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Jun 5 / Jamie

Ready, Steady, SEW! Tote bag and pencil case tutorial.

Readty, steady, SEW! Tote bag and pencil case tutorial

Last month I got my hands on some yardage of Summersville by Lu Summers for Moda.  There are a number of fabric lines that I love, but this one is definitely in my top three.  My kids and I have spent numerous hours the past month coloring in these incredible prints.  They have been very keen to share their creations with their friends, and today, we hosted our first “sewing party”.  In preparation, we all decided to make the following tutorial.  The kids were involved in every aspect of planning, production, and even some of the post-processing of the pictures and the movie.  Just like with the boxed pouch tutorial, we are posting an abbreviated version of things here in this post, but if you would like to see the full-on, 29 picture set of instructions, then follow the link over.  Please tell us if you have any questions!

This movie gives you a brief overview of the steps you will need to take to make this project.  It is not meant to stand on its own, but was designed to be used in conjunction with the picture tutorial that follows.  We all had SO much fun doing this project together, we hope this is the first of many multi-media creations our family makes together.

Step 1: Collect your Materials
Readty, steady, SEW! Tote bag and pencil case tutorial

  • 1/2 yard of fabric to color, washed and pressed (we chose Summersvile by Lu Summers in coal)
  • 1.5 yards of strapping material (we used 7/8″ black polypropylene, bought by the spool at JoAnn’s)
  • 10″ x 12″ piece of material for lining pencil case (we used canvas)
  • 1 12″ or longer zipper
  • freezer paper
  • permanent markers (we used a combo of Sharpie and Bic, make sure they are PERMANENT)
  • a sewing machine with a zipper foot
  • an iron and ironing board
  • scissors, pins, neutral colored thread

Step 2: Cut your Fabric

Readty, steady, SEW! Tote bag and pencil case tutorial

Cut your fabric into three pieces.  Two that are 18″ x 16″ for the tote bag and one that is 18″ x 11″ for the pencil case.  We do this using the “snip and rip” method by cutting slightly into the edge and then ripping the fabric.  Take the piece of fabric for the pencil case and cut it into two pieces that are 9″ x 11″.  One will be for the pencil case and one is extra (you could use the extra piece to make a pocket for your tote bag or to line your pencil case).

Step 3: Iron the freezer paper onto your fabric

Place your fabric right-sde down on your ironing board.  Place the wax side of the freezer paper down onto the wrong side of your fabric.  Place your iron on the wool setting and turn off steam.  Press over the entire piece, holding the iron in place 5-10 seconds per spot.  Ironing the freezer paper on makes it easier to color the fabric, and can keep permanent marker off of the surface you are working on.  This step is not necessary, but it is recommended.  Did you know you can iron freezer paper onto fabric and then print onto it from your printer (laser OR ink jet).  We have also been having fun doing this!

Step 4: Color your Fabric

Readty, steady, SEW! Tote bag and pencil case tutorial
This is the best part of the project.  We have had so much fun coloring these amazing prints.  We have used both Bic and Sharpie permanent markers with great results.  No bleeding after washing, and rich, vibrant colors.  You might want to test your markers on a spare piece of fabric and wash and dry it, just to make sure it doesn’t run (I accidentally used Sharpie markers that were NOT permanent, and I turned a pouch and bag both pink 🙁  )The Bic markers say “not for use on fabric” but we aren’t sure why.  There are also fabric specific markers, but we haven’t tried these yet.

Step 5:  Sew Your Tote bag

Readty, steady, SEW! Tote bag and pencil case tutorial

We made the bag in the video with French seams, which are great because they make for a very nice looking interior and are very strong. You can make you bag without these seams, just remember to finish your seams with a  zig-zag stitch or with a  serger (I either use French seams or my serger depending on time/mood).  For French seams, place your fabric wrong sides together, and stitch around the side, bottom, and other side of your bag using a 3/8″ seam, back-stitching at the beginning and end.  Turn your bag wrong-wide out and press.  Now, stitch around the same three sides of your bag with a 5/8″ seam this time, making sure to fully enclose the first seam that you made.  Turn and press.  Make a hem on the top of your bag, turning under 1/4″ and then 1/2″ and pressing.  Cut your straps to make two 18-27″ straps and pin them in place so that you can stitch them down while you are top-stitching your hem.  Alternatively, you can stitch the hem and then sew the handles in place.  I usually put my handles about 3″-5″ from the side of the bag.

Readty, steady, SEW! Tote bag and pencil case tutorial

Step 6: Make you Pencil Case

Readty, steady, SEW! Tote bag and pencil case tutorial

Place your fabric for your pencil case right-side up on top of your lining fabric (which is right-side down if it has a side).  Stitch all the way around the rectangle with a 1/2″ seam.  Then, zig-zag stitch all the way around (or just serge, creating a finished seam).  Line your zipper up at the top of your piece, zipper pull to the left, right-side of the zipper to the right side of the fabric.  Pin, stitch, then flip the zipper seam to the back of the fabric and top-stitch.  Repeat with the other side (watch the video, this part is so hard to explain, start at 5:20).  Open up your zipper at least half way and then turn wrong-side out.  Press your piece flat, making sure the zipper is positioned right in the middle.  Pin each end, placing one pin on either side of the zipper.  Stitch the two ends closed with a 1/2″ seam.  Trim all threads and the extra ends off of the zipper, turn and enjoy!

Readty, steady, SEW! Tote bag and pencil case tutorial

Note: The full-on 29 picture annotated tutorial is available here.


Leave a comment
  1. 1
    Alyssa / Jun 6 2012

    This is beyond awesome…love it!

  2. 2
    Debbie / Jun 6 2012

    How clever are you!? This is really fun – thanks for the great idea!

  3. 3
    di / Jun 27 2012

    Wow, I loved watching this! your son did great! I’m very impressed. 🙂

  4. 4
    beth lehman / Jul 3 2012

    i saved this in my reader, only now getting around to it!!! WHAT A GREAT VIDEO!!! I love that your kids practically did it all!!!

    • 4.1
      Jamie / Jul 4 2012

      Thanks so much, we had so much fun making it!

  5. 5
    Maureen / Aug 22 2012

    Thanks for this… very cute video! Making my daugther the pencil case 🙂

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