You really, really need a quilted tote bag. You might not know it yet, but you do!
Tote bags are super handy for carrying things, and carrying them gently. We’ve had a few fabric library bags get holes in them from book corners. Quilted tote bags are much better at withstanding this type of wear.
Quilted tote bags are also very handy for long trips in the car (when the bag’s full of clothes, on the way to an overnight stay with grandparents) as they double as a pillow.
This quilted tote bag came to be when I was sent some lovely fabric panels from a soon-to-be released fabric line called Alphabet Safari.
The artwork is by a talented local Australian designer (Jennifer Bell of Creative Monsoon) and the fabric will be available in October. My youngest son saw the animal panels and fell head over heels in love with the lion, so I asked if he’d like a bag. A very big YES was the answer.
If you’d like a PDF of the instructions for this quilted tote bag pattern, you’ll find a spot to put in your email address at the bottom of the post.
What you need to make a quilted tote bag
two of the fabric panels, one for each side of the quilted tote
two fat quarters, one for each side of the quilted tote
one half yard of fabric for the lining
one fat quarter of fabric for the handles
2 pieces of batting approx. 19″ x 22-1/2″ each
Sewing your quilted tote bag
First of all, trim two of the individual panels from the yardage. It’s normal for printed designs not to be perfectly square, so don’t sweat it if you find you need to trim a bit extra on some parts.
From each of the fat quarters for the tote sides you need to cut 3 strips 3″ x 21″ and one strip 5″ x 21″.
All seams are a quarter inch.
Sew a 3″ strip to the long edges of the fabric panel, press to the dark side and trim the edges flush with the panel.
Then sew a 3″ strip to the top of the panel and a 5″ strip to the bottom, press to the dark side and trim edges flush with the panel.
Repeat this for the other panel with the other FQ strips.
Check that both of your panels are the same size (trim if required). Mine came out at 16- 3/8″ x 20-1/4″. Feel free to trim yours down to a rounder figure (I just wanted to maximise my fabric).
Quilt your fabric panels
Baste each panel to one of the batting pieces. I used basting spray, but basting pins will do the job too. I wanted to mention that I used this Dream Green quilt batting* . It’s made from recycled plastic bottles, which is fantastic! I’m not a fan of pure polyester for bed quilts, but for things like bags, table runners and wall hangings it’s a great choice. And now it’s more environmentally friendly!
For the quilting I decided to go with a cross hatch quilt design, which I marked out with a hera marker*.
If you want a more structured bag then aim for lots of dense quilting. If a floppier, more pillow-worthy finish would suit you then ease up on the amount of quilting. Details of how I measured and marked my panels can be found in the PDF handout (see below to have it emailed to you).
Once you’ve finished quilting your panels, trim them again to remove excess batting. You might find that you need to trim your panels down a smidge to get them square again. And you want them to both be the same size as we’re about to sew them together.
Sew the quilted tote bag outer layer
Place the panels right sides together and pin around 3 sides (leave the top edge open). Sew all 3 edges together. I used my walking foot as there are quite a few layers involved here.
Next we’re going to box the bottom corners, so that the bag has a bit of body. (I forgot to press my bag seams open before this step, I would recommend you do that first.) Keep the bag inside out, and pull the two panels apart down near the corner. The aim is to line up the bottom seam with the adjacent side seam and make a triangle from the corner.
This triangle can be flattened down on your cutting mat (it should be close to a 90 degree triangle). Mark 2″ along each side and draw a diagonal line between the points with a pencil.
Sew along the pencil line and then trim the corner a quarter inch from the line.
Repeat with the other corner at the bottom of the bag. Turn the bag right side out and press.
Sew the quilted tote bag lining
From your half yard of fabric cut a piece 15-7/8″ x 40-1/4″. This measurement is based on my panels being 16-3/8″ x 20-1/4″ before I sewed them together. If you have trimmed your panels to a different size, this is how to work out what size you need to cut your lining:
Take a quarter inch away from your panel width measurement. Take your panel length and double it, then take away a quarter inch. Or for those of us who love equations:
[Panel width – 1/4″] x [ (Panel length x 2) – 1/4″]
I like to make the lining a little smaller than the bag’s outer layer so it fits nicely in there.
Take the lining fabric and fold it in half along its length, and then sew down both sides (keep the top edge open).
Leave the lining inside out and box the corners as we did for the bag outer. (Again, I forgot to iron my seams open, learn from my mistake!)
Fold the top edge of the bag lining over a half inch toward the wrong side and press in place. Do the same for the bag outer layer.
Sew the tote bag handles
Take the fat quarter for your handles and cut two strips 4-1/2″ x 21″. Fold one strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press. Open the strip up again and fold the long edges in from each side to meet in the middle, along the pressed line. Press in place.
Fold the fabric strip in half again, along the first pressed line. Both your raw edges are now nicely stowed away. Sew a seam down each side of the strip to hold it all in place. I like to sew several lines – I like the look and think it makes the handles a bit stronger. (If you’re concerned about strength you could also iron on a strip of interfacing on the wrong side of the fabric before you make the handles.) Do the same to the other strip so you have two handles.
Assemble your quilted tote bag
Here we go – we’re on the home stretch now. This is where the magic happens!
Take the bag outer (right side out) and the bag liner (wrong side out) and fit them together. The liner will be inside the bag outer and the wrong sides of each will be touching. Line up the folded top edges of both bag layers and then pin them together. Your handles need to be pinned in between the bag layers as well. Eye up where you’d like them to go and make sure there’s a good amount of handle between the layers (about 3/4″) so it’ll be well secured.
All that’s left to do is top stitch around the perimeter of the bag opening to secure the handles and join the bag liner to the outer layer. I like to do several rounds of top stitching because I know how much “love” my 7 year old gives his bags. I like those handles to be really secure!
And there you have it – a quilted tote bag. Soft and sturdy and ready for all manner of toting. 🙂
Please feel free to save this tutorial to your Pinterest account. If you’d like a PDF copy of these instructions you can have it emailed to you by putting your email address in the box below. Please note that you’ll also receive my newsletter, which will keep you up to date with new tutorials, patterns and of course, outtakes. Everyone loves outtakes 🙂
Keep an eye out for Safari Alphabet fabrics in October – and if you’re a quilt shop and you’d like to stock this line, be sure to get in contact with Two Green Zebras!
Cheers and happy sewing,