How to Sew a Custom Tote
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How to Sew a Custom Canvas Tote

Tote Week | Pretty Handy Girl

Hey guys! Do you know what today is? It’s the beginning of Tote Week! What, you had no idea? Tote Week here on Pretty Handy Girl is five days devoted to Tote Bags! Learn how to sew adorable tote bags and how to customize store bought tote bags.

If you’re just joining in here’s the line up:

To start us off, Jaime is here to give you the basic sewing tutorial to make your own lined (and monogrammed) tote bag. Jaime is from That’s My Letter, a blog filled with DIY Tutorials. Today, she’s showing you How to Sew a Custom Canvas Tote complete with painted monogram:

canvas tote

This tote makes a great everyday bag or purse, just big enough for all the important stuff but not too bulky.  The finished size is 16″w x 9″h x 8″ square at the base, and the handles extend about 6″ in height.

canvas tote 13

The tote is fully lined and includes an interior zippered pocket.  The zipper is easy as pie I promise!  I’ll show you how down below.

You can add any monogram or name to personalize the tote.  Then you’ll be making canvas totes as gifts for all your friends.

canvas tote 3

The square base makes for a nice wide tote and the canvas is super durable:

canvas tote 2


  • drop cloth canvas (1 yard)
  • blue canvas (1/2 yard outdoor patio fabric Sunbrella or the like)
  • lining (1 yard)
  • medium weight fusible interfacing (1 yard)
  • firm interfacing – 9″ x 9″
  • 1 1/2″w cotton webbing (1 yard)
  • 9″ zipper
  • lightbox
  • small paintbrush
  • acrylic paint
  • sewing machine, thread to match, iron, seam ripper

Materials Cut List:


  • 1 – blue canvas 9″ x 9″
  • 1 – lining 9″ x 9″
  • 1 – drop cloth canvas 9″ x 9″
  • 1 – firm interfacing 9″ x 9″


  • 2 – drop cloth canvas 10″h x 17″l
  • 2 – med. fusible interfacing 10″ x 17″
  • 2 – lining 10″ x 17″
  • 2 – blue canvas 4″h x 17″w

Handles: 2 – 1 1/2″w cotton webbing @ 17″l


canvas tote fabric cuts

Step 1: Cut materials (see cut list above).

canvas tote base

Step 2: Prepare base.  Sandwich drop cloth, firm interfacing then blue canvas.

canvas tote base detail

Step 3: Flat line stitch around the base sewing 3 layers together.  Set aside.

canvas tote front

Step 4: Painting the monogram.  Print out desired letters (I used Abraham Lincoln font at 175 point) and determine center  of one piece of drop cloth.

canvas tote monogram

Step 5: Place the printout behind the drop cloth and pin in place.  Put everything on top of a lightbox and you should see the printed letters coming through the drop cloth.

canvas tote monogram 1

Step 6: Paint the monogram following the outline of the printout.

canvas tote front 1

Step 7: Prepare to add the blue canvas strip to the tote body.  Pin the blue canvas 3″ from the base of the drop cloth and sew a straight stitch with 1/2″ seam allowance.

canvas tote blue canvas detail

Step 8: Press blue canvas down flat to drop cloth and top stitch in place.  Repeat Steps 7 & 8 for tote body back.

canvas tote body

Step 9: Place tote body front and back right sides together and sew side seams using 1/2″ seam allowance.

canvas tote body to base

Step 10: Mark center of tote body front and back with a pin.  Mark centers of each side of square base with a pin.

canvas tote construction

Step 11: Match up center points of front and back with centers of square base then match up side seams with centers of other 2 sides.  Sew base to tote body with 1/2″ seam allowance.

canvas tote base corners

Step 12: To ease corners make a small clip (at arrows) in tote body.

Repeat the above process (Steps 9 – 11) for the lining sewing the front and back together and then add the square base.  BE SURE TO LEAVE ONE SIDE OPEN AT THE BASE!! (See Step 17 picture down below.)

canvas tote zipper pocket

Step 12: Prepare interior zippered pocket.  Cut drop cloth as follows:

  • 1 – back: 7″h x 9″w
  • 1 – front bottom: 6″h x 9″w
  • 1 – front top: 2″h x 9″w
  • 9″ zipper

canvas tote pocket

Step 13: Sew the front lower and upper pieces together with 1/2″ seam allowance.  Press seam open and place zipper face side down directly over seam, pin in place.  Using your zipper foot sew zipper in place.

canvas tote pocket 1

Step 14: Flip over to right side, using a seam ripper GENTLY open the seam to reveal your zipper!

canvas tote pocket 2

Step 15: WITH YOUR ZIPPER PARTIALLY OPEN place right sides together and sew around all four edges using 1/2″ seam allowance.

canvas tote pocket complete

Step 16: Clip the corners and turn right side out through the zipper hole.

canvas tote interior

Step 17: Determine placement of zippered pocket on the lining and top stitch in place.  (You can barely see in the picture the opening in the lining base at the top of the picture.)

canvas tote handles

Step 18: Pin the handles onto the drop cloth exterior, both sides equidistant from the center.

canvas tote top seam

Step 19: Shove the lining (right side out), down into the tote (right sides together).  Pin top edge lining up side seams.  Sew together using 1/2″ seam allowance.

canvas tote lining closure

Step 20: Turn tote right side out through hole in lining.  Top stitch lining base hole shut.  Push lining down into tote.

Top stitch top edge of tote using contrasting thread for a finished look about 1/4″ in from top edge.

canvas tote 1

Thanks for sticking with me, it’s worth the effort!  Happy tote making.

Jaime signature

– Learn more about Jaime –


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15 replies
  1. K M
    K M says:

    Love the bag; however, I do not trust myself to free hand a monogram. I am going to buy a stencil and take that route. Do you know how many inches the initials. I googled it – but come up with nothing all that helpful. thanks!

  2. Allison Roohi
    Allison Roohi says:

    Hi there! Fab pattern! One question: If I want to make a bigger size, can I simply add inches to each piece as appropriate? Thanks so much!

      • Allison
        Allison says:

        Thanks so much! Going to get to work on my giant tote bag this week! Will post when complete. I can’t seem to find the perfect one to carry all my stuff… 🙂

  3. RIta
    RIta says:

    I’d like to use a little bit heavier fabric. Do you have any suggestios or resources to figure out the type of sewing machine I would need?

  4. Heather
    Heather says:

    I’m a HUGE fan of Jaime’s work! Thank you for sharing such a great tutorial. Though my sewing skills are nonexistent, I hope to be able to sew a bigger version of this canvas tote for library runs – I never leave the library with less than 40 books for my voracious little readers in the house.



Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Monday: How to Sew a Canvas Tote Bag […]

  2. […] Monday: How to Sew a Canvas Tote Bag […]

  3. […] back to Tote Week! Yesterday, Jaime gave us a great tutorial for sewing your own Canvas Tote Bags. If you’re short on time (or don’t have a sewing machine), there’s nothing wrong […]

  4. […] Source: How to Sew a Custom Canvas Tote – Pretty Handy Girl […]

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