Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Reusable Children's Tote Style Gift Bags


These simple sew tote bags are an easy way to make your own reusable gift bags.  Drawstring bags are a reusable gifting favourite, but totes are a little more child-friendly and are very versatile for reuse.  These bags were made for packing up Christmas presents, but I didn't want to use Christmassy fabrics and limit their use to the holiday, opting instead to go with some of the kiddies favourite colours.  I've seen some gorgeous holiday fabrics this year in the shops that look wonderfully festive but aren't specifically Christmas-themed, but most of these were more mature than I had in mind for my fun little gift totes. I would usually recommend using a very sturdy fabric for a tote bag; however, if you are making children's bags, like mine, you can get away with using lighter weight which opens up a whole rage of fun pattern and colour options. They also require a little less sewing as smaller bags for lighter loads. If you'd like to make a more rugged adult tote bag, check out our DIY grocery tote or our heavy duty shopping tote for ideas and instructions.

To make your own tote, you will need washable fabric, coordinating thread, scissors (a cutter is also handy but not required), an iron and ironing board, and basic sewing equipment.  The steps/photos shown are for a fully lined bag. To make an unlined bag, you can adapt from the same basic process, but will need to finish your exposed seams. 


  • Cut fabric(s) to size. For a lined bag made from four panels (suitable for directional pattern) you will need:
    • Four identical squares/rectangles (two for the outside, two for the inner/lining) at the desired bag size + seam allowances and extra for the top fold.  Tip: If you have a strong  pattern, like the geometric designs in my bag, you may wish to make sure that your pieces are cut and positions such that the patterns align at the side seams for an attractive finish.
    • Two long narrow rectangular strips for the handles (double the desired width thick + seam allowances) at the desired length plus extra to attach. 
Preparing the layers of the bag:
  • Starting with one layer (inside/liner or outside) bag: Place the two panels right-side-in.  If your fabric is directional, ensure that both are right-side-up to the same side, which will be your top edge. Sew the sides and bottom edges together at the seam allowance. Do not sew the top. Recommended: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength. Repeat for the other bag layer layer.
  • Double check to ensure equal size. Iron flat if needed and trim any loose threads.
Boxing the bottom corners to add shape to the bag:
  • Box all of the bottom corners to give the bag added shape.  To box a corner, measure an equal distance in both directions from where the side seam meets the bottom seam and draw a square. Repeat on both sides. Pull the corner into a point, seams flat (ironing recommended) so that the lines from your back/front square meet on the diagonal across the corner.  Sew along the diagonal line, taking care to ensure seams are held flat.  Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam and corner for added strength.  Trim excess.
  • Optional: You can carefully align and sew the completed box corner seams together, if you wish, which keeps things in position during use/washing etc.
Adding handles and assembling the bag:

  • Fold each handle strip along the mid-line into half and iron to crease. Fold a seam allowance along the edge of each handle strip, and iron to crease. The handles shown are basic double layer - you can also go full quadruple or add interfacing. Sew a narrow seam along the open edge, ensuring that you capture the folded edge underneath.  Repeat at the same distance from the fold on the closed edge.
  • Fold an even extra wide seam allowance along the top of each bag and iron to crease.
  • Inverse the outer bags to right-side-out. Place the inner bag/liner wrong-side-out inside the outer, and double check that everything is equal and snug. Ensure side seams are aligned and the folded top edges are flush.   
  • Pin the handles into position between the bag layers, extending just below your foldede over seam allowance.  Tip: Before sewing and attaching handles, safety pin the bag and temporary handles together and check for comfort, etc.  If the width right?  The length?  The spacing? Adjust now and save angst later. 
  • Sew the bag layers together along the top edge.  Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength.  Tip: If your inner and outer have different dominant colour schemes, you may have to compromise on visible stitching. You can experiment with the thread/bobbin trick (different coloured threads on each) or stitch carefully to make it work for you as an accent.
  • Optional: Sew small additional line of stitching through each handle at the lower end of the foldover.  
  • Optional: Add an iron-on embellishment or initial to the finished bag.

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