Here’s a free pattern for my favorite large tote bag.
I LOVE this roomy bag!
This one hangs in my studio to hold packages ready to ship, but I also have a few that I take grocery shopping and to the farmer’s market.
I’m a big fan of reusable bags for grocery shopping, but a lot of them are on the small side. I need something that will hold more than one bag of chips! Or one of those big bags of grapefruit! This large tote bag fits the bill exactly – and you can’t beat a free pattern!
- two fat quarters of the main fabric
- two fat quarters of the lining fabric
- 1/3 yard fabric for straps
- scraps of fabric for pocket and pocket binding
Cut Out All the Pieces
These straight edges are great to cut with a rotary cutter. If you’ve never used these tools before, here’s a video showing how.
- Main bag – cut two pieces, each 21 inches wide x 18 inches tall
- Lining - cut two pieces, each 21 inches wide x 18 inches tall
- Straps - cut two strips 6 inches wide x 28 inches long
- Pocket - cut one piece 11 inches wide x 6 1/2 inches tall
- Pocket binding - cut one piece 1 1/2 inches wide x 40 inches long
Ready? Let’s sew!
We’ll start by prepping the straps. These are essentially doublefold strips - you can watch a video showing how to make them here.
Fold one of the fabric strips in half the long way, right sides facing out. Press. Open the strip back up and fold each long edge in toward the center fold. Press. Fold in half again along the center fold so that you have one long strip, four layers of fabric thick. This makes a nice, sturdy strap. Press.
Topstitch along both long edges, about 1/8 inch from the edge.
Repeat for the second strap. Set them aside for now.
Now to prep the pocket. Fold and press your pocket binding fabric into doublefold tape – just like the straps, but don’t topstitch the edges. Here’s that video again.
Now we’re going to fold the bias tape around the raw edge of the pocket. Start in the bottom corner of the pocket.
Stitch down the binding right up to the edge of where the pocket fabric ends. Don’t keep stitching! If you need to stop a stitch or two before the edge that’s ok, but don’t stitch farther.
Stop. Backstitch a bit. Take it out of the machine.
Open up the binding and fold it into a neat miter, wrapping it right around the corner of the fabric. Slide it back under the presser foot, backstitch a bit, then stitch down to the next corner.
This video shows how to miter those corners.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you’re back where you started.
Trim off the excess binding, leaving about 1/4 inch extra to finish the raw edge.
Stop stitching a few inches before the end so you have room to open up a bit of the binding at the end.
Open up the last bit of the binding and fold that extra raw edge under.
Make it so it’s even with the edge of the pocket.
Wrap the folded end back around the edge of the pocket piece and stitch it in place.
The pocket should be bound on all four sides and ready to attach to the bag.
The binding is especially nice to have at the top edge of the pocket to help reinforce it and keep it from stretching over time.
You’re almost done!
Want to add a cute applique face to that pocket? You can use any of my single block patterns here. Just print the pattern at 60% of the normal size and it will be a perfect fit.
Fold the top edge of one bag piece in half and mark the halfway point with a pin. Do the same thing with the pocket.
Use a clear ruler to position the pocket 5 1/2 inches from the top raw edge of the bag. Line the 5 1/2 inch mark along the top of the bag, and make one of the vertical marks line up with the center pin on the bag. Line the center mark on the pocket up on the same line and your pocket will be perfectly centered - with no measuring or math. :-)
Here’s a closer look showing how to use the pin markers to center the pocket.
See how both the pins are lined up at the 13 inch mark?
Stitch the pocket in place down one side, across the bottom, and up the other side. Make sure you backstitch a couple of times at the stop and start of your stitching to give extra reinforcement to the stress points at the top corners of your pocket.
Done! You’re ready to put the bag together!
Let’s start with the outside of the bag. Pin the two main fabric squares right sides together. Using 1/4 inch seam allowance, stitch around both sides and the bottom of the bag. Repeat with the two lining pieces.
Now we’re going to box the corners of the main and lining bags so that your bag will have depth. A free pattern for a large tote bag is much more useful when the base of the bag is wide enough to hold those bulky items you need to carry.
Watch a video demonstrating how to box corners here.
Open out one bottom corner of the bag so that the side seam and center bottom seam line up, and the corner of the bag makes a point.
Measure down 2 1/2 inches from the tip of the stitching (NOT the tip of the fabric triangle - ignore that flap of seam allowance) and draw a line perpendicular to the side seam.
Stitch right on the line you drew. Trim away the excess fabric.
Repeat for the other corner, and for both corners of the lining.
Turn the main bag right side out. Leave the lining inside out.
