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Make a Simple Grocery Bag Tote – Part II Assembly

Completed grocery tote bag

My first post, on pattern drafting, showed you how to make a simple tote bag pattern. This post will cover how to assemble it. I’ll also show how to make french seams, which form a quick, easy seam finish that won’t unravel in the wash.

For these bags, I used a vintage 60s polyester canvas. I normally don’t like poly, but it does work well for an item that will get dirty and need to be laundered frequently. Plan on roughly 1/2 a yard per bag, plus extra for handles. For a four bag set like this, plan on 2 1/2 yards.

First, cut out your pattern, keeping it square and on grain. If this is your first time using a new pattern, I recommend finishing one bag completely before cutting out any of the others, so you can fix anything you don’t like. I made my first bag too small and resized the rest. You don’t want to find this out after you have cut up all your fabric!

For this bag, we’ll be using french seams. Here is a quick tutorial:

French seams step 1

Sew the first seam with the right sides facing OUT. We’ve been so conditioned to always have the right sides facing in that you might have to make a conscious effort to have the right sides facing OUT. Double check before sewing! As you can see in the picture, I’ve sewn a scant 1/8″ seam. If you’re not comfortable with this, cut your seam allowances larger, then sew a 3/8″ or 1/2″ seam and trim it down. In either case, make sure there are no frayed edges that could show through the final seam.

French seam step 2

After you’ve sewn the first seam with right sides facing out, fold the seam so that the right sides are now facing in, as seen above. Your first seam and the raw edges will now be trapped inside a second seam.

French seams step 3

Sew a second seam with the right sides together. It needs to be large enough to miss the raw edges of the seam inside. As you can see above, it gives a very nice, clean finish!

To sew the bag with french seams, it is fastest to complete step 1, sewing the seam with the right sides facing out, on both sides and the bottom. Turn it wrong side out, and sew the second seam on both the sides and the bottom. When you are finished, it will look like the bag above.

Constructing the corner

Next you’ll make the corners. Turn the bag so that the right sides are out again, and sew step one of the french seam. Make sure that the seam allowance on the bottom is not twisted.

Turn the bag so that the wrong sides are out, and sew the final seam along the bag bottom corners. Now we’re ready to finish the top.

For these grocery bags, just fold over a simple 1/2″ hem, and you’re done with the body!

All that’s left are the handles. I make mine a little differently. I cannot stand to turn tubes. After years of struggling with frayed, ripped out, misshapen messes that were supposed to be an elegantly turned handle, I gave up and developed my own technique. If you are graced with tube-turning ability, then by all means make your handles that way. But if you’re like me, just make them like this. The sewing police aren’t watching!

The first step is to cut two 20″ long by 4″ wide strips for each bag.

Handle construction

Fold a 1/2″ hem up at each end of the strip.

Then fold the sides in like you would to make a bias strip.

Then fold the strip in so that all raw edges are hidden.

Now pin the handle carefully so that the two edges are aligned, and top stitch all the way around the handle. Not only did you get to avoid turning tubes, but the handle is four thicknesses wide, giving it a nice sturdy feel.

All that’s left is to attach your handles to the bag. For the 18″ wide bag, I placed the handles 5 1/2″ from the outside edge, with 2″ of handle sewn to the bag for strength. Sew an X-shaped design for added reinforcement.

As I mentioned in the pattern drafting post, I made the first bag 14″ wide, which is too small for most groceries. I enlarged the pattern, and made 3 bags that are 18″ wide. It was a serendipitous mistake, because the small bag is perfect for holding the other three bags when not in use, as well as for small shopping trips to get one or two items. These bags are great because you can really stuff them! For my small household, three will accommodate a big shopping trip. For a large family, six would probably work better for you. Happy sewing!


Simple Pillow with Slip Stitch Tutorial

Loryn: You can make simple pillows from just a bit of fabric and some stuffing material. For this pillow, I did a simple slip stitch closure that is quick and easy. If you’re not confident with slipstitching yet, read on for some tips to help upgrade your skills.

Vintage linen tea towels

For simple pillows, you can be really creative with materials. For this pillow I used vintage linen tea towels, an inexpensive source for a great print. I used two bed pillows for stuffing material. This pillow is very tightly stuffed to provide a lot of support.

To make your pillow, cut two pieces of fabric to size, and pin them together with the right sides together.

Make the opening in the middle of the seam

Sew the edges together, leaving an opening for stuffing the pillow. Be sure to leave the opening in the middle of a seam, not in the corner, because it’s hard to form a corner with hand stitching.

Trim the corners so they are easier to turn

Trim the corners so it will be easier to turn them.

Use a pin to make the corners pointy

Turn the envelope right side out, and press the seams. Use a pin or dull needle to pull the corners out, but don’t pull so much that you tear the seam.

Pin the seams to make a guide for your stitching

Before you start stitching, pin the seams in place across the opening. You’ll place your slip stitches right on the fold.

Place your knot inside the seam, and bring the needle out on the fold. The most important thing to do to make your slip stitching look good is to keep your stitches lined up. Make the stitches short, and catch the fabric on the other side directly opposite your first stitch.

Pull the stitches taut after every few stitches. Keep sewing all the way across the opening. When finished, make a knot with your needle, and hide the thread inside the seam. Enjoy your new pillow!

Finished slip stitched opening