Saturday, June 2, 2012

How To: Make a Paper Bag Style Canvas Tote

paperbag style canvas tote

School is out, and summer begun! Thriving Family Magazine just ran an article on encouraging children's efforts at business, and it reminded me of one of my many stabs at entrepreneurship. Did you ever have a business as a kid? What did you do? 

Three hundred dollars (or whatever it was) might as well have been a mint the year Karen and I set out to earn our way to summer camp selling personalized canvas totes and hair bows to charitable souls at craft fairs. The session of camp wasn't all we had hoped for, but making money was fun. I just wish I had already made this pattern when we did it! 

I am sharing my pattern hoping that an enterprising kid out there makes some serious bank with it. This is a great tote because most of the stitching is on the inside, so it will probably look pretty neat even with a mistake or two. Also, it sits flat on its own bottom for easy display.   

paperbag style canvas tote

paperbag-style canvas tote

Skills: Measuring, machine stitching a straight line, stitching on the very edge.  

Tip: If you want to check your sewing skills, try stitching on a sheet of lined paper. Practice sewing right on the line, keeping the line just to the outside edge of the presser foot, and keeping the line on and inside toe of the presser foot. 

  • 1 yd fabric: Good fabrics for a bag like this are canvas, upholstery/outdoor fabric, "bottom weight" (like you'd make pants from), cotton duck, or anything with some weight to it. You will be able to get 3 bags from each yard of 45” wide fabric.
  • matching thread
  • measuring tape
  • scissors
  • pins
  • an iron & ironing board
  • sewing machine
Usually the first thing a pattern tells you is to pre-wash the fabric, but I will leave that up to you. A canvas such as a drop-cloth will shrink a lot because it was never intended to be washed. Most sewing fabrics hardly shrink at all. Here's a secret: When they make your clothes in the factory they almost never wash the fabric first. Washing mainly removes the sizing that helps keep the fabric stiff and hold it's shape. Washing also adds steps because you have to iron. If you are making a lot of bags out of one fabric and are uncertain whether your fabric will shrink a lot, cut out a 10" square and wash it first to see what happens.

I like to tear the fabric to get straight lines. If you don’t want to, or the fabric doesn’t tear well, use scissors.
Remove the selvedges along the sides by nicking the fabric with your scissors about 1/2” inside the edge and tear. In the same way, tear two 3” strips off the bottom. Tear three 12”x30”, and another 3” strip out of whatever is left along the side.
Briefly iron all your pieces so the edges aren’t curling. 

canvas tote diagram a

Sew the sides: 
Fold fabric in half, 12" end to 12" end, right sides together. Pin and sew the longer sides together at 1/4" lining up the edge of the fabric with edge of your machine's presser foot. If you have a serger or an interlock stitch on your machine, this would be a great time to use it. Otherwise a straight stitch is fine.

canvas tote diagram b

Tip: For really neat seams every time, always make sure you have the thread ends pulled out from under the work so you don't get a "thread nest–" that messy tangle of thread under your sewing– when you begin your stitching. When you end, turn the flywheel until the needle is as high as it can go, to avoid the frustration of breaking threads and needles. 

Sew the handles:  
On both long sides of the handle piece stitch at 1/4" lining up the edge of the fabric with the side of your presser foot.

Fold the edges you stitched on the 1/4” stitching line toward the inside and press using the stitches as your guide. 

Fold and press the long rectangle in half with the insides together and the edges matching perfectly so you have a long skinny strip.

Stitch both edges together at 1/8".

Cut the long strip in half so you have two 15” handles.

canvas tote diagram c

Use the iron to mark your sewing lines:
Press the side seams open. If they are interlocked, press the seam allowance to one side.

Fold and press 1/2" down at the mouth of the bag toward the inside.

Tip: Sometimes I just quickly stitch at 1/2” so I don’t have to measure, just fold on the stitching line when I iron.

Fold and press another 1 1/2" down at the mouth of the bag toward the inside. The raw edge should be tucked under the new 1 1/2” band. 

canvas tote diagram d

Place the handles: 
At the bag opening find the center of each side and mark with a pin. Measure 2” to each side of the centers and mark with another pin. These new pins are marking the inside edge of where the handle will be. 

Is the measurement from the side-seams the same on each side? It is good to double-check your measurement. On mine the measurement is 3 5/8” from the side seams.

canvas tote diagram e

Next is the tricky part, but only because it is hard to describe. The illustrations should help.

With the bag inside out, slip 1/2” of the handle into the ironed edge of the bag at the marking pin so the raw edge of the handle matches the raw edge of the bag and pin it there, just to the folded edge of the bag, not to the body of the bag. Do the same with the other side of the handle. Make sure that the seam of the handle is toward the side seams of the bag on both sides. You should now be looking at the handle sandwiched into the folded edge of the bag and hanging upside down into the bag. Repeat with the second handle and second side.

canvas tote diagram f

Stitch the handle to the folded edge of the bag at 1/4”or 1/8”, whichever you are most comfortable with. Remember you aren’t sewing it to the body of the bag yet.
Fold and pin the handle at right angles from the edge straight up out of the bag and over the line of stitching you just made. Once again you are just sewing it to the edge, and no stitching will show on the outside. 

canvas tote diagram g

Stitch in a U-shape at 1/8” on the handle from the folded edge to 1/8” from the 1 1/2” crease, across the handle beside the crease, and back down toward the folded edge once more. 

canvas tote diagram h

Stitch the folded edge to the body of the bag either 1/8” or 1/4” from the fold, whichever you can do most neatly. 

Flatten the bottom:
With the bag right side out, measure up 4” from the bottom corners along the side seams. Fold the corners up to the 4” mark and pin.

canvas tote diagram i

Using a narrow satin stitch, (the stitch width is “2” on my machine, and the length is “1”) tack the upturned corner to the side seam of the bag 1/4” from the point.

paperbag style canvas tote bottom
And you are ready to paint!



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