Introduction: Easy Expandable Felt Tote Bag
For those times when I've gone out with a cute small bag, only to have needed to make a purchase and ended up jamming something that doesn't fit into my too-small bag, or carrying an ugly plastic bag emblazoned with the name of a multinational conglomerate, I made this explandable bag.
When compacted, it's a small, cute rouched felt tote bag with long contrasting handles and stitching. When expanded, it's a big tote bag to carry lots of stuff. To convert from long to short, pull the handles and hook. To convert from short to long, release the hooks and extend.
And it's super-easy to make, even with my limited sewing skills. Here's how.
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Step 1: Materials
Grosgrain (or other) ribbon, or other material appropriate for straps
Hook and eye closures (or other closure, such as snaps, buttons, etc.)
Small fabric scissors
Fabic marking pencil
Step 2: Measure & Cut Felt
Fold your felt in half and lay it flat on a work surface.
Mark out the dimensions of your finished bag (when expanded), plus an additional 1/2", using a fabric marking pencil. Measure the length up from the fold in the felt, so the fold will be at the bottom of the bag (you'll have two layers of felt, which when cut, will yield a single piece twice the length of the measured piece). Then measure and mark the width.
You can make your bag as big or small as you want, but my finished dimensions (expanded) were 16" long and 14" wide, so I marked my felt at 16.5" long, measured from the fold, and 14.5" wide.
Once marked, cut with sharp fabric scissors.
Step 3: Measure & Cut Slits for Straps
Since the straps will be used to expand and contract the bag, the straps will be woven through the body of the bag, which means cuts must be made to weave through.
While you can use as many slits as you want and place them at any distance apart, I used an even number of slits--this allows the straps to be positioned outside the bag for extra support at the bottom and as well as where they form handles for better balance and support.
To place your slits, first mark where you'd like the straps to be placed on the bag in terms of its width. Once you know where you want them, measure in equal distances from the sides and draw a vertical line, indicating where the outside edge of the strap will be in relation to the bag. I measured in 1.5" (plus .125" for the waste amount) on each side for mine. Then measure slightly less (the felt will stretch) than the total width of your ribbon or strap material and draw another vertical line parallel to your first line (toward the center of the bag). My ribbon was 1.5", so I measured an additional 1" toward the center of the bag to mark the second edge. So, from each side, I measured in 1.625" (.125" for the waste plus 1.5") for the outer mark and 2.625" (1.625" plus 1") for the inner mark.
Once the vertical position is marked, mark the horizontal position of each slit. Since I used 10 evenly spaced slits left and right, front and back), to calculate their placement, I divided the total length of the finished bag (16") by 10, giving me 1.6" (1-3/5"), then I divided that in half (.8" or 4/5") to determine where to place the first one (splitting the distance between top and bottom).
I measured .8" up from the bottom of the bag (the fold) and marked my first slits between the vertical position lines, left and right. For the remainder of the slits, simply measure up from the slit the full amount (1.6" for me) and mark that distance above the slit below until you have 10 slits, each left and right.
Once you've marked the the slits, carefully snip them open with the sharp fine point of sewing scissors. If you've only marked slits on one side, be sure you cut through both layers of felt, so they're cut front and back.
Step 4: Add Lining
Because the ribbon will weave through the outside of the bag, it's best to add a lining to the bag, lest items get stuck in the ribbon or things fall out through the slits.
For the lining, cut two pieces of felt the to the finished dimensions of the bag, plus 1/2", or cut and finish another lining material to the same dimensions.
If you want to stiffen or strengthen the bag, fuse interfacing to these lining panels now (optional).
Unfold the exterior of the bag (the long piece of felt with the slits) and lay it completely flat on a work surface, with the exterior of the bag (whichever side looks better) placed face down. Place the two lining panels on the exterior bag piece, one at each end, so the surface will be covered (if using interfacing, place the interfacing side down).
Pin them in place.
Step 5: Sew the Bag
Before sewing the sides, be sure the sew the top of the bag.
Take the long piece of felt with the attached lining panels and sew (I used a contrasting thread) across the short sides/ends (these short sides will form the top of the bag when folded in half and sides are sewn).
Then fold the piece in half, so the slits are on the outside. Pin along the sides, from the fold at the bottom to the top, and along the bottom.
Sew down the each side and across the bottom.
Trim the sides and top straight and even, removing any excess.
Step 6: Weave the Handles
Cut the ribbon for the handles approximately to length. To figure out this length, multiply the height of the bag (16" for mine) by 4, then add twice the desired handle length for the expanded bag (note that they'll get longer when it's contracted, so don't make them too long--mine were about 22"), so my total length was 64" (16" times 4) plus 44" (22" times 2) for a total length of 108" (9'). Throw in a few inches extra just to be safe.
If you don't know how long you want them to be, just leave it uncut and wait until it's woven through and try it out. About 3 yards should be about right, unless you have a very large bag.
To weave the handles through, starting at the open end of the bag, insert the ribbon into the slit closest to the top, then pull it out of the second slit. Continue weaving back and forth through the slits, down the first side and back up the other side.
Once it's back at the top, leave a enough ribbon for the handle, then feed the ribbon into the first slit at the top at the other end of the bag on the same side you just came out of. Continue weaving in the same pattern down and back up the other side. Once you've made it back to the top, leave the same amount of ribbon for the second handle (you can make you adjustments or figure out the length now) and find the other end of the ribbon.
You want to create a continuous circle of ribbon through the entire bag, so ensure the bag and ribbon are completely flat and your handles are the proper length. Mark the final length (leave a little so you can sew the ends together), and trim the excess.
Fold the unfinished ends, one up and one down, and then pin the two ends together overlapping slightly, with the unfinished ends in the middle. Stitch the ends together (by hand or by machine). Rotate the ribbon so that seam is hidden behind the felt.
Step 7: Attach the Fasteners
Mark the bag where the ribbon hits the top edge of the bag when it's expanded. Sew the hook portion of the hook-and-eye fasteners to the top outer edge of the bag where you've marked it, centered against the ribbon, so that the hook is facing up and out of the bag. Do this at all four strap/bag intersections.
Link the eye to the hook you've sewn to the bag, so the eye is pointing down when hooked. Bring the ribbon straight up against it and mark the ribbon where the eye hits. Sew the eye to the ribbon. Do this on all four straps.
These will be the hooks for the extended position.
Pull the straps up while pushing the bag down, so that the bag gathers. Once it's contracted to the dimensions you want it when it's its small size, mark approximately where the hook at the top of the bag hits the pulled ribbon. Measure this distance and mark it on all four straps, measuring down from the four eyes you've already attached (mine are about 7" down from the expanded position eye). Sew eyes in this position on each of the four straps.
Make sure all your eyes are sewn firmly down so they'll stay flat even when some pressure is applied, so they won't snag when the ribbon moves through the bag.
Step 8: Make It Pretty
Now the bag is ready to be contracted and expanded. If it's in the expanded state, pull the straps to the contracted position and attach the hooks to the eyes. If the hooks don't want to stay in place, don't worry--when you put something in the bag, the weight of the objects will pull the hooks against the eyes.
Arrange the folds and bulges as you like them by sliding different parts of the bag up and down along the ribbon and creasing the felt.
Step 9: Expand
The bag is complete.
Now go out.
Expand the bag--just release the hooks, let the bag expand (pull as needed), and re-attach the hooks to the other eyes.