Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tutorial: Calypso Tote

Happy summer! We're thrilled to celebrate these bright, summery July days with a citrus-inspired tote tutorial from Bethany of Sweet Bee Buzzings using Ro Gregg's Calypso Frogs line. We hope you'll enjoy her tutorial and then head over to her blog to find out how you can enter to win some Calypso fabrics for yourself!

Hi folks! I'm so pleased to be here to share an easy tutorial with you to give a different look to the basic tote bag. My name is Bethany, and I blog over at Sweet Bee Buzzings. I loooove to sew, but bags are my main squeeze--they're generally quick, usually easy, can be customized infinitely, and, most importantly, don't have to fit.

The bag we'll be making is a basic tote where the lining comes over to the exterior to provide some nice contrast and a bit of a faux cuff look. You're probably thinking "Oh, I could make this by cutting some contrasting strips for the outside" and you'd be right, but that's more cutting, more seams, and more bulk (ick! Bulk!). So let's get started, shall we?

Before we get stitching, here are a few quick notes so I don't have to keep repeating myself. First, we're using a 1/4 inch seam allowance throughout. Second, backstitch at the beginning and end of every seam. Third, don't skip the pressing. Pressing is how you get nice professional results with anything, so don't ignore this step. Press every seam you sew.

For this project I used two prints from the Calypso Frogs line by Ro Gregg. You'll need a half yard for the exterior, and about a yard for the lining and straps (you'll have a little left over of both). I also used 2/3 yard of fusible fleece. My fleece of preference is Thermolam Plus Fusible. It gives really nice structure to a bag, while staying soft and playing nicely with that quilted look.

From your exterior fabric, cut two pieces that each measure 17 inches wide by 15 inches high (take care if you're using directional fabrics). From your lining fabric, cut two pieces that each measure 17 inches wide by 21 inches high, and 2 pieces that each measure 5 inches by 32 inches (for your straps). From your fleece, cut two strips that each measure 2 1/2 inches by 32 inches (straps), two pieces that measure 17 inches by 2 3/4 inches, and two pieces that measure 17 inches by 15 inches.

Fusibles need to sit for a little while to let the adhesive set (unless you're going to be quilting them) so I like to do that part first. Take your exterior pieces and the matching fleece pieces and follow the instructions to apply the fleece to the wrong side of your fabric. After it's had time to set you can trim any fleece overhang. Take the smaller fleece strips (NOT the pieces for your straps) and apply those to the wrong sides of the top of your lining pieces, BUT place them 1/4 inch from the top edge of the fabric and fuse.

Let's do the straps. Grab your strap strips and your fleece strap strips. Fold and press your fabric, right sides together, in half longways (think bias tape).

Unfold, and then use that center crease as your guide. Fold in the raw edges to meet at that center crease and press again.

Take your fleece and lay it down the center of the strip (using your most recent creases as a placement guide). I like to then fold over the edges and press it to hold it in place, then flip the whole thing over and press from the side without the raw edges showing more firmly and convincingly.

Then fold the whole thing in half and press again so it looks like giant bias tape with some fleece stuck inside.

Stitch each of the long edges, as close to the edge as you feel comfortable. I go about 1/8 inch in from the edges.

You could certainly leave it be at this, but I like a more quilted look, so I added a few extra rows of stitching. It's your bag, so do what you like. Put those aside.

Grab your exterior pieces that should be nice and fleeced now. You could leave them this way as we used a fusible. But I like quilted bags, so I'm going that route. Decide how you'd like to quilt these pieces. I decided to go with some very simple vertical lines, one inch apart. I use a hera marker to mark my lines, which is one of my favorite sewing notions for projects like this.

Then stitch. I did not use a backing fabric on this as you'd usually do with a quilt. I do this quite often with bags and have never had any trouble, so if some of you are wondering about not backing the fleece and if it's sheer lunacy I assure you it's not necessary and a pox will not fall upon your house :)

Once you do that, let's place the straps. Make sure you're placing them at the top edge if you're using directional fabrics.

As you can see in the photo, I place the edge of my strap four inches in from the side (those clips work great for bulk, but pins are dandy too). I am quite obsessive about my straps being sewn in sturdily so I stitch these down (I actually triple-stitch) inside the seam allowance (between 1/8 and 1/4 inch from the edge). Do this for each strap, making sure they're not twisted.

Now we'll assemble this into a bag. Pin the bottom edges together and stitch straight across. Press open. Then sew up each side and press those open as far as you can. Now we're going to make a nice boxy bottom. If you try to stand your bag up you'll see that the bottom corners want to flop out a bit like a triangle. We're going to flatten those triangles to make our boxy bottom.

If you peek inside the bag you can line up the side seam with the bottom seam by laying them on top of each other. To help keep things flat I like to snip off the tip of the triangle so I can see where the seams line up.

Once you get those seams lined up (and you'll want to take care to do this so things look tidy on the outside), place a ruler across the triangle where it measures four inches. If you've got things lined up right you'll see that the two inch line is smack on the seam--

If things aren't even squiggle things a little until they are. Then pin/clip in place, and draw a line. Stitch across, and then cut off the excess. Repeat for the other corner.

This is what it will look like on the outside:

Now assemble the lining in the same way, making sure the fleece is at the top edge, and that you're leaving a 6 - 8 inch gap in the middle of the bottom seam.

Now we'll organize this mess into an official bag. Place the exterior into the lining with the right sides facing. Pin/clip around the top, and match those side seams

Stitch around the top edge. Before we turn the bag, I want you to pull the layers apart so they look like this:

Press that seam you just sewed towards the top of the bag. That wee gap we left when applying the interfacing to the exterior? That's way cutting down on bulk there. Now, reach into the gap in the lining and pull everything to the right side.

Pull the pieces apart like you did just before we pressed in the last step, and press that seam again.

Now tuck the lining down into the exterior. You can feel where the fleece edge is through the fabric, so use that as your guide for where the top edge will be.

You have a few options here. You could leave this looking like the above (minus the pins of course) where it will have a cuffed look. If you choose this option, I would make sure everything was nice and neat and then stitch in that ditch there to keep the layers from getting wiggly. Or, you could do one line of top-stitching around the top edge. I wanted to keep my quilted look going throughout, so I used horizontal lines in this section, kind of dense but not being too obsessive about perfect straight lines.

Once you finish that, our final step is to sew the gap in the lining closed. Making sure the raw edges are tucked inside, bring together the gap edges, pin, and stitch closed either by machine or hand.

Tuck that inside, give it a final press, and you're finished!

Thanks so much for having me here, Fabri-Quilt. I loved working with these fabrics, and I love my new bag!

Happy sewing!

Thanks, Bethany! Love the tote and your technique!

Head over to Bethany's blog to find out how you can enter to win a fat quarter bundle of the Calypso prints to sew with yourself! 


  1. Nice tutorial. It helps to have photos for the instructions.

  2. Thanks Bethany - fabulous tutorial !

  3. Good tutorial. Clear and concise.

  4. Great tutorial! Thanks so much.
    Lovely calypso tote. So bright and interesting.

  5. Great looking tote. I really like the quilted type tote bags as they're much more sturdy. Such fun fabrics too. So bright and perfect for summer.