Sewing Sunday: DIY Tote Bags

Sewing Sunday: DIY Tote Bags

Ever since I first thought of making these tote bags as Christmas table favours I’ve been dying to blog about them, but I didn’t want to risk spoiling the surprise for my family. Now it’s 2016 I can finally post about these babies!

This Christmas, inspired by my bestie Beth who handmade all of her gifts to people, I decided to make each of my family members a personalised present just for them. Since the government introduced a 5p charge for single use carrier bags, I’ve found that there’s no such thing as having too many reusable shopping bags. Therefore, I thought it would be a nice idea to make everyone roomy, strong, reversible but compact fold-up tote bags.

I am really pleased with the way all of the tote bags turned out. They each took around 2 hours to make, including cutting out the fabric, ironing on the interfacing, sewing and topstitching. I thoroughly enjoyed making the bags, despite the late nights and occasional sewing machine fails. Auntie Sharon’s and Grandad’s bags were finished at around 6am on Christmas Day itself – if there was a Little Miss Last Minute, she would look exactly like me. My sewing machine was playing up when I was finishing the last few off, so the boyf and I ended up having to take my machine apart three times to rectify the thread snapping problems, leading to rather a lot of stress and swearing. Thankfully, my family seemed to absolutely love their totes. I genuinely couldn’t stop smiling after their reactions, they made all the effort that went into the fabric choices and the making of the bags completely worth it.

I followed this super simple tutorial from the Spoonflower blog almost to the letter; the only changes I made were to the size and the handles. I drew a pattern on a piece of A1 flipchart paper, which was 18″ tall, 21.5″ wide with 3″ squares cut out of the bottom corners. I used a 1/4″ seam allowance, which was incredibly easy to measure using this amazing 1/4″ presser foot from eBay. It only costs £2.88 but I would honestly pay so much more, it has become an essential piece of sewing kit for me! As for the handles, I didn’t quite have enough of each fabric to make handles too, so I ordered black and white 2″ wide cotton webbing and used that instead.

You can find the fusible interfacing I used here on eBay (at a bargain price of just £2.98 for 4 metres), and the 2″ wide webbing I used to make the straps can be found on eBay here. The webbing may be a little expensive but it is so worth the money, I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the straps and feel confident that they won’t stretch or break, even if the tote bags are being heavily used. The fabrics are linked under each image, and I used half a metre of each. (Apologies for the dodgy white balance on a couple of the pictures, it’s so hard to judge at the moment with so little sunlight!)


Reason for fabric choice: Mum adores anything cute (she must be one of the biggest Hello Kitty fans in the world, I swear…) and she loves lilac, so the colourful butterflies and the spotty purple interior fit the bill perfectly.

Butterfly Fabric (eBay) | Lilac Polka Dot Fabric (eBay)


Reason for fabric choice: Dad has been rocking a ‘tache since before I was born; it was the obvious choice! The geometric lining fabric was chosen because the colours matched the moustaches almost perfectly, it’s like the fabrics were made for each other despite being made by different manufacturers.

Moustache Fabric (eBay) | Grey Geometric Fabric (eBay)

Auntie T

Reason for fabric choice: Auntie T used to own a leopard print sofa, and for some reason this fact was the first thing to pop into my head when I was choosing fabrics for her. I wasn’t too sure if she’d like the combination of leopard and zebra, but at a loss for inspiration I decided to give it a go. As it turned out she absolutely adored the fabrics, I needn’t have worried!

Leopard Print Fabric (eBay) | Zebra Print Fabric (eBay)


Reason for fabric choice: Nanna used to live in Scotland, and she is the proud owner of a Shih Tsu, so when I spotted the little tartan terriers I knew the fabric would be perfect for her. I chose the black polka dots to match, but I really wish I’d chosen a bigger polka dot size – the 2mm spots sent my eyes a bit funny when I was cutting the fabric!

Scottie Dog Fabric (eBay) | Black Polka Dot Fabric (eBay)


Reason for fabric choice: Grandma loves to travel, but most airplane fabrics have a tendency to look quite masculine. When I spotted this air mail fabric I loved its unisex appeal, and decided to pair it with a feminine red polka dot interior. As it turns out, Grandma had just returned from Spain where she had been looking for fabric shopper bags to no avail – this bag was just the sort of thing she had been looking for! How’s that for good timing?

Air Mail Fabric (eBay) | Red Polka Dot Fabric (eBay)


Reason for fabric choice: Grandad is fond of going on cruises, so I knew I had to go nautical with the fabrics I chose for him. I loved the cute boat-themed squares of the outer fabric, and paired it with a red striped fabric to co-ordinate with Grandma’s lining. Plus, Grandad is a Manchester United fan, so I used black webbing for the handles to make the red and white vertical stripes look a little less Sunderland-y!

Nautical Squares Fabric (eBay) | Red Striped Fabric (eBay)


Reason for fabric choice: I wanted something quite girly for my cousin Gemma, with a touch of cuteness too. I fell for the biscuits and pretzels on the Paris outer fabric, and the floral lining reminded me too much of Cath Kidston prints for me to resist it.

Paris Biscuit Fabric (eBay) | Floral Swirl Fabric (eBay)

Auntie Sharon

Reason for fabric choice: Like my Grandma and Grandad, Auntie Sharon loves to travel, hence the hot air balloons. As for the bird cage fabric, I was struggling to find a fabric that matched the balloons, so when I spotted the similar colours of the birds I snapped it up immediately. I tried really hard to cut the fabric so that the bird cage was the focus of the bag; it made the bag look so much more professional, and I was incredibly thankful afterwards that I had gone to the extra effort.

Bird Cage Fabric (eBay) | Hot Air Balloon Fabric (eBay)

Although I thought either Dad’s or Grandad’s bag would be my favourite, it turns out that Auntie Sharon’s was the hardest to part with on Christmas Day. The fabrics go beautifully together, and I think it is the only bag, apart from perhaps Auntie T’s, that is truly reversible rather than being a main fabric and a lining. The bird cage fabric is quite heavy and gives the bag more structure than the rest, turning the bag into more of a beach bag than a reusable shopping bag, but nevertheless I absolutely love it.

Did you hand make any of your Christmas presents this year? I would love to read about them in the comments!

Don’t forget to follow Poppy alla Norma on Bloglovin’ so you never miss a post.

Poppy alla Norma

Until next time,

- Poppy -

Note: This post contains eBay affiliate links. This means that if you click on any of the text links above and end up purchasing the product, I get a small percentage of commission at no extra cost to you. Any money raised would be used to keep Poppy alla Norma up and running, and would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  • Cortney Philbrick

    I have always wanted to do this! Such a great idea to make them for everyone because you know they all need it haha

    • If you can sew in a straight line you can make these bags, they’re super simple!
      It’s so rewarding to make people Christmas presents you know they’ll use, hopefully I can do it again this year 🙂

  • Fashion Du Jour LDN

    O. M. And…G! These are utterly fab Poppy! I am officially a big fan – you could totes (pun intended) make a business from these. Thank you for stopping by our blog and we are now following you on Bloglovin’ <3

    Love Leigh at FDJ LDN HQ x

    • Thank you lovelies! <3 LOL, the number of tote puns I made whilst making these bags has to be in the triple figures by now, haha.

  • WOW, they look amazing!! This a great idea, and I love the fabric you chose x

    – Anne @ annesmiles

    • Thank you! It took a while to get the fabrics right but it was worth the effort 🙂