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Reversible Tote Bag

Now that your child (or you) have mastered the straight stitch by making a Tissue Pack and The Instant Gratification Pillow, a Reversible Tote Bag is the perfect next project.

This is part of a series on Summer Sewing Camp.  

Day Two:  Pivots and Pockets

You will need:

  • 1/2 yard of fabric for the outside of the bag
  • 1/2 yard of fabric for the inside of the bag
  • 1 yard (or more) of cotton webbing for the straps
  • Thread
  • Tissue paper or pattern paper

Draw a pattern that is 14" X 13 1/2" for the bag and a pattern that is 14" X 7 1/2" for the pocket.  

Creative option:  You can also fold your fabric into different size rectangles and "try it on" to see what size bag you want.  If you want a bigger bag, you may forego the pockets.  Once you have folded the fabric, measure it and make your pattern.  Add 1/2" all around for your seam allowances.


With your fabric folded in half, pin your pattern to your fabric.  The pieces should fit side by side.  Cut through paper and both layers of fabric.

Repeat this with the lining fabic.

[Instead, you may also use a rotary board and cutter if adults are doing the cutting.  Do not let children use the rotary cutter.]

Unpin the pieces of the bag.  You should have 2 for the outside of the bag and 2 for the inside of the bag.  Put safety pins near the top of each piece on the right side of the fabric of each of the 4 pieces.  This will help you keep them upright.


There are 4 pockets that are cut out, but you only need 2. The lining fabric can be used on the outside and the outside fabric can be used for an inside pocket.

Creative Option:  Do what you want with the pockets.  Maybe two on the outside, and two on the inside.  Maybe don't contrast and use the same fabric for the pockets as the tote. 

Put them where you want.  Who says they have to be centered.  Place at an angle or to one side.  Use the cut pockets to play around with placement before you begin to sew.  You can even use a decorative stitch to attach the pockets.

For detailed instructions on how to pivot and make pockets, read the post Sewing the Perfect Pocket.  Make the pocket with these instructions.  Then sew the pocket onto your tote bag piece.  Be sure the opening of the pocket is upright with the piece of the tote bag (indicated with your safety pin).

Cut the cotton webbing in half for 2 straps.  These should be 18" long.  If you have more, you may want to cut them longer.   Pin both ends of a strap to the outside tote pieces along the top edge.  The side edge of the strap should be 3" from each side edge of the outside tote piece.  Sew in place at 4/8".

Put the 2 tote pieces together with the right sides facing each other.  Pin the 3 edges that do not have the straps (the sides and the bottom).  Using your pivoting technique, sew the 3 edges together.

Pin the linings together, leaving a 3-4" opening on one side seam.  Use the crossed pins to remember to stop and start.  Sew the 3 edges together.

Iron open the side seams.  I use a sleeve board on top of my ironing board to get closer to the corner.  I also like to use the seam creaser to open the seam before ironing.  If seams are not very straight (as is the case sometimes with beginners) you can iron the seams all to one side.

Keep the tote inside out.

Turn the lining right side out.

Place the lining inside the tote so that the right sides are together.  Align the side seams.  Be sure that the fronts are together and backs are together.  Depending on how you wanted the pockets dictate which is the front and which is the back.  Remove the safety pins on the top edges of all the pieces.  Pin around the entire top edge being sure that the straps stay down between the layers.  (Use pins instead of Wonder clips for this seam.)

If your machine has a "free arm" feature, it would be very helpful for this next seam.  Notice how the Janome Sew Mini and the Brother machines are somewhat lifted from the table.  This lets fabric move freely under the machine at this point.  The Kenmore in the middle has a compartment in front of the needle that removes and it becomes a free arm as well.

Now place the top edge of your tote bag so that it cups this free arm.  Begin at a side seam and sew a 4/8" seam all the way around the top of the bag until you get to where you started.  

The Wonder Clips are too bulky and sometimes get stuck under the free arm, but the pins slide under quite well.


Your tote bag is all sewn up but it is still inside out! 

Find the opening in the lining that you left on one of the side seams.  Reach your hand in this opening and turn the entire bag right side out.  Press the top edge.  Either hand sew or machine sew opening closed (shown above).  This is on the inside layer so it won't show.  Some children like the idea of a secret opening and choose to leave it open.

Your bag is done!


This is part of a series of  instructions on how to teach your children to sew in the form of a camp.  This series can also be used to teach yourself to sew.    Click on the button below for the entire series.