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Tutorial: Take it to Work Tote Bag


A long time ago in my previous life, I did sewing and blogging as my only job. And I used to write patterns occasionally for Sewing World Magazine. This tote is one of them. Here’s the blurb I wrote for it:

This is, at heart, a simple tote bag made even more functional by special pockets for the items you carry around your busy life. The tote is big enough to accommodate your insulated lunch bag or bento box plus a planner, mini iPad or Kindle. Β The fussy cut slip pockets are large enough for documents or a notebook. There’s even a generous side pocket featuring an elasticated top to hold your no spill coffee mug. The front and back pockets feature ready made piping, giving the bag a professional look. The fusible foam interfacing keeps its shape so no slouchy sides to worry about. Finished size is around 12″ tall, 12″ wide and 6″ deep.

Just slightly cheesy, right? Anyway, if you’d like to make a work tote, here ya go! πŸ™‚


  • .5m Pocket fabric (Tula Pink Bunny fabric)
  • .5m Main fabric (blue)
  • .5m Main lining fabric (diamonds)
  • .5m secondary lining Ice Frappe Kona Cotton
  • 8” of 6mm or ¼” wide elastic
  • 1 package of ready made piping
  • matching thread


Here’s a link for a Google Doc with the Cutting List so you can print it and check things off as you cut!

Slow and Steady the Hare fabric:

  • 2x outer pockets, 10” x 13”
  • 1 elasticated pocket piece, 7” x 8.5”
  • 1 slip pocket, 7” x 7”
  • 1 bottom, 7” x 13”

Slow and Steady Tortoise Shell fabric:

  • 2x front and back, 13” x 13”
  • 2x sides, 7” x 13”

Slow and Steady Track Flags fabric:

  • 1x strap fabric, 6” x WOF
  • 2x front and back lining, 13” x 13”
  • 2x side lining, 7” x 13”

Ice Frappe Kona Cotton:

  • 2x outer pocket linings, 10” x 13”
  • 1 elasticated pocket lining, 7” x 8.5”
  • 1 side slip pocket lining, 7” x 7”
  • 1 bottom lining, 7” x 13”

Vilene 2VG700-10 Fusible Woven Interfacing:

  • 2x for front and back, 13” x 13”
  • 2x front and back pockets, 10” x 13”
  • 2x sides, 7” x 13”
  • 1 elasticated pocket, 7” x 8.5”
  • 1 slip pocket, 7” x 7”
  • 1 bottom, 7” x 13”
  • 1 strap, 3” x 42”

Vilene 2VH640 Fusible Fleece:

  • 2x front and back pockets, 9” x 12”
  • 2x sides, 6” x 12”
  • 1x bottom, 6” x 12”

Style-Vil foam interfacing:

  • 2x for front and back, 11 7/8” x 11 7/8”
  • 1x bottom, 5 β…žβ€β€ x 11 β…žβ€β€

Decovil (standard, not light), OR Pellon Peltex Ultra Firm Sew In Stabiliser OR Vilene Pelmet:

  • 1 bottom, 6” x 12”


1 On the WRONG side of your 13” x 13” blue fabric pieces, lay one of the 11 β…žβ€ foam fusible side down, centreing the flex foam on the blue fabric. Then place a 13” x 13” piece of woven interfacing on top, fusible side down (pointing toward the flex foam). Carefully press both sides to melt the glue but not melt the foam, then β€˜seal’ the sides of the woven interfacing all around the foam as shown in the picture. Repeat this with the other 13” x 13” blue piece. Β Β 

2 On the WRONG side of the bunny bottom piece, centre the flex foam with the fusible side down. Place the Ultra Firm stabiliser on top of the foam. Place the woven interfacing fusible side down on top of the little stack. Iron carefully to seal the layers together, then use the tip of your iron as before to β€˜seal’ the edges of the bottom, trapping both stabiliser layers in between. The picture shows the order of stabilisers and interfacing.

