Sunday, December 21, 2014

I’ve got a Secret… Fat Quarter Folding Totes

I’ve got a Secret… Fat Quarter Folding Totes:    

Now, during the holiday hiatus of many shows, the Game Show Network has old reruns of I've Got A Secret and What’s My Line.  They aren't THAT old… I've Got A Secret is the “new” version of the show, with Steve Allen hosting, and the one I watched was from 1961.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 50 years since that show originally aired!  In the fall of 1961, I became a mother.  My firstborn child was born on 9-11… and that date now has a completely different memory attached to it, since the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York.  Times have changed so much since the 1960’s… hairstyles, clothing fashions... when women wore undergarments that drastically changed their body shapes!  Waists were cinched in, girdles held tummies flat, and bras were uplifting and transformed breasts into pointed objects… and remember nylon stockings with garter belts?  No wonder it took us so long to get dressed. Women wore dresses in the 60’s.  Now, it’s unique to see a woman in a dress, in this era of comfortable pants and elastic waists that expand as our waistlines grow.  Men’s lapels were wide, and so were their ties.  Today, as I brushed my curls out, I realized that my hairstyle now is much the same as it was in 1960 in my graduation photo.  The ratted hair and beehive hairdos came later, when I was busy raising toddlers and had little time for worrying about following fashion.  I've got a secret of my own… the “Real” me is that 19 year old young woman hiding inside me, that no one knows about or sees… but me. 

Recently, I found this website: and saw her tutorial for the fold-up tote bag.  (Check out her tutorials… she has some other cute ideas!)  I thought I could make it from fat quarters… I have a lot of "mystery box" fat quarters that don’t fit well into my quilting ideas, but they make cute and colorful bibs and other small projects.  I incorporated some changes for my own tutorial that make it even more to my liking!
This tote takes about 5 minutes to do the serging and about 30 minutes to sew the rest of the bag,  This does not count cutting the pieces, however.  By sewing several at once, the time per bag can be lessened a bit, if you do them assembly-line fashion.  Now, bear in mind that I have slowed down in my old age!  You may be able to make one faster than I can!
Each tote takes two fat quarters:  one for the main part and one for the band and straps.  Ironing the fat quarters before cutting is advisable, as the folds may prevent accurate cutting.  If you have a serger, it works great for joining the pieces, since the bag is not lined.  Alternately, French seams will also look neat on the inside of the bag, or you can zig-zag the seam to enclose it.   Cut off all selvages.  Fat quarters vary a bit in size; some are 18” x 21” and some are 18” x 22”.  Cut the main color fat quarter to measure 16” x 22” (or 21”).  Cut two pieces from the main color, 16 by 11,  or 16” x 10-1/2”, if the fat quarter measures 18” X 21”.  16” is going to be the width of the tote.   The smaller measurement will be the height of the main part of the tote.
Next, cut the bands and straps from the contrasting fat quarter.  With the fabric doubled, cut two strips 4” x 22” for the straps.  There should be 10” x 22” remaining.  Lay it flat on the cutting board and cut it 16” long, or the same length as the width of the body of the tote bag, so the result is a piece 10” x 16”.  Cut it into two 5”x 16” pieces.  This is for the band at the top of the main color.

Cut a 6” length of round elastic.  This will be for the closure.  Position the two ends of the elastic at the top center of the main color on the front of the bag, forming a loop, and stitch across it several times to secure it well.  When the band is joined to the main color, the elastic loop will be between the two pieces.
Join the band to the main body, front and back.  There are now two pieces, approximately 16” x 1 6”.  Press this seam down and stitch it in place a scant ¼” from the seam so the seam allowance is secured on the inside.  Join front to back on both sides and across the bottom.   Again, if you don’t serge the seams, edge them with a zig-zag stitch or do a French seam to prevent them from raveling.

Serge (or fold under ¼”) the top of the bag.  Fold under about 3/4” to the inside.  Stitch along the bottom of the fold and again near the top of the bag so that the folded portion is stitched down on the top and bottom. 
Straps:  Press each 4” x 22” strip in half, wrong sides together.  Open out, wrong side up, and press each edge in to meet the middle fold.  Fold in half again, enclosing the raw edges.  The strap will be comprised of four thicknesses of fabric. Stitch along both long sides, close to the edge. Turn under about 1/2” on each end of the straps and stitch in place. (See photo at right.)

Mark about 3” in from each side of the bag for the strap position.  Pin to the bag at the 3” mark, about 3/4” down from the top edge of the bag.  Double check to make sure the strap isn’t twisted before sewing.  Sew the strap to the top of the bag  across the top, down each side, and across the bottom, in a box shape, then sew corner to corner, an “X” in the center of the box.  Repeat with the other three ends of the straps.  If you wish, you may put some stabilizer on the wrong side of the bag for extra stability, but it isn't necessary to do so.

