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Saturday, 27 February 2016

Customizing a Free Tote Bag Pattern [Pt 1]

Customized Sew4Home Market Tote crafted by eSheep Designs
Front of my customized tote bag... for starters,
I added the twist lock and the decorative grommets...
The journey that I'm documenting here began with a tote bag so it seems natural to revisit a tote bag as I explore an activity that's recently caught my interest... customizing and changing found patterns.

I last did this by spinning out my own version of a free messenger bag pattern that I found at Robert Kaufman.

Free tote bag patterns — even more so than free messenger bag patterns — can be found virtually everywhere, don't you agree? Heck, with almost any amount of sewing experience, a person can easily create his or her own basic tote bag. As you might suppose, however, I wanted something a bit more stylish than "basic", but also definitely less "featured" than the Professional Tote.

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Let me back pedal a bit. When hubby and I were in Mexico earlier this year, I found myself heading down to the beach to our favourite palapa carrying an armful of stuff and my purse.

Why, I asked myself, do I not have a good beach bag tote?

Customized Sew4Home Market Tote crafted by eSheep Designs
The back of my customized tote, where I changed it to a zippered pocket...

The thing is, I actually have two that can be considered as such. Store-bought years ago, they now have permanent employment as storage containers. One holds stuff that I need to take on vacations and the other is currently filled with fabric. Because of how they're made and what they're made of, neither would travel well in a suitcase.

Customized Sew4Home Market Tote crafted by eSheep Designs
View of my tote's 6" wide base... double the pattern's original size...

So, that was reason number one why I needed to make a beach tote.

Reason number two? At the end of my recent post about the Wave Purse Organizer, I mentioned that I was going to create a large version of the organizer for use with tote bags. And if I'm gonna make one, I may as well have a place to put it!

Customized Sew4Home Market Tote crafted by eSheep Designs
Interior of my customized tote...  the D-ring attachment is mine... I actually eliminated a pocket
since I am going to make and use a large version of my Wave Purse Organizer with this bag...

With that decision make, it was then a question of which tote bag pattern did I want to use as my foundation?

Sew4Home ultimately won the day. I have seen a variety of tote bags on their site, but one project from March of 2015 stuck in my mind: this trio of "market totes". (The design is similar to the ChrisW Designs' pattern — Abby's Alley — that was released last December, which I also found quite attractive.)

Customized Sew4Home Market Tote crafted by eSheep Designs
A detailed look at the inside of the two exterior pockets of my customized tote...

So what did I customize?

The first priority was to change the size to fit the purpose. Since this is going to be primarily a beach bag, I wanted something bigger. And by bigger, I mean in terms of the base depth/width. The Sew4Home market tote finishes out with a 3" wide base. To me, that's barely a book bag, so change #1 was to double that to 6"... again, it's not something that I intend to carry around for everyday use, but for on the beach (or shopping), it's the perfect size.

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For an idea of scale...
Change #2 — increasing the depth of the exterior pocket panel — was done for two reasons. First, the solid blue fabric that was destined for the top part of the bag was not the most exciting looking stuff. Had I another interestingly patterned fabric that I could showcase against the bright blue floral, I might have stayed with the original dimensions. But I didn't, so I did not want a lot of the plain fabric to be showing. Second, since it was going to be a bigger bag, I thought that a deeper pocket would also be more functional.

Change #3 was to revamp the pockets, which involved removing two and adding another. I always have to have a zippered pocket and I wanted it on the outside of the bag. I wanted the inside to be plain, dull, boring; well, I wanted it to be devoid of any organization so that I could eventually add some with a removable organizer.

The front pocket that was otherwise essentially the same would be deeper as a result of change #2, but because I wanted it to be mainly one large storage space, I also added a twist lock in the middle (where the original pattern called for a division)... maybe that's change #3A.

Change #4 was to alter the way the straps are attached. Instead of just sewing them onto the bag, I wanted to make use of some decorative grommets that were rescued from an old purse. (And I suppose change #4A is that I used a different method altogether of constructing the straps.)

Change #5 was to add a magnetic snap closure to the top.

Oh, and I guess change #6 was that I added a D-ring to the inside of the bag for clipping on keys and such.

Other modifications aren't really visible: I used fusible fleece only for the exterior pocket panel; everything else was interfaced with Decor Bond. (I used less fleece for the fact that I wanted the bag to fold down as easily as possible and not take up much room in a suitcase.) I also added a piece of Peltex to the bottom of the bag for support.

Interested in making the tote with all of these modifications? In a couple of weeks, I'll be back with part two of this post and will spill the details on how I brought about these changes.

In the meantime, I guess I need to start planning a large version of my Wave Purse Organizer...


  1. This looks just like Abby's Alley by ChrisWDesigns ..with a zipper pocket added ?? http://www.chriswdesigns.com/collections/sew-sell/products/abbys-alley

    1. Well, I changed more than just a zippered pocket, but yes... I mentioned the similarities in my post. In case you missed it, the Sew4Home version predated Christine's pattern by 9 months, although I don't know where their initial inspiration came from. :-)


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