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Friday, June 04, 2010

The "Mary Elizabeth Tote"


My dear mother wanted a tote bag, so several weeks ago we went to our favorite quilt shop and purchased some fabric, then I ordered some decorative marble-like handles online from Amazon.com.  

I had a pretty good idea of what she wanted and I planned it all out, using a number of pictures and patterns for inspiration. Here is what I did:


I determined the finished size of the tote and then divided it up in half and accounted for the seam allowances.  This is where being good in math helps.  I cut out a top portion for the tote, and a bottom section for the tote then I layered the fabric on batting and muslin that I had cut to the same sizes.

Tip: When you are working, have little slips of paper handy and use them to label your fabric pieces, and if your fabric is the same on both sides, make sure you label which side is the right side too.  I have learned that it saves a lot of time looking for something you cut out and knowing where you are in the process.  Then, just pin the little piece of paper with the information onto your piece of fabric.


After I cut my fabric into the rectangular sizes I wanted - 2 for the front and 2 for the back of the top section of the bag and 2 for the front and 2 for the back of the bottom section of the bag - I was ready to quilt.

I layered my sections and changed the presser foot on my sewing machine to the free-motion quilting foot, lowered my feed dogs, and went to town.  I started in the middle of the quilt block and worked around to the sides and corners.  The quilting technique I used is something of a personal creation.  I call it "Loopty-loop" quilting, because I can't seem to figure out stippling.

I used a mono-filament clear thread for the quilting on the right side of the fabric and a white thread in my bobbin.


I make loops of different sizes and figure 8's all over the quilt block.  It's fun!  Next, I pinned 2 front "top" sections and 2 back "top" sections together at the sides, right sides together, and prepared to make the center seam of the front and back of the tote.  I used a 1/2" seam allowance.  

Repeat this step for the "bottom" sections of your tote as well.


Press open your seam.


Then, on the right side of each panel, (2 "top" panels now and 2 "bottom panels) stitch a seam on either side of the seam you just made, making sure that your seam allowance that you pressed open on the other side is being stitched open.  Do this stitching with the right side of the fabric facing you so that you can get it nice and perfectly straight and even on either side of the original seam.  Also, this is a fun time to pick a decorative or complimentary thread for the double-stitching.


I then measured the width of my "top" section front and back of the tote, and the "bottom" section front and back of the tote.  I made sure that all 4 long rectangles were the same width - exactly.  Also, each "top" section (front & back) and each "bottom" section (front & back) should be the same height and width.  Trim as necessary.


Now here is where I put the sections together.  Stitch 1 long rectangular "top" section to 1 long rectangular "bottom" section of your tote.  Then top stitch along that seam after you press it open.  This makes a very nice intersection of seams that look great!  You should have 2 big square pieces now - each with 4 quilted panels sewn together to make up each of the 2 sections (1 is the front of the tote and the other is the back of the tote).


Measure and make sure that the 2 square-like sections you have are the same width and height.  Trim as necessary.  Next, decide the depth you want for your bag.  I thought about 5-6 inches would be good.  I measured a 3" square on the corner of the "bottom" section of the panel.  


And used a washable fabric marker to mark it on the wrong side of the tote "front" and "back" panels.


Then I cut them out.  Easy peasy, and pitched the extra piece in the trash.


I measured out 2 pieces of heavy-duty iron-on interfacing the same width and height as the 2 sections (front & back) of my tote.  Then, I deducted 3" from the width and 1 1/2" from the height and cut it out of the interfacing.  

Next, cut out 3" corners from the bottom of the interfacing.  Lay the interfacing, sticky side down, to the wrong side of your "front" and "back" panels.  Here's what you want to do, though, when you put the interfacing on the wrong side of your panels - make sure the long top edges match. In other words, lay the interfacing down so that the top edge of the interfacing and the top edge of your front and back panels are together.  Then, when you center the interfacing on each panel, you will have about a 1 1/2" allowance around 3 sides.  You can see what I mean in the picture above.  

Also, when you are pressing on the side of the interfacing, I like to use a piece of pressing cloth (all that is is a piece of white cotton muslin cut out into about a 20" square) and place it on the top so that the iron doesn't stick to the interfacing.


You've measured the width and height of the front and back panels, right?  Now, cut out 2 square-like pieces from a complimentary fabric that are those measurements PLUS an additional 1" to the HEIGHT, and then cut out the 3" corners on the bottom.  You'll see why the extra 1" in a minute.


Following the interfacing instructions above, cut out 2 pieces of interfacing to press onto the wrong side of the front and back panels of your interior fabric (the fabric that is going to be on the inside of your tote).


Okay - you've got the front and back sections completed for the exterior of the tote, and the interior of the tote too.  But, I thought interior pockets would be nice.  I wasn't sure if I wanted them to go all the way around the interior of the tote, or just on one side, so I cut out 2 strips that were just a little bit wider than the interior fabric section, and after I determined how high I wanted the pockets to be, I doubled the height so that when folded in half (minus 1/2" for the seam allowance) it is the height I want for the pockets.  I didn't want them to be so deep that they were difficult for my mother to get her hands into them for her cell phone or other things.  

