Tutorial: Reversible Ribbon Handle Tote

May 20th

ribbon tote tutorial, right side out, completed

Want to learn how to sew an easy-peasy tote bag? There are gobs of other tutorials out there; I’m just adding my voice to the chorus. Be warned: my sewing is incredibly simple. I’m not a stickler for making things perfect so much as making them they way you like them and finding perfection in the process.

ribbon tote tutorial

First, find two fabrics you like. Wash, dry and iron these. Some other helpful supplies include a tin of pins, scissors, a rotary cutter and ruler and an iron. You’ll also need some wide ribbon for the handle.

ribbon tote tutorial, even off your bag lengths

Cut your fabric exterior and lining in two equal rectangles. Mine are 10 inches wide by 18 inches tall, doubled. In other words, my fabric is folded along the bottom.

ribbon tote tutorial, cut your pockets

Also, I created two pocket rectangles, each 5 inches wide by 8 inches tall. Cut these pieces out and iron them.

ribbon tote tutorial, uneven edges

I use my rotary cutter to even out my fabrics so they are the same size.

ribbon tote tutorial, pocket top edge turned under

Take both of your pocket pieces to your ironing board and turn under the top edge 1/4 an inch. Then turn it under again 1/4 an inch so your raw edge is not exposed. Iron this folded edge flat and then sew a running stitch (basic stitch) down the edge. Backstitch at each end to lock your stitches.

ribbon tote tutorial, pocket edges turned under, ready to be pinned, sewn

Once this is completed, come back to the ironing board and turn under the other three sides once. They don’t need to be double folded. Once you have these turned under, pin your first pocket to the center of your exterior piece (or where ever you’d like the pocket to be on the bag).

ribbon tote tutorial, pockets pinned

Repeat this with the pinning of the second pocket on the lining piece. Be sure to pin this pocket on just one side of the exterior and lining pieces. Stitch the remaining three sides down on the pocket, leaving the pre-stitched top edge completed. Voila — your pockets are done.

ribbon tote tutorial, select your ribbon for handles

Now take your ribbon and make two handles. I like my handles to be at least 18 inches long so I can get the bag over my shoulder. That said, you can play with the length to fit your needs. Place the first piece of ribbon with both raw ends matched up with the exterior top raw edge. Place these ribbon ends at least 8 inches apart. Pin the ribbon down.

Repeat on the other edge of the bag, making sure to also space them 8 inches apart. Fold the bag in half to see how the ribbon handles match up and adjust to make sure they are evenly spaced on both sides of the bag. Then sew these down, one at a time. I like to sew and backtack several times across the ribbon to make sure the permanency of the handle.

ribbon tote tutorial, right sides sewn together, ready to join lining, exterior

Now your handle is complete.

ribbon tote tutorial, sew right sides together

Voila! Now fold your exterior fabric together – right sides together. You should have two raw edges along each side and one raw edge along the top. Pin down each side and follow by sewing a ½ inch seam down each side. You can choose to sew across the bottom too – but for this simple tote I prefer to use the natural bottom created by the fabric’s fold.

Repeat this process by folding the lining right sides together and sewing both raw sides together. If you want to trim the bottom corners, you can. Also, if you have sloppy edges – you can trim these too. Just be careful not to catch your sewing in your scissors or you will have to sew the seam again.

ribbon tote tutorial, lining, exterior pinned together, leaving a 6 inch hole

Now turn the exterior fabric right side out. Carefully place the exterior bag inside the lining bag. The lining will be inside out – the right sides of the fabrics will be together when you place the exterior inside the lining. Tuck the ribbon handles between the lining and the exterior. This is an important step.

Starting at one side, match the seams and pin around the top raw edge of the lining and exterior bag top, leaving a 7 inch hole in the pining between two of the ribbon handles on one side. Once you have the lining and exterior pinned together, carefully sew a ¬Ω inch to 1 inch seam around the bag, being mindful not to sew all the 7 inch hole. Backtack at each end.

ribbon tote tutorial, sewing right sides together
ribbon tote tutorial, sewn together, leaving a hole

Now, carefully pull the exterior and lining through this 7 inch hole and iron flat. Then tuck the lining inside the exterior and iron flat, especially around the top edge where you will still have a 7 inch hole. Press and sew a top stitch around the top edge of the bag, closing the hole.

ribbon tote tutorial, stuffed with travel goodies, ready for adventure

Voila ‚Äì your reversible ribbon handle tote bag is complete! I’ve filled this one with travel goodies for one of my traveling companions this summer.

Other options to consider:
Use interfacing to make the bag sturdier
Use gussets at the bottom to make the bag stand up and not have a flat bottom
Use a grommet to create a key hole at the top of the bag

Perfect for the anti-plastic grocery bag movement, as a lunch tote, to keep in your trunk to manage the little things that seem to always be rolling around, to keep on the back of your bedroom door for junk you aren’t ready to sort through yet, etc.

Email me with questions or corrections. And let me know if you make one of these!

Posted in
Domestic Art, Journal, Tutorial
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18 Responses

  1. I love that green fabric! Great tutorial!!!

  2. Cuuuuuuuuuuuute!

  3. I like this alot! I’m on the anti-plastic bag movement as well. Whipping up a few of these would be perfect.

  4. I make a similar tote, but the part I hate is the handles …ribbon! So simple and much prettier too!

  5. Great tutorial, I’ll have to try that! Thanks for your sweet comment on my blog, I pray that I make a difference! I really enjoy your blog, your such an inspiration!

  6. Great tutorial!! Love those fabrics!!
    I sent a little t-shirt off today in the mail – it should get to you in time.

  7. LOVE the fabric!

  8. And let me know if you make one of these!

    Whish I could!!!!

  9. Kelli! Thank you for the tote bag tutorial… just as you promised! I really appreciate it.
    I am certainly going to get some sewing action in with my first sewing machine now 🙂

  10. Great tutorial Miss Kelli… and a nice gift too 🙂 Oh, and such pretty fabric.

  11. Great bag and tutorial, Kelli, this will help as I need to make a bunch of bags for a project this summer. I really appreciate your sharing the instructions.

    We must be on the same tutorial wave length as I posted a tutorial today, too, for a recycled ironing board/buffet pad.

  12. Great bag, as always. I want to make bags and sew! In fact, a friend offered her old sewing table to me yesterday. If only I could now get a sewing machine. Ha! But, good news…I’m a proud owner of a computer (should arrive this week!) and a digital camera! I’m entering the new century–Ta Da!

  13. Very cute. And you make it look easy…though I would end up with a weirdly shaped, unevenly stitched THING. 🙂

  14. To hang on the back of my door for things I am not ready to sort through yet???

    How have I NOT thought of doing this?

    I’m doing this.

    Wuv you.

  15. Linda May 22, 2008

    Thanks for the tutorial Kelli. Once again, beautiful fabric combination!

  16. I love it! I’m going to have to try this. I have just the fabric to do it!