Introduction: Women Helping Women Tote Bag

About: I love all things crafty, from beading to crocheting to quilting, to wearable electronics!

I designed this tote in support to our local domestic violence shelter, Women Helping Women. Quite often when a victim of domestic violence flees her abuser, she literally leaves with nothing but her children and the clothes on her back. We have begun to donate basic necessities to these brave women that are taking a stand and taking back their lives. We felt that not only do they need our support with basics such as underwear and toiletries, but it would be nice for them to also have a tote to keep their belongings in.

I designed this tote to be a functional tote bag that is quick to make, and is both roomy and stylish. I encourage you to make not only one for yourself, but make one or two more to donate to a domestic violence shelter in your area.

Step 1: Materials Needed

  • 1-1/2 yards of cotton fabric(45" wide)
  • 1/4 yard of contrast fabric for applique (should be a 18" x 22" piece - known as a "fat quarter"), or more if you want 2 appliqued pockets
  • 1/4 yard of your favorite fusible for the applique (I prefer MistyFuse)
  • 1 yard of Pellon Fusible Fleece 987F (45" wide)
  • 3 yards of 1" wide web strapping
  • Basic Sewing Supplies

Step 2: Cutting

From the main fabric, cut 2 pieces of 18" x the width of fabric. Trim away the selvages, making sure that both pieces are exactly the same shape.

Cut a strip of fabric about 10-1/2" x the width of fabric, then cut two 10-1/2" x 21" pieces from it.

From the fleece, cut one 18" x width of fabric piece and two 10" squares.

Step 3: Applique Design

Apply your fusible webbing the the wrong side of your applique fabric according to the manufacturer's instructions. Most fusibles require ironing - be sure to let the fabric sit about 10 minutes after ironing to let it cool completely.

While it's cooling, print a copy of the drawing above, making it about 8" square.

Pin the printed design to the front of your fabric and cut it out, taking care to cut each tiny hole out. (Hint: if you have a Silhouette Portrait, you might want to try using it to cut the design. Check out my Instructable - Cutting Applique with the Silhouette Portrait)

Set aside while you prepare the pockets.

Step 4: Making the Pockets

Fold the pieces of pocket fabric in half, right sides together. The folded edge is the top of the pocket. Lay the 10" squares of fleece on top of the pocket fabric, lining up with the folded edge - there will be a seam allowance of fabric left at the bottom. Stitch the bottom seam (but not up the sides - this will be covered by the straps).

Turn the fabric to right side out. Fuse the applique in place on the pocket, setting it about 1/4” from the raw edges, and about 1” down from the top edge of the pocket. Secure all raw edges in place with a decorative stitch, then quilt the pocket as you’d like.

The second pocket can be decorated with an applique, or can be simply quilted. Quilt the second pocket now. Set pockets aside.

Step 5: Making the Tote Bag

Lay the fleece out on your ironing surface, with the bumpy, fusible side face up. Line up one of the pieces of tote bag fabric on top of the fleece (right side face up) and fuse it in place. Allow to cool.

Line up the second piece of fabric on top, right sides together. Sew around all sides of the tote bag with a 1/4" seam allowance, leaving a gap on one of the narrow sides, about 4” – 5” wide.

Step 6: Turn the Bag

Turn the tote bag sandwich inside out, so the right sides are showing. Pin around the edges, making sure that the bag lies flat. Turn under the open edges and top stitch them closed.

Press the tote bag flat.

Add decorative quilting as you desire. For my bag, I used a variegated green thread to coordinate with the applique design, and just stitched random straight lines throughout the bag. A simple design is best, as you will be covering a lot of your stitching when the pockets and straps are added.

Step 7: Assemble the Bag

Now it’s time to assemble our tote bag. The main tote bag piece should be a finished rectangle, about 17-1/2” x about 40”, which will make a finished bag about 17” wide x 20” deep. Before we stitch the side seams, we will add our pockets and straps.

On the narrow side of our rectangle, find the center point, and mark it with a pin. Lay it on your work surface, right side up.

Take the front pocket, find the center point of the top edge, and mark it with a pin. Lay the pocket on the tote bag, about 2” from the top edge of the tote, and pin the top and bottom edges in place. 24. Take one piece of strap, and lay it over the raw edges of the sides of the pockets, overlapping about 1/4”. Pin in place (Note: for my sample I used fabric straps instead of webbing. I found that the web straps are much stronger and easier to carry, and have switched to using them).

Top stitch along the inside edges of the straps and along the bottom edge of the pocket. Check to be sure you captured all the raw pocket edges in the seam. Stitch a second time over the stitching to strengthen the edge of the pocket.

Stitch along the outside edge of the straps, but stop stitching even with the top edge of the pocket. Stitch across the strap, catching the top edge of the pocket to secure it. Stitch a second time over the stitching to strengthen to the strap.

Stitch along the bottom edge of the pocket and strap, and restitch to strengthen the seam.

Repeat the process to attach the back pocket.

Step 8: Bottom and Side Seam

Fold the tote in half with the pockets toward the inside. Stitch the two side seams with 1/4” seam allowances. Restitch to strengthen the seam.

You can call the bag finished at this point, or you can make a squared bottom. To do so, fold the bag so that the side seam is lined up with the bottom edge of the bag, forming a pointed triangle.

Draw a line about 3” up from the point that is 90° from the seam. Double stitch along this line.

Repeat on the other bottom corner.

Turn the bag right side out. You can insert a piece of heavy plastic or thin Masonite in the bottom to strengthen the bag, but this is optional. Enjoy! Be sure to make several to donate to your favorite shelter.