Vintage shoulder tote

Nothing like a rainy Brisbane day to inspire a spot of Saturday crafternooning. I was all creatively motivated after stumbling across the delightful Meet Me At Mikes blog.

In a happy coincidence, we needed some new reusable shopping bags because ours were getting pretty shabby. I was keen to avoid buying any more “green” polypropylene bags because it turns out they’re not so green.

It was time to tackle the tote. Here’s where I ended up:

Blue tote

Firstly, I picked up a couple of metres of vintage fabric from an op shop.

Morsbags has super-simple instructions on how to make your own totes so I pretty much followed this guide, although I made my own modifications along the way. I wanted a more rectangular bag with longer handles that could be more easily thrown over a shoulder, a must for the hustle and bustle of markets.

Here’s the dimensions I settled on:

  • Handles: Two pieces, each 79cm by 8cm.
  • Sides: One piece, 86cm by 39cm. I found it easier with one long piece of material that I folded to create the bottom seam, rather than cutting it in two only to have to sew it all back together again.

I did a few other things differently, too. When making the handles, I folded each side in equally (rather than making one side narrow, as Morsbags suggested), folded that in half again and then ran a stitch down either side. I thought it looked neater and it was easier to ensure the entire strap was equally folded.


I got out the tape measure when attaching the handles to the sides of the tote, ensuring it all lined up nicely when the bag was completed. It was pretty simple – 11cm on each side and about 12cm between the two straps. And I used a pin to secure each strap so they didn’t move around before sewing.

I hadn’t tried a French seam before and it felt mighty weird to firstly sew the sides together pattern-out, creating what looked to be quite a shabbily finished product! But, after turning it inside-out and adding the second seam, I was highly impressed with the technique. The beauty of a seam sans raw edges without the need for an overlocker.


Finished blue tote

A couple last little tips for beginner sewers:

  • For a really neat finish, pull both ends of the thread to one side, tie a double-knot by hand and trim the excess cotton. This is especially important when sewing the box and cross on the straps as your work will always be visible.
  • For perfect corners when sewing the box on the straps (or anytime you want to execute a sharp turn), keep the needle down and lift up the presser foot then swing the fabric 90 degrees, put the presser foot back down and carry on sewing in the new direction.
  • Ironing over the stitches after each section of sewing really helps to settle the piece and keep the edges crisp.

My first tote did take a couple of hours to put together as I figured out the nitty-gritty but my second and third attempts were much quicker. I later wrapped a couple totes in tissue paper and posted them to our sister, Candice, in South Australia as a little handmade birthday present. No more pseudo-green bags for us!