Tutorial – reversible tote bag

This time on the sewing challenge, we made canvas tote bags. I found this linen fabric that I fell in love with immediately. It made me think of the beach and the size of the tote bade me think of a beach bag. I reworked the pattern a little so I could use it along with a canvas that provides the stiffness and durability. The bottom is made of canvas as is the inside lining. I also lined the inside of the front pocket with canvas. All of that should help to protect the linen so that the bag will stand up over time.

This tote bag is fully customizable for size and features. Make it is big or as small as you like. Add decorations or pockets as you like. I added two stripes down the front with a pocket between them. I also added a large pocket inside the bag with velcro closure. The following tutorial will make a bag that looks like the one I made. Adjust your dimensions or decorations as desired.


  • Fabric for exterior (canvas or duck cloth suggested) – 1/2 yard
  • Fabric for interior (canvas or duck cloth suggested) – 1 yard
  • heavyweight/jeans needle


Step 1.

Cut your fabric pieces

exterior fabric – any mid to heavy weight woven

  • 15 1/2 x 22 (cut 2) (exterior panels)
  • 8 1/2 x 7 (cut 1) (front pocket)

interior fabric – canvas or duck cloth recommended

  • 7 x 22 (cut 1) (bottom panel)
  • 36 x 22 (cut 1) (lining)
  • 6 1/2 x 24 (cut 2) (straps)
  • 8 1/2 x 7 (cut 1) (front pocket)
  • 3 1/2 x 15 1/2 (cut 2) (stripes on front)
  • 9 x 11 (cut 2) (inside pocket big enough to fit a tablet)

All seam allowances are 1/2 inch

Step 2.

Make the stripes for the front

Take your two pieces of interior fabric that are 3 1/2 x 15 1/2. Fold each one in half lengthwise and press. Open them up again. Using the center crease as a guide, fold each edge to the center and press.

Step 3.

Add the stripes to the front

Take one of your panels of  exterior fabric that are 15 1/2 x 22 and place it right side up. Mark it 6 1/2 inches from the edge on both sides at the top and bottom. Use these marks as a guide to line up the outside edge of your stripe. Pin in place.

Step 4.

Add the front pocket

Take your two front pocket pieces, one in interior and one in exterior fabric, and place them right sides together. Sew along the top edge only. If you want to place a ribbon like I did, open the pieces so you are only working with the exterior piece. Line the ribbon up with the top edge and sew into place. Turn the pocket right sides out and press the seam.

Center the pocket between the two stripes with about 1/2 inch sliding under each stripe. Line up the raw edges of the bottom of the pocket with the raw edge of the bottom of the exterior panel and pin the pocket in place.

Sew along each side of the two stripes to secure it in place and secure the pocket sides at the same time.

Step 5.

Add the bottom to the front panel

Place the exterior panel right side up. Line up the bottom piece that is 7 x 22 with the bottom of the exterior panel, right sides together. Sew along this edge, catching the bottom of the stripes and the pocket as you go.

Step 6.

Add the back panel

Place the newly created panel right side up. Line up the other exterior panel with the other edge of the bottom section, right sides together. Sew. When you open it up, you will have a large panel that looks like this. (I added my ribbon trim later so you cannot see it in this view)

The pocket really is there!

Step 7.

Make the outside of the bag

Fold the exterior panel in half, right sides together. Sew along both side seams.

Step 8.

Make the inside pocket

Take the 2 pieces for your inside pocket and place them right sides together. Sew around the whole pocket leaving a 3-4 inch opening to turn. Turn the pocket right side out. Turn under the seam allowances at the opening under and pin closed. Pin the pocket in place to the right side of your lining, making sure the opening is at the bottom. Topstitch the sides and bottom of the pocket to secure it in place. Add a closure if desired.

Step 9.

Make the lining

Fold the lining panel in half, right sides together. Sew both side seams.

Step 10.

Make the gussets

This bag has 3 inch gussets on each side of the bottom. To make the gussets, fold the bottom so that the side seams match up with the bottom center fold, making a triangle. Use the pin test to make sure you are centered – stick the pin through the seam and make sure you come out at the fold line.

Mark a line 1 1/2 inches from the point of the triangle. Then mark a line from side to side. This line should be 3 inches long.

 Sew along the line.

Trim the corner to reduce bulk.

Repeat for the other corner. Then repeat for both corners in the lining panel.

Turn the panel right side out and it should look like this.

Step 11.

Make the straps

Take your two strap pieces, fold them in half lengthwise, and press. Open them up again. Using the center crease as a guide, fold each edge to the center and press.

Now fold them in half again so that they are 4 layers thick.

Top stitch along the outside edge then topstitch along the folded edge.

Step 12.

Put your bag together

Turn your exterior panel right side out. Leave the lining panel wrong side out. Place the exterior panel inside the lining. Place the outside edge of your strap 6 inches from the side of the bag, lining up the raw edges. This will line up with the stripes in the front. Make sure your strap is not twisted! Pin the lining to the exterior all the way around the top of the bag, being sure to match up your side seams.

Sew all the way around, leaving a 4-5 inch opening for turning.

Step 13.


Turn the bag right side out and push the lining inside the bag.

Fold in the seam allowance at the opening and pin closed. Topstitch all the way around the top edge closing the opening in the process.

Ta-da! You are done. And a bonus feature, this bag is reversible!


Happy sewing and get creative. The possibilities for this tote are endless!


Change the size

Add an applique to the outside

Use decorative fabric for the inside pockets

Attach the handles with grommets or O-rings

Add snaps to each side to fold them in and narrow the top

Add a button and flap closure to the top

Use quilted fabric rather than canvas




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