*Edited to add: Since making this bag I have decided I prefer to use Bondaweb on the foam pieces. My layering now goes in this order: fabric, fusible woven interfacing, bondaweb cut in the size of the foam, then foam fused to the bondaweb. I feel it stays better as the glue on foam never lasts through all my rough treatment. But it’s an extra step and optional. You could also quilt the front and back, like I did on my Bella bag.***

3 Fuse the side woven interfacing to the WRONG side of the blue side pieces. Then mark one mark 6” down the sides. Make another mark 1.5” in from each top corner. Draw a line between the two marks, then cut the triangle shaped edges off.The photo shows the marking on one edge and the angle of the cut on the other side edge.

4 Now mark both side fusible fleeces in the same way, 6” down and 1.5” in at the top. Centre the pieces on the side pieces and fuse the fusible fleece to the WRONG side of the side pieces.

5 Now repeat the marks and cuts on the two lining pieces, 6” down and 1.5” in from the top edge. Trim between the two marks as you did before.

6 Fuse the woven interfacing to the WRONG side of the bunny fabric. Then centre the 9” x 12” fusible fleece onto the WRONG side of the interfaced pocket pieces.

7 Pin or clip the ready made piping to the top (13”) edges of the two front pocket pieces. With the zipper foot, sew along the edge of the piping.

8 Place the Ice Frappe front pocket piece RST with the bunny piped pocket and stitch along the piping. This may be slightly less than .5” Seam Allowance which is fine. You may find that your first stitching line isn’t quite close enough to the piping. Mentally note how far out it is and simply stitch it again.

9 Press the seam open, then press front and back in place on either side of the piping. Once you are happy with how the front pocket and lining pieces are laying, lengthen your stitch length and topstitch along the piping.

10 Baste the pocket pieces to the blue front and back pieces with a ¼” Seam Allowance.

11 Make the (non-elasticated) side slip pocket by fusing the 6” x 6” woven interfacing to the back of the bunny fabric, then place it RST to the green solid and stitching along the top. Press the seam open then press the wrong sides together. Topstitch along the top edge of the slip pocket.

12 Make the elasticated slip pocket by fusing the woven interfacing to the back of the 6” x 8.5”. Place the pocket front Β RST with the green solid fabric and stitch along the top edge with a ¼” seam allowance. Press the seam open and press the pocket pieces WST. Stitch, using a ½” seam allowance, a channel for the ¼” elastic piece.

13 Pin one elastic end into the safety pin and use the safety pin to work the elastic through the channel. When you’ve gotten it through, stitch through the end of one side to lock the elastic into the seam allowance. Pull the elastic and pleat the top channel until the top edge measures 6” wide.

14 The easiest way to pleat the bottom of the elasticated pocket is to line up and pin the centre bottoms of the pocket and one of the blue exterior side pieces. Β Make 2 marks, 1.5” away from your centre mark. Then make a pleat using the marks to begin, pinching the pleat until the bottom edges of the pocket line up with the bottom edge of the blue pocket piece.

15 Stitch along the bottom edge with a basting stitch ¼” from the edge. Then baste the sides of the pocket, pulling the elastic top gently to line it up if necessary.

16 Baste the slip pocket to the other blue side piece using a ¼” seam allowance.

17 Line the top slanted edge of one side piece RST with the side of one of the front square pieces. Stitch using a ½” seam allowance, pivoting the side piece when you reach the angle in the side. Do not stitch the last ½” where the fusible fleece and foam end as this will make inserting the bottom easier.

18 Sew the second side piece to the other side of the front, again leaving the ½” at the bottom open. Sew slowly, checking both sides to make sure the edges are meeting up as you go. The many layers may try to shift. It may look a bit wobbly but once you get the back sewn in it will be perfect. Turn the tote RSO to check your lines of stitching.

