This is an easy tutorial and pattern for a small canvas tote bag. You can also use upholstery fabric as well. It's a request from a few readers who make items to sell at markets, but I think anyone who loves to sew bags will love this one too.
This small canvas tote bag is the perfect companion for the coming warmer weather and the right accessory to keep up with the current trend which is for small bags, crossbody wallets, and small backpacks. I made this bag so it would be small to carry with the option of having it cross over the body. There's enough room for a pair of sunglasses, phone, keys, money, and a few business cards. You can make it with very little fabric, so it becomes the perfect project to use your fabric scraps.
This small canvas tote bag is also the beginning of my exploration into alternative materials for bags. Fabric is great to make bags with, but I am faced with a huge dilemma. Where I live, the interfacing I need the most costs $35 a yard (on sale too). So where do I put the money? In interfacing or into fabric? I'd rather explore the possibilities of heavier fabrics so I can avoid using quilting fabric. Canvas is widely used in bags, so there is no exploring to do, and the pattern works well as you can see on the bag below. So feel free to explore this pattern with a different type of materials such as canvas, upholstery fabric, cork fabric, neoprene (wetsuit fabric), vinyl, or leather.
I had a hard time finding springtime colors for the small tote bag, so I decided to go with upholstery fabric. The print is woven, so it makes a great candidate for a bag without fusible or sewable interfacing.
I am going to make this small canvas tote bag with the option of a crossbody bag. However, I will make a separate tutorial for it. I am going to show you the way to transform any bag into a crossbody bag.
- 1/2 yard of canvas, upholstery fabric, duck cotton, linen duck, cork fabric, neoprene, vinyl, or leather
- If your machine can take thick fabric, it's possible to self line this bag, if not use calico or quilting fabric with light interfacing.
- Thread to match
- 24″ cotton tape 1/2″ wide, nylon ribbon or decorative tape
- 30″ cotton tape, cotton twill tape or light webbing 1 1/2″ wide
- circular or square bag handles or of course you can use 12″ bag handles
- tailor's chalk or erasable ink pen
- zipper foot
- walking foot (optional)
- jeans needle or leather needle
Full Video Tutorial
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Print the pattern in landscape mode, using the latest version of Adobe Reader. Piece the pattern together and trace it on the fabric. I'm not using quilting fabric, but if you are you will find you need some interfacing to make the small tote bag retain the shape. The main body consists of only two pieces. While the internal part consists of the lining and one pocket that is optional. The finished measurements are 13″ at the widest part, 8″ at the bottom and 7″ in height.
How to sew the small canvas tote bag:
The seam allowance is 3/8″ through the whole project. The lining is one inch shorter than the outside of the bag make it easier to assemble. Sew both lining and outside of the bag in the same way. I have added a strap piece in the pattern for you to have the option of making fabric handles. I think this bag will look good with padded fabric handles.
Step One: Sewing the outside and the lining of the small canvas bag or the upholstery fabric tote bag
We will start to sew the front and back pieces right sides together sewing at 3/8″.
Mark the middle of the gusset by folding the piece in half. Print side down, place the gusset in the middle of the center piece. Align and pin to the stitching you did previously which makes the middle of the small canvas tote bag.
Pin the gusset around the edges of the center piece and sew. You will have to stretch the gusset slightly when sewing the rounded corners.
Attach the other gusset, sew as above and put aside.
Step Two: Making the inner pocket and lining
We will be sewing the pocket to the lining piece. Remember that I am self lining this project so using the same fabric both for the lining and outside.Take the pocket piece and draw 1/2″ (1.3 cm) around the edge using tailor chalk or erasable ink pen. Using this line fold the edge in towards the wrong side and sew 1/4″ (.7cm). Place this pockets on top of the centerpiece of the lining and sew the pocket down at 1/8″.
Sew the sides of the lining the same way as you did for the outside of the bag in Step One.
Step Three: Adding the straps or handles
I am using round acrylic handles that I made a long time ago while learning jewelry design. I have put the link in the Materials where you can get both square and round handles similar to this. Both have a similar way of application. The trend is metal so keep an eye for alternative metal handles you can recycle from old purses or buy on your own. (If you are interested, I can make a tutorial on how to make the acrylic handles but I need to work out a supplier for you guys. As far as I know the mold is the issue here. Please let me know in the comments below.)
Cut the 1/2″ nylon ribbon or cotton tape 5″ in length. Fold this 5″ in half and wrap around the handle. Pin the tab to the edge of the bag. Make sure both the tab and handle are hanging down and are in the middle of the bag. Repeat the same procedure for the other handle. Top stitch the tab down so it won't move in the next step.Pin the 1.5″ cotton tape around the edge of the bag. You will have a sandwich on the outside of the bag, the handles, and tabs and on top of all that the cotton tape. Sew at 3/8″. Fold the seam allowance to the tape away from the bag and top stitch at 1/8″.
Step Four: Finishing the tote bag
Place the lining right side in inside the bag and align all the seams. Tuck the lining under the cotton tape and fold the tape in. Top stitch again at 1/8″ making sure the tape is not seen from the outside of the bag. At this point, you might have to attach your walking foot for your machine to negotiate the thickness of this bag. But if your machine can take it, sew the tape down catching the lining and making sure this stitching line is straight because it will show.
Finally, I have made two tassels and attached them to the end of a 7″ of 1/2″ tape or deco ribbon. Use the same tape or ribbon you used to attach the handles.
Before you attach the tassel pass it through one of the tabs holding the handle then attached the other tassel.If you need a tutorial on how to make your own tassels here are three easy methods.
As you can see, this is a very easy to make small canvas tote bag even when using the upholstery fabric option. This little number is as practical as it is useful. It truly makes a great gift for a wonderful teacher, mother, sister, granddaughter or any woman you know and need to thank.
Join me next week will have more pattern transformations and a quick video on how to put this bag together.
Until next time, keep your fabric scissors safe!