I've seen a lot of tutorials for grocery totes and bags and the like but I never found one that I thought was easy enough for someone like me to follow. There is an excellent one on Craftster that makes a t-shirt bag almost exactly like this one but it uses a very different technique for constructing the bag. This one may not end up as refined but I think it might be easier for some sewers to follow.
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Step 1: Cut Out Your Fabric
You can use an existing bag for the pattern. Just cut off the seams at the top of the handles and the bottom seam. Then cut up each side so you have a pattern to use that looks not unlike a wife-beater.
You need to cut four pieces of fabric total, two of the lining fabric and two of the outside fabric. I pulled some quilt fabric out of my stash to make this bag and I used two very different fabrics so the inside and outside would be easily distinguished.
The Debbie Mumm chicken fabric is for the outside of the bag. The black chicken wire print is the lining fabric
Step 2: Sew the Sides
Pin the outside fabric right sides together and sew up the both sides. Do the same for the lining fabric.
Step 3: Press!
Open up the fabric and press the seams to one side. A note about pressing: Do it. And take your time about it. You'll brand yourself an amateurish noob if you neglect this. Precise pressing is the difference between something looking hand-crafted and something looking like it was homemade by a ten year old girl scout.
Step 4: Put It Right Sides Together
Now turn the piece with the outside fabric right-side out. In this case, it's the fabric with the chickens on it. I don't see what Debbie Mumm finds so fascinating about chickens but my mom sees it too, so this bag is for her. Love you, Mom!
Put the outside piece inside the lining fabric so you've got the pieces right sides together. You should be looking at an unsewn inside out bag. If you're not, maybe you should quit now because it only gets harder from here.
Step 5: Pin the Top of the Bag
Starting at the side seams, pin the lining to the outside. Pin all the way around, leaving the top of the handles open. Match up the curves. Take your time. If you cut your fabric while sober, the curves should practically match themselves up. If you didn't, FSM help you.
Make sure the seam allowances of each layer point in opposite directions. This is why we pressed the seams to one side.
Step 6: Sew the Top of the Bag
Sew the lining to the outside without sewing across the tops of the handles. Leave them open for now.
Clip the curves and trim the seam allowance. You want the seams to lay pretty flat when you turn it right side out and clipping the curves helps facilitate this. Lumpy and puckered is for Perez Hilton's ass, not your grocery bag.
Step 7: Turn the Bag Right Side Out and PRESS!
Turn the bag right side out and tuck the lining inside the bag where it belongs. It will look rumply but we haven't pressed yet.
Press the seams flat. You might have to stick your hand inside the open top of the handles to press the seams out evenly. Then get in there and flatten it out. Go all the way around and concentrate on getting the curves smooth. I find it easier to press from the inside of the bag.
This step is critical. I think I mentioned that already. If you forgot or skipped that part, here it is again. A note about pressing: Do it. And take your time about it. You'll brand yourself an amateurish noob if you neglect this. Precise pressing is the difference between something looking hand-crafted and something looking like it was homemade by a ten year old girl scout.
Step 8: Top-Stitch
Top stitch around the outside of the bag, skipping over the tops of the handles. This will keep the layers from sliding around and give your onions and Lucky Charms a nice smooth ride. Leave the handles open; we'll get to those last.
WTF is top-stitching? Basically it is sewing close to the edge, through all the layers, on the outside part of the bag, all the way around. I shoot for just under 1/4 in. from the edge. Try to be neat; you'll be able to see this from the outside.
At this point, you've got the top nearly finished.
Step 9: Make the Gusset and Sew the Bottom
Turn the bag inside out so the lining fabric is on the outside. To make the gussets, fold the sides of the bag over towards the center as illustrated. Pin the bottom so it won't slip when you sew. It might seem counterintuitive to fold the bag this way but when you right the bag and push the corners out, you'll have perfect gussets. Be careful to fold so that the handles are folded just shy of the halfway point. If you make the folds too large, the inside corner of your bag will show out of the top. Not a tragedy but goofy-looking and irritating if you're a perfectionist like I am.
I used a finishing stitch across the bottom to make it very secure. You don't want your onions or canned beans falling out onto your toe. If you've got a serger, you can use that or you can zig-zag. Whatever you do, be sure and use a stitch you're sure is going to hold.
Step 10: Now for the Handles
While you've got the bag inside out, sew across the tops of the handles. They'll be right sides together if your bag is still inside out. Which it should be because I didn't tell you to turn it yet, did I? Make it sturdy but don't go crazy.
Step 11: Fold the Handles and Pin
Now turn your bag right side out. You can see the gussets on the sides but the handles on the top are still really wide. It will be hard to tote three or four of these at a time plus the raw edge is still exposed on the other side. We're going to strengthen the handles and make it easier to carry multiple bags. Because if you're like me, I like to make as few trips out to the car in the rain as possible.
Fold the handle in half with the top-stitched seams going towards the inside of the bag. Pin on either side of the top seam and keep pinning until you're about three inches down from the center on both sides.
This will leave a nice folded edge that lines up perfectly with the gussets. Because there are multiple thicknesses at the very top of the bag, make sure you fold those seams in opposite directions or you'll end up breaking a needle which will scare the ever-loving crap right out of you. Not that I would know from personal experience or anything.
Step 12: Finish Off the Handles
This is the cool part: Sew from pin to pin across the center seam along the existing top-stitched line. If you quilt, think of it as stitch-in-the-ditch. If you don't quilt, I'm sure you're still a nice person. You are making *cloth* grocery bags, after all. Now you've got a handle that's easy to carry and the raw edge of your handles are secured inside the fold.
Step 13: Ta-Da! You're Done!
And there you have it! Your finished grocery tote is all ready to carry your onions or deodorant or sugar-coated breakfast cereal home from the market in style. You can jump in your Hummer, point it towards your McMansion, and feel good about "going green." Or jump in your Prius and head towards your solar powered yurt and feel good about "keeping green." You know which one you are.