These are pretty simple, basic tote bags, with the pockets and trim making it a little different. Assemble all supplies and read through directions before you begin. If you have an idea of how it's put together you'll avoid mistakes along the line. I’ve tried to detail every step and included some images, I can add more if you find you need them.
You'll see different bags, the only difference is the color. I took pictures for a tutorial at different times and just chose one that applied. If you look one day and there's a different image - I've just found one that was a better match to the text.
A 14/16 needle works good with the mesh. Lengthen your stitch slightly to a medium length - depending on your machine you may need to loosen the tension on the presser foot. If you are fortunate enough to have two machines to work with, leave one set up with heavier needle and black thread for the mesh, and the other for working with your fabric.
If you need to turn the bag and the bulk of the fabric is jammed under the arm, roll it up and clip with clothes pins. (Image 1) This makes it easier to maneuver the fabric through the machine. The edge of the mesh is fond of catching on anything close so keep plenty of free room around your machine. Set your iron as close as you can so it is easy to reach. If you have an ironing board cover with a grid on it you can measure and pin quickly. A very long time ago I learned to set an ironing surface at right angles to the machine. You can stitch, turn around and press, turn back around and stitch again without having to get up each time. A pressing board or tabletop ironing board both work and most ironing boards are adjustable so you can lower the height. The fewer steps you have to take to stitch a complete bag the faster it will go. You can save some time, and frustration, by working assembly-line style. By doing all the straps, or all the pocket etc at the same time you don't have to stop and change thread. I dislike having to stop and fill a bobbin right when I'm on a roll so having several spare bobbins filled and ready helps.
Another tip I learned working with the black, which seems to disappear when put together, is to mark the center point of every section before you start. After pins working loose or finding the chalk had rubbed off, I found the best way was to mark this with tailors tacks. Just a couple stitches with a bright color is easy to see and stays in. Saved me the frustration of having to remeasure at the most inconvenient time.
For each bag, you will need 2 Mesh sections, 1 Large Pocket & 1 long narrow Pocket and the Bottom pieces. One full bottom panel plus the two supports which are folded and stitched crosswise across the bottom before it's attached to the bag.
STRAPS - Prepare in advance and set aside, #12 needle works fine. Using spray starch on the straps before you start will give the fabric body and a nice finish. Keep plenty of pins and scissors at each spot you’ll be working. Set your iron for high/steam. A mans white handkerchief makes a good pressing cloth, allowing enough steam to penetrate without putting your iron in contact with the mesh. Do not put the iron directly on the mesh fabric. (Hobby Lobby sells iron cleaning papers that work great and are reusable. Run your iron over them periodically to keep it gliding smoothly. (Image 00) There isn’t a right or wrong side to the mesh, but designate one side as the front and mark it.
If you are making several bags, assembly line style...work with a chain stitch when you can. This may have another name but essentially it's lining up several pieces that will use the same stitch and thread and instead of cutting the thread when you reach the end, line up the next strap and continue stitching. Clip the threads between pieces when they are all stitched.
You will need a top thread to match the trim color, use the same in the bobbin. If you are working bak and forth you can black thread in the bobbin and just change the top thread. Check your tension so the black isn't seen.
Fold the strap right sides together, stitch a scant 1/4” fro the fas edge. (1/8" is good if your machine will stitch narrow seams) Use hemostats, dowel or other tool, to turn right side out. Center the seam on the back side and press with a steam iron and set aside.
I'm sure you've all made tote bags before and are familiar with the process but following these step-by-step instructions will keep them all looking alike.
1. Pocket Trim
On the front pocket, along the top edge, lay the trim piece under the mesh with the right side of the fabric showing through the mesh. (Image 2) Stitch along the top edge.
The fabric will move over the feed dogs easier if you are able to stitch with the fabric side down. If you need to stitch with the mesh down, it helps to hold one hand to the back and one to the front to keep it moving smoothly.
Press the seam with the fabric turned up, away from the mesh. (Use a press cloth) Turn long edge in to meet the seam line (Image 3) no need to turn it under, just bring it down to the seam line but do not go over the seam line. Press. Turn the entire strip in again, right along the seam line. This will give you a finished seam with no raw edges showing on either side. Edge stitch along the bottom of the trim. (Image 4) Apply the trim on the long, narrow pocket the same way. If your trim is a fraction short for some reason, center it on the pocket...there is a little leeway since the sides are caught under the straps.
