Thursday, January 1, 2015

Toy Tote -- Sewing Tutorial

All kids need a way to carry the myriad toys they insist on bringing everywhere they go.  This toy tote is the perfect size for a half a dozen Rescue Bots, a herd of My Little Ponies, or enough small Beanie Boos to keep a kid entertained for well, at little while at least.

The finished dimensions of the tote are approximately 11" high, 8" wide, and 8" deep.

Toy Tote -- Sewing Tutorial

Materials Needed:

Exterior fabric: 1/2 yard if non-directional print, 3/4 yard if directional print (quilting cotton or lightweight home decor)
Lining fabric: 1/2 yard if non-directional print, 3/4 yard if directional print (quilting cotton)
Felt or fusible fleece
1" wide webbing: 18" long (cotton or nylon)
Cording: 68" (nylon or cotton)
Thread: to match both exterior and lining fabrics
Freezer paper (or regular paper): at least 8" x 18"

Seam allowances will all be 1/4" unless otherwise noted.  

STEP ONE: Drawing the pattern and cutting the fabric

The pattern piece is basically an 8" x 18" rectangle with the bottom corners cut off.  The easiest way to create this is to:
  1. Draw an 8" x 18" rectangle.
  2. Mark a point at the center of the bottom short side (4" in from both sides).
  3. Mark points 14" down on each of the long sides.  Connect each of the long side points with the bottom center point.
  4. Cut along those diagonal lines to chop off the little triangles.  You should be left with a shape that looks like a fat pencil.
  5. At 3" down from the top and at 6" down from the top, draw lines parallel to the short sides.  Don't go crazy and cut on those lines just yet though.
Honestly, it's probably just easier to show you a diagram.  Aren't my drawn-on graphics AMAZING?

Here is a closer shot of the tip of the triangle (with an unnecessary marking whited out).

Once you have your pattern piece all squared away, iron it onto (if you used freezer paper) the LINING and cut FOUR of these shapes.  I like to fold the fabric such that I only have to cut once to get all four pieces.  If you do this, just be careful that you keep the direction of the print in mind.  The point on the pattern piece should be pointing down.  

After you cut the lining pieces, chop 3" off the pattern piece at the first horizontal line you drew.  Then, use the pattern piece to cut out FOUR of these shapes from your EXTERIOR fabric.  

Chop off another 3" from the top of the pattern piece (at the second horizontal line you drew) and cut FOUR of that shape from your FELT/FUSIBLE FLEECE.

You should have this now:

STEP TWO: Sewing the body of the tote

Adhere the felt/fleece to the wrong sides of the exterior fabric, matching the tips of the points.  I spray basted my felt to the fabric, but ironing on fusible fleece would have been even easier.  You could also just machine-baste the felt/fleece by sewing down the edges to the points.

Next, cut your webbing into two 9" lengths.

On the right side of one of the exterior pieces, measure down 4" from the top and align the top edge of the strap at that point.  Match the raw end of the webbing with the left raw edge of the exterior piece (the right side will hang over by an inch for now).

Take a second exterior piece and lay it face down on top of the first piece (right sides facing each other).

Pin (or use the fancy new Wonder Clips you got from your sister for Christmas!) along only the left side, all the way down to the point.

Repeat those steps with the other two exterior pieces and the second piece of webbing.

On both of these, make a mark 1/4" up the left side from the tip of the bottom point.  This will be where you START stitching.

Thread your machine with a color of thread that blends well with your exterior fabric.  Starting at the mark you made on the point, stitch all the way up the left side only.  Do not stitch across the top or down the right side.

Closer look at how the stitching at the bottom point should look.

Repeat with the second set of exterior pieces.  Then open them with the right sides facing up and the webbing draped to the left.  You should have this now.

Flip one horizontally over on top of the other (keeping the webbing in place).  The webbing pieces should now be sticking out in opposite directions.  If they aren't, then switch one of them so they are. Match the bottom points and the other corners on the raw edges.

Before you pin them together, measure down from the top on each side 4" and make sure the other ends of the webbing are in place.  Then stuff those ends in a bit to align the raw edges of the webbing pieces with the raw edges of the fabric pieces.  Pin into place on both sides.

Pin the raw edges together down both sides (leaving the top open).  At the bottom point, flatten out the sewn seams like this:

Sew each side separately, starting at the top and stitching down until you reach the bottom point.  Flatten out the point and pull the seam allowances back to get as close as possible to the existing stitching lines.  Once you have sewn down both sides, you should have this:

If you open it up and peek inside, you should have this:

Before you flip the exterior right side out, trim a bit at each of the corners.  Don't worry about trimming at the bottom point -- the bulk isn't really that crazy and it's probably not a good idea to weaken that juncture unnecessarily.

Flip the exterior right side out and marvel at how cute it's looking!

STEP THREE: Sewing the lining

This is pretty much identical to the process for the exterior, but you don't have to worry about any pesky webbing.  Take two pieces and place them right sides together.  Repeat with the other two pieces.  Pin down one side.  I went wild and pinned down the right side (instead of the left side like I did with the exterior pieces).

Mark that 1/4" point just up from the point and stitch down the right side to that mark. Do this with both sets.

