Read and Sew Totes

I love taking Road Trips.
Pack me up in a car and I will go pretty much anywhere.
Especially if it’s somewhere I have never been before.

But I do have some requirements. I need to have my “stuff” along with me.
Stuff to read, stuff to sew, stuff to bead, etc.
If I don’t have things to do I get a little itchy.

So usually, I have at least two tote bags when we go anywhere over 6 hours.
That sounds kind of weird now that I type it out – but there it is.

Despite the fact that we have NO trips planned this summer yet (which I am telling everyone loudly and often) I thought it would be fun to do a little pre-trip prep.
I decided I needed new, snazzy tote bags for our yet-to-be-planned vacation and I found the perfect fabric for my little obsession here.

I made these tote bags with my sister while she was visiting last week. We made two for each of us.
One for Books and one for Sewing.
Want to see?

I’ve even got them all packed and ready to go. ;)

They’re nice and roomy – and decorated with great fabric and embroidery!

They even have a pocket. :) For stowing extra, small stuff.

The sewing is easy too!

Ready to make you’re own?
These instructions/materials are for ONE bag. If you want to make two – you’ll need double of everything.


•  3/4 yd twill or heavier weight fabric
• 1/2 yard lining fabric
• 1/2 yard print fabric (this could change depending on the direction of your print. Check the piece sizes and see what fits best for your print)
• embroidery floss and pattern
• 4 – 1 3/4″ grommets

Begin by cutting out your pieces.
Of your Twill you’ll need two 18″ x 20″ pieces and two 4″ x 28″ pieces for the straps
Of the Lining you’ll need two 18″ x 20″ pieces
Of the Print you’ll need two 11″ x 20″ pieces for the body, two 10″ x 7″ pieces for the pocket and four 1″ x 5″ pieces for the strap loops

For each of your print fabric body pieces, press under the long sides 1/2″.

Lay the print pieces on the 18″ x 20″ twill pieces with the wrong side of the print to the right side of the twill, 1 1/2″ down from the top.

Sew along the long sides with two rows of stitching, one right along the edge and the other about 3/8″ in.

Sew your embroidered word on now. Measure over from the right side 9″ and down 1/2″ from the print and trace your design.
Embroider everything with a contrasting color using a stem stitch.

Lay the front and back tote bag pieces together. Sew around the two sides and the bottom with a 1/2″ seam allowance. Leave the top open.

To make the base of the tote bag squared off, lay the corners so that the point of the seam forms a triangle.
Measure up 2 1/2″ from the point and mark across. Sew a seam across the triangle.

Trim the triangle part off, so there is a 1/2″ seam allowance left.
Lay the outside of the bag aside for now.

Place your pocket pieces right sides together. Sew around all four sides, leaving a small opening for turning in the bottom.

Clip your corners, turn right side out and press.

Place the pocket piece on one of the lining pieces in the center, 4″ down from the top.
Sew around the two short sides and the bottom.
Divide the pocket into smaller sections by sewing a seam down the center of the pocket, and then another seam halfway between that seam and the right side.

Sew your two lining pieces together just like you did the outside, corners and everything.
BUT leave a section in the bottom open for turning about 3″ long.

Place your lining and the outside of your bag, right sides together.
Sew around the top.

Turn your bag right side out and stuff the lining into the outside. Press the top edge down and top stitch all the way around with two rows of stitching.
Hand sew the opening in your lining closed.

Time for grommets!

In the beginning we had some grommet drama (which is fun to say but not fun in real life) in which we had bought metal purse grommets that we determined were not meant to actually snap together in any way.
After much weeping and gnashing of teeth – we gave up on them.

We ended up using grommets from the Home Decor section of Joann’s. They’re nice and big and plastic and they were super easy to put in.
They give you a template for cutting and you just snap them together around the hole.

Easy peasy.

For the straps, fold each strap in half, right sides together.
Sew together along one short side and the long side. Clip the corner, turn right side out and press.
Also press in the open side 1/2″ so the raw edges are inside the strap.

Sew together your small strap loops by folding them in half, right sides together and sewing down the long side with a 1/4″ seam allowance.
Turn right side out and press.
(I found the best way to turn these right side out was to pin a small safety pin in one end and feed that through the tube, pulling it right side out as you go)

Top stitch around the straps with two rows of stitching.
Measure around your straps with the strap loop and sew the ends together to make a loop just a tiny bit wider than the strap.
Press the loops so the seam is in the center back of the loop.

