inches across. From the center, measure out 7 inches to each side of your center line (7 + 7 =14, get it?) in 2 different places. This is so you can draw one long line through these markings so you you know where your 7 inch measurements are no matter where along the pattern you are. Use your pencil to draw your 7 inch lines vertically.

Step 3. Now we are going to draw our two lines for the bag bottom. Since our bag bottom will be 4 inches (like we had decided above), we divide that by 2 for our pattern piece. Then we are going to add 1/2 inch to that amount for our first line (this is for our seam allowance)... I told you there was going to be a lot of math ;-) This means that our first line is 2 1/2 inches from the bottom of our pattern piece. Our second line is for the seam allowance, 1/2 inch from the bottom of the pattern. Note: Your seam allowance can be any amount that you want but it must be consistent throughout the pattern.

Step 4. Now we are going to draft the side of our tote bag. We discussed the gusset (expanding the side of the bag) being 4 inches wide, so for the purpose of our pattern, we are dividing that by two. Measure 2 inches from our 7 inch line. Once you have the line drawn for our gusset, we must add our seam allowance. Remember, for consistency, our seam allowance is a half an inch.

Step 5. Our next lines are for the top of our bag. We'd decided to have a 14 inch deep tote bag. From our Bag Bottom line (this line is 2 1/2 inches from the bottom of our pattern) measure 14 inches up. This allots for the bag bottom measurements and our desire bag depth. From this new Bag Top line, add 1/2 inch seam allowance line... are we detecting a theme here?

Step 6. Now is a little bit of a tricky step. We are going to add seam allowances to the bottom corners of the bag, in the gusset space, in order to make cuts that will help us attach the pattern pieces to create the tote bottom and the gusset itself. Just think of this as adding a seam allowance to a corner of a bag where there will actually be a seam (hence the allowance). Remember, keep it consistent: 1/2 inch in each location. Hooray! Now you are complete with the main bag pattern piece!

7. While we are finished with the main bag pattern, I use the same piece of poster board to create the pattern piece for the stabilizer that will go in the bottom of our bag between the outside piece and the lining... to stabilize our bottom ;-). We are using the ever useful center line that we already have. We want to measure our stabilizer pattern piece to be the same size as our bottom measurements so we can then trim 1/8 of an inch off the edges (to make it ever so slightly smaller, to fit into the bottom). Measurements for our stabilizer should be 4 inches down and 14 inches across (less 1/8 inch on both sides). Make sure to draw your lines using the ones already there, making it a super simple pattern piece to use.

8. Now we are going to trim off the paper we don't need to reveal our two pattern pieces!YAY! Remember that the fold/center line serves as the middle of our pattern piece. You should NOT cut down the center line because we do not want a seam there. If at a later time you do want a seam, you will have to add, you guessed it, a seam allowance.

Some markings you want to make on the pattern pieces themselves are notch marks (for matching your fabric cuts to one another) as well as some markings to use for your bag bottom feet, if you choose to use them. You want to make a little notch, pretty much wherever you've got lines crossing. Don't worry about there being too many; it's just more ways to match up your pattern pieces. I personally like to make a little V cut on the line, so it's even and easy. As for the markings on your stabilizer piece, simply mark 3/4 inch in from each corner... just make sure measurements are even.

Wondering about strap pattern pieces? Don't worry about it. I don't even worry about that, I just measure than out when I'm making the bag. 24 inches long and about 2 1/2 inches wide. Simple as that! This is a great basic pattern that can lead to all sorts of interesting takes on a tote bag. You can do design changes to this bag by simply drawing a new line and adding a seam allowance there (for when you sew the pattern pieces together). The possibilities are endless!

Be sure to check out my post on how to make this pattern into the tote bag coming up next week so get to drafting this pattern and we'll make it soon! I'd love to see what people come up with!


  1. Can't wait to see the results of yours!!

  2. Aww thanks! I was most excited because this is the first time I had ever put feet on a handbag haha, YAY!

  3. I seriously love this! I've always wanted to design bags and somehow I never thought to actually take a course... I'm saving this pattern and as soon as I get a sewing machine I am so in! I really can't wait to see yours.

  4. It's really easy! It's all straight stitching!

  5. How interesting I'd love to be able to do a course like this but since I don't have one thank you so much for the tutorial!

  6. Be sure to let me know if you draft a pattern! <3

  7. Is there a tutorial on how I sew this pattern?


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