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Sep 4

Stylish book bag tutorial (and you can win it!)

Here’s a straight-forward, lined tote bag that’s perfect for anything you need to haul around. It’s fully lined and has divider pockets inside for your phone, MP3 player, pens, etc., plus a flap pocket and a zippered pocket on the outside — a perfect place to keep your keys handy.

Would you like to win this bag? And how about a book to carry in it? Children’s book author Caroline Rose is giving away a copy of Denise Jaden’s book “Losing Faith” on her blog this week, and if you are the winner, you get both the book and this bag! Hop on over to Caroline’s blog, Caroline By Line, for more information. Meanwhile, if you’d like to make a bag like this, stick around for instructions.


(Click fabrics for direct links for purchase at Warehouse Fabrics Inc.)

Glam Wan - GLMWAL

Terrace Chocolate - TEEWAL

Stiff interfacing

Magnetic snap


I used a yard each of the fabrics. This allowed me to match my stripes and also to fussy cut the outside so the pattern is centered. I used Craft Fuse interfacing, which is nice and stiff, and a 9 inch zipper.

The pattern

You’ll need the following pieces:

11″x17″ for the front and back: cut 2 outer fabric, cut 2 lining, cut 2 interfacing

6″x11″ for the sides: cut 2 outer fabric, cut 2 lining, cut 2 interfacing

6″x17″ for the bottom: cut 1 outer fabric, cut 1 lining, cut 1 interfacing

7″x9.5″ for the zipper pocket: cut 2 either fabric, cut 2 interfacing

6″x6.5″ for the flap pocket: cut 2 outer fabric

5.5″x11.5″ for the divider pocket: cut 2 outer fabric

3.5″x6.5″ for the flap: cut 2 outer fabric

4″x25″ for the straps: cut 2 outer fabric, cut 2 interfacing

For the snap closure: cut 1 outer fabric, cut 1 lining, cut 1 interfacing 3″x6″, rounding the corners on one end just a bit.

Sew using a 1/2″ seam allowance, except where noted.

The process

First, make the straps using the Non-Turn Strap Tutorial.
Prepare the inside pockets by placing right sides together for each and then stitching all the way around (I use a 3/8″ seam allowance), except for a small space for turning. You can have this hole on either the sides or the bottom. I chose the bottom.
Clip the corners.
Turn right-side out through hole and press. Here they are shown before pressing. The hole will be sewn closed when the pocket is sewn into the bag later.
Top-stitch along the top of each pocket piece and around two sides and the top of the flap.
Center the pockets on the large lining pieces and sew around the sides and the bottom, close to the edges. Leave the top-stitched top of the pockets open.
Stitch the pocket flap above the small pocket.
Press it toward the small pocket.
On the big pocket, create dividers by stitching lines as desired. For pens, I make the stitching lines 1 inch apart. Stitch from the bottom of the pocket upward to avoid puckering.

Set the lining pieces aside for now.

Find the center of one big side of the exterior bag and make a mark 1-1/2 inches down. Insert the “female” side of your magnetic snap here, following the instructions in the Magnetic Snap Tutorial. We’re placing our snaps in a different location than the tutorial, but it’s the same concept for inserting them into the fabric.
Now make the magnetic snap closure flap. On my lining piece, I have marked my seam allowances and the spot where I will put my snap (left.) The snap will be centered 1-1/4 inches from bottom of the flap.

Insert the snap, using a piece of interfacing to stabilize and prevent tearing. I have placed my snap on the piece of fabric I want to have underneath when the bag is snapped closed.

Sew the two pieces together, right sides together, and trim seam allowances and corners. Turn and top-stitch. Baste to center top of the other big outer panel, with the snap side facing up and the raw edges of fabrics lined up (right)
See that zipper there on the left? That’s a zippered pocket on the outside of the bag. Please go to the Zippered Pocket Tutorial to see how to do this.

