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Saturday, 12 March 2016

Customizing a Free Tote Bag Pattern [Pt 2]

Customized Sew4Home Market Tote Crafted by eSheep Designs
What better background for a beach tote than all this white stuff?
As promised in part one of this post, today I will provide details of how I customized the free "market tote" pattern from Sew4Home.

I had three goals for this tote: 1) re-use as much as possible when it comes to the source materials, 2) make the end result different enough so that it can no longer really be considered the same as the original, and 3) do everything on the fly without "testing". (Yes!)

Happy to report, I achieved those goals.

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In terms of reuse, here is a list of what was recycled/repurposed for this tote bag:
  • decorative oval grommets came from a purse that was given to me for parts (they were originally used vertically, for threading a "belt" that ran around the bag)
  • zipper used to trim the collar of white satin jacket that I wore for two summers
  • blue floral fabric was a bed sheet (from Mom's linen closet)
  • solid blue fabric was part of a pillowcase set ($2 from Dollarama)
  • white fabric (pocket lining) was also part of a pillowcase set (again $2 from Dollarama)
  • magnetic snap came from an old purse of mine
  • cord used inside the piping was a drawstring from a mesh laundry bag ($1 from a discount store)
I also purchased two different ribbons from Dollarama ($1.25 each) for this project. A royal blue grosgrain ribbon was put to three uses: 1) to wrap around the cord to form the piping, 2) to extend the sides of the zipper tape, and 3) to add a D-ring to the inside of the bag. A polka-dotted light blue ribbon was used to trim the handle straps.

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The original Sew4Home pattern produces a bag that is 18" high x 18" wide x 3" deep at the sides. My bag finished out at 19" wide from seam to seam at the top and is 14" high; the base is 14" x 6". To get this result, I changed the measurements as follows:

Bag exterior bottom pieces: two x 8" high x 21" wide (instead of 6.5" x 18")
Bag exterior top/facing pieces: two x 12.5" high x 21" wide (instead of 12.5" x 18")
Bag lining pieces: two x 17.5" high x 21" wide (instead of 16" x 18")

[In terms of prep, after cutting out the main exterior pieces, the "tops" were sewn to the "bottoms" with a 1/2" seam allowance. In my case, I then interfaced them with Decor Bond, cut slightly smaller all the way around to reduce bulk in the seams. The original pattern calls for these pieces to be (mostly) interfaced with fleece and then the facing separately with regular fusible.]

The pocket panel is cut from a printable template. My changes necessitated adding an inch and a half along the free edge (i.e., not the edge with the fold) and then another two inches along the bottom. This created a new template as shown here.

Sew4Home Market Tote Pattern Piece adjustments
Add 2" to the bottom and 1.5" to the side of the supplied pattern piece...

Ensure that when you add the inch and a half strip along the side, you continue to curve the top edge upwards.

For my version of this tote, I cut only three pieces from this template: two exteriors and one lining. One pair of exterior/lining was used to create the pocket on the front of the bag, but on the back, a single exterior panel (which I will refer to as my faux pocket panel) acted as the front for a zippered pocket.

[I interfaced the exterior of my actual pocket with fusible fleece per the original pattern requirements. I did not use anything on the faux pocket panel, but if I were to do it again, I would have interfaced it with Decor Bond for a better sewing experience.]


The first thing that I did for this project was make the piping. Here is what that process looked like...

making and installing piping trim
Using ribbon to make piping is really not so hard... if you have a wider ribbon!

During that particular visit to my neighbourhood Dollarama, I couldn't find 1" wide ribbon in the right colour, so had to "make do". This blue ribbon is actually 7/8" wide and I tell ya, that missing 1/8" made it a pain in the butt to try to trap the cord inside. I eventually just sewed the sides of the ribbon together and then threaded the cord through after the fact.

This was actually the first time I had ever installed piping. (Yes, I was brave enough to make my own and install it for the first time all in the same project!)

homemade piping
Closeup of the piping along the front pocket...

The piping was installed into the top seam of the front pocket in the usual fashion (i.e., sandwiched between the exterior and lining fabrics of the pocket), but since the matching pocket on the back of the bag was eliminated in favour of a zippered pocket, I had to do something different there. (The first part is the same, the piping is still sewn to the right side of the exterior piece.) BUT, before I get to that...

I attached twist lock hardware to the front pocket and exterior front piece. This is because I did not divide the pocket down the middle per the original pattern. (I did, however, divide the two sides and later came to regret doing so because they are so narrow — and deep — that things could get lost in them.)

twist lock
The addition of a twist lock is both functional and professional...

This pocket was then sewn onto the front exterior piece. As I said above, I separated the pocket into three divisions, but the two on the sides are rather narrow.


Two things about my zippered pocket: I wanted to maximize the length of my zipper (which was just over 12" long) while ensuring that there was enough of the scrap of white fabric remaining from that pillowcase to do the job for the lining. Then I had to make my zipper usable.

What do I mean by that? Well, since leaving the collar of my jacket, this particular zipper had already been recycled once before, in a project that was ultimately discarded. Having been ripped out twice, the tape was quite frayed, making the zipper virtually impossible to use as is.

frayed zipper
An extremely frayed zipper that still begs to be reused!

