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How to Make a Tote Bag or a Reusable Grocery Bag

Updated on August 5, 2017
Dolores Monet profile image

A long time crafter Dolores has created sewing projects for private clients, including pillow covers, linen pillow cases, and sink skirts.

DIY Tote Bags


A Sustainable Project

In the attempt to reduce waste, many of us take our own reusable grocery bags to the supermarket. You can make your own unique grocery bag or tote bag by following the simple instructions outlined below.

A home made grocery bag or tote bag is an excellent gift and can even be used as a reusable gift bag. If you like to create hand crafted Christmas gifts, a tote bag is easy and fun to make with these simple instructions.

The bag should be constructed of heavy duty fabric and lined for additional strength. Insert a stiff material between the outer fabric and the lining to create a sturdy bag. The bag shown here is very heavy duty and is able to hold a lot of weight.

Using a bag like this can cut down on the use of plastic grocery store bags. Some supermarkets give you credit for using your own bags, while others charge you for each store provided bag that you use. So, not only is making your own bag fun and convenient, but a thrifty practice as well.

I based the bag on an existing, commercially made bag. You can do that, or measure out the size that you want. Do not make the bag too big. Two smaller bags are better than one large one.

The lines of this bag are simple enough that you don't have to be a whiz at sewing - it's easy!

Find fabric on sale or use left-over pieces from other projects. Many craft stores offer valuable coupons to make this project a thrift one. Joanne's fabric and craft stores often offer online, printable coupons.

Materials for Tote Bag or Reusable Grocery Bag

  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Scissors
  • Ruler, yardstick or tape measure
  • Marker ( pencil, chalk, whatever)
  • Heavy fabric like outdoor canvas
  • Lining
  • Stiffening - I used Pellon Ultra Firm Stabilizer
  • Scotch guard spray and/or waterproofing spray


Method - Measure and Cut Fabrics

  • Remember, when you cut material, the finished piece will be slightly smaller due to the sewn seams. 
  • Measure and cut front and back pieces of heavy fabric
  • Measure and cut the side panels and bottom of heavy fabric. Remember to cut the front and back pieces and the side panels all the same height. Cut the side pieces the same width as the bottom piece.
  • Cut strips of heavy duty fabric for handles. Remember to cut the handles much wider than you want as they will be folded to sew.
  • Repeat with the lining fabric (except for the handles)
  • Measure and cut the stiffening somewhat smaller than the bottom and the front and back pieces. You don't need to add stiffening to the side panels.

Front & Back, Bottom, Sides, and Handles


How to Make the Bag

  • Lining - Attach bottom to front and back panels.
  • Attach side panels then sew the front, back and sides to the bottom piece. Remember to keep all the rough seams on the same side.
  • Sew the outer fabric together. Place good side of the fabric together and sew with the dull side facing you. Leave a good sized seam allowance. Sew the front and back pieces to the bottom piece. Attach the sides. Sew the sewn bag to the bottom.
  • Fold and press the handles.
  • Turn the bag right-side out

Place good sides so that they face each other


Put the Bag Together

  • Place the bottom stiffening on the bottom of the bag with a smear of white glue or fabric glue. Press with your hands so that it lines up neatly.
  • Slide the lining into the finished bag. Keep the rough edges facing the outer fabric. Pin at seams
  • Insert stiffening between fabric and lining front and back. Tack down with a little glue. Pin and hand press to neaten and straighten fabric.
  • Lay some books or something on the side panel while you are fooling around with the handles (to help keep everything straight while the glue sets up) Now is a good time to take a little break.
  • Insert the handles between the lining and the outer fabric keeping the handle all on one side of the bag. Repeat for the other side, making sure that the handles line up. Pin.
  • Hold up the bag to make sure that the handles are a comfortable size. Examine the bag to make sure everything looks okay.
  • Turn the lining fabric under toward the outer fabric. Turn the outer fabric in toward the lining.
  • Pin all around the edges, making sure to turn the fabric under evenly.
  • Stand back and take a good look at the pinned bag to make sure all is even
  • Sew the edge. Double back sew over the handles for added strength

Finished lining


Place the stiffening inside the bag and tack it down with glue


Fold edges in toward one another and sew


Inner Pocket

You may spot the little inner pocket in my completed bag. If you want to add a pocket - just fold and hem a piece of scrap material and sew it to the inside of the lining before you put the bag together.

When the bag is done, you can spray it with Scotchgard Fabric Protector or a water-proofing spray.

How to Add a Pocket


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    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Becky - I love that! The kids must loved their personal bags made by grandmother - sentiment and convenience all at once. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      Becky 6 years ago

      I found some heavy duck at a yard sale in some pretty prints. I made bags with dividers in them and gave them to my grandchildren. When they come to spend the night or weekend, their mom will put their clothes in one side, toiletries in the outer pocket, and toys in the other side. Each child has their own and the hang them on the foot board of the bed. They love their bags and it is easier to keep track of their things. Less gets left at my house.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      irie - well I didn't either! I am no seamstress but was looking for a home made Christmas gift. I made several. Thanks!

    • iriegirl profile image

      iriegirl 7 years ago from Jamaica

      I love totes, however dont know if I have the patience and expertise to make one. Love you hub and all its information.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Thank you, tony. Sewing can teach you patience. So they say, haha.