As with the exterior, open these up and pin them right sides together (matching at the point and each of the corners).  Sew down both sides separately, stopping when you get to within 1/4" of the point.  Do not sew across the top.  When you have done that, you should have this:

STEP FOUR: Assembling the tote

Keep the lining with the pretty side facing inward, but open it up and flatten out the bottom.  With wrong sides facing, nest the lining inside the exterior.  Match up the seams on the sides and bottom corners.  The lining will stick up 3" taller than the exterior.

Before pinning it all the way around, measure to make sure the lining sticks up exactly 3" all the way around.  Adjust if necessary and pin into place.  Do this at the seams and in between as well.

Sew the exterior to the lining all the way around 1/4" from the top raw edge of the exterior.  Make sure you do this in a color of thread that matches the lining, because this stitching will be visible from the inside of the tote.

STEP FIVE: Creating the casing for the drawstrings

Fold and press down the lining down to the outside (wrong sides together) so that the raw edge of the lining meets the raw edge of the exterior all the way around.

Fold it down again (and press) at the point where the raw edges meet, covering the stitching line.

This is what it should look like now -- about 1 1/2" of the right side of the lining showing on the outside.

On the inside, you can see the stitching line from when you sewed the exterior to the lining.  It should be about 1/4" down from the top.  From the inside, stitch right over this line again.  (You could just stitch from the outside 1/4" down from the top and trust that you will stitch exactly on this line, but I'm not that great at keeping a consistent seam allowance.)

Once you have stitched around the top, it should look like this from the outside.

Now stitch around the top again, this time 1 1/4" from the top (which is 1" down from the existing stitch line).  The easiest way to do this, actually, is to just stitch around again 1/4" up from the bottom if the folded lining.

Now the top of your bag should look like this from the outside.  (Yes, my machine is having some issues keeping a consistent tension and I'm taking it in for service ASAP!)

STEP SIX: Adding the drawstrings

Grab your handy dandy seam ripper and carefully unpick the stitches at one of the seams between the two stitching lines on the outside of the tote.

Pick out the teeny threads or snip them really closely.

Locate the same spot on the opposite side of the tote (diagonally across).  Rip out those stitches between the stitching lines as well.  Sometimes it's hard to get started, but if you pull at the seam a little, it exposes the stitches enough to get your seam ripper under one.  Once you have one stitch picked, the others are a lot easier.

Grab your 68" of cording and cut it in half.  I used nylon cording that is a little thinner than parachute cord.  The best way to make sure it doesn't unravel at the ends is to melt them a little with a flame.  I never realized how often I would use my little kitchen lighter thing in sewing, but it comes in handy to melt the ends of cording, the cut edges of ribbon, the cut ends of zippers, etc.  I couldn't figure out how to do this while taking a photo, so you'll just have to trust me that those little ends were melted properly.

Attach a safety pin to the end of one of the strings, then stick it in one of the holes you just made in the casing.

Work it all the way around and back out the same hole you went in.  Tie them together.

Grab your other piece of cording and do the same thing in and back out of the other hole you made on the opposite side.  Tie those ends together as well.  Now you have two drawstrings that can be pulled in opposite directions to shut the tote.  This is much easier for little kids to handle than working a drawstring stopper.

Voila!  A great little toy tote for transporting all those treasures.  I made this one for my daughter's magic tricks.  She just got a bunch of them for Christmas and has grand plans to take her show on the road.

One of the best features of the bag is that it can stand open on its own while the kids load and unload their toys.

And it looks kind of cool from the top when you look inside!

[It's no secret that I love the Drawstring Tidy Caddy from the awesome and amazing book Fabric-by-Fabric One-Yard Wonders that Erin got me a few years ago.  I have never actually followed the instructions for that bag as they were written, though.  By the time I added all the different features I wanted to the bag, I realized I needed to memorialize my version so I would remember how to do it next time.  Please do go out and buy that book for all of the other projects in it (like the adorable Playdate Frock, and the super-functional Bag Holder), and perhaps you would like their version of this tote much better!  This is just my tutorial on how to make my take on a tote with the same basic structure.  For more on the concept of creative process, I love this post on the topic by Deanna of Sew McCool.]


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  1. I love this! Thank you for the tutorial!

  2. What a fun and useful project! I'd like it so much if you'd share this post with our Awesome Life Friday Link Up.

    1. Done! Thanks for the invitation.

    2. Thank you so much for sharing! I hope you'll come back again this week for Awesome Life Friday!

  3. This is great, thanks for the tutorial

  4. As always, Niki, a comprehensive and thorough tutorial!!! I do like the construction method you have used for the bottom of the bag. It looks like it creates a very flat bottom and one which sits well.

  5. Replies
    1. Wonder Clips are the best! Glad you like the tote.

  6. Super cute! I love the fabric it's so cute! Thanks for sharing great tutorial!
    Happy New Year!
    Hugs and love from Portugal,
    Ana Love Craft

  7. Lovely tote and ver clear tutorial. Thanks for sharing!!!

  8. This is a really cute bag. And so well made! Thanks so much for sharing the tutorial!

  9. Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing :)

  10. Under photo 16 the first should be changed to a. Great tutorial from an fellow experienced sewer.

  11. This is a great tutorial! I'm glad you shared it, there were many road trips I could've use this toy bag on...looks great! Thanks for sharing it!--Shannon with KISMIF link party.

  12. I have to compliment you on your tutorial writing. Each step was very easy to understand, and I appreciated that each step had a photo to refer to. It was nice to see an alternative way to make a drawstring bag- and so practical that it will stand on its' own. Great tute - Thank You.