Saving the earth one bag at a time. Your sewing skills come in handy for making canvas tote bags. They carry everything: groceries, beach essentials, sewing projects, you name it. You can make them up in a jiffy with fun and kitschy fabrics. They can be modified with pockets and come in any size you want. In this post we will cover how to add a pocket to your tote bag. This simple pocket is perfect for a magazine, book, or laptop.
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Lined Canvas Tote Bag Pattern
Start with a basic tote bag pattern like my Lined Tote Bag Pattern available in fast digital download. This pattern can be adjusted to any size bag you desire. It has sturdy straps, a hefty base, and sewn in “feet” for a flat bottom. My beginner students have been making this lined tote bag for years and they always come out fabulous.
This pattern is perfect for beginners, there is lots of straight line stitching and some seam matching. It is also a great pattern for sewists who just need a little pattern guidance to make stunning tote bags and expand upon the design.
Select a pocket fabric that works for your design. It can match your lining fabric so it will blend in with the interior of the bag, it can match the exterior fashion fabric for a transitional look, or it can be totally different and offer a pop of color and design. The choice is yours — that’s what makes sewing fun.
Fabric I Used
I made a lovely beach bag with a nautical themed cotton canvas from Minerva. The earth friendly, OEKO-TEX fabric is environmentally friendly making it a win/win.
Adding The Pocket
The few simple steps below will get your inside pocket complete in no time at all. Below are instructions for adding one fabric pocket, you could easily add one to each side of your bag lining. Additionally, you could use the same technique to put the pocket on the outside of your bag.
Cutting The Pocket Fabric
Whatever size you decide to cut your bag fashion fabric and lining, then cut the pocket the same size. The pocket needs to match up with the lining for a smooth application. You want the pocket, lining, and fashion fabric to be the same finished size.
The Finished Pocket Edge
Finish the top edge of the pocket fabric with a double roll hem — fold the top edge over 1/4 inch to the wrong side, then fold that again 1/4 inch to encase the raw edges. Then top stitch. Take care with one way fabrics like my nautical print, you want to finish the top edge with the print in the right direction.
Alternate Pocket Finishing Technique
Instead of folding over the edge, you could add a lining to your pocket piece. This would elevate the bag construction to the next level. To accomplish this, instead of finishing the edge as directed above, you would follow these steps:
- Cut a lining the same size as your pocket.
- Attach the lining to the pocket – right sides together – and stitch across the top.
- Press seam and turn pocket wrong sides together and top stitch.
- Continue with instructions below for attaching your pocket layers.
Sewing To The Lining
Place your pocket piece with the wrong side resting on the right side of one lining piece. Match sides and bottom edge; the finished top edge should be a little more than a 1/2 inch below the raw edge of the lining fabric.
Stitch the pocket piece to the lining piece along the sides and bottom, leaving the finished top open. Sew inside your seam allowance. For example, if your seam allowances for the tote bag are 1/2 inch, then attach the pocket at 1/3 inch so you don’t see the stitching when the lining is finished.
Sew The Lining
Sandwich the pocket piece between the two lining pieces — placing the lining pieces right sides together. Sew along the side seams and bottom seam to complete your lining. Finish the lining with feet if you are following my Lined Tote Bag Pattern.
It is that simple!
A Tote Bag Is Perfect With Pockets
Pockets are the best! The more pockets the better! You can add this interior pocket on both sides of your lining fabric. This will give you space for your laptop, notebook, novel, magazine, etc.
I’ve also lengthened the exterior pocket so it is long enough to hold my eyeglass case or cell phone; the two things I am always rummaging through my bag to find.
The bottom line is to add pockets! Lots and lots of pockets.
Decorative Touches For Your Tote Bag
When designing your tote bag, be sure to add your own decorative touches. For this bag I used a step stitching line to attach the handles and the pocket. It adds a fun texture to the rugged canvas look.
See what stitches you have on your machine and play around with them. Something as simple as a small decorative stitch elevates the entire project. This step stitch is on my Brother cs6000i sewing machine. I use it for all kinds of projects. I made this bag with my Brother. It handled the medium/heavy weight canvas with ease. You can explore all the great features of the Brother cs6000i in my review.
You can also add store bought trim and other decorative elements to adorn your tote bag. Trim out the pockets, sew trim to the top edge, or simply add appliques to the bag where you like.
Other Beginner Projects
If you are a beginner and want to increase your sewing skills, visit my Easy Sewing Projects for Beginners primer for some good ideas. The goal is to get out and practice your sewing skills with simple projects. When you are ready to tackle something more complicated with traditional sewing patterns, check out my YouTube Channel for lots of great instructional materials.
Practice your tote bag making skills by making lots of grocery bags. Then graduate to making customized bags for gifts from the heart.
Sewing Your Custom Tote Bag
This is why we sew. We sew to make custom items and garments that reflect our personality, that fit, and that are crafted with skill. It takes practice, but with careful attention to detail and some trail and error, you can sew gorgeous items that you will love.
I hope you enjoyed my primer How To Add A Pocket to Your Tote Bag. I enjoyed making mine and sharing it with you. Coming soon, adding a zipper pocket, taking your tote bag skills to the next level.
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