Add a strap loop to each end of the strap pieces. Push it back so it is out of the way of the next step.
Feed the end of the strap through the grommet from back to front.
Fold the short side up so that the tail is above the top edge of the bag about 1 1/4″. Pin.
Mark down the tail 3/4″ from the top and sew across the strap.
Repeat for all the strap ends.
You should have one strap that loops through the grommets on the front and one that loops through the grommets on the back.

Move the strap loop down over the tail and cover the stitching line.
Hand stitch the loop down on the back of the strap around the seam so that the raw edges are covered and the loop is held in place.

And that finishes your totes!!

Unless of course you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing and sew the straps on your second tote on wrong.

I call this the “Suspenders Tote Bag”. Which is fine if you want to carry your tote bag over your shoulder sideways.
Or Not.

Seam Ripper to the rescue!!

Ahhh. Much better.

(You might notice that my “Sew” bag is just a little shorter than my “Read” bag. About 2 inches actually. Due to some crazy cutting I didn’t have quite enough fabric.
Which was fine. It’s still plenty roomy.)

I love all the little details in the bags –

Isn’t the spool fabric fun? And the book print too! I love them.

My needle is a little chunky on my “Sew” bag. The pattern is not like that. I apparently decided to forge my own path for some reason and now I have a fat needle. Still cute though.

What do you think? I hope you like them too!
I think I need a bead bag now too. Anyone know any cute fabric with beads on it? ;)

So tell me – do you pack stuff to do on road trips? What do you take along?

I’m linking to Sunday Scoop, Today’s Creative Blog, Met Monday, Skip to my Lou, Tutorials & Tips Tuesday,
Quilt Story, and the other fabulous parties on the sidebar – make sure you check them out!


  • Reply September 26, 2011


    My first time, too, but it won’t be the last. This tote is ME!!!! I love it.
    I’m going to make one, or two, and I’m going to learn from other people’s experience and reinforce the ring sites before I attach the rings. Those rings make this tote look so perfect. – so professional.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and thank you for those great instructions and pictures..

  • Reply September 26, 2011


    Fabric with beads on it here – (if you haven’t any yet) –

  • Reply May 7, 2012


    I’m wondering about the grommets… I tried them on a purse, and while they weren’t the kind that snap on (they just had metal tabs that you had to fold over the second circle), they pulled away from the fabric when I tugged on the fabric a little–I can’t imagine that they would have held up with all the stuff I put in my purse. Have you had any problems with this? I’m wondering if they make these extra large grommets like the ones that hold together like eyelets (where the two pieces of metal are hammered together). I would appreciate any help/advice you can give. I love the look of grommets, but I am just nervous about cutting the big holes in the purse if the grommets are just going to pull out with the first use. Thanks so much!

    You can email me directly at :-)

  • Reply October 17, 2012


    I love this tote! Sweet.

  • Reply August 13, 2013


    I’m rather new to sewing and I was desperately searching the internet for a simple tote tutorial I was able to follow and yours was just right for me because it was both the size and the ‘type’ I was looking for. Since I didn’t have grommets I just made a handle the length I wanted it to have and stuffed it with fleece so that it would be nice and soft even when the bag would be heavier. It took me a whole afternoon but it was well worth it. Also I was running out of fabric for the inside pocket so I just used whatever size the piece was I still had and I was so lucky, the bigger pocket fits my phone just right and the smaller pocket is perfect for glasses or pens! I’m already thinking about making another one :)

  • Reply February 9, 2014


    I love this bag! I made mine to say “Beach” with an embroidered sun. The tutorial was so easy to follow! I just have one question on the placement of the grommets – is there a standard number of inches from the side seam that I should be using?

  • Reply March 24, 2014

    Ande Odegaard

    I discovered your blog/bag tutorial, and thank you for such a clever bag! This will be fun to make for our trailer travels this summer. I also want to make some for Christmas gifts, and it will be such fun picking out novelty fabrics appropriate for the special people in my life. Many thanks!

  • Reply January 4, 2015

    April McLeod

    These are SO beautiful! This is me – a sewing bag and a reading bag! And, I need a drawing bag, too! I love your designs ♥ I would be interested to know where you got the book fabric?
    Thanks so much for this tutorial!


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