Quilting · Sewing

Rail Fence Patchwork Tote Bag

I have been thinking of making a tote bag for a while now. A few years ago, I found a bag pattern at a Walmart store, which I thought would be a great project for my quilt fabric, and a great way to practice my sewing skills. Going through my fabric stash, I pulled out four random fat quarters I bought from my local Fabricville store a few years ago. I figured these would be the perfect fabric pieces to use, as I am not emotionally attached to these random fat quarters as I am to some of the fabric in my stash which are waiting for the perfect project. If I mess up this bag, no loss.

I pressed out each of the fat quarters, and cut six 1.5 inch strips from each piece of fabric. I then arranged the strips into groups of four, 1 strip from each of the four fat quarter pieces, and sewed the strips together. Each group of four strips was sewed together in the same order of strips, polka dot, peach, graphic print, and darker pink.

Once all six groups of strips were sewn together, I cut the strips into 4.5 inch blocks. This gave me 24 blocks, four blocks from each strip. All of the blocks should look exactly the same.

To decide on the size and pattern of the bag, I laid out the blocks on my quilt wall. Originally, I thought I would make the bag four blocks wide and six blocks long, but I didn’t like the size of the bag. I felt the bag would be too narrow. I could have cut another set of strips to create more blocks, but I didn’t want a large tote bag. After playing around with the squares on the quilt wall, I settled on three blocks wide and eight blocks long for the patchwork.

Laying the blocks into 3 rows of 8 blocks would create a bag with a decent width, not too narrow and not too wide. Unfortunately, the height of the bag would be too short, so to create some height to the bag, I cut a 2.5 inch strip for the top of the bag, and I added a 1.5 inch strip to the bottom. Once the outer patchwork piece was sewn together, I attached medium weight fusible interface to the back side of the patchwork. I also added some stitch work by stitching straight lines a 1/4 inch on each side of the vertical seams of the blocks. This added a little decorative stitching, and helped secure the fusible interfacing to the patchwork.

With my patchwork piece sewn together, I cut out a piece of solid fabric for my lining. I used the same fabric as the border strips I attached to the patchwork. The lining fabric piece is cut in the same size as the patchwork piece. For this particular bag the patchwork and lining pieces measure 15 inches by 30 inches.

To construct the bag, the outer patchwork piece is folded in half lengthwise with the shorter sides matched together, right sides facing in. The fabric piece will look more like a square than a long rectangle. The patchwork piece is sewn together along the edges opposite the fold. Once sewn, centre the seam to the middle of the back of the bag, then press the sides of the bag, and stitch the bottom of the bag closed. After sewing the bottom, mark 1 inch squares on each of the bottom corners, and cut those corners out. The size of the cutout corners will determine the width of the bottom of the bag, so the bigger the square cut from the bottom, the wider the bottom of the bag will be.

The lining is created the same way as the outer patchwork piece, however, when folding the fabric in half and making the first seam (the back seam), you will need to leave 4-5 inches left unsewn. This 4-5 inch gap will provide an opening to turn the bag rightside out when everything has been sewn together.

To sew the square cut-outs made at the bottom seam, open the squares and match the bottom seam to the pressed crease created along the side. Holding the square opening closed with seam and crease together, sew the square closed in a straight line from the front of the bag to the back (or back of the bag to the front). This is done to both the outer patchwork piece and the lining.

Once the bag and lining are sewn, the straps need to be made. I cut two strips of fabric that were 6 inches by 30 inches. To make these strips into straps, fold the strip in half and press to create a centre crease. Open the strip up and fold each side in towards the centre crease and press. While keeping the sides folded into the centre, fold the strip along the centre crease, and sew the open edge (opposite the fold). Do this for each of the strips, and it should result in two 1.5 inch straps.

To assemble the bag, I pinned the bag straps to the inside of the patchwork piece, which should still be inside out. One strap gets pinned to the front of the bag, and the other to the back. I use the seam down the back as my guide to pin the strap at even points on each side, and then match up the front strap with the back. The straps are pinned before the lining is inserted. This will attach the straps to the bag between the outer patchwork and the lining.

Once the straps are pinned, the lining piece is turned right side out, and inserted into the bag. The back seam of the lining should match up to the outer patchwork shell.

Pin around the top of the bag to keep the outer patchwork bag, the lining, and the straps in place. Sew around the edge of the top of the bag, securing all of the pieces together.

To turn the bag right side out, reach into the back through the opened part of the lining seam, and gently pull the outer patchwork piece through the hole.

Once the bag has been turned right side out, and before tucking the lining inside the bag, sew the opening in the back seam of the lining closed. When the lining seam has been sewn closed, push the lining inside the bag.

To finish the bag, press the top of the bag. Stitch around the top of the bag, 1/4 – 1/2 inch from the top. This will create a nice finish, and an extra round of stitches securing all of the pieces together. In the end I wound up with a tote bag that is 14.5 inches wide and 13 inches high.

I love how easy this bag was to make. I am not sure yet what I’m going to use it for, maybe grocery shopping. I already have another patchwork tote bag in progress.

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