Sew a button to the band, about 3” up from the elastic loop.  I had fun rummaging through my button basket to find the right buttons for my bags.
If you wish to box the bottom, turn the bag inside out.  Fold the corner so that it forms a triangle, placing the side seam over the bottom seam.  Sew across the triangle, about 2” from the point.  I backstitched at the beginning and end so the stitching would not pull out.  This “triangle” may be cut off and the seam serged, but it isn’t necessary to do that.  Turn right side out.  The bag is finished!

With the little piece left over after cutting the contrast color, a pocket could be sewn on the front or back… or on the inside, if you prefer.  I sewed two pieces together, leaving a space for turning, and turned right side out and pressed.  Position the pocket about 2” down from the elastic loop, and topstitch the pocket to the main fabric of the tote,
making sure to stitch the place you left open to turn the pocket in the seam.  Backstitch at the top edges to secure the pocket.  It works best to sew the pocket to the main part of the bag before joining the side seams, but it can be done after if you are careful to keep everything straight, taking care not to catch any unwanted parts in your seam!  The two layers makes the pocket a bit sturdier.  A Velcro strip can be sewn to the pocket and bag at the top to close the pocket, if desired, or it can be closed with a button and buttonhole... or just left open.   Depending on the size of the pocket, it can hold a cell phone, keys, library card, or credit card. 
I have left some of the bags at 18” wide, but then I add another contrasting band between the main body and the band, which requires additional fabric.  In most cases, a jelly roll strip (2-1/2”) works well.

Large Tote: Cut 2 pieces of main fabric, each 10-1/2” or 11” x 18”, depending on how wide the fat quarter is. 

From one 2-1/2” contrasting strip to use between band and main body, cut 2 pieces, each 2-1/2” x 18”.
Cut the straps the same as for the smaller tote.
Cut the bands 5” x 18”. 
Sew the tote bag the same as in the first example. The only difference is that it will be wider and a bit longer.  The boxed bottom is made the same way, but it can be a wider “box” by sewing 3” from the point of the triangle, if desired.  Larger variations are shown at the right.

To fold the bag, lay the bag flat and fold each side in at the point where the straps are attached.  Fold the straps down.  Roll, beginning at the bottom, and at the top, secure the roll with the button and elastic loop.  It is small and can easily fit in a purse or the glove compartment of your vehicle, ready for a time when you need a bag to put things in, such as a trip to the library. ends of the straps.
Variations and Pitfalls:
It works best to fold both ends in, leaving a slight space between them when making the straps.  This allows for easier folding the final fold when the two edges aren’t actually meeting or overlapping.  One of the most difficult things was pressing  these narrow pieces with steam and not burning my fingers with the steam, so take care!  It doesn't matter if  you sew your strap to the right or left of your mark…just be consistent with all of the straps.  It was easier to sew the straps on with the bag inside-out.  It was easier to stitch the top and band seams with the bag right-side out, stitching on the wrong side of the bag.  Take care when sewing the straps to the top of the bag… it is almost easier to sew another bag than to rip one out that’s sewn on the wrong spot!  That happened to me on the THIRTEENTH bag!  No wonder #13 has a reputation for bad luck.   Here are a few variations on the basic bag. 
This is a good way to use up those bright prints and gaudy colors that don’t fit well into a quilt.  Wild colors are great in this tote!  They look bright and cheerful… a fun project to gift to a friend. It can be used as a gift bag, and can be utilized as a tote bag when the gifts are removed.  Use your imagination and have fun!

About 10 years ago, I divided up my buttons and gave each of my girls a container of them, along with a fitted-out sewing basket of their own… but I still have a little basket of buttons left.  There are strands of elastic thread and big-eyed needles in the basket, as well, from my children and after that, my grandchildren, toddlers who sat in my sewing room and strung buttons to make necklaces and bracelets, while I sewed.  I think some of the buttons are probably over 50 years old, so they can probably be considered antiques.  Antiques, bit not junk… I’m glad I collected them from dresses, blouses, shirts, jackets, etc.  The useable fabric from those articles of clothing was cut up and sewn into new things, but not until the buttons were removed and strung together to be used on something new.  So many memories reside with the buttons in the basket… memories that have little meaning to anyone but me.  Perhaps it's time for these buttons to decorate someone else’s life… I hope when the bag has reached the end of its life, the button will continue its journey on another cherished item!  


  1. Thanks for the fun tutorial..Done your own special way! I love using buttons and love them on bags. For a thank you tip, I'll use an elastic hair ring for the button loop. If you have a dollar store you can even stock up on a bundle with multiple colors!

  2. Thanks, Friends! I think these totes are really cute and enjoyed making them. Thanks for the tip about the hair bands, Michele. I bought a bunch for the water bottle ID bracelets we did on a prior blog, but never thought of using them for the tote bags. I think I still have some buried in my beading supplies.

  3. Alaena, thanks for sharing this pattern. It will come in very handy. Your comments about fashion are a propos to a wonderful book I finished last week:

  4. FQs are really starting to turn me on. Thank you for sharing this information, Alaena.



  5. this bag project is delightful, Alaena. Your button collection reminded me of something. As a child, one of my favorite playthings was a 3 lb. coffee can stuffed into a stinky closet in my grandmother's house. The can was filled with buttons that provided endless entertainment.