Saturday, 9 April 2011

Drawstring tote bag: a tutorial

I made these little linen drawstring tote bags as gifts for Mother's Day (which was last weekend over here), for my grandmother, mother and mother-in-law. They're a good size to hold knitting, scarves, or slippers, or just to contain other gifts and cards.

The main difference between these bags and an ordinary drawstring bag is the openings above the side seams. They allow each side panel to gather nicely into a tote-style handle, and also leave room to access the contents of the bag easily.
Unlined bags like these would normally be made with french seams, but I couldn't figure out how to make that work with this variation, so I used a "clean finish" method to seal away the raw edges. The finished size for the bags I made here is approx 15" tall by 13" wide.

Drawstring tote bag

1 piece linen or home-decor weight cotton, 34" x 14", for the bag.
2 strips of patterned cotton 22" x 2" and 2 strips of main bag material 22" x 2" for the handles. Or, for thinner handles, use two 22" x 3 strips of patterned fabric and use the press and fold method to make straps from a single piece, or just use two 22" pieces of 3/4" ribbon or tape for a super-quick version.

Step 1: Sew the side seams
Fold the main bag piece in half width-wise, (right sides together if you're using patterned fabric), and pin both sides. Measure 5" down from the open end and mark each side.
Sew the sides seams with a 1/2" seam allowance, stopping/ending at your mark, remembering to backstitch at the ends.
Step 2: Fold clean finish seams
To begin the clean finish seams, press your side seams open, continuing into the 5" of unsewn seam to form a hem.
Then fold again a further 1/4" so the raw edge is tucked against the sewn seam (forming a double hem in the 5" portion at the top) and press again. Normally I find this kind of thing fiddly but the lovely crisp linen was easy to work with and I didn't bother pinning it. 
Fold down 1/2" at each top edge to the wrong side of the bag and press, overlapping your clean finish seams. Pin the hem in place.
Step 3: Sew top hem and clean finish seams
Starting about 1" up from a bottom corner of the bag, begin to sew one of the clean finish seams, sewing through the double fold of the seam and the single layer of the bag. It's a little tricky to get the bag positioned correctly. Go slowly and ease it in gently so it isn't twisted. You won't be able to start right at the corner, but it doesn't matter because the corners will be squared off later.
Continue along the open portion, sewing the double hem up to the top of the bag at about 1/8 ".
Turn and sew across the top of the bag with a 1/4" allowance. Continue on, all the way around the bag, sewing up and down the other side, along the top and back down the other side.

Phew! That's the awkward bit done! Don't those seams look lovely and neat?
Step 4: Make the handle casing
Fold down each top edge a further 1 1/4" to the wrong sides to form the drawstring channels. Press. After many hours of hemming curtains I use a piece of cardboard marked with the hem allowance to get the fold in the right place.
Sew each top along the line of your previous hem to make a 1" channel.

Step 5: Square the corners
Fold the bag so the side seams lie at the centre. Mark a line about 1" down from the corner, where the width of the bag is 2 1/2". Pin and repeat for the other corner.
 Sew along the marked line, then zig-zag next to it.
 Trim off the corner.
Step 6: Embellish!
I used one of El's drawings printed on to transfer paper and ironed it directly on to the bag. (Make sure your transfer paper is suitable for linen!) I added a little label to the other side using the same method.

Step 7: Make and thread the handles
To make handles like these, take 1 strip of patterned cotton and 1 strip of bag material and pin, right sides together. Sew with a 1/4" allowance. Use a safety pin to turn inside out and press, tucking in the ends. Topstitch close to the edge all the way around.

Thread each handle through a channel. (Fold in half to fit through the channel if you've made wide handles). I used a knitting needle and safety pin to make this bearably quick.

Overlaps the handle ends 1” and sew together (making sure it’s not twisted!), then shift the straps around until the overlapped ends sit within the channels. Pull the handles to gather the fabric as required.

Sit back and admire the finished product!

(Personal use only - please do not sell bags made from this tutorial.)


Liz P said...

Oh my gosh! Those are adorable! I wish I was crafty like you, and could make such adorable things! Love them! Actually, there are some produce bags on Etsy I've been admiring. I wonder if you would be able to make some. I'll have to send you the link. Maybe we can trade? How fun would that be?! I'll email you, ok?

Love the bags. Love them!

Anne said...

@Liz PSounds good Liz - not forgotten about your photos - I'm going to look through my spare picture frames tomorrow and see what I'll have space for.

The Ninja Knitter said...

What a lovely tutorial! I'm thinking of making a few of them in a lightweight linen - perfect for produce bags for the farmer's market. Thank you so much for posting it!!!

Liz said...

very cute

jean said...

What a great project! Thanks!

Anne said...

@The Ninja KnitterThat sounds like a great idea, I'd love to see them if you do.

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