Pin the edge of one strap to the top edge of the bag, 4 1/2 inches in from the side seam.
Repeat for the other end of the strap.
Repeat with the second strap on the other side of the bag.
Put the main bag inside the lining, with the straps sandwiched between the two layers. Since the lining is inside out and the main bag is right side out, you should end up with the right sides together. Line up the side seams and pin the layers together around the top edge of the bag.
Using 1/4 inch seam allowance, stitch almost all the way around the top edge of the bag. Leave the space between the two ends of one handle unstitched, so you can pull the bag through the opening. Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of your stitching. There will be some pressure on the edges as you pull the bag through.
Reach into the opening and pull the main bag through. Pull through the handles, then pull the lining right side out and tuck it down into the bag. Press around the top edge, being especially careful to press the open edges evenly.
Topstitch around the bag, about 1/8 inch from the top edge. Be sure that the folded edges of the opening you used for turning are lined up and that you catch both layers in the topstitching to hold them together. No hand stitching!
I wanted the topstitching thread to match the fabric of the main bag AND the lining, so I used green thread as my main thread and blue thread as my bobbin thread. The stitching is green on top and blue on the bottom. Neato!
Finished! One large tote bag made with a free pattern.
The handles are the perfect length for throwing over your shoulder and the bag is roomy enough to hold three big bags of chips, or a bunch of veggies from the farmers market – including lots of healthy but bulky green leafies!
Maybe you don’t want such a large tote bag? I’ve got two more free patterns!
The Trick or Treat Tote Bag is great for trick or treating – but also for carrying library books, lunch, and more.
The Mini Tote Bag is quite a bit smaller. It’s great for small toys and snacks. When my daughter was very little we kept a few of these packed with “special” toys that we only played with on outings – like at a restaurant. One had a few trucks and cars, another had crayons and a cute notepad, another had a handful of action figures. They were great grab and go bags. 🙂
Thank you for the patterns, I’m going to make them up.
This looks great. Thank you!
I think these will make great teacher gifts! I was going to make a pencil case for my daughter’s teacher, but I have enough fabric to make a bag, which will be much more useful. I think I will attempt three of these for my kids’ teachers. Great timing!
I got them done on time! 🙂 All with fabric from my stash. They turned out great. I will have to make one or two to keep and maybe another for a gift. I posted photos of them here: https://www.instagram.com/britishamericanmum/
Thank you for the Big Tote pattern. Question: Is the pocket stitched on the tote “in the ditch” with the binding loose at the edges?
No – it’s stitched down at the outer edge of the binding. But you could do it the other way if you prefer!
I didn’t look closely at the tutorial because I was distracted…
where ever did you get Ed Emberly’s dragon in fabric? Do you carry it?
Isn’t it awesome? It’s part of the Happy Drawing collection from Cloud 9 Fabrics – and it’s still in print! http://cloud9fabrics.com/fabrics/ed-emberleys-happy-drawing/ I don’t carry it, but I bet you can find someone selling it online if you Google it. 🙂
In don’t understand how to download your free patterns like this one Every time I try I get a message about maps and directions and adding an extension or go to Pinterest which I choose not to do as they absolutely flood you with unasked for email. If I am having this trouble others must be too. Can you not give simple directions for downloading the pattern when you offer a free one and not a bunch of other stuff I am signed up on your website and follow you always thanks
I’m not sure what you’re clicking on to get all the stuff you mentioned – but for this pattern there’s nothing to download. All the pattern pieces are rectangles, so there are just cutting instructions and then assembly instructions with step by step photos right there in the post.
Thank you so much for all you do, Wendi! I am a beginning quilter but it has been over thirty years since I did much sewing at all. Today is March 8, 2021 and the page is showing up oddly on my computer ( I included the date because I am not sure when this particular page was last updated. It said at the top but I don’t remember 🙂 The photographs are not showing up at all. If I click on the blank space where they would be, a new tab opens and I can see the enlarged photo.
??? No idea why!
I just checked and everything looks fine now. It’s entirely possible that it was a temporary glitch – but if you try again and it’s still happening, you may want to try updating your browser. That fixes all kinds of weird errors. Go to http://www.whatismybrowser.com and it will tell you if there’s an update available.
I just made two of these for two of my daughters’ teachers, and they were so easy and are so cute! (PS, One of those teachers is her middle school Literature teacher, who is a huge fan of your husband’s!)
So, if it is 2 fat quarters to make the bag, does that mean 1 half yard piece?
Only if you’re using the same fabric for the outside and the lining. If you want two different fabrics you need to get fat quarters in order for the dimensions of the fabric to work. I regular 1/4 yard will be too long and skinny.