Taking some of that blue ribbon, I sewed a length of it along each edge of the zipper tape. (If you do this, be sure to add strips of ribbon to the back side of the zipper too.) Not only does this save the zipper from the trash bin, that pop of blue around the white will create some added interest on the finished bag.

repairing a frayed zipper tape
Using ribbon to make a zipper "sewable" again...

I'm not going to detail how I made a zippered pocket as I assume you know how to do so already. In terms of placement, the distance from the "peak" of the faux pocket panel (where the piping is) to the top edge of the zipper opening is 2". There was enough lining fabric to make a pocket almost as big as the bag itself.

One thing I will mention, though — I made sure that the top seam of the pocket lining was tucked in under the seam of the faux pocket panel, so that when it's all stitched down later, the pocket lining is evenly "suspended" and hanging nicely (as opposed to potentially flopping down at the top corners).


Once the zippered pocket was done, the next step was to sew the whole thing onto the exterior back of the bag. With there being no second piece of fabric to trap the piping, some artful pinning is required here, but all in all, it's not too terribly difficult. Even the last step of stitching in the ditch (as indicated in the picture here) was not as bad as I thought it might be.

stitch in the ditch
Attach the faux pocket panel to the back exterior piece by stitching in the ditch...

Even though a couple of my stitches were invariably wonky, I was pleased enough with the overall job not to take out the stitch ripper.

Customized Sew4Home Market Tote Crafted by eSheep Designs
Modification complete!

But definitely, slow and steady will win this particular race!


The next steps are pretty much the same as called for in the original pattern (and very easy). The exterior sides and bottom are sewn up, the corners boxed (cut those corners at 3" instead of 1.5" — very important!), the lining is similarly completed (and since I made the lining without the original patch pocket, it was extremely quick) and then inserted into the completed bag exterior.

I didn't have a separate piece of interfacing to fuse to the top part of the bag, so it was straight to the "fold and then fold again" procedure to trap the lining at the top.

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And of course, this is where I should have stopped to add my magnetic snap.

But I forgot... and sewed all the way around... and then had to go back and unpick some stitching along the middle in order to add the magnetic snap pieces... and then resew the edge.

No biggie; that's the trade-off for the excitement of "on the fly" creating! (By the way, due to the addition of the magnetic snap, there was no room to topstitch around the very top edge of the bag, but again, no biggie.)


The addition of grommets definitely produces an upscale look. But not all grommets are created equally. I consider these here to be decorative grommets, since they are extremely lightweight and only have one prong at each end to keep them together.

Let's just say that I would not be confident about these staying clamped together if they had a strap threaded through them supporting the weight of a filled bag. I can envision them popping right out and then I'd be left with four holes in my tote.

decorative grommets
Decorative grommets that came from a discarded purse...

So while these grommets would add some bling to my bag, I knew I'd have to think about how to attach the straps so that they don't put any stress on the grommets and rip them right out.

With regards to installing these, it's not much of a mystery and no different from installing small circular grommets. Using the inside of the grommet as a template, mark an outline for the hole and then cut through all layers of fabric. You just have to be careful not to go overboard in cutting the hole too big. After the initial cut, it's really a matter of trial and error until the right fit is achieved.

grommet placement

I located my grommets per the above picture, 5" in from the side seams and 1.5" down from the top edge of the bag to the top of the grommet.


On a subsequent trip to Dollarama, I came across this polka dotted ribbon that turned out to be the perfect accent for the bag's straps. I turned to a recent technique that was used in my Retro Reticule pattern, to make straps with less fabric and no turning. (By the way, at the end of it all, there was just enough ribbon left over to make a zipper pull!)

I made each strap 36" long (instead of the original pattern's 28") because I needed some extra length at each end — 5" to be exact — to run through the grommet and then wrap back around the top edge of the bag. In the picture here, there is 1" of the raw end of the strap tucked around the top of the bag, i.e., underneath where you see the boxed "X" stitches.

How the straps were sewn in...

I will admit that this was my least favourite part of the entire project. It's always a hassle to manhandle a big bag in close proximity to hardware! (And having four layers didn't help.) But I can tell you that the straps are sewn in such a way as to eliminate any stress whatsoever on the grommets.

Customized Sew4Home Market Tote Crafted by eSheep Designs
One more shot... and perhaps this is a more fitting backdrop! :-)

One final detail: the handle drop on my version turned out to be 11.5" (original was 10"). When making a tote bag of this size, it's always a good idea to check that the handle length is short enough to keep the bag off the floor when you aren't carrying it on your shoulder!

Well, I hope this has been an informative post. (It certainly has been a long one...whoa!) I'm really enjoying the process of taking patterns and making them my own... it mixes up the creative juices in a totally different way.

May this inspire you to do the same!

By the way, thanks to Jill for leaving me a comment before this got posted. Actually, what happened was that I accidentally published the draft version of this a few weeks back (it was out for about an hour or so) and she dropped me a comment!

Want to see more? Check out my customization of Sew4Home's Summer Sling Bag!


  1. Gorgeous bag Rochelle! I love how much you upcycled and reused to make it. And I have to say what a genius idea to sew the ribbon onto the zip to make it usable again! I have several reclaimed zips that are cut and frayed and they are just sitting in my stash as I've never thought to do this with them!! Thank you! :)

  2. Love your new beach bag sitting in the snow!!!

  3. you are one smart cookie, I love the fact you recycle so much, that is wonderful! Your bag is lovely, too~


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