My husband has a deep and abiding love for blackwatch plaid, a residual effect of being employed by Brooks Brothers for two years, I think. Whenever I'm thrifting, I keep an eye out for anything in this distinct pattern. Our first day back in St. Louis after the holidays, I went to one of my favorite second-hand shops for their half-off sale. I found a long, wool skirt in blackwatch. The skirt itself was a bit dated, but I thought the fabric would be great for some project. After I made the suede wallet (see previous post), I decided to make a tote bag with the blackwatch material and trim it with my leftover leather.
I love totes, both making and using them. Being short, however, means totes often seem too large and sloppy when I carry them. I scaled my design down enough that it was in better proportion to my body but still large enough to accommodate my school folders. I cut a rectangle about 16" by 32" from the fabric. I attached interfacing to the fabric to stabilize it. I did the same with a rectangle of lining fabric. Then I folded the stabilized rectangles in half widthwise with the interfacing outward and, with the fold on the bottom, stitched along the vertical sides, leaving the top open. I made a rectangular pocket to affix to the lining material so I would have a pouch for my cell phone inside the tote. I stitched the pocket to the lining, then folded the lining fabric in half and sewed along the edges as described above. I cut a 2" by 2" square from the bottom corners of both rectangles (measuring from the folded bottom and the side SEAM, not the edge of the fabric, see photo).
This part is a little tricky to explain and will take some visualization on the part of the reader. I matched one of the side seams to the bottom fold of the rectangle, flattening the sides of the bag. This turned the cuttout square into a straight line with the side seam perpendicular to the line (and centered on it). Then I stitched along this straight line, sewing over the side seam in the middle. This is what creates the bottom of the tote bag, so it is not just two flat pieces of fabric sewn together; it gives the bag dimension. The bottom of the bag will be twice as wide as one side of the cut square (since my squares were 2"/side, the bottom of my bag is 4" wide). Once the two corner cuttouts on both rectangles were sewn shut, I put the lining inside the exterior of the bag (wrong sides together). To finish the tote, I topstitched a band of suede around the upper edge of the bag, covering the raw edges of both the lining and exterior fabric. I added two suede straps also (about 24" long each).
I opted to leave the top of my bag open, but you could easily add a zipper or other closure to the tote. I also created an insert from cardboard covered with leftover leather to place in the bottom of the bag so the bottom is flat and rigid. Totes are incredibly easy to make (essentially they are just modified rectangles); this project could be modified to suit any tastes. Use a decorative pillowcase, printed vinyl shower curtain, or other conventional material to create a unique and inexpensive tote bag. Be creative and enjoy!
Help Needed: A recent glitch with my sewing machine got me thinking about upgrading my equipment. It will be a long while before I'll be able to buy a new machine, so I have plenty of time to research. I am looking for something that would not have trouble with several layers of heavier fabrics (denim, canvas, light leathers). I've read several online forums, and people seem to favor Bernina or Viking. Also, for sewing with heavier fabrics, many posters preferred older machines (made of metal rather than plastic) and suggested buying used. Any advice on this topic would be greatly appreciated!