Reversible tote bags are fun, handy, and a great project for introductory sewists! This particular tote only uses two kinds of stitches: the straight stitch and the zigzag stitch. And it only requires one yard of fabric in total. For a fun an interesting tote, choose 1/2 a yard each of two different colours. Or for a reversible tote that showcases a different fabric on the inside and on the outside, buy three loosely-matching fat quarters.
Wait! What are those, you might be wondering? Fat quarters are small pieces of quilting fabric (usually 18 x 22 inches) that traditionally represent one quarter of a yard of fabric. They are to quilters and textile lovers like candy to a child. They come in a seemingly infinite range of colours, patterns, and designs!
Because they are so small and cute and inexpensive, textile enthusiasts end up collecting fat quarters for all sorts of imagined projects. The collection slowly becomes a horde. And one day the fun of collecting fabrics turns into the chore of cleaning out the accumulated mass!
So if you're itching to make your own fat quarter reversible tote bag, pick up some fat quarters at your local quilting shop or dig some out of your fabric stash and let them see the light of day.
Below are step-by-step directions to take you through the process of sewing your very own reversible tote. Enjoy!
Choose 3 different but matching fat quarter fabrics (see image above) or select 2 fat quarters of the same fabric and 1 of contrasting fabric. For my sample bag, I am using 2 of the same fabric and 1 contrasting fabric. The 2 identical fat quarters will make up the inside and outside of the bag, and their salvages will be used to make the straps.
Wash and dry all three fat quarters in order to shrink the fabric before beginning the project.
Fat quarters are usually 18 x 22 inches. For this project, we need the pieces to be 18 x 16 inches. Here's how to get the pieces to the right size:
Leave the 18-inch length as is on all 3 fat quarters except to clean up and square the edges, and to make sure all 3 of them are exactly the same length.
Turn to the 22 inch side of each fat quarter and cut it to 16 inches wide. Since most tote bags are 14-16 inches wide, I often cut my width at 16 inches. After sewing each side, this results in the final tote bag being about 15 inches wide. A nice middle ground!
You should now have 3 equal-sized pieces of fabric approximately 18 x 16 inches and 3 salvages that are about 4-6 inches wide (depending on shrinkage and original width of the fabric) to become your tote straps. Put aside these 3 salvages for later when we make the straps.
Take the piece of contrasting fabric and cut it in half lengthwise to create 2 pieces that are 9 inches long each. You should now have 4 pieces of fabric in total: 2 pieces that are 18 x 16 inches, and 2 pieces of contrasting fabric that are 9 x 16 inches.
Using a basic zigzag stitch, overcast the 4 edges of each piece of fabric to prevent unraveling or fraying edges.
Choose one of the 18 x 16 inch pieces and straight stitch the 2 smaller pieces to either end of it (width-wise) right sides together. Iron the seams.
Turn each of the 2 ends down, iron, pin, and straight stitch to finish the edging.
Fold the long fabric in half right sides together, iron the fold, pin the sides together, and then sew up each side. You now have the inside of your tote!
Take the other 18 x 16 piece of fabric that you put aside, fold it in half right sides together. Iron and pin the fold and sew up the sides. Turn it right side out and iron. This will become the outside of your tote. **Note: At this stage the inside piece should look twice as long as the outside piece!
Tuck the inside of the bag (it should be inside out) into the outside of the bag (it should be right side out) and flatten.
Turn the inside fabric down until it reaches about an inch past the outside fabric. Make sure the contrasting fabric is equidistant all the way around. Flatten and iron.
Pin the two together and sew around the edge of the contrasting fabric.
There are a number of tote strap variations depending on how long or short, thin or wide you want then. In this version I am selecting out the 2 salvages of the same fabric and discarding the third piece of contrasting fabric.
Sew both pieces together width-wise to create 1 piece of long thin fabric. Cut this long salvage in half to end up with 2 thin pieces of fabric (about 2.5 or 3 inches wide).
Fold each piece of fabric in half width-wise, right sides together to end up with two very thin long pieces of fabric. Iron, pin, and straight stitch the full length. I also recommend using an overcast zigzag stitch to keep fabric from unraveling.
Turn the straps right-side out by putting a large safety pin through the end of one side and then feeding it through the tube strap. Iron both tubes flat to create the straps. Cut both straps at least inch longer than the finished length you wish. Turn ends inwards and shove fabric a little ways down the strap with your finger. Finish straps with a straight stitch. Made sure both straps are exactly the same length.
Choose a spot on the upper third of the tote bag to attach the straps. Measure 2.5-3 inches from the seam on each side to affix the straps. I like sewing them to an already existing seam.
For extra stability and to keep the straps straight, I also sew them to the bag about a quarter of an inch from the top.
And voila, you have a reversible tote bag! One side will showcase the straps for a more casual looking tote.
The other side will hide the straps for a more sophisticated specimen.