Attaching the Pockets
Draw a chalk line for the seam, 1/2" along the bottom edge of one mesh piece. (Image 5)
Center the long narrow pocket face down on the front side, top end (with trim) facing towards the bottom and lining up the seam line with the chalk line. Pin in place.
Center the front pocket, on top of the narrow pocket, top end facing the bottom, matching the seam line and pin. (Image 6)
Stitch a narrow seam along the chalked line, ending about 2” short of the side at each end.
Turn both pockets up along the seam line, finger press and pin in place. (Image 7)
Fold each end of the narrow pocket to the center and pin so it is out of the way of the side seams. (Image 8)
2. Side Seams
With right sides together stitch the right side seam, top to bottom, with 1/2" (+-) seam. There is a little leeway here, if the mesh has slipped a little it will be OK. Stitch the seam and trim so they are even.
Turn the bag to the right side, finger press (or use the iron with a press cloth) the seam towards the back side and pin if needed. Top stitch 1/4” away from the seam line, use a zig-zag if you like. Turn inside out again and trim any raw edges showing along the seam line. This makes a false, Flat-Fell seam and the inside looks as good as the outside.
Stitch the other side seam the same way. Depending on your machine, you may have to manipulate the fabric some when doing this, it’s OK to stitch from top to the middle then from the bottom to middle if that’s easier. Keep the body of the bag out of the way so you don’t accidentally stitch it to the side seam and have to take the stitches out and re-do.....says the lady who did that just tonight.
Once both side seams are stitched and trimmed, use a press cloth and press them flat.
3. Side Pockets - NOTE: Images 8-10 show more length across the bottom - this particular bag was made with a gusset bottom. We decided to use the inset bottom to provide more support for carrying heavy items.
Match the side seams and unpin the long pocket, lay it across the side seam & pin, it should extend about 3” onto the back side. (Image 8) Do the same on the other side.
On each side piece there is a little ease to give the pocket some depth. Pin the pocket in place where the strap will be and make a pleat at the bottom to take up the excess fabric. This is just about half inch but it’s important. Try and get the pleats centered at the side seam. (Image 9) Edge stitch along the bottom, end to end, crossing both side seams.
TIP: I found it’s easier to do a dry run and pin the straps in place before doing the actual stitching, that way you know they are lined up correctly. (Image 10) Before you actually stitch it, unpin the straps and fold out of the way. (Image 10A)
4. Attach the Straps
Run your hand along the length of the strap to ensure it’s not twisted. Keep the seam side against the bag and it’s a good idea to keep one hand inside the bag while you pin so you avoid pinning - and stitching - the front to the back. (Image11)
Measure in 3” (+-) from the side seam, match the bottom edge of the strap with the bottom edge of the front, pin, then continue to pin the strap up along the pockets in a straight line, catching the pocket sides. Double check that the edge of the pocket (s) trim is under the straps. Pin the straps just to the top of the pocket.
At this point, check to be sure there is about 9” between the straps, just enough so a magazine will easily slide down into the pocket. Adjust the width if necessary. (Image 12)
Beginning at one end, edge stitch up along one side of the strap to just above the pocket trim, turn, stitch across the strap and down to the bottom along the other side. Leave the strap loose above the pocket for now.
Stitch the other strap in the same manner, catching the pocket trim….if there is a little extra, just ease the pocket towards the center, rather than cutting it off.
Repeat the same process on the back matching the straps with the ones on the front. The end of the narrow pocket should lay under the back strap so it is secured as you stitch the strap. Mark a point at the level where you turned on the front strap, then stitch to that same point on the back strap. Up, across and down, on both sides.
Next, fold the bag away from the strap and at the top of the pocket, begin top stitching along one long side of the strap, up and around the entire strap, till you are back to the original point, turn and stitch over the previous stitches. Now the strap is top stitched on both sides. Repeat for the back strap. (If you forget to do this now you can do it later on)
5. Attach the Bottom - A stronger alternative to making a boxed bottom with a gusset.
This is actually a fairly easy process, the difficulty here is the mesh is a little heavier and it's black against black - making it harder to see. If you've never done it, make a small sample from a piece of cotton and you can easily see how the corners are stitched.
