Tote bags are my absolute favourite! There are so many options and different ways to customise a great tote bag – and so many potential uses! I love making tote bags with these leather-look handles and attaching them with rivets. They look amazing and so professional, your friends will never guess you made this bag yourself!
This is the perfect project for a beginner. I have gone into detail with the instructions and provided pictures with each step to make things easy. Those with experience in sewing will love attaching the handles with rivets. So easy!
These bags make fantastic gifts! They are fun to make – a completely different look depending on the fabric you select.
If you are thinking of making these to sell at a craft markets or online, my advice would be – make A LOT! These are consistently my best sellers, and I struggle to keep up with demand. I have started telling people they may as well get on the list to get a Birken – they’ll probably get it faster!!
- 1 yard canvas, duck or home décor weight fabric
- Medium weight interfacing
- ½ yard lining fabric
- 1 pair of handles with holes for rivets (like these)
- 8 double capped rivets 8mm
- Rivet setter for 8mm rivets
- Magnetic clasp
- Hole punch or small sharp scissors
- Co-ordination leather scraps (optional)
- Co-ordinating thread
- Cut 2 16” by 16” of exterior fabric
- Cut 2 16” by 3.5” of exterior fabric (for interior facing)
- Cut 2 16” by 16” of Interfacing fir exterior
- Cut 2 16” by 3.5” of interfacing for the facing
- Cut 2 16” by 13.5” of lining fabric
- Cut 2 8” by 7” of lining fabric for pockets (this can be altered to any size you like!)
Apply interfacing to exterior pieces and interior facing strips
Begin with facing strips. Place the interfacing on the ironing board (bumpy side up), and place the fabric on top (right side up). Ensure the iron is set to a hot setting and press using steam. Test the interfacing has stuck to fabric. If there are places where the interfacing is pulling away from the fabric, continue to press and use more steam. Once the facing strips are done continue with the larger exterior pieces.
Assembling the lining
- With right sides together, pin the facing strip to the lining (1).
- Sew with a 1/2″ seam allowance (2).
- Open the facing up and press the right side of the fabric, ensuring the seam allowance is being pressed towards the lining (3).
- Top stitch the lining, 1/8 inch from the facing strip (4).
- Cut a 1 1/2″ square out of the bottom corner of the lining (5).
Making the pocket
- Place pocket pieces right sides together and pin.
- Sew around the 4 sides of the pocket ¼ “ from the edge of the pocket, leaving a 3” whole for tuning in the long edge of the pocket.
- Clip the corners.
- Turn the pocket right side out, pushing the corners out gently with a bone folder (or similar blunt, narrow object). Press.
Find the top long edge of the pocket and top stitch 1/8” from the edge.
- Position the pocket on the lining piece. Ensure you don’t have the pocket lower than the cut corners. Sew around the 3 sides of the pocket, back stitching at the beginning and end to reinforce.
Assembling the bag
- Take the 2 exterior pieces and cut a 1 1/2″ square out of the corner.
- Place the 2 exterior pieces with right sides together and pin.
- Sew the side and bottom seams.
- Take the bag to the iron and press the side seams open.
- Press the bottom seam by lying the bag flat and opening the seam and pressing 1 side of the seam. Flip the bag over and press the other side of the seam.
- Box corners. Lift the bag and open the hole, peek into the bag and match the side and bottom seams carefully. Very carefully! This can make or break the look of the bag.
- Sew the corners closed using a 1/2” seam, back stitching at the beginning and end. Repeat on the other side.
- Turn the exterior right side out.
- Place the two lining pieces right sides together.Be sure to match the seams where the linings meet the facing. Pin and sew the 2 side seams. Sew the bottom seam, leaving a 5” hole for turning.
- Sew the box corners. Lift the bag and pull the opening apart. Match the bottom and side seam. Pin the lining and sew with a ½” seam allowance.
- Press the side seams open.
- Place the exterior INSIDE the interior, so right sides are touching.
- The exterior should fit snuggly inside the exterior. Pull both side seams to check that the bag openings are the same size.
- If either the interior or exterior is gaping you will need to adjust one of the side seam. If you do not correct this now, when you go to sew around the bag there will be puckers. Depending on how much gaping you have, the seam usually only needs to be brought in around 1/4 “. I recommend sewing down gradually to about 3 – 4 inches down the side seam. Once you have sewn your new seam you can unpick your existing seam and press it again.
- Once you are happy that your interior and exterior are exactly the same size, pin around the top of the bag. Sew around the top of the bag with a 1/2 “ seam.
- Gently pull the exterior out of the hole in the bottom of the lining.
- Continue to pull the lining through. Lay the exterior and lining flat on the ironing board and press the bag BEFORE pushing the lining into the bag.
- Push the lining into the bag and press again. You can now top stitch around the top of the bag 1/8 inch from the top edge. I often do this, especially when I can coordinate the thread nicely with the fabric. I have not top stitched this bag, as I prefer the way it looks without topstitching.
And that’s the bag made! Whoohoo! The hard bit is done. Just the finishing touches to go…
Attaching the handles.
Positioning the handles
- Measure 3 1/2” in from the side seam.
- Place the handle over this measurement and lower the handle so the top hole is 1 ¼” from the top edge. Use the holes in the handles to mark the points where the rivets will go. You can use a disappearing marker for an awl for this.
- Once you are happy with where the holes will go, make larger holes. You could use a hole punch for this, but I prefer using a pair of sharp tip scissors to push through the fabric and turn back and forth, easing the fabric open rather than cutting through it and weakening the fabric.
- Carefully place a dot of fray stop over the holes on both sides to reinforce the fabric.
Optional – to add extra stability, you can add small pieces of leather to the inside to secure the rivets in place. Cut the scraps 1 1/2″ by 1/2″ and use an handles and an awl to mark where to position the holes. These can be made with a leather punch or with the sharp scissors.
Setting the rivets.
- Take 2 rivets, push each rivet through the handle, then the fabric, and then the leather scrap and then place the cap of the rivet on. Push tightly to secure temporarily.
- Position the interior rivet on the concave side of the rivet setting base.
- Lay the bag flat and position the rivet setter over the rivet in the handle. Be careful to keep everything lined up before striking the rivet.
- Make a couple of gentle strikes with the hammer to secure the rivet in place before hitting harder to lock in place.
Hints for setting rivets:
Find a solid table (I use our dining table). Protect the table with a self healing mat or similar (like a clean chopping board). Place the round base (flat bottom down, concave side up) under the interior rivet and flatten our the bag on top. Place the rivet setter over the top of the rivet (concave side down) and strike with a hammer. I strike at least 10 times and make sure the rivets are secured.
Fitting the magnetic closure.
- Mark the mid point of the interior facing. Measure 1 inche down from the top edge and lightly mark with a disappearing marker.
- Use the magnetic snap backing as a guide to mark where to make your incisions. Access the inside of the facing through the hole in the bottom of the lining.
- Use a seam ripper to make a very small incision through 1 layer of facing. If you need to make the incisions bigger, to fit the prongs through, use small scissors (not the seam ripper…trust me on this one!). Place a small dot of Fray Stop on the cuts in the fabric to reinforce it.
- Prepare a leather or vinyl scrap about 1” by 1” with incisions for the prongs.
- Push the magnetic snap through. Use the leather scrap as a backing.
- Place the metal backing over the vinyl scrap. Push the prongs outwards to secure. Repeat for the other half of the magnetic snap.
Now, just sew up the lining and you’re done! You can do this on the machine or by hand using a ladder stitch.
You’re done – congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a gorgeous new bag!