I took the fabric for the pockets, and folded it in half (right sides together) and stitched a 1/2" seam down the longest edge and turned it right side out. Press it nice and flat and then, to add a nice touch, stitch close to the top edge only (the top edge that is going to be the open edge of the pockets).  


I decided to put pockets only on one interior section and not both, but that is entirely up to you.  I placed the pockets (stitched edge up) along the 3" corner clipped section of the interior fabric.  It hung over each side a little because it was a little bit wider than my interior section, but that's okay.  Then I raised it up about 1/2".  After I made the bag I realized I probably should have raised it about 1" or 1 1/2" from the bottom of the bag and that is probably what I will do next time.  Just a thought.  It's really up to you.

Pin the pocket section to the interior section of the tote.

Stitch across the bottom of the pocket section, then divide up your pockets like you want.  I divided my pocket panel into several 3 1/2" and 4" pockets and marked where the seams will go for the pockets with a fabric pencil.

Stitch from the bottom stitching to the top of the pocket along the divisions you drew on the pocket panel. Don't worry about the pieces that are open on the sides as they will be stitched up when the front and back panels are stitched together.


Take the front exterior panel and the front interior panel and with right sides together, line them up across the straight top edge and sides only.  The interior piece will be 1" longer on the notched edge.  Not to worry, we're going to make a faux binding across the top of the tote.  You'll see!

Okay, you've stitched the interior and exterior panels together right?  Do this for the front and back panels. Press the stitched 1/2" seam allowance towards the interior section like the picture above.


Pin the front and back sections together at the sides, matching seams and corners.


Stitch along the sides only where you pinned.

Stitch along the bottom of the quilted section only.

Now, I didn't take a picture of this, darn-it, but if you have any questions, you can email me.  After you have stitched the sides completely, and then stitched the bottom of the quilted section, open the bottom of the bag (of the quilted sections) at the corners where you cut out the 3" corners.  Stitch them together to form the bottom of the bag.  You'll figure it out.  I believe in you. When you put your hand inside the bag you'll see how the notched corners come together.  BUT, just stitch together the corners of the quilted section first.  When you are sure that it is together right, then stitch together the notched corners of the interior sections too, the only difference here is that you only stitch about 2" from each edge across the bottom of the interior section.  You need to leave an opening large enough to turn your tote right side out!

Tip:  Make sure you have reinforced the beginning and ends of all of your stitchings, especially where the opening is on the bottom of the interior section, otherwise, when you turn your tote right-side out, the stitching may come lose.  


Turn your tote right side out and pin the interior bottom together, tucking in the seam allowance.  Stitch it together.


Now, here's the fun part!  Push the interior of your tote inside and push out the bottom edges so that it lays nice inside the tote.  What you will notice is that the interior section wraps around the seam 1/2" seam allowance across the top giving you a faux binding.  Pretty nifty don't you think?

Once you have the interior tucked inside, press along that top edge giving the top of the tote a nice sharp, pressed edge.  Pin the interior and exterior together making sure that the faux binding is the same all the way around the top edge of the tote.  Put your pins about 2" or more down from the top edge.


The interior will look like this.


We want to reinforce the top edge and faux binding, so I turned my tote wrong-side out and stitched down the middle of the faux binding.  Remember, the color of the thread for the top stitching may not be the same as what is in your bobbin.  I wanted the red on top.  I stitched all the way around the tote top.


I made a flap and stitched that on too.  Then I took my marble-like handles and marked where they should be placed on the tote so that they are centered.  I made some little tabs to hold it to the tote, put them through the loop on the handle and stitched them to the tote, tucking in the open seams and top stitching to hold the tabs in place.


Next, I attached some snaps to the tote.  I placed a 5/8" heavy-duty snap on the front flap, and I put 2 more heavy-duty 5/8" snaps on either side after tucking in the corners of the tote.  That way, it gives the tote a nice angled look and can open up for more space to dig around.  


Don't the interior pockets look great?!!


When it was all completed, I was so proud of it.  I think this just might be the nicest tote bag I have ever made!


My mother absolutely loves it.  She told me it was the nicest bag she has ever had and that just made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Now, here's the deal - I'm going to make some of these tote bags and sell them on Etsy for about 120.00. On the other hand, I am going to try to create a pattern for this tote, including different sizes, so that you can take your pick.  I'll sell the pattern here in pdf form.  Sound like a plan?

Of course it will include more detailed instructions and diagrams than here, but hopefully, this post will inspire you to make your own tote and enjoy the process as much as I did.

I hope you like the "Mary Elizabeth Tote!"  It was made with a lot of love for my mother.  She was so happy to use it today for the first time and was so proud of it.  That makes it all worthwhile.




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