19 Turn the tote WSO again and begin sewing the bottom into the tote. Mark the centres of each of the 4 sides at the bottom of the tote, and mark the centres in the bottom edges. Line up one long side of the bottom to one long side of the tote, matching the centres. The corners will all meet ½” in, so you will need to stitch from foam edge to foam edge, leaving the ½” on the outside edges unstitched.

20 Line up the other long side and stitch the same way as in step 19. Follow through with the two short sides. The corners may not all quite meet up, so check them and fill in any additional β€˜anchor’ stitches needed. This will also ensure your bag is strong enough to carry heavy items without coming undone. Press the seams and turn the tote exterior RSO.

21 Make the handles by fusing the 3” wide fusible interfacing to the middle of the 6” x WOF handle piece. Fold in half lengthways and press the crease. Unfold and fold the long edges in so they meet at the crease, and press. Then fold in half lengthways again and press that centre crease again. Pin in place.

22 Turn your stitch length up to around 3mm, and edgestitch both edges of the handle piece. Press the seam in place, then cut the sewn strip in half to create 2 bag handles. Mark the centre top of the front and back of the tote, then mark 2 lines 2.5” from the centre. Line one handle’s ends up at the marks and baste the handle ends in place. Repeat on the other side of the tote bag with the other handle.

23 Make the lining in the same way you made the exterior of the tote bag. Mark ½” in from the bottoms on the wrong sides of all the pieces. Sew the two side pieces to one of the square lining pieces with a ½” seam allowance, while leaving the bottom ½” of each piece unstitched for inserting the bottom.

24 Insert the bottom into the lining in the same way as you did the tote, EXCEPT leave an 8” gap in one of the long sides for turning the bag RSO. Mark the centre of the bottom body of the lining. Mark the centres of the bottom lining sides as well. In one long side, make 2 marks 4” away from the centre to leave as a gap. Pin the centre marks of the long sides together. Stitch the long sides first (avoiding the gap), then stitch the smaller sides. Press the long side with the gap open.

25 Mark the centres of all 4 sides of the exterior of both the tote bag top and the lining top. Slip the tote bag RSO into the lining WSO so the two are RST. Line up the centre marks then carefully line up the top edges all the way around, matching the seams. Pin or clip around the top edge.

26 Stitch all the way around the top, right along the edge of the foam fused to the exterior. Backstitch over the tote handles to securely attach them.

27 Pull the exterior through the gap in the bottom of the lining and press the seams at the top where the lining and tote meet to set the stitches.

28 Pin the gap in the bottom closed and stitch the edge to shut the gap.

29 Place the lining into the tote. Press all around the top, using steam if necessary to line the top up perfectly. Once you are happy with the way the lining and tote tops meet up, turn your stitch length up and topstitch all around the top. Some sewists prefer sewing from the inside of the bag, and some prefer to sew from the exterior. Either is fine.

You’re Finished! Well done!! πŸ™‚


Vilene 2VH640 Fusible Fleece, Vilene 2VG700-10 Woven Fusible Interfacing and Pellon FF78F1 fusible Flex-Foam/ Vilene Style Vil foam -Lady Sew and Sew,Β www.ladysewandsew.co.uk

Crystal Clear PVC Vinyl via eBay for super cheap!

Pellon 15 inch x 1 yd Peltex Ultra Firm Sew In Stabiliser via Amazon UK, www.amazon.co.ukΒ OR use Decovil 1 (Heavy or Standard),Β Lady Sew and Sew,Β www.ladysewandsew.co.uk

6mm or ¼” elastic: eBay is great for this!

Ready made piping – Sew Hot, www.sewhot.co.uk

Stockists can contact Groves wholesale for stocking Vilene fusible fleece, Vilene G700 woven fusible interfacing. Decovil and Style-Vil at groves@stockistenquries.co.uk or phone on 01453 883581

Lady Sew and Sew has a whole section dedicated to Bag Making interfacing and stabilisers

Six Penny Memories has some good deals on Half Metre fabric packs as well as bag making interfacing

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