Tote-ally Awesome

I wanted to share a how to for a handbag. After all of my years as a handbag designer, I figured some of those skills should spill into the blog. So the first bag I wanted to tackle, is the easiest one. Not only is the construction easy, I feel like a tote is always my go to bag for everything! There always good to have around.

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I knew I wanted a pop print on the gusset (the fancy name for the side of the bag). Originally I wanted to go monochrome with the whole thing because, well, it’s my go to color scheme – but then I found this great print and it became a whole new bag! All about bright colors, which I think totally fits for the coming seasons. A side note about picking fabrics – the best fabric for bags have a little weight to them. No one likes it when they put their bag down and it just become a puddle of fabric. To keep this from happening you have a few options. Either pick a heavier/stiffer fabric or back a softer fabric with an interfacing. I chose to go with a stiffer fabric. I used felt for the front and back, as well as the lining. Since the gusset material I picked is very soft, the felt lining will help give it the body it needs.

There are only two pattern pieces you’ll need to download. The front/back and the gusset. The front and back pattern actually makes up the bottom of the tote. I actually really like the shape this creates. Instead of a basic t-bottom tote, you have a little more shape without much more work. For the lining, use the same pattern pieces.

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For the handle, you can do a lot of different things. You can use fabric, but I would recommend getting some kind of filler for it if that’s what you choose. I chose to use leather – because I like it and I like working with it. It doesn’t need to be turned in or backed, just attach it on and you’re done. I appreciate when I can make shortcuts that still add value. I cut the leather in 30″ strips, 3/4″ wide.

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Now lets put it all together! I added a little pocket to the front and to add some extra interest to the pocket, I did a little embroidery in the same type of pattern from the print on the gusset. I picked some colors that matched and then drew it out on the underside of the pocket (remember – it will be the reverse of what you draw!) I stitched it up and then attached the pocket to the front of the bag. My machine has all of these really awesome stitches, so I wanted to use one of them to attach the pocket. It really cleaned up the edge nice.

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Now that the pocket is in place, you can get started sewing the pattern pieces together. First, sew the front and back together at what will become the bottom. This is easy since it’s just a straight line. Now for the harder part – attaching the gusset! When pinning it in place, I found the best way to make sure it was in place was to fold the gusset in half – with the good side facing out. Bring the edge of the fold right to the bottom seam. Pin in place and start pinning the rest of the edges from there. This will ensure that the gusset is exactly where it should be. Sew it.

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When you finish attaching both gussets, it’s time to work on the lining. You just simply repeat the same process you followed for the outside of the bag with one slight change. When sewing the bottom seam, you’ll want to leave an opening about an inch and a half wide in the middle of the seam. Be sure to back stitch here to really lock the seam in place. This is where you will be pulling the bag right side out after sewing the outside and lining together.

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Once you have the lining constructed, turn it inside out. Drop the lining into the outside of the bag and pin the toplines together. This is how you will attach the lining and outside together. Run a stitch all around the top and then start pulling it right side out from the little hole in the seam. THIS was the hardest part of the whole process for me! It is not easy, but it definitely leaves you with the cleanest final product. I may have broken a sweat here.

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Once you finally wrestle it out, hand stitch the hole closed and push the lining down into the bag. To finish it off, I like to sew a line around the top. To get this really flat, you can iron it or do what I like to do….wiggle it between my fingers like I’m trying to open a produce bag at the grocery store. This seems to work for me! I get the seam flattened out and then pin it in place to hold. After it’s stitched, all that’s left to do is attach the handles! I sewed mine on and made a little X design.

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