Sorry folks. I agree. Dresses are more interesting than bags. But the only dress sewing I’ve done this week is the cutting out of Parfait, a supremely unsatisfying task. I hate cutting. I use a rotary cutter and mat, which makes it slightly easier, but I still hate it. And it doesn’t make for blog photos (unless you’re in to looking at piles of scraps…) So I’m going with a recent project. My super-utilitarian messenger-slash-tote bag. Here’s me modeling it in a Willy Wonka-esque manner.

Very utilitarian, no? As many of you know, I recently started working at a real, live, awesome sewing studio and by the very nature of the job, I end up lugging a ton of stuff back and forth to work (have I mentioned that the shop is only a block from my house? I’m a lucky girl!) and I started to have tote bag issues. I have one giant tote that’s good for projects, but once I tossed in my laptop (in it’s cozy case), some snacks, my wallet, camera, ipod, cords, chargers, and other accessories, my giant tote didn’t seem so giant any more. I decided to make a bag specifically for computers and other electronics. And snacks.

Here were my requirements:

  • Big enough for computer plus snacks
  • Lots of pockets for electronic things
  • Strap long enough to wear diagonally across my body
  • Strap wide enough to not cut into my shoulder and hurt me.
  • Appropriate use of funky Japanese fabric

I totally scored some awesome Japanese fabric and a funky Anna Maria Horner cotton for the lining. I looked at a few patterns at our shop and online, but I’m working on an Amy Butler messenger bag as a shop sample and it sort of makes me to want to smother myself with some cheap acrylic fabric, so I decided to just wing it. Here’s a brief tutorial for anyone wanting a giant, easy to make bag for the lugging of computers and snacks.


Outer bag fabric – I got about one and an eighth of a yard of fabric for my bag (21.5 x 21.5 inches) and super long strap plus a few small pockets on the strap. We make a similar bag at the shop in one of the classes and the students make theirs 18 x 18 inches, which is a more traditional size tote.

Lining fabric – I don’t remember precisely what I got for lining, but it was probably around a yard and half, with some left over – the extra was needed to make interior pockets.

Pocket lining fabric – I used about a half a yard of scrap fabric to line the pockets

Interlining/interfacing – since the bag is meant for lugging of precious equipment (apples bruise if they drop on the ground!) I went to town with the interlining. I used some denim that I had on hand – I suppose I used about a yard and a half.

Notions – velcro, thread, 22” zipper

Constructing the strap

I made the strap first. Here’s what I did.

-Figured out how long I wanted the strap by modeling a tape measure in a manner which completely baffled Mr. Bug. I decided on 55”

-Used my rotary cutter and a ruler to cut 4.5” strips of the outer fabric. Since my straps were 55”, I needed 110” total. I pieced my strap fabric in a way that worked with the funky pattern.

-Cut 55 x 4.5” of denim for interlining.

-Next I added the pockets to the straps. I cut one piece of the outer fabric, 4” x 5” – then I cut a rectangles the same size out of denim and my pocket lining fabric. I laid out the denim, then the two printed fabrics right sides together (three rectangles, total.) I stitched around the two long sides and one short, trimmed seams, turned and pressed, being sure the one open end was tucked under, nice and neat. Then I topstitched the upper edge shut, lined up where I wanted it on the strap and topstitched the whole shebang onto the strap on three sides, leaving the top open for future iPod insertion. Here’s a photo. You can see that I also added a bit of leather trim and used a leather and velcro application as a closure.

Constructing the interior pockets

I won’t go into super detail about how I did the interior pockets, but I WILL show photos of them! They’re pretty easy pockets. I used the same three layers of fabric (lining, pocket lining and denim) for all the pockets. Here’s a shot of the first pocket – the one for electronics. If you do the same type of pocket, just be sure to measure your electronics! Mine almost didn’t fit!

On the other side of the lining, I put in one giant zipper pocket.

Interlining the bag

I think what I did could technically be called underlining, not interlining, but it sounds better to interline a bag for some reason! I just layered a piece of denim and a piece of the outer fabric together and then basted along two edges. Then I treated as one while constructing the bag.

Putting it all together

Putting the whole thing together was pretty simple, with a few magic tricks!

First, assemble the outer fabric bag, and then the lining fabric bag by placing the squares of fabric right side together and sewing around three edges with a half inch seam allowance. If you’re using a directional print and/or made pockets for the interior, be sure to pay attention with sewing so the opening is where you’d like it to be!01-makebags

Once you have two ‘bags’ – one of outer fabric, one of inner fabric – it’s time to square off the corners. This is super easy, but seemed really odd the first time I did it. Take one of your bags (still turned inside out, so the right sides are together.) Hold by one corner and pull on each side of the bag, bringing the side seam and the bottom seams together. Use your fingers to feel the seams and make sure they are nice and lined up and then smooth the whole thing down on a worktop. Pin everything flat. Then measure three inches up the seam from the corner and draw a line on the fabric perpendicular to the seam. Sew along the line you just drew. It’s probably a good idea to reinforce that seam by sewing again (although I didn’t.) Do it again for the other corner, then turn the bag right side out to make sure everything looks OK. If it looks good, trim the corner. If it’s messed up, well, may I introduce you to Ms. Seam Ripper? If you did pockets on the lining, pay attention to where the pockets are when stitching. Here’s my lame attempt to illustrate this rather confusing maneuver…


After you’ve finished making the corners on the lining and the outer bag (four total!) it’s time to baste the strap on. Choose one of your bags (doesn’t really matter which) and pin one end of the strap to the upper edge of the bag, raw edges lined up and right sides together. Then match the other end to the other side of the bag, raw edges lined up and right sides together. I made sure my strap wasn’t twisted and I slightly offset the placement of the straps from the sideseam and it isn’t perfect – so play with it a bit. Once you get it where you like it, baste the ends to the bag with a quarter inch or so seam allowance. Here’s my masterful drawing, intended to amuse and confuse…


Almost done! Now take the other bag – the one without the strap – and turn it inside out (so the right side is on the inside.) Keep the bag that has the strap attached right side out and stuff it inside the non-strapped bag. The right sides of the bags should be facing each other, and the strap should be pretty much invisible inside the bag. Match up the side seams of both bags and then match up the raw edges of both bags, pinning all around. Take it to your sewing machine and sew all the way around the top, leaving about 5 inches unsewn on one side.


Now turn the whole thing right side out by tugging the right sides through the hole you left along the upper edge. Once you’ve gotten everything turned so (you can’t see the wrong side of the fabric,) stuff the lining in the outer bag. Press along the upper edge of the bag, turning under the edges of the opening you left. Topstitch everything down. Finished!

[This is the same bag, the two sides look different because of how the print was on the fabric!]

Obviously, I made this more difficult with the inclusion of pockets, interlining and a lot of top stitching. You could skip all that and this bag would be a quick project, if you just are needed a quick project! And if you go down to the 18” size, you just need a half-yard of fabric!

And with that, I sign off. Hope this is helpful. Also, here’s to hoping I have some actual dress-blogging for tomorrow. I have such a hankering for real, live sewing!

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