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Tutorial: Sew Your Own Book Tote

SultanaBun By SultanaBun Published on July 5, 2016
This article was updated on December 9, 2016

I didn’t need a new bag. I wanted one.

I’m a book-totin’ kinda gal. I don’t leave home without a book and, if I’m almost finished a book, I might need to bring the next book along too. Recently, I’ve been following Steven King’s advice to carry a notebook with me at all times. One never knows when a bright idea will strike. Genius striking seems as likely as lightning but, nevertheless, I am prepared. In addition to the books and notebooks, I must keep my Staedtler fineliner pens close about my person at all times or risk losing them to my nefarious offspring. Throw in wallet, phone and an emergency packet of nuts... is it any wonder that I lust after tote bags of generous proportions?

Inspired by The Great British Sewing Bee, I decided to design and make a bag to fit my own requirements.

This is a basic, functional bag with no darts or gussets to concern you. I made the shoulder strap extra wide as there is nothing worse than a mean strap slicing through your shoulder. You can make the strap narrower if you wish. This bag sits with the opening level with my waist. Adjust the strap length if you would like the bag to hang lower to the hip or sit snugly under your arm. I made two pockets, one is just the right size to hold my wallet and the other is a tight fit for my phone. You might like to adjust these to hold a tablet or pens.

I've used a third fabric for the pockets to make it easier to see where they are fitted. If you omit the pockets, or make them from scraps, and reduce the strap width to 7cm, you would need to purchase only 0.5m each of your main and lining fabric.

The more you make the bag fit you, the better you will like it. The point is to make it yourself and make it your own.

You will need:

One metre each of two contrasting fabrics in medium weight cotton, one for the outer body of the bag and one for the lining.

Thread in a coordinating colour.



Measuring tape.

Sewing machine.

Cutting out:

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Press your outer fabric. Carefully mark and cut the following:

Body: Two rectangles 39cm wide and 43cm long.

Strap: One rectangle 88cm wide and 10 cm long.

Press your lining fabric. Carefully mark and cut the following:

Lining: Two rectangles 39cm wide and 43cm long.

Strap: One rectangle 88cm wide and 43cm long.

Wallet pocket: One rectangle 25cm wide and 19cm long.

Phone pocket: One rectangle 10cm wide and 17cm long.

Make the strap:

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With right sides of fabric facing, pin the strip of outer fabric to the strip of lining fabric. Sew around three sides leaving just one short end open. Turn the strap out to the right side by pulling it through the open end. Press the strap flat paying particular attention to the edges. There is no need to sew the end closed as this will be concealed inside the finished bag.

Place pockets:

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Turn down and press a narrow hem (0.5 cm) around all four sides of the pocket pieces. Snip excess fabric from the corners and sew the hem. Pin one pocket in position on to the right side of each lining piece. For the sake of security, I placed the pockets quite low down on the lining. You could add a pen pocket if you feel so inclined. Sew the sides and bottom of the pocket pieces on to the lining.

Make the lining:

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With the right sides facing, sew the side and bottom seams together. Press the seams inwards and snip excess from the corners. Turn down, press and sew a 1 cm hem around the top edge of the lining.

Attach the strap:

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Pin the ends of the strap to the wrong side of the lining. Make sure the strap isn’t twisted. Line up the side seams of the lining with the centre of the strap. Check that you are comfortable with the length and adjust it as you like. Stitch the strap securely in place. I’ve sewn a box shape, you could add a cross inside the box for some serious book-toting capability.

Make the body:

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With right sides facing, sew the side and bottom seams together. Press the seams inwards and snip excess fabric from the corners. Turn down and press a 1cm seam around the top edge of the body but do NOT sew the top hem. There is no need and the finish is neater without the extra line of stitches. This also leaves you a little room for manoeuvre in case your lining doesn’t match up exactly with the top of your bag.

Assemble the bag:

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Turn the body of the bag right side out and the lining inside out. Press both parts. Tuck the lining inside the body paying particular attention to the corners. With the outside of the bag facing up, sew around the top circumference of the bag. Ecco fatto!

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As I said, I didn’t need a new bag. I decided to give this one to my daughter’s music teacher as an end of year gift. A quick change of badges was all I needed.

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If you make a bag, please post a photo here! Just click on the pencil icon in the top right hand corner of your screen and follow the instructions. I'd love to see your choice of fabric and how you have personalised the design. I'm no expert so I would be grateful for your tips and advice. 

I have certainly been stung by the sewing bee and I’ve already invested in some new fabric. I may even be ready to brave an attempt on darts and gussets. Will you join me? 

I know, I know, I don’t need a new bag but still, I want one.

Irish blogger and book reviewer. Official contributor to Bookwitty.com and author of Bookwitty's monthly 'Cooking the Books' feature. Erstwhile microbiologist with an MSc in Food Science, she ... Show More