Railroad Tote

I recently had a run of bad bag luck. I had a leather purse that I loved, but it was destroyed when a bottle of water opened up inside of it. Then the pretty tote bag I used as a replacement ripped, leaving me completely bagless, disheartened and uninspired. Then one day as I was sitting by my sewing machine, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of some Railroad Denim fabric and eureka! With its sturdy weight and classic stripe, I knew I could make a winning bag that I’d be excited to carry!

A mere hour after my initial inspiration, I was tossing my wallet, lip gloss and keys into my beautiful new Railroad Tote, and my bag woes were a distant memory! I was so happy with how this tote turned out that I quickly made another using double-sided Black Washed 8 oz Denim. Both versions are hearty and strong and will stand up to washing and water bottle mishaps while still looking cute.

So if you’ve been having some bad bag luck yourself, or if you just need something fresh for summer, this project is for you. Make your own luck! -Molly


Railroad Tote-materials2.1

For the Striped Version:

For the Solid Version:


12 inches wide x 15 inches high x 4 inches deep


Wash and dry the fabric, but not the trims, before starting.



Railroad Tote-howtos

From the fabric cut:

  • Two Body Pieces: 17 inches wide by 19 inches tall. If you are doing the Striped Version, make sure that these pieces are cut with the stripes running vertically. For the Solid Version the lighter side of these pieces is the right side.
  • One Pocket: 7 ½ inches wide by 15 inches tall. If you are doing the Striped Version, make sure that this piece is cut with the stripes running horizontally. For the Solid Version the darker side of this piece is the right side.

From the Webbing cut two 53-inch long pieces.

From the Bias Tape cut two 17-inch lengths, one 15-inch length, and two 5 ½-inch lengths.

Sew on the Pockets and Handles

To hem the top of the Body Pieces, press the top (short) edge ¼ inch towards the wrong side and then again 1 ¼ inch. Pin this fold into place and edgestitch it down using the Fabric Thread. 

To hem the top of the Pocket, press the top (short) edge ½ inch twice towards the wrong side. Pin this fold into place and edgestitch it down using the Fabric Thread.

Press one of the Body Pieces in half lengthwise so the two long edges meet, creating a crease down the center. Do the same for the Pocket. With right sides facing up. match the two center creases and the bottom raw edges. Pin the Pocket to the Body Piece around the three raw sides of the Pocket, leaving the top hemmed edge unpinned.

Railroad Tote-howtos-2

Using the Fabric Thread, sew the Pocket to the Body Piece around all three pinned sides with a ¼-inch seam allowance.

Railroad Tote-howtos-3

With the right side of this Body Piece facing up, align one of the raw ends of the webbing with the bottom edge of the Body Piece so that the left edge of the Webbing is 4 3/8 inches from the left side of the Body Piece. Keeping the Webbing straight and consistently 4 3/8 inches from the left side, pin the Webbing all the way up the length of the bag, hiding the Pocket seam in the process. When you get to the top, measure 18 inches of Webbing for the handle and then reverse direction and pin the Webbing down the right hand side of the bag. Keep the right edge of the Webbing 4 3/8 inches from the right side of the Bag Piece, and make sure not to twist the handle!

Railroad Tote-sew diagram

Using the Webbing Thread, edgestitch the Webbing into place by sewing up the side, across the Webbing where it meets the top of the Body Piece, down the other side, and then across the bottom edge. Do the same for the other end of the Webbing.

Pin and sew the second length of Webbing to the second Body Piece in the same manner.

Sew the Bag Together

Railroad Tote-howtos-6

With right sides facing, pin the two Body Pieces together around their three raw sides. Make sure that both sides of the Webbing meet up neatly at the bottom of the bag.

Using the Fabric Thread and a ½-inch seam allowance, sew the two Body Pieces together.

Railroad Tote-howtos-7

Starting at the top of the bag and leaving a 1inch overhang, fold a 17-inch length of Bias Tape around the raw edges of one of the bag’s long sides. Pin the Tape in place, tucking its raw ends under at the top (there is no need to tuck the ends in at the bottom since you’ll be cutting them off in the next section).

Pin the second 17-inch length of Bias Tape down the opposite side of the bag in the same manner. 

Center the 15-inch length of Bias Tape over the bottom raw edges of the bag, fold the Tape over the edges and pin in place. Do not tuck either end of this Bias Tape.

Using the Bias Tape Thread, edgestitch all three Bias Tape into place, making sure you catch both sides of the Tape. If you miss a little, go back and sew it again (don’t worry, it’ll be your little secret deep inside your bag!)