After inserting the zippered pocket (optional), pin the bottom exterior piece to one of the bottom front/back pieces and sew (left). Press open the seam, then sew the other exterior front/back piece to the other long side of the bottom piece (right).

Take the two smaller side pieces and pin to either side of one big piece. The pieces differ slightly in length. The top of the pieces should be flush, and there should be a little extra of the side pieces extending past the seam where the front/back sides meet the bottom piece. This will be for seam allowance when you sew the sides to the bottom in a minute.

At the right, you see the following: at top, from left, side piece, front piece, side piece. Under that, bottom piece. And under that, back piece.

Sew the side pieces to the back piece in the same manner. And then sew the side pieces to the bottom piece. Turn right-side out and you have this.

Sew the lining pieces together in the same manner, except on one long side leave a gap open for turning later.

Mark where you want the straps to go and baste into place with the raw edges of the strap lined up with the raw edge of the bag. Make sure the straps aren’t twisted.
Now it’s time to attach the lining and the exterior bags. Place the exterior bag, right-side out, inside of the lining, wrong-side out. See the photo above left if that’s confusing. Pin around the top, starting with the corner seams.
Sew around the top of the bag. I prefer to sew along the “inside” which is actually the exterior bag. I do this because it’s the interfaced piece and it doesn’t tend to stretch and pucker like it does when you stitch on the lining piece.

Remember that hole you left in the bottom of the lining? Now you’ll need to turn your bag right-side out through that hole (above right), then stitch the hole closed using the machine if you’re lazy like me, or you can slip-stitch by hand for an invisible finish.

Once the bag is right-side out, press the lining/exterior into place along the top and top-stitch the top of the bag. You’re done!

Other views

(Click for bigger views)

  • Awesome! Love the fabric and the style of the bag. Thanks!

  • Robyn, this is amazing! May I order one for myself?

  • Jenifer

    I love the fabric colors

  • kathleen

    I am a “tote bag maker” and this is a great tutorial…thank you so much…I love using totes for bags and always gravitate to tote type pocketbooks when looking for a new bag. Thanks for sharing and I love your email updates.

  • VickiT

    What an awesome tutorial. Thank you SO much. I just love the fabrics you’ve used too.

  • This looks like lots of fun! Your tutorial is great, need to find time to sew more for myself! Thanks for a great give away.

  • That is the coolest bag. I’m going to have to make one soon!

  • Javie

    Love this bag! However, are the strap measurements correct in this tutorial? 4″ x 12.5″ makes for very small straps!

  • admin

    No. No they aren’t correct! That should be doubled, for 25″. Thanks for catching that. I’ll update the post.

  • Vicki W

    I can’t thank you enough! I needed to make a basket liner for my Mom’s walker and was not finding anything to help me. Your tutorial was exactly what I needed. I think it will work perfectly for what she wants: keeping things from falling through the basket, pockets for pens and personals, etc. I gave up on the zipper pocket because I decided it might be too hard for her to open anyway with her arthritis. I have the flapped pocket and other pockets on each side/end. I ran a ribbon through the outside flap to tighten it around the outside of the basket and to pull tight if she ever needed to take it by the handles and go somewhere. (I doubt she will ever need to do that, but it is ready if she does.)
    I feel so proud of my accomplishment and I wish I could post some photos!
    If not for your wonderful instructions, I would still be trying to figure out how to assemble it.

  • Pingback: Stylish Book Bag | Free Purse, Bag & Tote Patterns and Tutorials()

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  • Shirin

    I used your pattern for my sewing class bag. Thank you so much!

  • Thanks for sharing the pic. Very cute. Love the embroidery! (Cross stitch?)

  • Ipshita Roychowdhury

    I am planning to sew this bag and need to know the dimensions of the finished bag. Please can someone guide me on that?

  • Robyn Vines Smith

    Hi Ipshita,
    I haven’t had possession of this bag in a long while so I cannot measure it, however just based on the dimensions of the pattern pieces it should be 16″ wide, 10″ tall and 5″ deep when finished. Hope that helps! Thanks for visiting.

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