The Twenty Minute Tote

Updated September 2011

We have remade these awesome, simple bags for fall! This time around, I used a gorgeous new collection of upholstery weight cotton called Outside Oslo. These bold, stylish prints are sophisticated without being serious and come in a rich palette of colors perfect for fall. I added some sturdy contrasting cotton webbing handles for a pop of color, and I love the way they came out! The new materials are as follows:

To make one tote bag:

  • 1/2- yard of Outside Oslo Fabric. I used (clockwise from top left): Dawn Frond, Dawn Sticks, Dusk Wildflower,  and Dawn Picket
  • 2 yards of 1-inch cotton webbing to compliment your fabric. I used (clockwise from top left): Taupe, Turquoise, Turquoise, and Yellow.
  • Cotton thread to match your fabric
  • Cotton thread to contrast with the inside of the bag

Updated February 2011

These totes really do come together in 20 minutes a piece which makes them a great, quick, way to add a little Springtime color and excitement into the dull end of Winter months. To make one tote bag:

  • 1/2-yard of Kokka Apples. I used Pink Mini Apples, Orange Mini Apples, Blue Mini Apples, and Green Large Apples
  • 2 yards of 1-inch cotton webbing to compliment your fabric. I used Natural, Yellow, Turquoise, and Green
  • Cotton thread to match your fabric
  • Cotton thread to contrast with the inside of the bag

The Original

The fabric in these how to shots is from Echino and is now out of print but you can see more from the same designer, Etsuko Furuya here.


Cut two 16-inch tall by 14-inch wide panels from the fabric. Make sure the pattern is going the correct direction on both panels.

Cut two 22 1/2-inch long pieces from the webbing.

Attaching Handles and Hemming the Top

Pin the handle pieces to the top raw edge of the right side of each panel 3-inches from the sides. The raw edges of the handles should match up with the raw edge of the top of the panel so the handles will be facing down as shown in the picture above. Make sure the handles aren't twisted.

Using the contrasting thread sew a zig zag stitch across the  top edge, sewing the handle to the top edge in the process.

This zig zag stitch should be right at the edge of the fabric as shown above.

Turn the panels so their wrong sides are facing up. Press and pin their top edges with the handles down 1 1/2-inches

Make sure to pin the handle so it's perpendicular to the horizontal sides.

Sew this fold down with the matching thread a 1/4 inch from to top edge and then with a second seam 1/4-inch from the bottom zig zag stitch.

The handle will now be attached and the top hem sewn down on both panels. You're now ready to sew the bag together.

Sewing the Bag Together

Pin the panels right sides together and sew along the sides and bottom 1/2-inch from the raw edges using the matching thread. Back stitch at the beginning and end of each seam.

Snip off the bottom corners.

Using the contrasting thread zig sag stitch along the raw edges of the sides and bottom of the bag.

Make sure to stitch right along the edge to contain the threads from the raw edges.

Turn the bag right sides out press the corners and you're all done!

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71 Responses to The Twenty Minute Tote

  1. purl bee says:

    Hi pukekome-

    We probably won't be able to do this any time soon (although I know the metric system makes a lot more sense that ours!) So until we catch up to the rest of the world, you might want to use an easy conversion calculator site like this one:

    Thanks for writing in!


  2. JR says:

    I just made one of these today on my new-to-me vintage sewing machine. Having no webbing on hand, I made handles out of some twill I sewed into tubes and turned. I boxed the corners, as I like that in a bag.

    I really liked the way the handles were attached–very elegant and finishes nicely.

  3. Lynne M. says:

    Thank you for sharing this lovely bag. I made one for each of my young granddaughters (slightly larger) to take their books to and from the library. I embroidered their names on the front; no picking up the wrong bag!

    To be so clever and share with others is a gift. Thanks again!

    Las Vegas

  4. Lindsey says:

    Love it! I'm a brand new sewer, but I think I could do this. Thanks for sharing. Do you have any posts on how to do a lined bag?

  5. purl bee says:

    HI Lindsey-

    Yes we do! The Forty Minute Tote!

    Thanks for writing in!


  6. Amandanico says:

    Great tutorial! Thanks so much for sharing, made my first one today and I plan on making one for all my pals for Christmas this year. I messed up and bought my cotton webbing in yard cuts so my handles pieces are only 18" but it still leaves enough room to easily carry the bag.
    Amanda :)

  7. Corey says:

    As usual, another wonderful tutorial! I have used this tutorial over and over again. I've made a few as gifts and have used it to teach my students basic sewing skills, it took them a little longer than twenty minutes though :) Here is one I made for my niece,

    Thanks Molly!

  8. Sheila says:

    I'm just going to change the dimensions a little, make the straps for a shoulder bag and. it'll be an iPad carrier. Thank you so much. They'll make great gifts.

  9. purl bee says:

    Hi Shiela-

    That sounds like a good plan. If you want to make a more substantial laptop cover you might want to check out this project:


  10. amy says:

    Thanks for posting this awesome project! Perfect for a beginner like me. I just made one for my mom for mother's day…now onto a second for my mother-in-law!

    One quick technique question for you….when you say to snip off the bottom corners, how close to the stitched corner should that cut be? Thanks!

  11. purl bee says:

    Hi Amy-

    It should be roughly 1/8-inch from the stitched corners. Thanks so much for your question!


  12. caro says:

    oh i have to try this, too…. great for a gift….

  13. Sarah Helene says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE the stylish fabric you've chosen for these tot bags! 20 minutes from start to finish, seems UNREAL! How EASY! THANKS for sharing the tutorial! Sarah in Minneapolis

  14. I love these Molly! Have made my own slightly smaller version for teacher gifts (my fat quarters were obviously a bit smaller than yours!) x

  15. Jessie says:

    This is really cute..have made bags in the past but this was a good refresher to do such an easy tote. I have two young ladies that I will be teaching a beginning sewing class to and this will be the first thing I will have them make. I may even have them applique their inital on the front. Such a good project..thank you for sharing.

  16. gail says:

    I wonder if you could put a lining o these bags. I might try.

  17. purl bee says:

    Hi Gail-

    You certainly can! I actually made another bag based on this one called the "Forty Minute Tote" that has a lining and an inside pocket. You can find that pattern here:

    Thanks for writing in!


  18. Courtney says:

    I was searching for a simple tote project and feel so lucky to have found yours. I appreciate your clear instructions and photography of each step. Sewing is not my strength, but you made me look like a superstar in my 7 yr old’s eyes today. Thanks for a great memory between mom and daughter.

    • Molly from the Purl Bee says:

      Hi Courtney-

      Thats so nice to hear! Thanks for sharing this story!



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