Create the Boxed Bottom

Railroad Tote-sew diagram1

Pull the two Body Pieces away from each other at one of the bottom corners of the bag until the bottom seam and the side seam are lying directly on top of each other and the corner is at a 90-degree angle. Flatten the bias-taped seams so that they are lying in different directions (i.e. one is folded to the right and one to the left so that the bias tapes are not piled on top of each other). Press the corner down in this orientation. Make a mark perpendicular to the seams at the point where the pressed corner is 4 inches across.  Pin everything together along the mark.

Railroad Tote-howtos-9

Using the Fabric Thread, sew along the mark and then cut off the corner ½ inch beyond the sewn line.

Railroad Tote-howtos-10

Encase the raw edges of this new seam with a 5 ½-inch length of Bias Tape. Tuck under both of the raw ends of Bias Tape for a neat finish. Pin in place.

Repeat for the opposite corner of the bag. Make sure that when you are arranging the seams in different directions that the bottom seam is going in the same direction as it is on the opposite corner; you don’t want it to twist.

Turn the bag right sides out, iron out any creases and you’re all done!

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19 Responses to Railroad Tote

  1. Suzanne says:

    Your designs are so nice because they are simple and they have lovely finishing work.

  2. Alexandra says:

    This is beautiful! I love totes – not only for carrying my stuff around, but also for stowing away – for example my knitting works in progress.
    Thanks a lot, I feel inspired to sew one (or two?) right now.

  3. elsa says:

    Great tutorial ~ love the inside bindings!

  4. Robyn says:

    Awesome tote bags! Thank you so much for sharing….

  5. Tryntsje says:

    Excellent. So simple and they're beautiful!

  6. Who could fail to love the simplicity and beauty of this tote bag? I have only recently come across your website and I am hooked already!

  7. Ellen says:

    Is this tote available as a kit? If so how much and how can I purchase it.

  8. Eliza says:

    Im sure, it's much better than normal bags so it make this idea fantastic. I Love it. Eliza :D

  9. purl bee says:

    Hi Ellen-

    It isn't a kit but you can buy the fabric and materials by clicking on the light blue links in the materials section.

    Thanks so much for getting in touch!


  10. Lizabeth says:

    Wouldn't you be able to put a loop of fabric sewn into the side seam on the inside of the tote to hold a water bottle upright*? Or two strips of fabric with velco to work with different size bottles?

    *I'm thinking to have a dedicated water bottle for the tote :)

    Great tutorial!

  11. purl bee says:

    HI Lizabeth-

    Sure, those sounds like good ideas! If you end up making one please let us know how it goes!


  12. Jennifer says:

    I love the bag and made it in reversed side blue denim. One question though. If the bag sides are cut 19 inches long and the top hem is 1.5 inches, then the final length of the bag will be 17.5 inches rather than 15.5 inches. I cut off 2 inches from the bottom before sewing the sides together. Did I miss something?.

  13. Roseanna says:

    I was thinking, maybe elastic loops, top and bottom, for a water bottle???
    Great pattern, thank you!

  14. purl bee says:

    Hi Jennifer-

    I understand why you are confused but the missing 2-inches comes from the boxed bottom. In other words, the final length measurement is measured from the side of the boxed bottom, not the bottom seam. Imagine measuring from one of the bottom corners up to the top of the bag, The extra two inches can be found in the "depth" measurement, which is 4-inches, 2-inches from each side panel.

    With that said, there was a typo in the patten. The final length measured from the boxed bottom to the top should be 15-inches, not 15 1/2. I have corrected the pattern.

    Since you have already cut your pieces shorter you can just go ahead and sew the bag, it will be shorter than the bags pictured but I'm sure it will still be cute.

    Thank you!


  15. Mile says:

    I have just finished your Tote. Very well explained ; it was a pleasure to make it as I am not an expert ; I am very proud of the end result!
    I am french, live in France and the fabric size is not your standard size, neither the webbing, but, who cares..
    I love your site but unfortunately, I cannot buy a lot of things as everything become very expensive crossing the Atlantic. Never mind, I take inspiration.
    Thank you very much.

  16. Merleelah says:

    Another great tote! I just finished making this one and plan to make more. For those who are interested, I was able to complete this project from start to finish in a few hours.

  17. Nikki Kaehler says:

    What fabric is the gray on the solid bag? I’m thinking only the pocket is the denim in black. Does the solid version just appear gray in the pictures? Thanks for your help. Adorable tote. Can’t wait to make one!

    • Molly from the Purl Bee says:

      Hi Nikki-

      The gray solid is the reverse side of the black denim! You could certainly make a bag just using the lighter side, it would be beautiful!

      Thanks for your question!


  18. Katrín G says:

    Nice work and excellent tutorial ;-)

    Thanks ! I will try this one -

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