Large Totes: Illustrated Example



Examples of Completed Totes
Instruction Sheet

These are the instructions for making the large totes that the ladies of Christ the King Lutheran donate to the women’s shelter, Interact of Wake County.  Obviously, you can also use them to make totes for your own use with your own materials. A blog post I did for Peace Presbyterian church about these totes can be read here: Sewing Hearts Together: Working with InterAct .

The totes were designed to be large, but the wide drawstring made of recycled ties allows the tote to be carried hands-free.

Here our model carries an empty tote.  Her hands are free for opening doors or holding hands with a friend.

The printed instructions for making these totes are helpful when you understand what the finished product will look like.  However, if you have never seen a completed tote and have a different idea as to how they might look, some steps can be confusing.  I am going to go through the instructions step by step with photos to help anyone who might get stuck at some point.  Some of the steps are obvious, and I don’t mean to insult your intelligence.  Nevertheless, for completeness, I’ll illustrate most of the steps.

Note that although I have sewed many of these totes, I am otherwise a beginner to sewing.  If you are more experienced, or if you own a serger or a fancier machine, you may decide to do some of these steps differently.  You may decide to even add some better touches.  As long as the finished product is the same and the seams are sturdy, that is OK.

The Kit

The kit should include an approximately 30’ x 60’ piece of fabric, some binding, and a large pocket as well as instructions.

Sample parts of a kit


For some pockets it is obvious which side is the right side, but others look good on both sides.  If you are not sure which side is right, use the side of the pocket that—in your judgement—best compliments the fabric.

Sometimes you may receive a binding folded over, but do not use it that way.  Always flatten it out and use a single thickness.

Note that the binding is not going to be used the same as on a blanket.  Instead, it will create a channel inside the top edge of the tote for the ties to run through.

Every now and then, by accident, a kit will have fabric that is difficult to sew, or is stained, or a binding that is too small.  If so, just return the kit with a brief explanation.

Steps 1 and 2

1.  Zigzag around all outer edges of your fabric piece to prevent fraying.

2. Sew pocket to front of tote @8″ down from one narrow edge. Double stitch your seams for strength and sew a small reinforcing triangle in each upper pocket corner.

These two steps are fairly self explanatory.

Step 2:  Preparing to pin the pocket to the base material. (In this example, the base material was pieced from two pieces of material)
Step 2: Example of the corner triangle at the top of the pocket. (This photo almost looks like the pocket is sewn shut, but it is not.  The seam at the top is only on the pocket, except for the part belongs to the corner triangle.)

Step 3

3. Sew side seams with fabric’s RST (right sides together). Sew down from top ¾” and resew this short seam 3x for strength.  Leave a 2 ½” opening (for pullstrings) before continuing to sew the rest of this side seam.  Sew side seams 2x for strength.

Step 3:  Leaving a 2 ½” opening in the side seam.  Do this on both sides

Step 4

“4. Create a 6″ box bottom by pinching side seam at base of tote to create a triangle w/side seam of bag going exactly down the center of this triangle.  Measure 6″ across the triangle keeping side seam centered and where you have 3″ on either side of your side seam and the ruler tells you total length is 6″ mark with a pencil.  Pin here to keep fabric from shifting. Stitch across marked line 2x. Repeat at other lower corner.”

Step 4: Box bottom seam on one side.  Do this at both lower corners.

Step 5

5. With RST pin one edge of blanket binding around uppermost tote edge leaving an extra 1+” hanging beyond the side seam at either end.  Once pinning is done use a pencil to mark where the binding hits the side seam and mark entire width of both binding ends this way.  Match these pencil marks to create a seam you will sew to make a closed circle of binding that will fit your tote! Check for fit then cut away excess and zigzag these raw edges of the newly made seam to prevent fraying.  Your raw seam will be facing up.  Sew binding to upper edge of tote using about a  ¼” seam from binding edge.

Step 5 is where I had trouble when I made my first tote, and it is the step where I do things a tiny bit differently.

After finishing step 4, you can turn the tote right side out.  Then pin the right side of the binding to the right side of the upper edge of the tote leaving an extra bit hanging at one of the side seams.

Step 5: Pinning the binding to the tote, right sides together, stopping an inch or two from one of the side seams. Note that the binding should not be folded.

Here is where I depart from the instructions a bit.  I go ahead and sew most of the ¼” seam between the upper edge of the tote and the binding, so I don’t have to deal with the pins while I’m doing the next part.  I still leave the same inch or two unsewn around the one side seam –for now. Then I make the pencil marks where each end of the binding hits the side seam.

Step 5:  You can see the ¼” seam is partially done and the the pencil marks are made on the binding where each end of it hits the side seam.

The two ends of the binding are sewn together matching the pencil marks to create a closed circle. Next, trim the excess binding and zigzag the resulting raw edges to prevent fraying. Finally, go back and finish the ¼” seam at the top.

Step 5: finished

Step 6

Flip sewn binding into inside of bag and pin well along unsewn edge.  Top stitch top edge of tote ON RIGHT SIDE OF TOTE about ¼” down from tote top.  Now sew lower edge of well pinned binding in place using zigzag stitch and going around twice.”


Step 6:  Flip the binding to the inside of the tote and pin on the lower edge.  Note that none of the binding will show on the right side of the tote.
Step 6:  Top stitch ¼” on the right side of the tote.
Step 6: Finally sew the lower edge of the binding to the tote using a zigzag stitch and going around twice

Choose a thread color for the top stitch and the bottom zigzag stitch that contrasts with tote fabric, or one that matches it depending on your judgement as to which looks best. I usually start out by sewing the first round of zigzag stitches from the inside.  The second round I often sew from the outside, to make sure it looks right, although I’m sure most people just go around twice without switching sides.

A completed tote showing the side seam opening into which the ties will be threaded.

The tote is now ready to be returned for stringing with ties.  The tie-stringing step is normally done by the same people that put together the kits, since we receive bags of different colored ties that we can match to different colored totes.

If you are interested in the next steps, you can see the instructions for cutting and sewing the ties, and completing the totes in the following post:  Part 2 of the Large Tote Instructions: Adding the Ties

Thanks for reading, and let me know if something needs to be made clearer.

Here are photos of a few more completed totes:






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