Selecting Fabrics for Reusable Gift Bags
Whatever fabric style and pattern you choose, make sure that it is durable and washable so that the bags can be safely used long term.
I would usually recommend using a very sturdy fabric for a tote bag; however, if you are making simple gift bags or children’s tote bags, like mine, you can get away with using lighter weight fabric. This opens up a wider range of fun pattern and colour options. They also require a little less sewing as these are smaller bags for lighter loads. If you’d like to make a more rugged adult tote bag, check out our DIY shopping bags for ideas and instructions.
The DIY children’s tote bags shown in this post were made for packing Christmas presents. I didn’t want to use Christmas fabrics and limit their use to the holiday. I opted to use some of the kids’ favourite colours instead.
How to Sew a Reusable Fabric Tote Style Gift Bag
Supplies and Materials
To make your own similar tote, you will need washable fabric, coordinating thread, scissors (a cutter is also handy but not required), an iron and ironing board, and basic sewing equipment. The steps/photos shown are for a fully lined bag. To make an unlined bag, you can adapt from the same basic process, but will need to finish your exposed seams.
Prior to sewing, it is recommended that fabric(s) be washed and dried to remove any excess dye (prevent running) and pre-shrink the material. Once dry, iron flat so that the fabric can be accurately measured and cut.
Cut fabric(s) to size. For a lined bag made from four panels (suitable for directional pattern) you will need:
- Four identical squares/rectangles (two for the outside, two for the inner/lining) at the desired bag size + seam allowances and extra for the top fold. Tip: If you have a strong pattern, like the geometric designs in my bag, you may wish to make sure that your pieces are cut and positions such that the patterns align at the side seams for an attractive finish.
- Two long narrow rectangular strips for the handles (double the desired width thick + seam allowances) at the desired length plus extra to attach.
Preparing the Layers of the Bag
Starting with one layer (inside/liner or outside) bag:
- Place the two panels right-side-in. If your fabric is directional, ensure that both are right-side-up to the same side, which will be your top edge.
- Sew the sides and bottom edges together at the seam allowance. Do not sew the top. Recommended: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength.
- Repeat for the other bag layer.
Double check to ensure equal size.
- Iron flat if needed and trim any loose threads.
Boxing the bottom corners to add shape to the bag:
Box all of the bottom corners to give the bag added shape. To box a corner:
- Measure an equal distance in both directions from where the side seam meets the bottom seam and draw a square.
- Repeat on both sides.
- Pull the corner into a point, seams flat (ironing recommended) so that the lines from your back/front square meet on the diagonal across the corner.
- Sew along the diagonal line, taking care to ensure seams are held flat. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam and corner for added strength. Trim excess.
- Optional: You can carefully align and sew the completed box corner seams together, if you wish, which keeps things in position during use/washing etc.
The handles shown are basic double layer – you can also go full quadruple or add interfacing, if you prefer. Alternatively, you can swap homemade handles for coordinating ready-made webbing or strapping.
- Fold each handle strip along the mid-line into half and iron to crease.
- Fold a seam allowance along the edge of each handle strip, and iron to crease.
- Sew a narrow seam along the open edge, ensuring that you capture the folded edge underneath.
- Repeat at the same distance from the fold on the closed edge.
Attaching the Handles and Finishing the Bag
- Fold an even extra wide seam allowance along the top of each bag and iron to crease.
- Invert the outer bags to right-side-out.
- Place the inner bag/liner wrong-side-out inside the outer, and double check that everything is equal and snug. Ensure side seams are aligned and the folded top edges are flush.
- Pin the handles into position between the bag layers, extending just below your folded over seam allowance.
Tip: Before sewing and attaching handles, safety pin the bag and temporary handles together and check for comfort, etc. Is the width right? The length? The spacing? Adjust now and save angst later.
- Sew the bag layers together along the top edge. Optional: Repeat a second row of stitching between the seam allowance and edge for added strength.
- Optional: Sew small additional line of stitching through each handle at the lower end of the foldover. Alternatively, you can sew crossed box where the handles are attached if you want additional reinforcement.
- Optional: Add an iron-on embellishment or initial to the finished bag.
Tip: If your inner and outer have different dominant colour schemes, you may have to compromise on visible stitching. You can experiment with the thread/bobbin trick (different coloured threads on each) or stitch carefully to make it work for you as an accent.