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Tips for Better Tote Bags

October 17, 2016

This is my friend Katie’s custom Classic Tote, and I have no qualms about saying this is the best bag I’ve made to date. It’s sturdy, contemporary, and functional, with a little pop of fun in the inside. It’s sophisticated but understated, and perfect for fall. Let me share with you some tips on how to improve your tote-making process.

A great tote bag sewing pattern

No. 1: Find a great pattern; Get to know it well

A great bag starts with a great pattern, and this one from Bagstock is awesome. But it isn’t enough to just have a great pattern if you aren’t sure how you’re going to execute the process. Before I work on a bag I read through the pattern entirely, taking my own notes and rewriting things in a way that makes sense to me. In the image above you can see I rewrite my materials and cut list so that I can organize it in the way that I work. For this one I even made my own instructions because I added some features and steps and didn’t want to forget when it came time to make. I always keep the original pattern handy to double check what my next step is.

Choosing materials for excellent tote bags

No 2. Realistically Consider your Fabric Options

There is a lot of cute fabric out there. A freakin’ lot. But just because your heart smiles when it see’s the multi-color hen print (it exists!) doesn’t mean it’s right for your bag. Take into consideration the need for your bag to go with lots of different outfits or coats, or the fact that you might take it to work, or that you might need the fabric to perform in a certain way (a cute quilting cotton won’t stand up to the workload like a canvas). When you filter your fabric choices by your realistic needs you not only lessen the overwhelming choices, but it becomes easier to key into what it is that will really make your bag successful. And plus, the lining of your bag can always showcase that adorable print that you just can’t get over. (Wait until you see Katie’s tote lining ????????)

Interfacing for sewing sturdy totes

No 3. It’s what’s on the inside that counts

This bag does not employ magic to stand on its own. Instead it uses three different types of interfacing in-between the fabric layers to add body and stability. The main workhorse is the foam you see in the middle, I use both ByAnnie’s Soft and Stable and Bosal’s In-R-Form sew-in foam, though I’m not sure which one I used for this because they look the same out of the package. The bottom of the tote is stabilized with a heavy duty Peltex interfacing from Pellon. If you use a heavy duty interfacing like that, be sure to cut it smaller than your main piece so that your machine doesn’t have to sew it into your seam allowances. Bagstock’s pattern piece is already cut this way so you don’t have to remember on your own.

Lastly, all of my lining pieces and various red flannel pieces were stabilized with a lightweight, woven, fusible interfacing. The Pellon version is SF-101, but it only comes in 22″ widths (soooo annoying…why??), so I get mine from my local quilt shop. I’m not even sure of the brand since they keep the magic under the counter and bring it out when I request to have some cut. The body and smoothness this brings to the fabric is super luxurious, and it gives your bag that much more durability. I highly recommend not skipping this step.

Hardware makes your bags pop and look more professional

No 4. Add some hardware

Hardware is my favorite. It’s such a simple way to add a very professional and chic touch. Most hardware is easy to install, and is simply superior and more appealing than using purely fabric. To me this is what takes a bag from homemade to handmade.

Katie's handmade custom Classic Tote Bag - ByDylanM

No 5. Make it yours

Katie is an artist and lover of pens. What Katie doesn’t love is doing the blind hand shuffle through her bag to find her pens and phone. Even worse is when a bag has dedicated pockets for pens but they’re too deep or too tight. The solution? Custom pockets that are designed specifically for her needs.

Other features of her bag are an internal keychain to hook her keys to, a zipper pocket, and recessed zipper opening to keep everything safe inside.

Keychain clip for inside of tote bag

Zipper pocket inside of the custom Classic Tote

Recessed Zipper opening in custom Classic Tote

Katie's handmade custom Classic Tote Bag - ByDylanM

No. 6 Put Your Name On It

Making a bag like this is no small feat. Custom labels are inexpensive to buy (I got mine from a printer on Etsy) and add that final special touch. Be proud of the things you make, because although it’s easy to be intimidated by what others are doing, only you can do what you do. Only you have your style and skills. Own it.

Katie's handmade custom Classic Tote Bag - ByDylanM

Am I just the worst tease if I tell you I’ve got one in the making featuring a plaid flannel center panel? Well…I’ve got one in the making featuring a plaid flannel center panel. ????????????

signoffLove, Dylan



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