Rail Fence Patchwork Tote Bag

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 tote bag pattern at a Walmart store. I thought this pattern would be a great project for my quilt fabric. It is also a great way to practice my sewing skills. I pulled out four random fat quarters I bought from my local Fabricville store a few years ago. Since I am not emotionally attached to these fat quarters, these are the perfect fabric pieces to use. If I mess up this bag, no loss. 

I start by pressing out each of the fat quarters. I then cut six 1.5 inch strips from each piece of fabric. After cutting the strips, I arrange them into groups of four, 1 strip from each of the fat quarters. I then sew each group of strips together in the same order, polka dot, peach, graphic print, and darker pink.

With the six groups of strips 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 4 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 placing the squares on the quilt wall, I settled on 3 blocks wide and 8 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. 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. 

After sewing the outer patchwork together, I attach medium weight fusible interface to the back side of the patchwork. I also added quilt stitches 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. I cut the lining fabric piece 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, I fold the outer patchwork piece 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. Sew the patchwork piece together along the edge opposite the fold. Once sewn, I centre the seam to the middle of the back of the bag. I press the sides of the bag, and stitch the bottom of the bag closed. After sewing the bottom, I mark 1 inch squares on each of the bottom corners, and cut those corners out. The size of the cutout corners determines the width of the bottom of the bag. The bigger the square cut from the bottom, the wider the bottom of the bag will be. 

I create the lining the same way as the outer patchwork piece, with slight exception to the back seam. When folding the fabric in half and making the first seam (the back seam), a 4-5 inch gap needs to be left unsewn. This 4-5 inch gap provides an opening to turn the bag right side out after everything has been sewn together.

To sew the square cut-outs at the bottom seam, I open the corners and match the bottom seam to the pressed crease created along the side. Holding the corner closed with seam and crease together, I sew it 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. Keeping the sides folded into the centre, fold the strip along the centre crease. Sew lengthwise along 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. Pin one strap 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. I pin the straps before inserting the lining. This will attach the straps to the bag between the outer patchwork and the lining.

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. Pull the outer patchwork piece gently through the hole.

Before tucking the lining inside the bag, I sew the opening in the back seam of the lining closed. 

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 also 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.

This bag was so easy 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.

Back to blog