Set the bottom piece aside for now, and stitch the supports. Fold both edges to the center so you have two strips approximately 2” wide. Pin these strips one inch on either side of the center point of the bottom and stitch, using a wide zig-zag if you have it - 4 stitch lines. Along both edges and 2 inside. (Image 13)
This is where you'll be glad you used the Tailors Tacks to mark the centers. Turn the bag inside out and mark the center points of each side piece and both ends - then mark the center points on the bottom piece. Locate each corner and mark it too, but use something different to mark it so you can distinguish it when you're stitching. The trick to this is to cut into the seam line, right at the corner, on the BAG, (Image 14). Match the corners and centers and pin the bottom to the bag.
There are a couple of different ways to attach the bottom, try both and see which you find easiest. #1: Stitch right into the corner to the seam line, needle down, pivot and stitch down the other side. The clipped area will spread, you might need to do a little adjusting to avoid any pleats. Do the same at each corner. Use a 1/4"-1/2" seam. You must clip into the corners of the BAG, not the bottom, to allow it to turn correctly. Do not clip into the seam allowance.
#2: Stitch to about 1/2" from the corner, backstitch, and clip thread. Turn the bag and begin stitching about 1/2" from the corner to 1/2" from the next corner. Each time you turn the bag check that the body of the bag is away from the seam line. The corners will be closed when you top stitch it.
Begin stitching along one side, it might help to use a basting stitch the first time you do it. if you have to take a few stitches out it’s much easier. Once the bottom is matched up and stitched, turn it right side out and check the corners. Use a dull point to push the corners out. If everything looks good, turn it back to the inside and stitch over the seam a second time using a shorter stitch. Clip the corners - do not cut into the seam. If the scissors slip and you find you’ve cut a corner, just restitch it, the mesh is very forgiving. Trim up the raw edges.
Turn right side out again, edge stitch along the bottom. If you can, turn the seam up, against the bag, so as you edge stitch it reinforces the seam. Repeat with both ends. This encourages the bag stand upright. (Image 15) If you have trouble getting the seam to stay turned up, use a pressing roll or a magazine rolled up tight and covered with a cloth. Align the seam at the top of the roll, press good and pin in place while still warm.
At this point, check the entire bag. Clip any loose threads, trim raw edges, and if everything is stitched correctly, do a good press on the entire bag.
6. Top Band - If you have a machine that allows it, remove the accessory case to make it easier to sew.
Pick up the top band and fit it inside the bag with right side of band showing through the mesh. Begin at the side seam, align the top edge of the bag with the raw edge of the trim and allow a half inch or so overlap, & pin. (Image 16) Use 1/4" seam, begin stitching about 1” away from the side seam. Stitch around the top edge, around and back to the front and stop stitching about 1” before the end of the band.
Press the trim piece up and away from the seam. At the end of the band on the front side, turn the end in 1/4” and press. Use a pin to match up these ends with the original seam line, lay the raw edge of the back side enclosed in the folded edge of the front and pin.
Fold the top edge of the band to the inside, to meet the original seam line, and press.
Fold over again and pin in place. Turn exactly on the seam line, there will be no raw edges showing on either side.The trim will be see on front side and the mesh on the inside. Press so there is a sharp edge at the top.
Match up the edges, the back should be enclosed in the folded front edge; line it up at the point where it meets the side seam and the edges are concealed. This is what I call fussy work, once you’ve done one, you'll know what works for you. Use a pin to tuck in any raw edge showing and hold it in place. (Image 17)
The bottom might stretch as you sew, you may need to loosen the tension on the presser foot to keep your fabric from “walking”. Once the entire top band is turned and pinned, steam it to shrink out any excess. Edge stitch along the bottom of the band. If the fabric is bunching up, lengthen your stitch and ease it under the needle every few inches.
When you reach the folded edge, turn and stitch up along the edge, turn again and top stitch along the top edge of the band. Go over the joined edges again if needed. Press well.
If you didn’t top stitch the straps earlier do it now. Pin the straps in place and stitch, beginning at the top of the pocket where you ended earlier, you can sew the straps directly to the bag if you like. Stitch a box where the strap crosses the band. Alternatively, if you top stitched the straps earlier, you can go back and stitch over the first row, stitching a box where it crosses the band - or just box stitch at the band.
Check the entire bag for loose threads and/or any place that needs attention. A needle and thread can make tiny repairs ---- since the bottom is double stitched there is no danger of it coming loose if you accidentally didn't get a corner precise. Use a press cloth to do a finish press over the entire bag , set it on the table and enjoy your hard work.