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Molly's Sketchbook: 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!

Reader Comments (59)

Hello! I just wanted to let you know I used this as my very first project on my new sewing machine. Thanks! What a great project!
June 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJessie
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.
August 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJR
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
October 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLynne M.
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?
October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey
HI Lindsey-

Yes we do! The Forty Minute Tote!

Thanks for writing in!

October 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
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 :)
December 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmandanico
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!
January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCorey
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.
April 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSheila
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:

April 4, 2014 | Registered Commenterpurl bee

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